Red Car is empty

Future of museum and local historical society is not clear

Pictured above is interior of the Red Car Museum as of 11:36 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 21.

The recently repainted Red Car Museum is empty. The bench that once stood beside the walkway has been removed. (The Seal Beach Historical Society owned the bench.) As of Monday, Feb. 22, a metal sheet covered the bolts that once attached the bench to the concrete pad.

Witnesses saw Seal Beach Historical Society/Red Car Museum, officials removing the contents last week.

[See the related Guest Opinion on page 6.]

The city manager recently notified the Historical Society that it was canceling the $1 a year lease for the use of the public land on which the Red Car stands. (The structure belonged at the time to the Historical Society.) The lease allowed the termination of the agreement with 30 days notice.

“They emptied it out into a U-Haul truck and drove away,” wrote Mayor Joe Kalmick in a Saturday, Feb. 20, text.

Kalmick said Monday, Feb. 22, in a phone interview, that he believed the Historical Society would issue a public statement in the near future.

The status of the Historical Society, the Red Car Museum, and its contents are unclear. The Sun has been unable to obtain on-the-record confirmation of the identity of the entity that may have obtained ownership of the museum structure.

As of 12:36 p.m., Monday, there was no information about the status of the historical contents of the Red Car Museum on the Historical Society’s website. The was no information on the group’s Facebook page, which was last updated Jan. 16 with an update to the “About” section.

The Sun has been unable to confirm that the Red Car has been turned over to another entity.

A late January 2021 Seal Beach staff report to the City Council reported, “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.”

According to the same staff report, written by City Manager Jill Ingram and City Attorney Craig Steele, the Historical Society intended to keep the contents of the Red Car. In a phone interview, Steele said the Historical Society owns the contents of the museum.

The Red Car, located on the greenbelt near the Mary Wilson Library branch, has been repainted in recent weeks.

In a Nov. 13, 2020, letter to the Historical Society, the city government offered to buy the Red Car for $10,000. The letter warned the Historical Society that if proposed changes to the non-profit’s organization were not made, the city would terminate its lease with the Historical Society.

In a Dec. 4, 2020 reply, the Historical Society asked city officials to consider the Red Car issues after the holidays and after COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed. The Historical Society was not reorganized and the city has canceled the lease.

As of Monday, Feb. 22, Orange County museums indoor areas are closed under the state’s “purple tier” COVID restrictions. Under the “red tier,” which OC may enter in the near future, indoor museum activities are allowed with a maximum 25% occupancy.

The Red Car Museum has been a part of the city’s history since the 1970s, when the late Virginia Hadley (mother of guest writer Karen Hadley), helped rescue a Pacific Electric tower repair car from being turned into a reef. Instead, it became a feature of the greenbelt, next to the Mary Wilson Library Branch.