“We were so incredibly excited to be here. We just couldn’t wait to contribute to the Gonzales community and economy. We don’t know what we are going to do,” said Leigh.
The one thing they do know is the museum is not going to open as planned. In fact, they aren’t sure when it might open because they say they have encountered a problem with mold in the house on St. George Street in Gonzales.
“It’s our worst nightmare. Mold is not only extremely harmful to the structural integrity of the house itself, but also to the health of the home’s residents and museum visitors. We are already feeling the negative health effects ourselves, and the last thing we want is other people getting sick when they come to visit the museum. All of our artifacts and collections are now in imminent danger, as well as our personal property, and that’s a risk we simply can’t afford to take,” said Leigh.
“We had an allocated budget of $5,000 to re-locate the museum to Gonzales, and exhausted that just getting here,” said Leigh. “We didn’t worry since we planned to have our doors open by March 1st and would start bringing revenue in right away. Now, because of mold being discovered inside the home, we haven’t been able to un-crate a single artifact or hang any of our rare posters on the walls. Everything is on hold until this mold problem can be resolved. We can’t even open our doors to the public or begin to generate any revenue, which the museum desperately needs.”
The couple said they would consider another location in Gonzales because they like the city and want to have the museum located here.
“We have met some great people,” said Leigh. “We’d like to help this town thrive because everybody benefits. We want to help bolster the local economy with more historic tourism. Most of our visitors come from outside the state of Texas and all over the world. These are serious film fans and history buffs. They would love Gonzales and all it has to offer. We came here to open a wonderful museum for the people of Gonzales, and that is exactly what we are determined to do. One way or another. There just has to be a solution.”
One of the challenges they are facing is that wherever the museum is located, it also has to accommodate their living quarters.
The house they are now in is just under 1,500 square feet, which she said is the “minimum” needed to house the museum.
Time, too, is another factor. They are hoping to find some resolution to this problem in the next few weeks because they really want to get the museum up and running, a big reason being to generate much-needed income.
“We need something resolved in the next couple of weeks,” said Jackson. “The museum is losing money in admission fees, donations, and gift shop sales every day it remains closed.”
“We’re not in a financial position to delay the museum’s opening, or even to turn right around and move again,” Leigh stressed. “We are actually now over-budget. We didn’t see it coming, but the situation is what it is, and we somehow have to deal with it.”
“We’re not independently wealthy people who have a private museum as our personal little lark,” Leigh said. “This certainly isn’t the Guggenheim Museum, or the Smithsonian. It’s a very small, humble museum run out of our own home. We both work for a living to make ends meet, just like everybody else. The museum has always been something we do as a hobby part-time, a passion of ours that we love to share with others. We do it for educational and cultural enrichment, not financial. This is our service to the community. It’s how we give something back.”
The two moved here Jan. 1 from Austin, where the museum had been located inside their private residence for several years before finally moving to a larger space.
After a flood came through in 2007, wiping out the entire downstairs of the structure where the museum was located, the search began for a new place.
At that time, they began looking for another location but found the cost in Austin too much for their small budget. They even looked in California and Denver, Colo., the hometown of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.
But in the end, they decided to come to the Gonzales because someone they knew suggested it could be a good location with reasonable rent and a nice, historic atmosphere.
After paying a visit, they decided to take the leap and secured the house in Gonzales. They packed a moving truck and headed to Gonzales with high hopes of having a new place to live and re-opening their museum which had not had a permanent home for close to four years.
Everything seemed to be on track, said Leigh, and then they discovered a problem with the house, leading to their current situation.
But both stressed they’d like to remain in Gonzales if at all possible. Leigh and Jackson said though their museum is about the film industry, it’s also about history and they think that could be a good fit with Gonzales.
“It brings a bit of Tinseltown glamour to the city. It boosts the local arts and culture scene, something that I feel will be a hit both with locals and tourists. There are so many talented people here, and a surprisingly vibrant artists community for such a small town. I could easily envision Gonzales eventually becoming another Fredericksburg, or Luckenbach, or Santa Fe (New Mexico), famous not just for its history, but for its music, theatre, art and cultural attractions. Which in turn generates a great deal of prestige and revenue for the city,” said Leigh.
Leigh also points out that Gonzales is one of a handful of towns which has two theatres, something which excites them because showing silent films has become very popular across America.
“We would love to do regular screenings of silent films, as well as help sponsor childrens theatre workshops for kids who are interested in acting and the arts at both the Lynn and Crystal Theatres.” She explains. “Our goal is to partner with the local arts groups; to give presentations at the local schools, working with them to schedule field trips and group tours to the museum. Douglas Fairbanks’ biggest fans during his lifetime were children — he was every little boy’s hero, and we know the kids will love his movies. His appeal is timeless, even if his films are more than 80 years old. A love of the arts starts at an early age, and if you learn an appreciation for classic films as a youngster, you’ll love them all your life.”
In fact, it was silent films which Leigh watched as a child which led to the decision to start the Douglas Fairbanks Museum. In her research, Leigh said she discovered almost all of the great stars of the silent film era had museums, with the glaring exception of Fairbanks. He was a pioneer in the movie industry and literally helped shape that industry in the multi-billion dollar mammoth is has become today.
“Besides writing, producing, and starring in more than 35 now-classic films, Fairbanks also founded the nation’s first film school at the University of Southern California, helped to build Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and served as its first president, hosted the first Academy Awards in 1929, among so many other accomplishments. His vast contributions to the film industry are too important to be forgotten,” Leigh stresses.
That, said Leigh, was a driving force in founding the museum. That all happened in 1998 in Austin when a group of “like-minded” people pooled their resources and started the museum.
They have collected many artifacts from the Fairbanks movie era and that’s what they display at their museum. They have roughly 1,200 artifacts which are displayed, including movie posters, photographs, programs, props and other memorabilia.
“All I know is that we have to do something soon,” Jackson adds. “Time is of the essence in the battle against mold. Given all these factors and variables, our smartest option may be to move to another building. How we’re going to do that, or where we’re going to go, I have no idea. I just hope the community of Gonzales will come to our aid and lend a helping hand.”
But for now, what will happen next remains a mystery. They are hoping there may be a house or downtown property for rent which they could utilize as a home and place for the museum.
“Perhaps there is a property owner out there reading this who would be willing to donate use of their property as a substantial tax write-off and that there are some incentives available to them from the city, county or state for doing so,” says Leigh. “Hopefully, someone would be at least willing to negotiate a rental at a substantial discount that we can afford. There are always options when people come together with a common goal and work toward a solution. I’ve seen it happen before and it’s amazing what people can do when they put their hearts and minds into something.
“We made a conscious decision to relocate the museum to Gonzales because we love the amazing history of this town and we see the potential of what it can become in the future,” she says. “We’re willing to work very hard to help make that happen. We’ve invested in Gonzales — now we’re hoping Gonzales will invest in us.”
Anyone who might have a solution or who would simply like to talk to Jackson and Leigh about the situation can contact them at 830-444-0523.