This historic Loomis Museum offers park history and current visitor information in the Manzanita Lake Area of Lassen Volcanic National Park. Benjamin Franklin (B.F.) Loomis constructed the building in 1927 to display his collection of park photographs. Images of the dramatic eruption captured the attention of the nation and helped garner support for the park's establishment and remain a feature of the museum to this day.
Mae Loomis Memorial Museum
In 1927, B.F. Loomis and his wife Estella constructed a museum in honor of their only daughter who had died seven years earlier at the age of 21. Loomis described his daughter as a great lover of nature who had been happiest when rambling through forests and among mountains. With no other offspring Loomis and his wife Estella felt it was their duty to the public to build a museum for the preservation of his photograph collection.
Our object in building the museum is for the preservation of the photographic record of what the volcano has done. Many good photographs have been made of the volcano in action, but in another decade many of them will be lost or destroyed. It is necessary that a museum should be build so these pictures may be preserved indefinitely. -B.F. Loomis, excerpt from Pictorial History of the Lassen Volcano, 1926.
The museum building was constructed of native stone and reinforced concrete, with 20 skylights set into the dome-shaped roof. The interior consisted of a main hall devoted primarily to geologic exhibits, including photographs that Loomis had made of the eruptions. A back wing featured mounted animal displays with background images Benjamin took and Estella hand-tinted.
Loomis also constructed the seismograph building, located near the front of the museum, out of different types of igneous rock. Inside, visitors could watch a seismograph in operation under glass as it recorded the Earth’s slightest movements, its pendulum-mounted needle inking tremulous lines across a perpetually revolving spool of paper.
An Extraordinary Gift
On February 4, 1929, B.F. and Estella Loomis signed the deed granting their 40-acre tract together with their museum and seismograph building as a gift to the national park. The initial boundaries of the park encompassed 82,800 acres (compared to 106,538 acres today) and excluded a number of privately owned land tracts.
The donation became possible only after the act of Congress of January 19, 1929, extended the boundaries of the park to include the Manzanita Lake area. When the land and the buildings were deeded to the government in February 1929, few other national parks had museums and not one of these had been built and donated by private individuals. The gift of the museum vaulted Lassen Volcanic National Park into the first tier of parks with scientific and educational programs.
The Loomis Museum was added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1975. The building is included in the NRHP-listed Manzanita Lake Naturalist's Services Historic District, which also includes the seismograph building, Loomis Residence, Manzanita Creek footbridge, the Naturalist's Residence, and the Manzanita Lake, Reflection Lake, and Lily Pond Trails.
The Loomis Residence
Shortly after Benjamin and Estella Loomis deeded their property to the national park, they sold their hotel in Viola and built a small summer across the present-day plaza from the museum. Under the terms of their gift deed, they retained the right to a lifetime lease on the property. The small lease was just big enough to accommodate their home and a photo and art store, in which they sold film, cameras, pictures, and postcards. B.F. lived until 1935. Upon her death in 1953, Estella donated the Loomis residence to the park.