When I moved to Los Angeles in 2002, lovers of the weird told me: “You need to visit the Bunny Museum.”
Huh? I ain’t no bunny boy—I’m not even into rabbits.
But here we are decades later and the Bunny Museum keeps being suggested by freaks I trust.
So last month I got off my ass and hopped to a sunny corner in Altadena and toured the museum with my posse. This included Ashley (visiting from SF) and Bret—both seasoned seekers of the strange, romancers of the wrong, adventurers of the esoteric.
What we found left our jaws on the floor and our jaded eyes bulging like Roger Rabbit in a Judge Doom chokehold. Altadena’s Bunny Museum is a significant curiosity that walks a thin line between quaint and uncanny.
Weeks later, the three of us are still talking about the experience. Why? I’m not sure I can totally convey the off-center wonder of the joint via this post. But for you, I’ll try.
Down the rabbit hole
Legend has it that the Bunny Museum began sometime in the 1980s when lovers Candace Frazee and Steve Lubanski, as a courtship ritual, began giving each other bunny-themed gifts every single day.
Later Candace and Steve married but the gifts didn’t stop. Their friends and family caught on too and soon they had a collection.
Then a collection of collections: stuffed, carved, ceramic, made in Japan, made in England, with children, with angels, etc etc. All rabbit-themed.
Candace, who dresses in head-to-toe red every day of the week, explains to visitors that in 1998 the collections became public and the couple began hosting tours of their tiny, overstuffed home.
It was during this era that the late, great Huell Howser toured the joint—it’s one of his most popular episodes and definitely worth a watch:
But that era is ancient history at this point. The museum was a success right out of the basket, and the collection bred like, well, rabbits—doubling to almost 40,000 pieces in 2019.
A larger space was needed, and that’s where we arrived, a classy-enough looking Mid-Century Modern retail space on a busy corner that the Museum moved into a couple years ago. Room to grow! Well…
Ashley, Bret and I entered, paid Candace our ducats, and glanced at each other with relief. There’s obviously a lot of stuff in the place—like an antique shop. Seemed manageable. “Okay this is not so bad,” I whispered to Ashley and myself, trying to reassure. Then we rounded the corner.
Holy crap. There are bunny objects everywhere.
Stacked up to the cathedral-type ceilings. Mounded in heaps. Nailed to the wall. Leaning here and there. Their cute buck teeth and perky cotton tails at attention. Beady eyes followed us as the collection grew denser the deeper into the space we went. How did they ever fit this in a house? There’s barely enough room in this giant building!
“The Chamber of Hop Horrors”
Candace is adamant in all the Bunny Museum promotion that this museum is not for children. There’s toys everywhere but absolutely NO TOUCHING. In the 21st where interactivity “experiences” are presumed, the Bunny Museum is resolutely old school. Like, 19th Century. You know, before museums were professionalized and institutionalized.
With kid appeal off the table, the Bunny Museum focuses (smartly) on their their real audience: macabre adults.
Take for instance the Chamber of Hop Horrors. This room has warning signs and closed doors. Inside you can see every sick rabbit artifact from the not so good ol’ days. You know, dyed rabbit feet (“ALIVE ANIMAL / DEAD TOY” proclaims a sign), to racialized br’er rabbit memorabilia from the early 20th Century to fucked up underground cartoons from the 1960s Robert Crumb era.
The message seems to be that bunnies aren’t always bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Still, it’s not terribly frightening. Sad and repellant but not scary.
Well, the ceiling is lower back here. And… what’s that stench?
It’s uh…uh…. Hey guys, where are you? Don’t leave me alone in here okay?
“Hey!” yodels Bret. “I found the real hop horror and it’s over here.”
The real chamber of horrors
I wish I had never gone through those double glass doors—I really wish I hadn’t. Because despite the increasingly cluttered and claustrophobic rooms we passed through, I could still imagine the proprietors gifting each other hunny bunny love tokens in a kindly if increasingly frantic ritual.
But as the piss infused air smacked into my face and choked my throat my picturesque view of the place caved in as I was, metaphorically at least, buried by a dumptruck of rabbit pellets.
I had entered what could only charitably be described as the Guantanamo Bay of bunnies.
That’s because the captives in this room—a half dozen formerly prize rabbits and cats—were overfed to the point where they were marooned and soiling themselves in corners of the floor, while former friends (siblings?) stared down at them from the freeze-dried great beyond on glass shelves. The cats wailed plaintively, Get me-owt of here. This was hard to take.
Then I heard Ashley “Oh no”-ing.
I spun around, taking the whole place in. Besides the obese, trapped, pooping/pissing pets and the dead rabbits on shelves there were many overflowing rolling racks where hundreds—thousands—of stuffed bunny toys were crammed, sorted by color. All were more than slightly soiled.
We had crossed the border into Hoarderville. In the corner I glimpsed the “Peter Rabbit Bedroom” and the library which only yearly members may access.
What rabbit lover would choose to spend the night, fucking like rabbits, while overlooking this squalor?
The “Craft Room”
We were hyperventilating but the exit was blocked by two Boomers, one explaining that his pal from the Netherlands was visiting America and could not leave without visiting the Bunny Museum. I suppose we should have pushed past these two—the only other visitors who entered the joint during the hour we were there.
But after the trauma we just suffered, their toe-shoes and denim jorts made us scream again and we ricocheted up the stairs into what Candace calls “The Craft Room.”
Apparently, a lot of bunny items get broken and so the bits go to the Craft Room for fashioning into new toys—unique bunny-derived forms not normally seen in nature. This area was just too surreal. It seems we escaped Guantanamo and ended up on the Island of Doctor Moreau.
The most disturbing item was an art piece by Candace dedicated to the late Mike Kelley, which was a giant jar of rabbit dung surrounded by melted candy canes. It seems Kelley was a Bunny Museum fan and wanted to collaborate with the owners. They didn’t take him seriously—only discovering his reputation after Kelley committed suicide. So the dung was what they imagined their collab-abortion would have been like.
Run away! Run away!
Just when it seemed only angels could save us, well, maybe they did. Seems the Museum’s founding couple, with the bunnies out of their house, have indulged their other interest: angels. Swedenborgian / Pentecostal, invisible-and-all-around-us winged beings. (We discovered this via literature on the Bunny Museum’s kitchen table.)
Apparently the Museum founders have even run an Angel Festival complete with a parade. You gotta hand it to these two—they are enterprising with their passions.
So it’s no wonder the bunnies in the museum seem like a fad whose time has passed. I suspect these divine helpers have usurped their obsession.
Time to go!
We all heaved a sigh of frickin’ relief outside, our backs against the closed door. Don’t let the monster out.
The final verdict is that I would never ever take a rabbit rescuer or pet-loving friend to the Bunny Museum. I certainly won’t go back there.
The Bunny Museum founders have turned the obsessive corners of their mental attics inside out and actualized them, for good and for gruesome, as a physical place that can be visited and explored. Which is some kind of accomplishment. I just wish there weren’t real animals in there.
I suppose Victorian-era museums were probably a lot like this. Insanity caches. Cabinets of curiosities.
One thing for sure is that haunted houses have nothing on this place.
Note to the reader: The Bunny Museum people are pretty aggressive—hopping mad even—about refuting bad reviews online so if my social media reputation gets trashed and I disappear in the near future, please consult the proper authorities.
In the meantime, “that’s all folks!”
Visit the Bunny Museum if you dare. Admission is $12. Open seven days per week: 2605 Lake Ave, Altadena, CA 91001