Mammoth Real Estate Q&A, Election Special — Learning From History??

This Mammoth Real Estate Q&A appears in the September 17, 2022 issue of The Sheet.

Q:  We are second homeowners in Mammoth and spend considerable time here in the summer. We’ve enjoyed the Mammoth Museum/Hayden Cabin both inside and out and often take visiting friends there, and even envision hosting a party or event there someday. But we understand that the community, both publicly and privately, is not adequately supporting this fine property and facility. That seems wrong. Why is this?

A: This is so typical “Mammoth”. Over the decades I’ve been questioned about the community’s short-sidedness so many times. I’ve tried to figure it out, but it has become a recurring theme. It reminds me of the saying “common sense isn’t so common.” But the timing of this question is good because we are less than two months away from a critical Town Council election here in Mammoth. 

The question (and the answer) reminds me once again why Mammoth has survived through the decades, and it has little or nothing to do with anything man made. Most of our man made stuff is pretty mediocre. Without the spectacular natural environment that surrounds us, we truly are what one long-time local refers to as a “glorified bus stop.” And we keep missing the opportunities to change this. The evidence is all around us; a great ski area with ancient mobility, a 30% finished faux alpine village, a downtown full of parking lots, and weeds growing everywhere.

But Mammoth is evolving into a more mature resort (it has been a long haul). As it does, it is critical that it chases fewer “shiny objects”. Like focusing on flashy marketing while ignoring the variety of desperately needed workforce housing (thankfully that era is coming to a close). Or building fancy public transit stops and not maintaining the one that gets used the most and is the most visible (that thing is disgusting). New adventures are great, but we have to maintain what we already have. And maintain it well.

So here we are. For the most part we have a lame-duck Town Council; there are three seats up for election, and more importantly that could form a new majority. We have six candidates including only one incumbent, and one former Council member. It is great to have these candidates – activism appears to be alive and well in Mammoth. But it is time to dig into what and how they think, and the Town’s dubious commitment to the Mammoth Museum is a perfect type of question to start some (hopefully) intelligent dialogue.

The question made me contact Robert Joki who is president of the Board of Directors for the Southern Mono Historical Society (SMHS). They don’t own the Cabin/museum building but they own the contents. The museum is technically on Forest Service land, but it is part of the Town’s Mammoth Creek Park plan. This distinction is apparently one of the “problems” that keep the bureaucrats from making greater commitments to the Museum. Everyone thinks it should be a fantastic amenity, but there are more excuses than solid commitments to help SMHS get it there. I’m visualizing old episodes of the Three Stooges.

None of this makes sense in the real world. A successful business owner would certainly find a way to solve the problem or rationalize the right decision. Our community leaders should also be able to (more delusions on my part?). This is why putting the question to the Council candidates could be so enlightening. We need strong leadership now and in the future. We don’t need more excuses. Or rubber-stamping what “the staff” thinks is best.

The Mammoth Museum/Hayden Cabin is a grand opportunity, but is being starved. The Museum should balance out the enormity and ugliness of the Ice Rink structure along the Mammoth Creek parkway. The Town prides itself on the trail system and there is already a lovely trail segment linking the two, including a nice bridge spanning the Creek. It could all be enhanced. It is a perfect opportunity to create what planners call the “processional effect.” And the electric car owners who are using the new charging station will have time to stroll over to the Museum and hang out. That is if they don’t think old things and history have no value. 

The SMHS Board has elevated the entire Museum experience in the past few years. But it is not sustainable with the current, measly support from both the public and private sectors. But most importantly the public sector. It functions like a quasi government program with little funding, big expectations and grossly untapped potential. My readers know I hate seeing wonderful assets squandered. The location, site and structure are pure Mammoth. Certainly far more than anything Sprung.

Joki estimates that 5,000 visitors per year actually log-in to the Museum’s interior. Another 25,000 hang out in the exterior (sounds like Covid numbers). On the lawn adjacent to the Cabin there is the tattered canopy tent known as the “Temple of Folly” (a reference to the long forgotten 1880s Mammoth City saloon). Folly is appropriate for this discussion. But this is where daily visitors relax in the shade and watch videos of Mammoth history including “The Dave McCoy Story.” 

The entire venue has been used for wedding receptions and other sizable parties and gatherings. A new $20,000 tent could probably secure that amount in forward bookings for the following summer. It’s like having an STR and not having beds, only the desperate would rent it. Some upgraded portable restrooms would be nice too. Plastic “honey bucket” outhouses aren’t that appealing. 

The proposed operating budget to make the Museum truly viable and vibrant is a small fraction of the annual maintenance funding for the new Ice Rink facility. And the Museum may have a bigger fan base. And all of it could easily be absorbed into the Town’s massive Parks & Recreation budget (check your SCE/electric bill, we are all paying into it every month). But the suggestion of that just brings more excuses. Maybe we should consult with the Three Stooges.

The Parks & Rec people like to point out the the new Ice Rink structure is “fully programmable.” That essentially means it can be used for all sorts of things (do kids really want to play inside in the summer?). So why shouldn’t the Museum be fully programmable? With a decent bit of funding from the Town the SMHS has made the History Trolley Summer Program a success. In its first year. With appropriate funding and a stable staff, the Museum has all sorts of possibilities. 

What do the numbers really look like? In 1992 (30 years ago) the Museum received $6,000 from the Town and $4,000 from the County. That year it had expenses of $13,000. This year the Town contributed $15,000 to the Museum and the operational expenses are around $140,000. This incudes approximately $60,000 in payroll. The whole thing is being run on a shoestring. And nobody seems to be placing any value on the volunteer president of SMHS, who is by far the most experienced and capable person the community has ever had in this role.

While many of Mammoth’s original and old-time structures (many of them log cabins) are long gone, the Mammoth Museum/Hayden Cabin provides present and future generations a glimpse at the authenticity of Mammoth. Local museums are supposed to do many things for their visitors; to learn about the area and its history, to spark curiosity and make people smarter, and to encourage critical thinking skills in children (or Council candidates). They should be feel-good environments and help guide the future of the community and the inevitable changes, and much more. 

One compelling question that needs to be asked of our Council candidates is; Do you value making a stronger commitment the Mammoth Museum to make it viable and let it flourish, all at a relatively small cost? And if not, why?

And if you have read this far, what would you like to ask the candidates??

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