BELLFLOWER – Long ago, a 1925 Engine 23 Stutz roared down the streets of this city.
At the time, Bellflower had its own fire services before it began a contract with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Many years later, a group of current and retired firefighters acquired the engine, stowing it away in a South Gate warehouse.
Now, that historic Stutz may return to the city, as well as 45 other fire engines and trucks dating back to the 1860s.
The City Council’s decision this past week to allow the association to set up shop in town is the start of a three- to five-year, $25 million project involving support from some major players, including Supervisor Don Knabe and Long Beach restaurateur John Morris.
“It’s kind of a fun idea,” Morris said. “I’m a sports guy so you’ve got this Legends of sports. There’s also legends of the fire department. That was the intriguing part to me, where we can just adorn the walls with legends of firefighters.”Part of the challenge will be raising the $25 million it will take to pay for the project. The association’s goal is to raise $300,000 to $400,000 in the next six to nine months through membership dues and other support.
To aggressively campaign for money, the association will stage dioramas and host fundraising events at 9834 Flora Vista, a former body shop the city purchased with $1.5 million in redevelopment funds a year ago.
“We are taking the first big step to putting our money where our mouth is,” Paul Schneider, museum association president, told council members on Feb. 25.
The association also completed a promotional video featuring Knabe and the county fire chief, P. Michael Freeman.
“There’s an incredible history here with Los Angeles County fire services,” said Knabe, who filmed his part in the video a month ago. “I’m very excited that Bellflower is going to move forward on this and hopefully they can negotiate some agreement to make this happen.”
The museum will be located in the Bellflower Elks Lodge on Bellflower Boulevard, south of the newly restored train depot. The Flora Vista property will eventually become a facility for restoring antique fire vehicles.
The museum project is the latest move by the city to revitalize its aging commercial corridor and cultivate revenue-generating businesses to pay for crucial city services.
“I think Bellflower will finally have something that many communities in Southern California will want to come and visit,” said Mayor Scott Larsen.