New nautical museum and military heroes exhibit at Liberty Station honor ex-Navy base’s centennial
The San Diego Union-Tribune March 10, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Liberty Station, two free exhibitions — one of them a permanent museum — have opened inside the former Navy base’s Dick Laub NTC Command Center. Both were created by military veterans.
Nautical History Gallery & Museum
Built entirely from scratch by La Jolla resident Joe Frangiosa, the Nautical History Gallery & Museum is an 800-square-foot, panorama-style display that depicts the 250-year history of the U.S. Navy and its ships. The exhibits trace nautical evolution from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War and Spanish-American War to World Wars I and II.
Frangiosa is a master model builder who crafted all the models and displays by hand, mostly from wood and everyday materials he bought at antique stores and Home Depot.
Frangiosa said he started building plastic model kits at age 10 but grew bored with them quickly, so he began tinkering with the models to enhance them. His first experiment was to put small metal hinges from his sister’s dollhouse on the hood of a plastic Chevy car model so that the hood opened and closed. After that, every model he made was enhanced until he was making everything by hand.
Frangiosa joined the Navy at 19, becoming an aviation boatswain’s mate and spent his four-year Navy career on the aircraft carrier Roosevelt. His term on the ship took him to the Mediterranean, North Atlantic, Caribbean and many other places that allowed him to visit more than 13 countries. When his Navy service term ended and he wasn’t able to re-enlist, he joined the Marine Corps and served 16 years, with multiple deployments to countries that included Afghanistan.
In between deployments, Frangiosa said he would make models as a form of therapy: “It was how I relaxed. What I didn’t know at the time was how it was saving my life mentally.”
After retiring in 2014, Frangiosa leased a small storage room in the back of a La Jolla coffee shop and used it as a workshop. There he could build his models and also display them for the public in the storage room’s window. That became the first home of his nonprofit Nautical History Gallery & Museum.
By the middle of last year he was outgrowing the storage room, so he decided to find a gallery-style space where he could welcome the public into a real museum. The only place he wanted to be was at Liberty Station, because of its naval history.
On Oct. 18, he got the keys and spent three months building the diorama-style walls to create the environment of the museum. Miniature ship models sit inside rooms that resemble ship galleys, wheelhouses and engine rooms from different eras, filled with memorabilia like ship tillers, sailor uniforms, diving helmets, navigating equipment, portholes, photographs, maps and more. Music and audio reels play in the background. Frangiosa is always on hand to share historical knowledge.
The museum officially opened in February. Frangiosa said he’s been thrilled with the reception the museum has received from visitors. He doesn’t charge admission, but he’s grateful for any donations he receives, because the project is a labor of love that he funds and operation entirely by himself.
Just down the hallway from Frangiosa’s museum is an exhibit by another military veteran, Liberty Station artist-in-residence Joe Pisano.
His seven-piece mixed-media panel exhibition “The Art of Immortalizing Heroes” features large-scale artworks organized by theme: World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam Conflict, The Global War on Terrorism, Unsung Heroes and Funeral Honors. Pisani’s three-dimensional artworks were created with unusual materials, including 100,000 drywall screws, 1,000 military dog tags and 3,800 2-inch wooden stars.
Pisano enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve in September 1999 and is currently the chief of Regional Maintenance Command San Diego. He has served in the Navy Reserve for nearly 23 years.
Pisano also operates his own solo gallery at Liberty Station: Pisano Artistry, at 2590 Truxtun Road, Suite 203. For details, call (619) 962-4835.
Although Liberty Station is a mixed-use community of shops, restaurants and arts venues, it was once part of the 600-acre Naval Training Center, which operated from 1923 to 1997. In 2000, a portion of the shuttered base was rededicated as a 361-acre historically themed community.
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