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Art work by Tennyson High School students displayed on movable walls are photographed in Hayward, Calif., Friday, June 11, 2014 and will be part of the exhibits at the Hayward Area Historical Society museum. The new museum is scheduled to open at the end of June. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

HAYWARD -- When the historical society opens its new downtown museum June 28, visitors can glimpse the area's past, even smell tomatoes being processed at the Hunt's Cannery and "check in" at the Hayward's Hotel.

The spacious two-story building houses an exhibition gallery, an interactive children's area, a coffee shop, a meeting room that can be used for special events, a reading room and archive rooms filled with documents.

Renovation of the building on Foothill Boulevard has taken three years, with some work put on hold until more money is raised, said AT Stephens, executive director of the Hayward Area Historical Society.

To celebrate the Center for Culture and History's opening, the historical society is holding an open house June 28 and 29 with free tours. Most of the events take place June 28, including entertainment, kids activities, an art exhibit, a vintage fashion show and a lecture on Guillermo Castro, whose land grant included what is now Hayward, San Lorenzo and Castro Valley.

A play, "The Heart of the Bay," will be staged twice June 28. "Students from the theater department at Chabot College are portraying a host of characters, including ... teenage Ohlone Indian guides, Don Guillermo Castro, conquistadors, gold miners and other inhabitants," Stephens said.

After the open house, admission will be $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.

The building has four galleries downstairs, with three currently being used. The main one is the 3,000-square-foot History Gallery, with displays resembling large open books.

"The themes are broken into chapters, playing on the idea of telling a story," said Diane Curry, curator and archivist.

To begin preparing the new exhibits, Curry asked people a few years ago to send her their favorite memory of the Hayward area. "We wanted this gallery to be very personal," she said. She started seeing themes in the dozens of responses she received.

She selected some quotations from the reminiscences to complement text explaining the display's themes -- business and industry, school, leisure, making a community function, agriculture and major events with a local effect.

Two displays facing one another juxtapose the suburban building boom took that hold in the mid-1900s and wartime internment of the area's Japanese-American residents. The display includes a photograph Dorothea Lange took in 1942 of Hayward High School senior class President Eddie Nomura waiting for a relocation camp bus.

The "Losing Home" chapter also includes Russell City, a Hayward shoreline town whose buildings were torn down after it was annexed to the city in the 1960s. Near the photo of Nomura is a bride's dress from the last wedding in Russell City.

"I wanted to show the optimism of people coming here and then being forced to leave their homes," Curry said.

Most of the items on exhibit are from the historical society's collection -- school pennants, a band uniform, a cornerstone of the old Hayward Union High School, firefighting gear, even an 1890s runabout buggy.

The area's agricultural past is illustrated with a saddle, an orchard ladder, a 1925 Fordson tractor and poultry artifacts, including an egg scale.

"Agriculture was a huge part of our community," Curry said.

The agriculture theme continues in the interactive Children's Gallery, where visitors to a mock cannery can stuff imitation vegetables into cans on a hand-cranked conveyor belt. Smell tubes let children guess what is being canned that day.

An imitation creek contains native fish that can be "caught" using fishing poles with magnets.

"It's harder than it looks," Curry said, laughing, as she tried to land a fish during installation of the exhibits. The children's gallery also has a pretend front desk from the Hayward's Hotel on A Street and a play grocery store with a working vintage cash register and scale.

The renovation took longer than expected, Stephens said. Part of the challenge was merging three separate buildings that at one time housed Joseph Magnin, Leeds, Lerners and C.H. Baker Shoes stores.

"The event hall was interesting," he said. During the work, the building's roof started leaking, and the source of the problem could not be found. So workers built a 3,500-square-foot event center on the second floor over the area that leaked, putting a roof over the roof. The center and adjoining patio will remain unfinished until money is raised to complete the work, he said.

"It's been a long slog," Stephens said.

Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.

Grand opening gala
Celebration, with tours, music, food, drink and auction
When: 6 p.m. June 25
Where: Center for History and Culture, 22380 Foothill Blvd., Hayward
Tickets: $150 members, $175 nonmembers; 510-581-0223
Open House
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 29
10 a.m., June 28: Ribbon cutting followed by entertainment, crafts, face painting, tours, a play, a lecture, fashion show. Artists demonstrations at next-door Hayward Arts Council.
June 29
Tours