Since 1965, the Chafey Communities Cultural Center has been dedicated to a better appreciation and understanding of the history and culture in Upland, Ontario, Montclair, Mt. Baldy and Rancho Cucamonga – communities once a part of the “model colony” established by George and William Chaffey in the 1880’s.
Its creation was sparked by George Whitney’s visit to the Kern County Museum and Pioneer Village. Impressed by its programs, he and his wife Isabel wondered if a similar cultural institution could be established for the west end of San Bernardino County. In June 1964, when the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church announced its plans to move from Euclid and F Street to a new, larger location on East 16th Street, the Whitney’s and 70 other long-time residents met to preserve the historic church. Built in 1911, the church was one of the oldest in the region and was associated with many pioneer families. It was also architecturally significant because it was designed by Arthur B Benton, a Los Angeles architect best known for his work on the Mission Inn in Riverside, California. It was also filled with murals by Henry Lee McFee, a nationally recognized local artist.
By July 1964, the ‘Four C’s’ was recognized as the Euclid Avenue Chapter of the San Bernardino County Museum Association, with Robert Oyler as president, Richard Garner as first vice president, Clark Heiple as second vice president, Isabel Whitney as treasurer and Maren Armstrong as secretary. The next month the chapter acquired the church and began raising funds to create a cultural center and determine a permanent location.
In February, 1965, after Investigating seventeen sites the Chapter accepted the City of Upland’s offer of a five-acre portion of Pioneer Park for a nominal lease of $1 per year. Over the following months, the Chapter crafted a conceptual plan for the site that would eventually feature a history museum, art gallery, band shell, sculpture garden and theater. Because it’s location was in an area historically associated with the Chaffey Brothers, they selected the name “Chaffey Communities Cultural Center” for the new complex. The church building was to be the temporary location for the museum, which was to focus on the post-Civil War period.
On July 12, 1966, the historic St. Mark’s Church was cut into three sections and moved up Euclid Avenue to its new home near Pioneer Junior High School. In February 1967, the Chaffey Communities Cultural Center held its Grand Opening to the public. Because of the complexities of handling donations and memberships between two organizations, in June, 1967, the Chapter withdrew from the San Bernardino Museum Association and formed its own corporation.
The organization’s growth continued under the direction of Beatrice Riggs with a variety of programs and activities, and donations to the historical collections. There was also the construction of additional buildings, installation of landscaping, and even the planting of a two-acre citrus grove – all a result of volunteer assistance from residents, businesses, local organizations and service clubs.
In December 1987, however, tragedy struck the Cultural Center when an arson fire destroyed a significant portion of the historic church and the museum collection stored within. After much debate and exploring of alternatives, President Lynn Merrill supervised the restoration of the church building and the Cultural Center re-opened in April, 1990.
The remaining museum collection was moved off-site for its own restoration. With the assistance of the City of Upland, the Institute of Museum Services, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, much of the collection was salvaged.
Shortly thereafter, the Board of Trustees elected Max van Balgooy as president and he began a major revitalization of the organization. The Board, once hovering about thirty members, pared itself down to nine in order to operate more effectively and adopted a new mission statement to better guide its work. The Cultural center continued to improve, adding chairs and carpeting and making much needed repairs in order to transform itself into a modern auditorium for concerts, performances, and lectures. In 1997 the Trustees completed a major landscaping of the Cultural Center, following the design developed by Lawrence Moss and Associates. Featuring a new entrance, walkways, signage, lighting, and even local roses and plants, the Cultural Center became much more attractive and useful for visitors.
While the main building was having its transformation, a small group of trained volunteers cleaned rehoused the thousands of objects and began cataloguing them on a computer. After the fire, the collection was only available to scholars conducting research or on short-term loans for exhibition at other institutions. Despite its low profile, the historical collection continued to grow and everyone hoped to find a new location.
HISTORY OF THE COOPER MUSEUM
The former headquarters of the Ontario-Cucamonga (O.K.) Fruit Exchange is a 1937 Art Moderne style building on the corner of Second Avenue and “A” Street, in Upland. The CCCC was able to buy the building in 1995, thanks to the generous bequest of woman named Ada Cooper. Interior renovation began and was completed within a few years.
In 1997 the dedication was held, showing that the courage and determination of the founding members and trustees of the Chaffey Communities Cu1tural Center had been carried on by new members to complete their original dream—that of having a regional museum.
Because of her generosity, the museum bears Ada Cooper’s name. In recent years, we have been able to build a courtyard on the east side of the building. In 2008, the courtyard was completed and it is now a place where the entire community can enjoy a variety of cultural events for years to come.
The museum strives to ensure that the history and culture of the communities Ada Cooper loved so much is preserved and promoted.