A Recently Restored California Adobe Reopens Its Doors to the Public
After a year of construction, Monterey, California’s Cooper-Molera Adobe—a National Trust Historic Site—will reopen to the public. The museum was once the home of entrepreneurs John and Encarnacion Cooper when Monterey was in the process of becoming a part of the United States. When Cooper-Molera officially reopens on July 3, 2018, admission to the adobe and gardens will be free and open to the public.
Meg Clovis and Susan Klusmire, co-directors of partnerships and interpretation at the site, talked with us about Cooper-Molera’s new programming, how coordinating with local businesses can become a path to nonprofit success, and more.
I know you’ve been working on projects together for a while—when did you first meet?
Klusmire: Meg and I actually met over 30 years ago. She worked with Monterey County and I was with the City of Monterey. We did several projects together and ended up creating [an informal] partnership. I helped her with her museum down in King City, and we’ve work on several exhibits together for the City of Monterey. About four years ago, we started an art program at the Monterey Regional Airport called “Art at the Airport.”
How has Cooper-Molera changed since its initial restoration?
Clovis: When the Cooper-Molera Adobe was restored in the early 1980s, California State Parks set up a very traditional house museum—[and they did the same thing] with the Diaz Adobe next door, which was the home of Manuel and Luisa Diaz. They were both typical California homes, and State Parks’ interpretations focused on the Diaz family and the Cooper family. Our team has removed many artifacts and furnishings from the 1980s house museum, as they weren’t part of the original collection.
Cooper-Molera’s skylight room will become a visitor’s center with an introductory film that helps visitors understand more about life in Alto, California, when it was still a part of Mexico. Then the archaeology room will be next to the skylight room.
We recently received a grant to interpret every archaeological investigation that has taken place on the property since the 1970s. As part of the reopening, we’ve done additional archaeological research, so it’s a great opportunity for us to talk about how this property grew from the time that Cooper first bought it in the 1830s through the 1920s.
Inside the Cooper-Molera Adobe, the main rooms are a dining room, a bedroom, an upstairs sala (living room), and a downstairs sala. We’re trying to reintroduce these rooms to not only educate visitors about the Cooper family, but also about the people they knew. For example, there are six place cards around the dining room table to reflect different people who might have sat there; it’s a progression throughout history. Our current mayor, Clyde Roberson, is sitting at the table to represent Manuel Diaz, who was once the alcalde (mayor) in Alto. And then, for example, we have James Stokes, who was the local doctor, as well as one of Encarnacion Cooper’s sisters; she lived at the Larkin House up the street.
We’re also hanging a scrim of an American Indian servant in the dining room closet. He wouldn’t necessarily have been the Cooper family’s servant, but many California families did have indentured American Indian servants at that time. That story hadn’t been told when State Parks was here. We’re still telling the story of the Cooper and the Diaz families, but we’re expanding it to take in more of the history of Monterey, as well as some of this place’s untold stories.
What kind of programming are you planning to implement once the building opens?
Klusmire: I started a program for Historic Monterey about three years ago called History Hunt, which is a scavenger hunt for historic items at sites in downtown Monterey. People really enjoyed it, so we decided to replicate that at Cooper-Molera on Mother’s Day weekend [May 12-13, 2018]. We’re also starting a contest called Painting from the Porches sometime this summer. I’m estimating that about 50 different artists will participate. And I’m hoping to bring back the very successful school-aged children’s program, like the “learning garden” adjacent to the adobe [a leftover from when Cooper-Molera previous years when Cooper-Molera was owned by State Parks].
I heard that some businesses are taking up residence at the Cooper-Molera complex. Can you tell me more about them?
Klusmire: The complex itself has two barns, which are becoming an events center run by a local company called Classic Catering. We’ll be working with them regularly, and they might even use the Cooper-Molera Adobe for some of their events. There’s also a bakery in the Diaz Adobe that will feature a contemporary art gallery. Our first show there will present works from a local youth arts collective, showing their take on hardware and architectural features throughout Monterey history.
On Tuesday nights, downtown Monterey has a farmer’s market. Several thousand people stroll through the downtown area, and we’ll be open those evenings so folks can come in and get to know the building. Another adobe on the property houses a restaurant called Cella. It’ll have a bar and outdoor dining. We’ll be sharing our outdoor gardens with these three businesses.
Do you think that working with local businesses will benefit the site?
Klusmire: 10 to 15 years ago, the downtown area was rip-roaring with historic activity, and about 10 different historic sites were open to the public, most of which were owned and maintained by State Parks. Things have really changed since then. All but three buildings [in downtown Monterey] have closed, so we don’t have the same historic flavor we used to. Bringing in for-profit enterprises made a huge difference for us. [Cooper-Molera’s reopening] is an experiment, but we’re really looking forward to it, and we’re anticipating success.