When Elizabeth Rimbault checked her mail last week, she found that something wonderful had happened. The president and curator of the Antioch Historical Society and Museum was informed that her organization would be honored with the prestigious Governor's Historic Preservation Award for 2008.
The award is being conferred for the restoration of the old Riverview Union High School, which is now home to the Historical Society's museum.
The Riverview Union High School, which opened its doors in 1911, was sold to the newly created Riverview Fire District in 1975, serving as the administration offices for the district. Twenty years later, the building was abandoned due to the high cost of earthquake-safety repairs.
But that's not the end of the story. Thanks to the efforts of the Antioch Historical Society, the building was entered into the National Register of Historic Sites in October of 1998. The county Board of Supervisors was petitioned to sell the site to the Historical Society, which took possession of the building in March of 1999.
Since then, the Historical Society has been hard at work restoring the museum. Nearly a decade of volunteer work and the donations of generous supporters have transformed the former school into the beautiful museum it is today.
On the main floor are a number of rooms carefully restored and decorated. The library features a number of old record books as well as gifts from Antioch's Japanese Sister City, Chichibu.
The Bride's Room, resplendent with bridal gowns reflecting the styles of many eras, exudes a lovely pink glow and features restored wallpaper and crown molding.
The Families Room boasts an antique dining room table and a working phonograph, along with binders and albums full of information on families that have made Antioch home for more than a century.
The Delta Room features natural artifacts as well as history of the region. The halls of the main floor are lined with artifacts from Antioch's history, including the hutch from the Hard House.
Though some work is still to be done, most of the museum's construction has been completed.
One of the greatest challenges was the museum's auditorium. Formerly chopped into smaller rooms during the building's service with the fire district, the auditorium is now a spacious room with plenty of windows to let in the sunlight. It now hosts events such as Historical Society dinners and the Victorian Tea in December.
The lower level of the building is home to the Sports Legends Hall of Fame, an expansive, well-lit space that features displays of the hall's inductees and the sports played in Antioch. The room is equipped with a multimedia presentation and several TVs showcasing high school games. Also in the Hall of Fame is a replica of the Mercado Barber Shop, also known as Panther Country for its unwavering support of local sports.
The lower level is an impressive reconstruction of Antioch's theaters, complete with the original doors of the El Campanil Theatre. The theater room features theater seating, a restored old projector and theater memorabilia. Also on the lower floor are the research libraries that house an impressive amount of information on Antioch's history, and the artifact room, where historical pieces are kept in storage.
The legacy of Fibreboard Research Facility also lives on. An environmental chamber once used to test environmental effects on packaging material still sits in the lower level of the building.
The award winners will be officially announced on Nov. 7 at the State Historical Resources Commissions meeting. The presentation of the awards will take place in Sacramento in mid-November.
The Antioch Historical Society Museum is located at 1500 W. Fourth St. The phone number is 925-757-1326. The museum is open to the public for tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays between 1 and 4 p.m. or by appointment. The museum, gazebo and grounds are available for events, meetings and more.