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Kyle Ludowitz / Review

The Half Moon Bay History Association has met its goal, raising more than $1 million as part of its campaign to complete an ambitious local history museum.  

After several years in the making, the Half Moon Bay City Council signed off on a 25-year lease agreement during its meeting on Dec. 17. The agreement allows the association to develop the building known as the Johnston barn behind the jail on Johnston Street into a full-scale museum. 

“It’s wonderful that the city will finally have what other cities have, which is a significant history museum that will be open to the public for free,” City Councilman Harvey Rarback said. 

The association currently operates a museum in a one-room, 400-square-foot former jail at 503 Johnston St. The museum has been in place for years, operated by the Spanishtown Historical Society, but until 2018 was rarely open to the public. Since the newer history association took over, however, visitors to the small building behind City Hall have learned about the history of the jail and various turning points in Coastside history. Those include the saga of the Portola expedition and the rich history of Ohlone people who lived in the area.

“In the first six months of the jail museum being open we had people from over 81 countries … it’s pretty impressive,” said Juliette Applewhite, president of the association. “We have the opportunity to share our history with quite a variety of people and that’s really powerful.”  

The jail museum is open to the public on the weekends with volunteer docents available to answer questions about any of the displays. The association also offers individual and group history walking tours and an educational program for the Cabrillo Unified School District schools. 

The association is in the process of permitting and planning the new larger museum, which will be located inside the barn behind the jail.  All repairs and construction converting the 1,600-square-foot barn will be borne by the association. The city will also require the museum to be open at minimum on Saturdays and Sundays and be free to the public. It also permits the use of a small gift shop and for the association to collect donations for the purpose of offsetting operation costs and maintaining the premises. 

The donations already collected are more than double what association volunteers say is estimated to be needed to complete the approved renovations.

As part of the lease agreement, however, the city could sell the property if there is an economic downturn, according to the staff report.  

“As soon as the improvements are completed they are owned by the city, so any sale we would make in the future we would benefit from the improvements,” Deputy City Manager Matthew Chidester said. 

Additionally, construction on the project must happen within one year or the lease will be terminated. 

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