After years in the making, the new Chandler Museum opens, showcasing the city’s past and present to its visitors

A decades-long journey to give Chandler history and legacy the spotlight it deserves culminated last December when the new Chandler Museum opened its doors and welcomed visitors.

The debut main exhibit is the museum-staff produced Gaman: Enduring Japanese American Internment at Gila River. Exploring the experiences of more than 16,000 Japanese Americans who were taken from their homes at the start of World War II and placed in the Gila River Internment Camp south of Chandler, it includes objects from the Gila River camp from museums across the country.

Among them is a letter from the camp’s baseball team’s manager to a team in Tucson, explaining that they won’t be able to play because of their suspicion surrounding the team should they leave the camp to play in Tucson. There are also crates that families built to pack their belongings.

Gaman, which runs through April 18, 2020,is an example of the museum’s intent to showcase elements from the city’s past and present that are relevant to Chandler and its residents, explains museum administrator Jody Crago.

“People who were incarcerated worked in the fields. People from Chandler brought supplies and things to camp and visited them. There was a definite relationship,” she says.


Traveling Exhibits 

A series of traveling exhibits will also make their way through the museum. Currently, visitors are treated to Frank Lloyd Wright: Architecture of the Interior, which allows them to experience the creativity and concepts of spaces used by the iconic architect with regard to the houses he designed, most often considered his greatest architectural accomplishment.

Through a collection comprised of more than 30 reproduction drawings, photographs and photographic murals, it illustrates the obvious and subtle myriad methods that Wright implemented to create the visual character of interior space and objects within it, each an essential detail of the larger whole. This exhibition runs through March 16.

It’s followed by Oblique Views: Southwest Aerial Landscapes by Charles and Anne Lindbergh and Adriel Heisey, which debuts at the museum on April 9. This exhibit examines how humans have impacted landscapes over the last century through photographs of some of the Southwest’s most significant archaeological sites. It pairs large-scale then-and-now photographs, revealing the layers of civilization of the American Southwest—Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and ultimately Euro-American colonization and settlement—from a rare vantage point. 

Housed in a 10,000-square-foot building, in addition to a permanent collection and the temporary exhibits, there is also space for family programming and the future gift shop. An additional 10,000 square feet of outdoor space is slated for programming, with a large shaded courtyard called The Living Room, and a historical courtyard offering al fresco experiences.


A Project in the Making

The city broke ground on the museum in 2017, but the yearlong project has roots that go further back.

When its doors first opened in 1972, it was known as the Chandler History Museum. It was located in a former fire station across City Hall and was founded by the Chandler Historical Society.

It remained there through the mid-’80s, until the museum moved into a small structure in front of the downtown public library. In 2012, physical deterioration forced the offices, research center and small gallery into the McCullough-Price House, a 1938 pueblo revival-style home that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Voters approved the funding for the new museum through bond elections in 2004 and 2007. This is the primary source of funds for the $4.3 million project. While the funding was secured, the recession’s impact slowed down the projects. But by 2014, talks resumed and the project regained momentum.

Today, the museum has found what is likely its permanent home just north of its previous spot.


Family Programming

Every Saturday, a family program is offered in the form of lectures and other presentations. The rotating schedule features a history detective program that involves working with clues to solve a real Chandler mystery, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program resulting from a collaboration with the Museum of Science and Sustainability, and a demonstration of an art or traditional activity of the past.

With the total programming, traveling exhibits and permanent collection, it’s possible for visitors to come regularly and be treated to something different each time, Crago says.

There is one experience that Crago believes visitors will find especially fascinating. The main hallway features a timeline of Chandler’s history with photos from the permanent collection. The series is comprised of 44 images depicting events and people, beginning with the earliest photos from Chandler and moving forward to current ones. It opens with a large mural of Chandler in 1913, right after it was founded, Crago explains. As guests walk through, the photos become more current.

“You see ostriches, farms and agriculture, and then Waymo cars and hotels. You can really see the differences and how the city has changed over the years,” Crago says.

The big push to take the museum to the next level started in the early-’80s, when the historical society worked with the city to identify the need for a new venue that would do justice to Chandler and its history.

“For 35 years, people have been trying to get this museum to be a reality. It’s a testament to their devotion to see this project through,” she says. “It’s been an effort of passion by the community to build it, and we’re so glad to be here and to have a place where the community can come together and enjoy the programs that we are going to offer.”


Chandler Museum is open Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. 480.782.2717, ChandlerAZ.Gov/Museum.