Saturday, September 8, 2012

William S. Hart Museum & Hart Park

Saturday, September 8, 2012
My Cost: FREE!

24151 Newhall Ave
Newhall, CA 91321

After Tuesday's visit to the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park, I learned that there is a family of museums that includes the Natural History Museum, the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, and the William S. Hart Museum in Newhall. I have been to the Tar Pits a fair number of times, and I have also been inside the Page Museum, but I had never heard of the William S. Hart museum. So I had to do some investigating online.

The entrance off of Newhall Avenue.
First, you should know that everything on the property - the former ranch of silent film actor William S. Hart (1864-1946) - is free to the public per instructions in Mr. Hart's will when gifting the land to Los Angeles County. He wanted to thank all the people that came to see his films and made him a success. Here is a description taken from the LA County Parks website: "William S. Hart, also known as 'Two Gun Bill', was the first cowboy movie star during the silent film era. He made almost 70 silent movies from 1914 to 1925, and donated his sprawling ranch for the public to enjoy. The park features Hart’s home which is now a museum filled with his personal effects and movie paraphernalia, along with Native American artifacts and Western American art."

A painting of Bill Hart, astride his horse Fritz, that hangs in the museum.
The artist was James Montgomery Flagg, of "I Want You for the U.S. Army" poster fame.
There were a few other things on the website that piqued my interest (besides the fact that everything is free.) One was that the Hart Ranch, which is now Hart Park, has a herd of bison. I had heard about a park up in the Santa Clarita Valley area that had bison, so now I knew which one it was!

Also, I was excited to see that the Hart Museum has a temporary display, (until mid-September,) called Taking to the Skies: Famous Aviators at the Hart. Apparently Bill Hart, (as the tour guide called him,) was friends with Amelia Earhart, and the display description promised, "To commemorate... the 75th anniversary of Amelia's disappearance," with, "a new temporary display on famous aviators." Omar is a pilot and loves all things aviation. Honestly, he would rather be flying for a living. So I thought he would really like the Taking to the Skies display.

So, per my suggestion, we decided to go! We packed the kids in the car after Vivi woke up from her nap, and we headed up highway 14 into the hills. The park is not hard to find, it's just off of Newhall Avenue, but the Museum is a different story. There were all kinds of buildings and signs as we entered the park. Hart Hall, the animal barnyard, the gifts shop and the Ranch House are all very close together and near the entrance, so I assumed the museum wouldn't be far away. Boy, was I wrong!

A woman sitting outside of the gift shop pointed us to the trail head that went uphill to the Museum, (which is the Hart Mansion, now converted into a museum.) I was to find out later that she possibly was having some fun at our expense sending us up a trail with a stroller. Read on to find out more...

At the start of the Museum trail.
Our hike up the hill was a truly comical affair. First of all, it's important to note that Omar didn't even want to do anything out of doors today because of the heat, which was upper 90s, or possibly even triple digits. I had promised him that we would mainly be going to the museum to see aviator stuff, and we would be out of the heat as much as possible. We definitely did not anticipate a hike up to the museum! Second of all, we had the kids in a fairly heavy double stroller, and the trail is not paved. In fact, not only is it not paved, it's got a lot of big rocks that came close to breaking my stroller wheels, it's got some patches of sand that we got hung up in, and it's got some steps built out of railroad ties that took a team effort to lift the stroller up and over.

We were taking our time and taking plenty of breaks in the shade, but we were both still breathing heavy, and I for one was sweating more profusely than I have all year! So let me save you some trouble - if you have a stroller, do not take the trail! There is a nice paved road to the museum that the volunteers and other authorized personnel are allowed to drive up, and though it is a longer distance than the trail, it will be much easier with a stroller. It's to the west of the trail head, between the Ranch House and the picnic area.

The view from partway up the hill down towards the barnyard area, etc.

This bunk house is about halfway up. I, of course, had thought it was the mansion
and was terribly disappointed to learn we still had a ways to go.
Looking back down at the trails we had climbed while pushing a stroller.
On our way back down the paved road I snapped a photo of what some of the railroad tie steps were like.
Makes me tired just looking at it!
But, despite the unexpected difficulty, we did make it to the top in one piece, (or, four pieces actually - Omar, Vivi, Alex and myself,) and the museum is quite lovely, as is the view!

Almost at the top, you can see Vivi was ready to make a break for it!
(And Omar looking good in his aviation-themed Hawaiian shirt!)

Finally free from the stroller, Vivi did a few laps in front of the building.
The Hart Museum (formerly Hart Mansion,) was built in the 1920s with super sturdy construction. They cut into the hillside so it's on a solid foundation. It was not damaged at all during the Northridge earthquake of 1994 that took down whole malls in North Hollywood.

From the vantage point of the museum you can see down the south side of the hill to where the bison are kept.

Up above the house are some restroom facilities and another trail.

Daddy and daughter coming down from the back of the house.
Museum tours are offered every half hour, so we had to wait about 15 minutes to get inside. (If you have  a large group, you have to make reservations in advance.) The docent-led tour was very informative, but they are also very careful about preserving the house. So much of it is original, that they really don't want you touching anything - not even walls - so that makes it not so kid-friendly. Thankfully, they did install railings and carpet to keep the tours on the right "path" through the house, so I didn't have to worry about Vivi touching everything, mostly just the walls and a few larger display pieces.

The rooms are still furnished as they were left.

I'm sure many meals were cooked on this stove.

Alex and I in the dining room. The floor is made of wood blocks (mahogany? I don't remember the variety,) that were simply laid together in a staggered pattern, and then the floor was covered in water so the blocks would swell and make a tight seal. Pretty ingenious method of doing a floor!

Horseshoe tributes to each of Hart's horses.

Painted beams are just some of the fine touches of decoration.

The beautiful entryway. Note there are two bannisters and two rails - the original was at a height that just wouldn't protect today's tall people!

The upstairs great room has a bear skin rug!
One of the temporary aviator displays.
There were only about three cases like this, so not nearly as much as I had anticipated.

The view into the dogs' bedroom.
 (It had been Bill Hart's bedroom, until a new addition was completed. Then he gave it to his dogs.)

This wheelchair belonged to Bill Hart's sister, who lived with him in the house. Beyond that is her bedroom.

The desk inside William Hart's bedroom. It reminds me of my maternal grandfather, who always had a very neat desk.

Enlarged photos of William S. Hart at work.

He was said to be the "good bad man."
After our tour of the museum, we were ready to get back in the air conditioned van and head home, but I did take a peek inside the original 1910 Ranch House at the bottom of the hill. It is open for self-guided tours, (unlike the mansion,) and the park website explains it contains, "Hart's tack and saddle collection, personal furnishings, and additional Hollywood mementos. It was too dark for pictures inside.

A description of the Ranch House and how it was used by Hart.

There also is a barnyard, that Vivi and I did a loop through. There was a pig and a cow, and a lot of birds (chickens, geese, etc.) Here are some pictures:

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