Discover a hidden war museum in the desert.
Have you ever been curious about those signs for the “General Patton Memorial Museum” at the exit off the I-10 at Chiriaco Summit, California, in the middle of the desert between Phoenix and L.A.? It always seemed to me like a random place for a museum devoted to the famed WWII General sometimes known as “Old Blood and Guts.” But on a recent visit, I quickly learned that it’s a very appropriate location.
Not only was Patton a California native—his father was the mayor of San Marino—but the museum itself is near the former site of Camp Young, the headquarters of the Desert Training Center, the massive expanse of terrain commanded (and expanded) by Patton for desert combat training in WWII. The Museum holds collections not only of material related to Patton’s life and career but of the DTC.
There’s also the outdoor Matzner Tank Pavilion, featuring a collection of tanks and armored vehicles, from Patton’s era and later. And then there's the photo-op statue out front, of George with his canine pal "William the Conqueror."
It’s a cool place to stop, and it’s just gotten cooler, having undergone a significant renovation.
“Over the past two years, the Museum has tripled in size,” explains Executive Director Michael Ables. “Last year we opened the Tank Pavilion, with the help of [Coachella Valley philanthropist] Harold Matzner.”
But the Patton Museum has grown on the inside as well.
“We received a grant from the Barker Foundation to do new educational exhibits,” says Ables. “The west wing will now focus solely on General Patton, WWI and WWII, and that’s it. The east wing is still in transition, but will focus on Korea, Vietnam, Cold War and into the present day.”
In addition to its military side, there are some remarkable artifacts from the area. The most intriguing of these may be "The Big Map," a massive, nearly five-ton topographical recreation depicting the region, built in the 1920s by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to help make the case for the Colorado River Aqueduct in congressional hearings. This spectacular piece has been impressively preserved at the Patton Museum.
Still, the museum's primary mission is to preserve military history. "Yes, it's about General Patton," says Ables, "but it's about WWI, and WWII, and all the men and women who've served our country."
The newly renovated Patton Museum will re-open Sunday, November 11, with a day of award presentations and dedication festivities starting at 11 a.m. Admission is free on Veteran's Day.
The George Patton Memorial Museum, at 62-510 Chiriaco Rd, Chiriaco Summit, CA, is open daily (except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day) from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Regular admission is $8 for adults; $7.50 for seniors; $4.50 for kids 6-17; free for kids younger than six and active-duty military personnel. For details call 760-227-3483 or go to generalpattonmuseum.com.
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