Tommy Gelinas is a 6-foot, 5-inch white man with a regular build. He dons tattoos on both his arms from his shoulders to his wrists. His typical fit is a cap, a graphic tee or flannel (depending on the weather), straight-leg pants, fresh-ass sneakers, and a Valley Relics Museum hat. He comes from a family of nine siblings, all raised in the San Fernando Valley.
Growing up, Gelinas hated history. He thought it was boring and repetitive, he tells me. Ironically, he grew up to be the founder of Valley Relics Museum, aka the keeper of San Fernando Valley history. It, of course, was all unplanned.
One night after hours of research, Gelinas thought to himself, “How come the Valley has been so short-changed?”
According to Gelinas, the Valley “…has all the coolest stuff. It’s the first to get the coolest stuff, and the first for it to go away,” he says, before casually adding that the Lucille Ball from “I Love Lucy” had a ranch in Chatsworth and got married at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church in Canoga Park.
Gelinas has spent the last 20 years researching Valley history and collecting pieces of that history in one single place. His collection is now on public display Fridays, 5-10 p.m., as well as Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at 7900 Balboa Blvd. in hangars C3 and C4 at Van Nuys Airport Park VNY. Admission is $15. You can also find photographs of some of the museum’s exhibits on Valley Relics Museum’s Instagram or Facebook, which have almost 300,000 followers combined.
How Tommy Gelinas built the Valley Relics Museum from the ground up
Gelina’s first relic was a history book of the San Fernando Valley from the 1930s, which he acquired in 1998. Now he has enough to fill three airplane hangars, where one keeps their big-ass aircraft, though the third hangar is for storage only.
From the neon Mel’s Drive-In sign to the Mission Hills Bowling tapestry (RIP), Gelinas’s collection celebrates and preserves the history of the Valley. His collection includes artifacts dating back to the 1800s. He even got a hold of the Skateland sign.
What you might not know is that the now-10,000-square foot beacon of Valley history started as a site called Valley Relics Online Museum and Vault on LiveJournal. Gelinas then started posting content to MySpace (simpler times…).
“When I was on MySpace, people would say, ‘Fuck the Valley—the Valley’s a shit hole. I was there and left in 1986.’ Or ‘I might’ve grown up there, but I would never come back to that shit hole,'” Gelinas recalls. “So I had to tell people, ‘If you talk shit about the Valley, you’re banned from the page. And that’s what I would do. The Valley’s been bashed long enough,” he adds. (Preach, Tommy.)
Mary Neubauer, a history researcher with a bachelor’s in psychology from California State University, Northridge, is the museum’s researcher and social media coordinator. According to Neubauer, she and Tommy can cover the entire history of the Valley by themselves.
“[Tommy and I] truly share the love of that history,” Neubauer says. “He’s more pop culture and I’m more [traditional] history. He can tell you more about the Palomino or [the Cobalt], but I get into more of the history aspect.” They’re a dynamic duo indeed.
What Valley folks think of Gelinas’s creation
Emilia De Jesus, a Valley girl from Van Nuys, visited Valley Relics Museum for the first time in November 2020. We interviewed her during that trip, where she says her expectations were exceeded.
“I expected it to hold a lot less and have less to look at, but it was enough,” she says. Visiting the museum was also a way for her to get closer to her boyfriend’s family.
“There was a section about Henry’s Taco stand, which is my favorite taco stand in the Valley,” says De Jesus. I showed my boyfriend’s mom the photo and she was super nostalgic. She said, ‘Those are the prices from when I went there growing up!'”
“The Valley is worth saving.”Tommy Gelinas, founder of the Valley Relics Museum
Among the cooler things we learned about the Valley from our (unofficial) historian? How much was manufactured here and an unexpected, world-famous Valley girl: Marilyn Monroe.
“Marilyn Monroe lived in Van Nuys, worked in North Hollywood, [and] went to Van Nuys High School,” Gelinas tells us. “When I found that out years ago, I thought, ‘How fascinating. [In] this little place called the San Fernando Valley…one of the biggest movie stars was born.”
Gelinas continues to invest more than just his brainpower into Valley Relics Museum. “A lot of this came out of my own pocket. My hard work and my consistency to really drive home that the Valley is worth saving,” he says. I don’t know about you, but I fully believe that’s a mission worth supporting.