City to end its lease with SB Historical Society

Fate of Red Car Museum, contents not yet known

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The repainting of the Red Car Museum continues. The photo shows the Red Car as it appeared Sunday, Jan. 24. Photo by Charles M. Kelly

The city will cancel the lease with the Seal Beach Historical Society and Red Car Museum. The City Council this week authorized the city manager to give notice to the Historical Society.  The council authorized the city manager to do what is necessary to preserve the Red Car, a railroad car repurposed as a museum. There was no discussion of the issue during the meeting.

The Historical Society owns the Red Car Museum, but the society leases the portion of the city-owned Greenbelt on which the museum stands for  $1 a year. The lease allows either the city government or the Historical Society to end the agreement with 30-days’ notice.

In related news, the Historical Society intends to keep the contents of the Red Car Museum. The future of the Red Car structure itself is unclear.  Repainting of the Red Car was still ongoing this week.

“While the City appreciates the efforts SBHS has made to preserve the Red Car, it has become clear that the status quo does not provide a sustainable path forward for the long term preservation of this important resource,” according to the staff report by City Manager Jill Ingram and City Attorney Craig Steele.

“Although SBHS has recently undertaken some basic maintenance efforts, the Red Car is not being adequately preserved, has become somewhat unsightly, and could be or become a hazard,” the report said.

“After written communications between the City and SBHS and a meeting on-site, the leadership of SBHS informed Mayor [Joe] Kalmick on January 21, 2021 and January 22, 2021 that SBHS intends to relinquish its interest in the Red Car,” the report said.

It was not clear from the report if the Historical Society would turn the car over to the city, another non-profit, or sell it to someone in another community.

“The City hopes SBHS transfers interest to an entity that will provide for long term preservation, and remains willing to accept ownership,” according to the city staff report.

“Unfortunately, SBHS has also indicated that it intends to retain photographs and memorabilia inside the Red Car that the City believes are also important resources that should be enjoyed by the public,” the staff report said.

During an after-meeting phone interview, City Attorney Craig Steele said the city would encourage the Historical Society to donate the contents of the Red Car. “There’s nothing we can do to enforce that,” Steele said. He pointed out that the Historical Society owns the contents. Steele hopes members of the community will speak up. “We’ve kind of done what we can do,” Steele said.

The condition of the Red Car Museum has been an issue for months.

In a Nov. 13, 2020 letter to the Historical Society’s leaders (Charles and Marie Antos), the Seal Beach city government offered to buy the Red Car Museum for $10,000.

In that same letter, the city also called for changes to the organization of the Seal Beach Historical Society/Red Car Museum. (For the text of the city’s letter, visit https://www.sunnews.org/text-of-city-letter-to-seal-beach-historical-society.)

The city’s letter said that if the changes were not made, the signers would recommend that the City Council terminate the lease. The city’s letter was signed by Ingram, then-Mayor Schelly Sustarsic, and District One Councilman (now current Mayor) Joe Kalmick.

In a Dec. 4, 2020 letter, the Historical society asked that Seal Beach officials consider the issues surrounding the Red Car Museum after the holidays and after COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed. Museums have been closed to the public under current COVID rules. (No one at this time knows when the rules for museums might be relaxed. )

At that time, the Historical Society maintained that the California Secretary of State’s office required in-person visits to change the non-profit’s controlling documents. The Historical Society letter said the state agency was closed to the public. (For the text of the Historical Society’s letter, visit https://www.sunnews.org/text-of-seal-beach-historical-society-letter-to-city.)

The current lease began Oct. 1, 2015, according to the staff report by City Manager Jill Ingram and City Attorney Steele. The previous agreement was between the Historical Society and the now-defunct Seal Beach Redevelopment Agency.

City to end its lease with SB Historical Society