A “Car Girl” Made, Not Born
An interview with Marisol Herrera, executive director of El Segundo’s Automobile Driving Museum.
By Patrick Strong
Ask car enthusiasts where they got their love of automobiles, and many will respond that it was handed down by a gearhead parent, or perhaps came from a childhood encounter with a special car that captured their imagination.
Marisol Herrera, however, took a different path. She got her love of cars from a Craigslist ad.
It’s true: the executive director of El Segundo’s Automobile Driving Museum is not a lifelong “car girl.” Museums themselves were her first passion; even before attending college, Marisol worked in museums, building a résumé that included stints at L.A.’s Natural History Museum, the California Science Center, and the La Brea Tar Pits. The year 2015 found her seeking a new challenge but wishing to continue her career in museum administration. She answered a Craigslist help-wanted ad for a receptionist at El Segundo’s “hidden gem,” the ADM.
“I fell in love with the museum,” she said of her first encounter with the ADM. “I was floored when I saw it.”
Marisol’s wealth of experience in museum management, coupled with her indefatigable work ethic, led to a quick rise through the ranks of the facility’s Marketing department. When it came to her automotive bona fides, however, success took a little more work. As a young woman, Marisol met some initial resistance from the museum’s core of older male supporters, but ultimately won them over with her enthusiastic willingness to learn about the car world. She accompanied the museum’s volunteer docents on guided tours, absorbing as much information about the cars in the collection as she could. She even learned the dying art of operating a manual transmission—and she learned on a column-mounted “three-on-the-tree” shifter in a vintage Cadillac!
Now, she says, “I feel like I have a family here.” She also has a classic car of her own, a 1963 Ford Falcon that she first located for the museum’s acquisition team, then purchased herself when the museum divested it several years later. (She also owns a 1961 Studebaker pickup. When the old-car bug bites, it bites hard.)
Marisol’s mission as executive director at the ADM, a role to which she was promoted in March 2019, became apparent almost immediately: grow. When she first joined the museum staff, attendance was running as low as two to three visitors per day. Marisol worked to expand the ADM’s fanbase by hosting a diverse slate of car shows, including popular favorites such as “JDM at the ADM” for Japanese classics and “Malaise Days,” a celebration of underappreciated cars from the ’70s and ’80s.
Executive Director Marisol Herrera calls The Automobile Driving Museum home.
Significantly, Marisol was also an integral part of the team that developed the ADM’s woman-focused programming. She was involved in the creation of the museum’s Ladies Car Care series of women-led workshops, aimed at empowering a group that has for too long been underserved in the car community through classes in car repair and maintenance. “There wasn’t really a safe space for women to learn that information,” she said. She also took a hands-on role in the museum’s all-female restoration committee, getting her hands dirty in the revival of a 1955 GMC pickup.
Participation in the El Segundo business and civic community was also instrumental in Marisol’s plan to expand the ADM’s reach. She’s a member of both the Rotary Club and the El Segundo Chamber of Commerce, where she has been a vocal advocate for the museum. She has also worked with the El Segundo Fire Department on fundraising events and has managed the museum’s long-standing partnership with Mattel.
The results of Marisol’s efforts to increase attendance at the museum are clear: before the COVID-19 shutdown, average attendance at the ADM had grown to around 200 visits per week, not including special events.
The forced closure of the museum, however, has taken a toll on the facility’s operating capital. Two major galas that rent the museum’s event space have been cancelled for 2020, leaving a substantial budgetary hole. To fill the gap, the ADM has launched a GoFundMe campaign aimed at providing the necessary cash to keep the lights on until the pandemic has passed.
Looking ahead to brighter days, Marisol envisions an Automobile Driving Museum with an expanded physical footprint to allow for a fuller display of the facility’s 130-car collection, as well as more recognition in the car-enthusiast community. “I’m tired of [the museum] being a hidden gem!” she says. If past performance is any indication, the ADM is in the perfect hands to guide it through its next growth phase.
And maybe in the process, the Automobile Driving Museum will be the inspiration for yet another newly minted “car girl.”
Patrick Strong is president of the diecast model car company Model Citizen and lead singer of The Main Street Band in El Segundo.
This story appears in The El Segundo's August 2020 issue.