Auto museum director driving in new direction

Lenny Leszczynski

In December 1988 the San Diego Automotive Museum opened in Balboa Park with a mission to tell the story of the social and technological past, present and future of motorized vehicles through its collections and exhibitions. Through the years it has served as a hotspot for car enthusiasts locally and a tourist destination of car lovers from all over the world.

But now there is a new leader at the museum who is upgrading the museum and taking it back to its original mission: to be a home for local car clubs, while still providing fans an opportunity to see the best of motor vehicle history.

San Diego Auto Museum Executive Director Lenny Leszczynski from Spring Valley took his position in January. Leszczynski is not a museum curator but obtained the job with his 25 years of experience in working with non-profits, raising money, creating budgets and developing and managing. He said when he saw the job description, he knew he could do everything the museum was looking for. The museum’s Board of Directors was looking for someone to provide better leadership for staff, bring in best practices, update administration and bring the museum into the 21st century.

“That was my goal. To change the culture back to the original intent of what this museum was,” he said. “It is not just a place for cool cars to be and tourists to come. That is great and something that we do.”

Leszczynski said somewhere along the way, the museum moved away from the local car enthusiasts and being a beacon for clubs to have meetings, fun events and become a pillar in the car community.

“This should not just be a tourist destination. This should be a place where locals like to come as well,” he said.

Despite the pandemic, Leszczynski said the museum is to start serving car clubs and tourists, as restrictions lift.

“While we have been having this yo-yo effect and staff morale down because they have been furloughed, laid off and now they are coming back,” he said.

“We have already started to change the ideology of the museum. A lot of people are making their way back,” he said. “We used to have about 25% locals and now we are seeing a 45% in participation mostly from our locals.”

Car clubs join the museum and will be able to hold meetings when restrictions lift.

Leszczynski said his hope is that they can work with car clubs and see how the museum can position itself to benefit all of the car clubs and how they can help the museum. “We can do so much more together than when we are divided,” he said.