Friday, August 15, 2014

Los Angeles Archives, I

In another life, a dream life, I was an archivist. I worked among the dusty files, cataloged and notated maps, learned to preserve the oldest books. I researched the answers to obscure questions. I found letters that had been lost and forgotten, and brought them back to life. I was a curator of the arcane.

This is the life of Los Angeles Archivist Michael Holland, who gave me a tour of the City Archives the other day. First, he showed me this room:

 

Neither words nor photographs can do justice to this space. I gasped quite a bit before pulling myself together to photograph Michael in the presence of 290,000 boxes of files. The shelves on the left securely hold box after box, from floor to ceiling. The shelves on the right are a vestige of those that were used before the Northridge Earthquake of 1994. To say the least, the quake showed the necessity for change.

The contents of boxes are known by the department that generated them, and not necessarily by Michael and his staff. Each box can be located by a bar code.


I love looking down this dark hallway of shelves. A mystery could happen there. An electric current runs through the line on the floor to guide the fork lifts. And a fork lift can raise a person to the highest shelves.

Michael told me many stories. My favorite: through a complicated bureaucratic process, some files become obsolete and are eventually slated for destruction. It's a cycle. Since the Northridge quake, some of those that were set to be destroyed remain undiscovered. They're still in the archives, possibly mis-marked or not marked at all. An intern is working to find them. A quarter of a million boxes is, after all, a lot to go through, and our Archivist does what he can with a small budget. Other things are of more immediate concern.

This is the original deed to Griffith Park. The original.

You can visit the Los Angeles Archives, too. (You even can see some records online.) If you want a tour, just call for an appointment. If you want to see a specific document, you need to call ahead for that, too, so the document can be found and retrieved for you.

Michael can often be heard on KPCC's Off Ramp with John Rabe, Saturdays 12-1pm and Sundays 6-7pm. Thanks to Anne Louise Bannon for setting up the tour and coming with me. There's another room and I took a lot of pictures so there'll be more in a few days.

27 comments:

William Kendall said...

Having Michael in the pic really reinforces scale. I'm fascinated by archives myself... and this reminds me of some I've seen.

Petrea Burchard said...

I'm fascinated by archives, too, William. In the next post I'll show some of the oldest stuff.

Kat Ward said...

Love this, Petrea! Great info, pics - just awesome all around. Thank you for expanding my world today (I needed it.)

Petrea Burchard said...

I'm so glad you like it, Kat! I'll bet Michael would be more than happy to give you a tour of your own.

TheChieftess said...

This looks a lot like the archives seen in various police tv shows...in particular, Cold Case Files...It also reminds me of the "archives" in one of the Harrison Ford Raiders of the Lost Ark movies...I imagine my grandmother, the librarian, would've really enjoyed the tour!!! I'm more inclined to seeing it in the movies!!!

Dina said...

Yes, maybe the lost Ark of the Covenant is languishing there!

This is really fascinating, exciting stuff, Petrea. I'd love to work there too.

altadenahiker said...

Ooooh, I'm smitten by the old book room.

Petrea Burchard said...

They probably shot both of those things here, Chieftess.

It's an ideal job, isn't it, Dina? I'd love it.

Me too, Hiker. I'll show more of it in the next post.

jmgrimes said...

I love the smell of old books: a bit musty, a bit mushroomy, somehow evocative of - old books! I spent a year working as a shelver in a research library with rank upon rank of 18th and 19th century books, and a few much older. Could've been a fusty old bookseller or librarian or archivist.

Petrea Burchard said...

Me too! We're all wanting or at least admiring Michael's job. There is something so compelling about old archives, old books, old libraries.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

The belly of the beast. If it's the same place, I've been. Vic's ex went to get married and discovered she already was. To Vic. Hippies! they never finish what they start.

btw: those are excellent photos of the making of the arroyo channel. I walk it and recognize features of the landscape.

Petrea Burchard said...

The photos you speak of may be some I saw that Michael and his intern rescued. I'm not sure.

BettyS said...

Could bury myself in a place like that and never come out. Years ago I worked for the Indiana Soc. of Architects and discovered old boxes full of early membership records. I had a great time organizing them and writing an article for their magazine.

Lori Elliott Webster said...

How fascinating, Petrea! I"d never get anything done!

Petrea Burchard said...

Betty, the only job I can think of that would be better than Archivist is Archaeologist. Archaeology Archivist has got to be the best.

You wouldn't last long there, Lori! They have so much to do that they've got to be productive.

José Mendonça said...

I just LOVE the top shot, Petrea!

Petrea Burchard said...

Thanks, José!

Ann Erdman said...

I'm happy to see you got the backstage tour! I love rummaging through archives at Pasadena Central Library, Pasadena Museum of History and other resources. Sometimes I'm looking for something related to a specific topic and other times I just dive in and see where I land.

Petrea Burchard said...

That's why your Mystery History posts are always so much fun, Ann.

Bellis said...

You'd make an excellent archivist, Petrea. It requires patience and an orderly nature. You have both in large dollops. I have neither: for me, filing is the worst job in the world. I can understand how it can give my husband so much pleasure that he'll devote an entire afternoon at work to sorting out his old files. Can you imagine preferring to do that than going for a hike?

Petrea Burchard said...

I do like organizing, Bellis. I don't prefer it to hiking, but I can't get anyone to pay me to hike!

Colonel Green said...

Dear Lady,

Michael is an extraordinary chap with an equally fascinating wife. I've had the pleasure on occasion of sampling the fine homegrown wine, an elixir perhaps to rival my own. What am I saying!?!??

As you were

Col. GGG

Petrea Burchard said...

I didn't know you made wine, Col.

Ms M said...

Fascinating piece!

LOLfromPasa said...

Your photographs really do reflect the size of this place. Most enjoyable and informative text to accompany. Thank you! I would so love to visit there. It is on the list :).

Petrea Burchard said...

This is one of those off the beaten path places in LA that most people, let alone tourists, never see. I think it's well worth stopping in.

Margaret said...

So totally fun