The Coast News Group
Vista Historical Museum has been located at Rancho Minerva since 2009 and continues to collect and display local artifacts. Courtesy photo

Vista Historical Museum: a place to view city’s unique past


VISTA — Where else can you see an old permanent wave curler and a rare Edison phonograph in the same place? The Vista Historical Museum, of course.

If you’re looking for something fun to do and learn a little about Vista’s history, a visit to the Vista Historial Society and Museum might be in order.

The Vista Historical Society Historical Museum has been located at Rancho Minerva since 2009 where it continues in its mission to discover, collect, record and preserve historical artifacts and to bring those materials to the Vista community, according to Jack Larimer, director of the Vista Historical Museum, Vista Historical Society.

 “We’ve got a lot of really fun and interesting things to look at,” said Larimer, who grew up in Vista.

Larimer has been the director since 2002 but has lived in the city for as long as he can remember and said it’s an honor to do the job he has been entrusted with.

“I went to local colleges and had a job with the city until I retired,” he said. “But I had a wife and house and had to find something else and landed this job. I run the day-to-day operations of the museum and make sure things run well. I check the displays and make sure things don’t float away.”

He said working with the Vista Historical Society is “personal for him” because he grew up with the people and now even their kids visit the venue.

“My job is fun because I get to see a lot of old timers and people I grew up with,” he said. “My family came here in the 1930s.”

He said he enjoys seeing the donated items when they are dropped off even though the Vista Historical Society can’t accept everything that is brought in. “We only have so much space and we’re constrained,” he laughed.

However, there are four rooms and currently five exhibits on one level full of donated items including the curler and the Edison phonograph. The top floor of the museum is reserved for storage and is a warehouse.

“The phonograph is a 1908 Edison and it is expensive because the horn is made of wood not metal,” he said. “The phonograph was owned by the Delpy family, owners of the Buena Vista winery and they were the richest family in town at the time. It was donated to the museum by former County Supervisor Paul Eckert and his late wife Diane. The phonograph played wax cylinders. The cylinders we have date from the same era and have not been tested to see if they still work.”
The permanent wave machine was common in beauty parlors in the 1920s and 1930s, he said.

“It worked by electric heat,” he said. “The operator put the subject’s hair in curlers and then attached the metal clips hanging down from the machine. A rheostat on the back of the machine was turned up for about 15 minutes resulting in a curl that would last until washed out. Unfortunately, hair could be singed or burst into flame. A former docent whose father was a barber in the same time and was familiar with this operation said that it was the greatest boon to the scarf industry she knew of.”

He added another interesting item that made its way through the doors is a bridal outfit that came from Bullocks Department store in Los Angeles from 1941.

“What makes it interesting is that it came as a whole kit,” he said. “It was donated by the daughter of a prominent farming family that once grew lima beans in west Vista and Oceanside.”

A vintage Edison Victrola is on display at Vista Historical Museum. Courtesy photo

Rich history itself

The Vista Historical Society was founded in 1967 as the Vista Ranchos Historical Society under the direction of its first president Cloyd Sorensen, Jr. Its purpose was to support the city of Vista’s acquisition of the Rancho Buena Vista and surrounding areas so that the city could build a City Hall and the historical society could have a museum. The project never passed, and the historical society then began looking for another location. The first museum found its home at 651 E. Vista Way in a building, which was leased from the city and remained there from 1994 to 2007 until the city chose to build a fire station on that location. The city acquired Rancho Minerva in 2008 from the Vista Unified School District, and it opened the current Vista History Museum in September 2009.

The mission statement of the Vista Historical Society remains the same as when it was founded: “The society is a nonprofit corporation which is concerned with the discovery, recording, collecting, and preservation of historical facts, properties, and other materials regarding the history of Southwestern United States, particularly the settlement and development of this region in San Diego County. Also, preserving and perpetuating for public benefit those artifacts, historical objects, and documents for all to see.”

 It raises funds for the museum with memberships, grants, donations, bequests, and by renting the grounds for private events such as weddings, reunions and birthday parties.

The museum office is opened Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Docents are available for tours Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; and the first and second Saturday of the month.

“Depending how much time to you want to spend here it could be from 20 minutes to eight hours,” he laughed.

The museum is also looking to hire more docents, call (760) 630-0444 if interested.