California Wildfire Burns Quirky Telephone Museum to the Ground

Over 125 years of telephone history has gone down in flames.

California’s raging wildfires have claimed the JKL Museum of Telephony in Mountain Ranch, California, about an hour and a half southeast of Sacramento.

The Butte wildfire, which hit the museum on September 10, reportedly destroyed the quirky institution, which is dedicated to the preservation of telephone technology and history.

“We were told by firefighters that the museum burned to the ground. Currently no one can get into the area,” a statement on the museum’s website informs potential visitors.

The museum, also known as the American Museum of Telephony, takes its name from the initials of its owner and founder, John K. La Rue, letters that “just happen to appear above the number 5 on most telephone dials,” according to its website.

The exterior of the JKL Museum of Telephony. Photo: JKL Museum of Telephony.

The exterior of the JKL Museum of Telephony.
Photo: JKL Museum of Telephony.

The collection included early telephones dating back to the 1880s; equipment from AUTOVON, the American military telephone system; and batteries used to power telephone systems over the years, among other related items.

The institution also described its library of telephone-related publications such as catalogs, brochures, and company documents, as “unequaled by any US museum dedicated to telephony and most likely the world.”

The JKL Museum of Telephony. Photo: JKL Museum of Telephony.

The JKL Museum of Telephony.
Photo: JKL Museum of Telephony.

With the once-ubiquitous home telephone now all but obsolete, the JKL Museum offered a fascinating look back at the development of such technology. Its destruction is a true cultural and historical loss.

As of Tuesday, the Butte fire was only 37 percent contained and had destroyed over 150 homes and businesses, according to NBC News. The Butte wildfire is just one of two dozen blazes currently aflame in Washington state, Oregon, and drought-ridden California.

An antique switchboard at the JKL Museum of Telephony. Photo: JKL Museum of Telephony.

An antique switchboard at the JKL Museum of Telephony.
Photo: JKL Museum of Telephony.

Despite the devastation the Butte fire caused to the JKL’s current facility and collection, the institution is still looking to the future. “We plan to rebuild something,” wrote curator Remco Enthoven on the museum website. “We do not yet know how, where or when, but the JKL Museum of Telephony, aka American Museum of Telephony, is here to stay.”


Follow artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

Share