Idiosyncratic dinosaur ‘museum’ going extinct

Don't even think of messing with a replica Mongolian T-Rex at Roynon Museum. It goes extinct again when the museum closes June 30, 2019./The Grapevine

Always a bit of an oddity, and itself a colorful exhibition of an Escondido antique dealer’s lifelong hobby, the Roynon Museum celebrating all things dinosaur, goes the way of the creatures celebrated within, that is to say, extinct, on June 30.

Applying the lofty title of Roynon Museum of Earth Sciences and Paleontology to its decidedly idiosyncratic exhibit and purpose, museum officials this week posted a lengthy statement under the heading “Here’s to the End of an Era — Announced by the Roynon Museum.”

“Starting in 1937 and still going strong today the Roynon Era is not coming to an end anytime soon,” the statement said. “But one of the Periods within the Roynon Era is ending. It is the Period we refer to as the Museum Period. While official records put the Museum Period at 1998-2019, the foundation of the Period actually started about 1942 in Santa Cruz, CA.

“It saddens many of us to announce that the Roynon Museum of Earth Science and Paleontology will be closing its doors on June 30, 2019 for the last time.”

Elizabeth Lewis supervises grandkids Sebastian Lewis, 3, and Robert Lewis, 4 at Roynon’s museum in March 2016/The Grapevine

Long story short, museum officials said they would attempt to place some “specimens owned by the Museum’s Educational Foundation” with “another qualifying museum” while selling off the rest of the stuff.

““It’s not about the money,” Roynon was quoted as saying in the online announcement.” It’s about getting these items where others can see and appreciate them, and hopefully learn something new or be inspired to delve into the field of paleontology or geology.”

Museum Director Jeannie Nutter, in a written statement, said the reason for the closure is two-fold: Founder Keith Roynon is retiring after years at the educational helm of the museum, where he provided tours and three-hour classes to children the majority of every week; and the museum cannot afford to pay someone to fill the void that would be left without him.

“This has been a very difficult decision,” Nutter said, “and more than a few tears have been shed. But as they say, it is best to go out on top and we all feel that is where the museum is right now,”

Back, back, back in time

Keith Roynon surveys some of the materials in one of the museum education rooms in March 2016/The Grapevine

A native of Santa Cruz, Keith Roynon was an energetic former antique companies owner who took a BS degree from Seattle Pacific University. He attended University of Washington’s geology graduate student until he ran of of money.

Roynon became a very successful business person and antique dealer along with his wife Judy, who taught at Escondido elementary schools . All the while, Roynon continued his passion for the Indiana Jones-like task of collecting fossils and working with rocks and earth sciences for 50 years.

Keith’s wife, Judy Roynon, museum vice-president, might have been better known to some as longtime Escondido Union School District teacher. With five decades at local schools, her last stint was as a home economics program mentor and assistant at L.R. Green Elementary School on Las Palmas Avenue.

Keith Roynon also was very much into education. He presented a three-hour program for school groups that included hands-on workshops with rocks and tools, bringing out the Indiana Jones in the kids. “This is what it’s all about,” he said, “academics as well as fun.”

Earth sciences and education room at Roynon Museum./The Grapevine

The Roynon’s’ huge, private collection of fossils from around the world along with rocks and pre-historic artifacts once filled their South Escondido home. It brought in school groups by the busload for about 15 years. Nutter told The Grapevine in March 2016 that an estimated that 20,000 school children passed through the home-turned-museum this century.

“It had been in a residential area for 15 years,,” Nutter said. “Someone complained. The City of Escondido came by and said we had to move or they were going to shut us down.”

Roynon and company were faced with the task of having a whole lot of bones and rocks in search of new digs.

“Everybody said we had to keep this for the kids,” Roynon said as he patrolled the 5,000-square-foot main exhibit hall across the street from downtown Escondido’s Palomar Hospital in 2016 . “We started looking for a new place in July. They really wanted us in Poway and Oceanside, but my wife and I have been in Escondido since 1972. We wanted to keep this in Escondido.

Demolition and remodeling for the new museum took place in August, 2015. A soft opening, if one can say that of such a grandiose collection of fossils and stuff, took place on Sept. 12, 2015. With little fanfare, the museum began operations at a former medical and health industries office that had contained the likes of dentists and a Covered California, or Obamaacre, office.

What is was

More of the Roynon Museum collection./The grapevine

Beyond eclectic might be the best way of describing what was inside the museum. Dinosaur eggs and a Mongolian T-Rex replica model greeted the few visitors who made their way past a $12 admission fee — discounts for military, seniors and kids under age 17 — and into the main exhibit room.

Visitors  passed by the likes of Tarbosaurus, “a genus of tyrannosaurid dinosaur that flourished in Asia about 70 million years ago, at the end of the Late Cretaceous Period,” according to Wikipedia. They saw what is believed to be one of the largest collection of dinosaur eggs in the nation and world.

The replica prehistoric Siberian bear might have amused if it didn’t alarm first. The crazy prehistoric fish fossils might as well be from another world. All that and then one could start in son the earth science collection and rock rooms off the main exhibit area.

“A docent at the museum will take you through a sequence of life from the Precambrian to the Pleistocene (periods) showing actual fossils,” Roynon said when he opened the facility. “Also the physical events in the earth’s history, such as changing climates, volcanism, plate tectonics, and mass extinctions are brought to focus as to their overall effects on living forms.”

That was then, this is now

“We hope you will all stop by for a final visit,” museum officials said this week. “If you see something you like, make an offer. Shop in the gift shop as we will begin discounting items to prepare for closeout. And, sign our memory book, to let Mr. Roynon know what the museum has meant to you over the years.”

Aside from May 10, 13, 14, 16, 17, 20 when the museum will be closed for unstated reasons, it’s open 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at 457 Grand Avenue, Suite 1-3, Escondido 92025. For even more information, call (442) 999-4499 or visit the museum website.

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