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Back to '30s : Crumbs of Past Found in Capsule

January 15, 1987|GREG BRAXTON | Times Staff Writer

For much of 1986, Burbank history buffs were excited over a dented, corroded copper time capsule discovered last spring in a closet at Burbank Central Library.

But, when the 50-year-old rectangular capsule was opened recently, it became evident that the "oldies" were not necessarily goodies.

In fact, Burbank historians are not quite sure what to make of the capsule's contents, which included moldy newspapers from the mid-1930s, a grant deed for the purchase of the first Burbank library, receipts for library plants and yellowed cards listing the library staff and board of directors.

Marcia Richards, Burbank library services director, speculated that the people who put the time capsule together were excited about the library, which was just a few years old in 1937. "It's the only reason I can think of which would explain why the material is so library oriented," Richards said. "There wasn't much else in Burbank at the time."

Contents Deteriorated

The fragile contents were torn and badly deteriorated. They had been protected by inadequate asbestos wrapping.

Since the opening of the capsule Nov. 24 on the steps of Burbank City Hall, Aeroscopic Engineers Inc., a Los Angeles-based firm specializing in property-damage conservation, has been trying to salvage the papers and figure out what the people who put together the contents had hoped to convey to later generations.

"What people put into a time capsule has a lot to do with ego, what they believe future generations will be interested in," Aeroscopic President Ian Spiszman said. "But I don't quite understand this capsule."

Not that the capsule doesn't contain a few minor treasures. Chief among them is a tattered 1932 Chamber of Commerce map of city streets. The large map is filled with advertisements and a listing of several city businesses on the back.

Chamber Folder

Also in the capsule was a folder issued by the chamber praising the benefits of living and working in Burbank.

"If yours is an intellect which enjoys exercise, you will appreciate Burbank," read the brochure. "It is sort of a country-city. It has the blessings of country quiet and repose, and of metropolitan advantages, too. It takes its spiritual life as seriously as it does the education of its children."

The brochure also touted the city's school system, which at the time had 3,900 students: "96% of them are white," the folder read. Today there are more than 11,000 students in Burbank.

Some of the local newspapers, such as the Burbank Review and the Burbank News, which called itself "an interpretive newspaper," contained stories about Union Air Terminal in Burbank being the third largest air terminal in the nation, with 46 airliners flying out of it daily. The airport served 9,895 passengers in 1931 and 98,485 passengers in 1936. Last year, the airport served about 2.9 million passengers.

The capsule was apparently buried in 1937 in the cornerstone of the old library building, a little east of the existing library at Glenoaks Boulevard and Olive Avenue, Richards said.

When the library was demolished in 1962, the capsule was damaged. Instead of being opened, however, it was put in a closet, where it stayed until last spring, when Richards happened across it.

Papers Fell Apart

The capsule was not in good shape. Water had corroded the outside and seeped inside. When Mayor Mary E. Kelsey opened the box during the Nov. 24 ceremony, papers fell apart in her hand.

Even as Aeroscopic engineers painstakingly examined the newspapers last week, bits and pieces of the paper came apart and floated in the air.

"There's a whole lot that can't be saved," said Phillip Westmoreland, project manager for the firm. "The way it was kept, there's just not much we can do."

No glorious future is planned for the artifacts.

"There's not room for them in our museum, and they're not in good enough condition anyway," said Marjorie J. Colvin, director of the Burbank Historical Society, which oversees operation of the Gordon R. Howard Museum, the showcase for Burbank history.

Strickland said she would take the map and brochure and file them for safekeeping. "They'll eventually be on display, but we have to be very careful with them," she said.

Much of the rest of the capsule's contents will be thrown away.

The city commemorated the 75th anniversary of its incorporation last year. Richards was in charge of a committee that held several celebrations, sponsored a citywide birthday party--and buried a time capsule with newspapers, city photos and maps.

With better luck, later generations of Burbank citizens will find them not only intact but understandable.

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