West Coast Clock & Watch Museum at AGSEM

Ed Pasahow

Ernie Lopez, WCCWM Curator, took time during the recent Southwest California Regional clock and watch gathering to talk about the origin, history, present status, and future plans for the museum.  

Ernie Lopez, Curator

Ernie was one of the West Coast Council of Chapters and Pacific Northwest members who founded the museum in September 2000.  The museum was first located on the third floor of the Bellingham, WA Old City Hall.  The city offered free rent and offered staffing and funds to get the museum started.  The exhibit comprised less than 150 square feet and was designed as three department store windows.  The museum stayed in this location for 15 years.  Then Bellingham city government informed the museum that earthquake refitting and pressing funding shortfalls required that the city hall be closed for more than a year.

Museum officers started a search for a new home and made a national appeal for funds to finance the move in 2014.  In the spring of 2015, Rod Groenwold, director of the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum, offered to collaborate with the WCCWM and to house the museum in Vista.  Board members investigated the AGSEM site and agreed to relocation.

Moving required packing all of the clocks, watches, and museum materials into a U-Haul truck and making the 1300-mile trip south.  Only a single casualty from the effort demonstrates the care taken in packing, driving, and unpacking—a small porcelain figure was damaged.  The space the WCCWM occupies was constructed and equipped with satellite partitions for display.  All of the timepieces were installed in only three days.  The grand opening was on June 18, 2016 in the AGSEM Assembly Building.

Members of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors Association Chapter 180, Friends of the West Coast Clock and Watch Museum, serve as museum docents, maintain the clock and watches, and continue to raise funds for a standalone home for the museum on the AGSEM grounds.  Focus will remain on the collection as additional resources become available.  Among immediate needs are space for two donated collections that will be displayed in the future and secure long-term storage for items not on display.

The new museum vision is for a building with a four-dial clock tower, more display space, administrative and work areas, and storage.  Today construction donations total $25 thousand dollars, which is a start toward the $600 thousand needed.  An anonymous museum supporter has promised matching funds for all donations.  The museum is a tax-deductible 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization that is entirely supported by the generosity of its donors.  Online or mailed donations will be appreciated.  Online donations can be made using PayPal.

Ernie took a few minutes to add some personal notes to the interview.  He started collecting clocks at seven years old.

Bear Clock

His first clock, made of cast iron and now part of our collection, depicts a brown bear sitting on a tree stump.  A two-hand clock is inset below the bear.  After retiring as Command Master Chief Petty Officer in the Navy, Ernie gained experience as a clockmaker at the Gazo Clock Company National City, CA factory.  Ernie’s sister, Anita, is also a Navy officer.  Rear Admiral Anita Lopez is the Director of Marine Operations for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency.  She has the additional distinction of having been present at both grand openings of the museum—as a Navy Lieutenant in Bellingham and at her present rank in Vista.

Past AGSEM Museum Director Rod Groenewold,
Rear Admiral Anita Lopez and WCCWM Curator Ernie Lopez