Her father was one of Joseph Young’s long-time loyal employees. Her mother opened one of Hollywood’s early private schools. She’s a multi-degreed art historian and archivist with a doctorate in Modern American and Italian Art History, the author of one of the definitive books on Hollywood’s history, A Guide to Historic Hollywood: A Tour Through Place and Time, and a biography of the city’s founder Joseph Young.
She’s Joan Mickelson, Ph.D., Hollywood born-and-bred and back now for about 15 years after an impressive career curating and running several highly regarded museums around the US. She’s very active in the Hollywood Historical Society, as the Membership Chair and also a volunteer Archivist working hard this summer to organize and archive all the files collected since its inception in 1974 when her mother was one of the founding members. And now she’s on a bit of a crusade for Hollywood to have its own Historical Museum.
“It doesn’t need to be a lot of money,” she explained, having obviously thought this out already. “Rent us a little shopfront for three years so we can have some time in it. We can use the front for exhibitions and talks and the back for archives, because it would be air-conditioned and climate-controlled, of course. The City would profit. People love history museums. I mean, you can’t be on the beach all the time!”
Mickelson’s parents, Tony and Lamora Mickelson, were among the earliest residents of the newly established Hollywood in the ‘20s. Tony came here from Indiana where he worked for Joseph Young. He was head of the Survey Party for the Hollywood Land and Water Company. and laid out all of early Hollywood beginning with Hollywood Boulevard and the Circle (now Young Circle), and it was here that he met his bride, Lamora Gleason.
“He knew Young quite well,” she said of her father, who said Young was known to be a good guy and a true visionary.
Young sent Tony and 11 other men to Florida to build the new city. In the photo below, Young told Mickelson:
“Tony, stand here. This is where we begin my city.”
Tony and Lamora Mickelson worked for the Young company, relocating to New York to develop “Hollywood in the Hills in the Adirondack mountains, until Young’s death of a heart attack in 1934.
The Mickelsons returned to Hollywood where they lived for the rest of their lives and raised their daughter, Joan. Lamora founded and ran a fully-accredited school, the Outdoor Woodford Hall School, for many years, on Polk Street and 23rd Avenue, where her mother, Evelyn Gleason, was one of the city’s best-loved first-grade teachers for many years. Tony worked for city till his retirement, at one point as Hollywood’s city manager.
Joan returned to Hollywood after her retirement and soon became involved in the Historical Society.
“After the ‘30s, into the ‘40s, Hollywood had people who were here from the start, the founders, they called themselves the Pioneers Club,” she recounted. “Then after WWII, there were a lot more new people. They thought about a museum but they didn’t do it, they started a sort of society, just to collect all the materials that everyone had at their homes. They tried to do it in the ‘50s but it didn’t really happen till ‘74. It didn’t have a site, they would just meet in different people’s houses, but when Hamm Hammerstein left his house to the city (the historic HAMMERSTEIN HOUSE at 1520 Polk Street, open free to the public, the first Sunday of the month, October through May, from 1:00– 4:00 pm.)
Somehow they were offered the space, for the rent of $1 a year.
“The Hollywood Historical Society is independent of the city. They show the house for the city. They’re all volunteers.”
The Research Center is open every Friday all year ‘round and is always open by email for questions.”
At the current time, the archives of the Research Center and the garage behind the house are overflowing with photos, files, letters and every issue ever published of the now-defunct Hollywood Sun-Tattler, and Mickelson is overseeing a major archiving project designed to preserve as much as possible as well as possible for as long as possible. Hence the desire for the museum and archive-quality storage space.
“Our filing cabinets are so full,” she lamented. “I am a professional museum person and a member of several Archivists Associations, and we’ve been discussing the feasibility of making the garage available but they all said no, not for the actual archival materials. We cleared out the garage with the help of the Hollywood Lion’s Club, and the plan is to put in some shelving for some of the non-archival materials from the Research Center to make more space available.
“The biggest problem is we don’t have the help and the space,” she continued. “But, now have a trained IT person who is helping us digitize items like site plans from the government, showing things like chimneys and parapets, and because we listed everything, we’re finding that we know more than some of the people who own the houses!
“If you do an archive right, you find out everything. We have pictures, if you want to see what ladies were wearing in 1935, we may have a picture. Some stuff you have to do by hand, then you have to put them on the computer. You get new material all the time. Some of our volunteers are taking courses with the American Association for State and Local History. It’s where any history museum and archive people should belong — even if you only have a room like this and two people. Because the history of the United States is in the hands of these small Historical Societies all over the US.”
Mickelson has been a great contribution to the HHS’s Lecture series with a group of powerpoint presentations which she has delivered on various Sunday afternoons at the Stirling Road branch of the Broward County Library. The audience has grown to up to 80 people for some of the lectures, which is all the hall can hold. She would happily present them again to any interested groups.
“People are very interested,” she said proudly. “They ask a lot of questions. They want to know more.”
Next up is a Founders Day event being given in cooperation with the Hollywood Women’s Club on August 12th, in celebration of Joseph Young’s birthday. (Info below.)
She continues writing, adding to the 25+ volumes of histories, biographies, catalogs and even novels she’s already produced. The museum idea is always there. She’s even got a building in mind. It’s the original Hollywood City Hall, which was also the first Hollywood Police Station. (I don’t know if she knows that it’s actually on the market at the moment!)
“Young decided he didn’t need to run the city, so he had it incorporated, and he gave the bldg to the city,” she said,
“and then it became the first police station. It’s one of the most historic buildings in the city, with big rooms downstairs, offices upstairs…well, it’s on the wish list. People should start thinking about it. People would come.”
She believes that the addition of a paid, full-time director of the HHS would get the ball rolling.
“Of course, the main job of a director is fundraising, so after the first few years, it pays for itself and more,” she explained. “They just need to decide to move ahead.”
But for now, there is the archiving project. And it’s pretty massive for a volunteer army.
“Everything is being scanned and digitized,” she reported.
“And it’s ongoing.
“Because that’s what archivists do.”
“Hats off to Joseph W. Young on his birthday!” will be celebrated at the Hollywood Women’s Club at 501 N. 14 Ave. 33020 From 2 to 4 pm. on Sunday, August 12.
For information on joining the Hollywood Historical Society or to find out about having Joan Mickelson make a presentation, call the HHS at 954-923-5590 or visit http://www.hollywoodhistoricalsociety.org
For information on Joan and her books visit her website.