Museum of Russian Culture Challenges and Opportunities


This short chronological description of the life of the Museum of Russian Culture in San Francisco (the Museum) is provided to describe recent events at the Museum and past events that led to the present. For a more complete history of the Museum refer to an excellent article commemorating the Museum’s 50th anniversary written by Olga Bakich and published by University of Toronto in Russian language in the “Russians in Asia” periodical No.5, 1998, pages 261-274.

  1. The Museum of Russian Culture (the Museum) was established in 1948 and has been located at the Russian Center on Sutter street in San Francisco ever since. It was initially located in the attic. This area has good solid floors, lights and windows, but with exposed structural beams and uneven ceiling heights.
  2. In 1954 the attic floor space was becoming congested with donated materials, and city of San Francisco found a room at the Park Presidio city branch library to where most of archives were moved. In 1970 a water pipe broke in the library building and many of our archives were damaged. The archives were then moved back to Russian Center. Unfortunately since the material was not cataloged, no records were kept of what was damaged and was destroyed.
  3. From 1970 to 1985 the Museum space at Russian Center was expanded in stages to include most of the 3rd floor, and operation was enlarged to include a library collection room and another large room for exhibit of the Museum displays. The archives remained in the attic.
  4. In 1995 after the Loma Prieta earthquake all of the older buildings in San Francisco underwent an inspection by the city, and it was determined that the Russian Center building needed to be either replaced or undergo reinforcement.
  5. After heroic efforts by the management of the Russian Center funds were collected (mortgage was secured) and the building was reinforced. To satisfy mortgage payments the first floor of the building and the gymnasium in the basement were rented out to an outside sports organization.
  6. The space of the Museum in the building was compressed and the 3rd floor space was now divided between the Museum, the Russian Center Library, the Russian Life Newspaper, and the Congress of Russian Americans which moved from the East Coast. The Museum library books and periodicals were again packed into boxes and were moved for storage to the attic above the main reception hall. This area is a true attic. It is a hardhat area with catwalk boards placed over the exposed ceiling beams and without any temperature or humidity controls. The boxes weighing about 10 tons were placed along the walls avoiding the less structurally sound center of the area. The Museum exhibit hall remained on the 3rd floor, and the archives remained in the original attic.
  7. This experience of the possibility of loosing space for the Museum was a wakeup call, and Museum management started on contingent plans in case the Russian Center does cease to exist in the future. At that time the historic events of break-up of the Soviet Union, the collapse of communism in Russia, and evolution of democracy in Russia have all taken place. The Russian consulate in San Francisco became a friend of the Russian Center, and Congress of Russian Americans has started its charity work in Russia and sponsoring trips to Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church abroad has started talking about unification with the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia.
  8. It was decided by the management of the Museum that in the event of closure of the Russian Center, all of the Museum material will be donated to a similar Russian member controlled organization abroad, or be donated to a similar public organization in Russia.
  9. In the meantime the Museum has continued to have a good working relationship with the University of California at Berkeley and with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford (Hoover). The Museum approached Hoover to help us properly catalogue our archives. Hoover agreed and obtained $600,000.00 to catalogue and to microfilm our archives. This cataloguing and microfilming work was performed by Hoover staff with help of the Museum volunteers and about 60% of our archival materials were catalogued and microfilmed. The originals remained at the Museum, and Hoover retained a microfilm copy. At that time Hoover was conducting negotiations with the Government Archives of Russian Federation (GARF) about transferring copies of the KGB files to Hoover, and they offered copies of our microfilm in partial exchange for the GARF archives. GARF personnel visited our Museum and became interested in our collection.
  10. Following this effort the Museum attempted to interest Hoover to finish cataloging of the remaining archives but was not successful.
  11. Since a working relationship was now established between the Museum and GARF, and since there was no hope of again establishing a Museum Library, and seeing the damage being done to material stored in the attic above the main hall, it was decided by the Museum management to give the library books and periodicals to GARF under the condition that the material be stored in an archival environment and be available free of charge to public at large and without any restrictions. The material was to be catalogued by GARF personnel at the Museum and sent to Russia at their expense.
  12. A GARF archivist came to San Francisco and worked at the Museum for several months. The materials were boxed up and shipping was started.
  13. When two members of the Congress of Russian Americans noticed that boxes were being moved out of the Museum, both became agitated, raised their voices many decibels above normal, and wanted to call the police. The movement of the material was continued despite verbal interference by these two individuals.
  14. In a few days an article appeared in the Russian Life Newspaper signed by the Congress of Russian Americans and accusing the Museum of squandering the Museum property and suggesting that the Museum management be replaced.
  15. Another member of the Congress of Russian Americans who actually worked at the Museum during cataloging as an employee of the Hoover Institute and who is also a member of the Museum filed a formal complaint against the Museum with the Attorney General of the State of California. The exact nature of the complaint has remained a mystery but the Museum has had to hire an attorney to answer questions posed by the Attorney General at a considerable expense to the Museum.
  16. In the mean time the management of the Museum was re-elected at a general Museum membership meeting and work at the Museum has continued.
  17. Following a meeting in January 2007 with the Russian Center management, the Museum has agreed to postpone for 18 months sending any materials to GARF, and Russian Center management has promised to see if funds can be obtained to catalogue the remaining materials using funds collected by the Russians living in USA.
  18. At present, the plans for cataloguing the remaining archival material are as follows in the order of preference:
    1. Collect funds from the Russians living in USA to catalog and microfilm the material.
    2. Obtain funding from the Hoover Institute and give them a copy of the microfilm.
    3. Obtain funding from the UC Berkley University and give them a copy of the microfilm.
    4. Invite GARF to catalog the material, transfer the originals to GARF, have GARF create microfilm, and give a copy of the microfilm to the Museum.
  19. Plans are also being made by the Museum to digitize all of our existing microfilms and to post that material on our own internet web site making all of our microfilmed archival material available to everyone in the world free of charge.
  20. In closing:
    • The Museum of Russian Culture will continue to exist as long as Russian Center continues to exist.
    • Without question, the main Museum exhibit hall and its displays will remain in place as they are on the 3rd floor.
    • The work of collecting and cataloging the materials will continue.
    • The Museum will continue to hold all collected archival material as originals and/or as microfilm copies.

The Board of directors.