Maritime Museum Wants to Expand

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

February 12, 2021

This area adjacent to the Embarcadero is where the Maritime Museum wants to build a fishing shack to house an exhibit
dedicated to commercial fishing.

Borrowing a nautical term, you could call the Morro Bay Maritime Museum “over laden,” that is, it has way too many items for the available space and the museum board plans to ask the City for room to expand.
Situated at the entrance to the “Triangle Lot,” a 1-acre property at the northern end of Front Street, the museum consists of a 20-foot by 20-foot exhibit building, four historic vessels on display, along with numerous interesting, outdoor displays of various types of nautical gear and equipment including a diving bell.
It’s an interesting collection and Museum Association President Scott Mather said there’s a whole lot more to their collection than is on display and people are donating new items all the time.
The museum has a pair of restored Matson Navigation Co., shipping containers stuffed with donated items.
“We’re maxed out now,” Mather told Estero Bay News, “at the permitted area the City allowed us. It shows how popular we are not just with the tourists but with the locals too.”
Museum Association treasurer, Bonnie Jones, said that despite the pandemic and the museum being largely closed for most of 2020, they took in $53,000 in donations.
Mather added, “I’m thoroughly amazed at how much people appreciate maritime history. I’m absolutely gobsmacked at that. It’s refreshing.”
With the museum’s exhibit hall mostly closed due to the Governor’s coronavirus pandemic response, which the County and City have been following and enforcing, they’ve turned to fund-raising events, like a wonderful smoked chicken and ribs barbecue, coordinated with Tognazzini’s Dockside Too restaurant. The two barbecues they’ve held were yummy successes with cars lined all the way down Front Street to pick up orders.
The Museum has three things they’d like to get done in 2021, according to Mather, completing a Native American focused display, curating a new collection focused on commercial fishing and expanding the museum footprint with the addition of a large Quonset hut to display all the stuff in the containers.
They hope to get the City to give them a space between the power plant’s sound wall and Embarcadero, for the commercial fishing exhibit, and a 15-foot by 20-foot, fishing shack, a building-type that used to be found all over Morro Bay.
“A drawback to the museum’s current operation and the only negative feedback we receive,” reads the Museum’s 2021 Annual Report, “has to do with the museum’s small size. At certain times, especially during a busy summer weekend, we find it difficult to accommodate high visitor demand. The fact is we are outgrowing our current permitted space faster than we anticipated.”
But expanding to the back fence of the property means eliminating five camping spaces the City set up in that area, in response to a loss of revenues from the pandemic business closures.

Some of the excess historic items the Maritime Museum has with no place to display it. Photo by Neil Farrell

(The City Council was to receive a report on the success of the Harbor Department’s experiment with camping along the bay at its Feb. 9 meeting.)
If the City wants to make its camping program permanent, it will need a coastal development permit from the Coastal Commission.
Mather wonders about these in particular. “We want the City to look at what’s the highest and best use of the property?” he said.
Jones said those camping sites were rarely used on weekends and largely empty during the week.
Already the Harbor Department has taken over roughly half of the Triangle Lot for a boat storage yard, which Mather said is a good long-term revenue source. But that storage yard, surrounded by temporary fencing, is only about half full.
Mather said they have a guy who wants to donate a 30 by 40 foot Quonset Hut to the museum, which historically speaking would fit right in.
During World War II, when the harbor was a Naval training base, there were some 62 Quonset Huts that served as barracks for Marines training for the Pacific Theater.
Many of those huts were moved into town when the base closed and a handful are still in use today.
The hut would be used for special things, Mather said, like a small theater to screen documentaries being done for the museum, oral histories of locals from the fishing industry, a public meeting room, and possibly a dioramic display with a surf rescue boat.
The museum is also hoping to get the Harbor Department to donate its 1983 Radon patrol boat that’s slated to be sold at auction. “We would like to get the old patrol boat,” Mather said. “We have a museum member who’s pledged to donate $15,000 for this.”
It’s a vessel he’s very familiar with, having spent many years with the Harbor Patrol using that very boat on countless rescue missions. In fact he and another Harbor Patrol officer were rushing out to Montaña de Oro on a rescue mission when a large chunk of fiberglass tore off the bottom of the boat and it started taking on water.
Mather and Jones said the Museum continues with a memorial brick program fundraiser, and the boats on display now have donation containers attached to information kiosks.
“As President,” Mather said, “my goal is to make the Morro Bay Maritime Museum an asset for our community, a museum the citizens are proud of, not just another Embarcadero tourist attraction. We also want to encourage people to join the Morro Bay Maritime Museum and be part of this renewed community spirit.”
The Museum’s Annual Report is available online at: if readers would like to learn more about the many strides the Maritime Museum Association has made over the past 2 years.

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