By Bruce McPherson, County Supervisor 5th District
Built in 1893 as a Presbyterian church, this beloved part of Felton life, will become the newest – and oldest — museum in the San Lorenzo Valley.
Directors for the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, Felton Library Friends, and trustees of the Belardi Trust met for preliminary discussions for a new museum, once the new Felton Library is built. They agreed to draft a memorandum of understanding of their intentions as a first step.
The old church was purchased by Nick and Faye G. Belardi with the intent of dismantling the structure and building a family home in 1955. At the same time, the Felton Branch of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries was looking to move out of a room in the Community Hall into a larger facility. The local community developed a plan to not only save the old church building but also establish a larger library in town by moving the church building to a vacant spot on the old Felton school grounds. Negotiations for purchasing the building were underway when Mrs. Belardi was killed in an auto accident in August of 1955.
Former Church Becomes Memorial Library
Following his wife’s death, Mr. Belardi offered the building and site to the community as a memorial to his wife. The Faye G. Belardi Memorial Library was formally opened on April 15, 1956. The Belardi trust grants the use of the building “to have and to hold, as long as it shall be used exclusively for a public library and/or public meeting place of the residents in and about Felton.”
While beloved, the Felton library use has outgrown the Belardi building. Problems such as the lack of parking, disabled access, homework areas, meeting rooms, and adequate shelving cannot be corrected in a building with historic landmark status restrictions. Expanding the building has been deemed unfeasible.
New Felton Branch Assured
Funding for a new Felton Library was assured with the passage of Measure S in June. The new branch will be built down the street in the Verutti building, whose family donated a portion of the 2-acre parcel for the new library. The County is now updating plans and reports to obtain permits for the building. This process will be followed by reviews and approval of the final design, with construction beginning in 2018.
Bull Creek Restoration
While we wait for the completion of the planning process, there are two related projects on the land that are being discussed between County Parks, San Lorenzo Valley Water District (Felton treatment plant shares a boundary with the library land), and Felton Library Friends. The first project will be restoring the riparian area along Bull Creek. Plans are being made for AmeriCorps volunteers to return to San Lorenzo Valley this fall to begin work on restoring this beautiful riparian corridor. San Lorenzo Valley Water District is also interested in restoring their area, which will create a contiguous project that will promote riparian restoration and watershed education, and change the landscape from blackberries to native plants.
Outdoor Nature Explore Project
The second project involves the development of the northwest corner into an area for children to explore nature through art, building, gardening, music, and movement. Nature Explore, a collaborative program of Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, have designed outdoor spaces throughout the United States at schools, libraries, and parks. In April of 2016, a design team came to Felton to help county parks, library representatives, San Lorenzo Valley Water District, and Felton Library Friends to envision a Nature Explore space on the newly acquired land.
San Lorenzo Valley Museum Expansion
The San Lorenzo Valley Museum, located in Boulder Creek, was built in 1906. Like the Belardi building, it was also a redwood church constructed in a traditional, New England style. The museum is thriving, with exhibits that include logging and mill camps, local early schools, vignettes of Victorian life, local pioneer biographies and exhibits that rotate several times a year. The museum has American life trunks that can be checked out, featuring historical school, home, and communications memorabilia.
Lisa Robinson, president of the San Lorenzo Valley Museum and an author of local history books, is excited about the opportunity of connecting San Lorenzo Valley students to the museum and anticipates that the Felton museum site might house archives, maps, and collections. The museum in Boulder Creek will remain.
I am very excited about this perfect opportunity — the use of another historic building to house San Lorenzo Valley’s history. I cannot think of a more fitting use, and am pleased that the Belardi Trust directors, Felton Library Friends and San Lorenzo Valley Museum directors are moving forward.