Ever wonder what 45,000 square feet of records looks like? It’s a lot of boxes – more than 180,000, to be precise! Last month, history geeks from the Los Angeles City Historical Society got a peek at more than 190 years of city records when the Los Angeles City Archives opened its doors – and some boxes too – during a special tour of Piper Technical Center on Ramirez Street, just east of downtown. The facility contains all the records generated by our city government since its inception.
“The earliest record is from 1827,” said Michael Holland, Los Angeles City Archivist, who, along with a small staff, is responsible for managing our civic archive, which covers everything the government has created in the course of doing business. City records start once Mexico won its independence from Spain, switching from the Spanish language to English in 1850. Most records were hand written until the 1950s, when they were typed and even recorded on reel-to-reel audio tapes.
There are all kinds of other cool things in the archive, too, in addition to official city records. There are scrapbooks from the Los Angeles Police Department that were created by the public relations department from the 1940s through 1966, which provide a fascinating record of the period. One book is dedicated to the television show “Dragnet,” another to the Watts riots. The books were featured in an exhibit at the California African American Museum.
There’s also a collection of 8,000 construction photos taken by the Department of Public Works during the 1930s, which can be searched using a key word index.
Since the tour was just before the World Series, Holland was inspired to dig out Dodger related items from the archives, including the minutes of the City Council meeting at which the ordinance and contract was debated and approved to bring the team to Los Angeles.
“These records belong to all of us,” said Holland. “Our goal is to make these records available to City officials and employees, as well as the general public.”
While a body of government records collectively known as the “city archives” has existed in the City Clerk’s Office since the 1830s, the official City Archives was established in 1980 with the appointment of the City’s first Archivist, Hynda L. Rudd.
The City Archives has records from as early as 1827, but the majority of the records are from the twentieth century. They include records of the Los Angeles City Council, including minutes, petitions and files; past and current versions of the City Charter; Administrative and Municipal Codes; contracts; deeds to and from the City; election files (precinct maps from 1908 to present); departmental annual reports; maps; photographs; financial reports and ledgers of the City Auditor, City Controller and Treasurer; and local municipality records from Eagle Rock, Hollywood; San Pedro, Tujunga, Venice, Watts and Wilmington, prior to their becoming part of the City of Los Angeles. The collection also contains the office files of Mayors Sam Yorty, Norris Poulson, and Richard Riordan, as well as files of many past City Council Members, from Tom Bradley and Art Snyder to the present.
Members of the public are also invited to use the archive. According the Archives’ website: “The staff of the City Archives has prepared finding aids and inventories which index the historical records of City Departments, City Council and Mayor. Reference service is the top priority of the City Archives. We welcome questions and comments regarding our program, and invite you to make use of our resources for your research project.”