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The Vault : Glendale Still Making History, but It's Running Out of Room to Store the Documentation

February 18, 1988|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | Times Staff Writer

In the basement of Glendale City Hall, 17 steps below the city clerk's office, are all of the official records of the city's 81 years of business, tightly secured in The Vault.

Folder after folder crammed into file drawer atop file drawer. Shelves filled with ledgers. Boxes of contracts, variances, easements. Rows of tract maps. Stacks of assessment records.

They lie in a musty crypt sealed in concrete--silent witness to every action, every decision that shaped a municipality.

They tell a story: "A Tale of One City."

Ordinances and Resolutions Book No. 1, Resolution No. 35, Oct. 31, 1906 (just eight months after the city was born): More than half of the electors who voted for incorporation have signed petitions demanding that the new city be dissolved.

Resolution No. 36, Nov. 14, 1906: Frank Campbell is appointed to the Board of Trustees to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Asa Fanset.

Why did Fanset quit? Perhaps over the disincorporation drive? In the shorthand of forgotten city clerks, the story is a litany of naked facts. It tells the "whats" and leaves the "whys" to conjecture.

Resolution No. 39: Official results of the special election to disincorporate the City of Glendale: 46 in favor, 224 against. The city stays!

60 Turn Out for Council Election

The records show that fewer than 60 people turned out to elect the first City Council, then called the Board of Trustees, but the vote to keep the city was overwhelming.

Those are facts not easily found in history books and old newspaper clippings, even though chronicles tell a more complete story.

To today's keeper of the official city record, the stuff in The Vault is more than just records. It is the heart and soul of his Glendale.

"I never, never want to destroy these original documents," said City Clerk Merle Hagemeyer, the man responsible for safeguarding the city's story. "There is just something about them. . . ," he added, shaking his head reflectively as his voice trailed off.

The stacks of dusty files are kept in a dark fireproof cell 15 feet wide and 36 feet long, guarded by a heavy steel door. Only three people in the city are authorized to open the bank-like combination lock. The public is prohibited from entering. Requests for information from records in the vault are filled by only a few city employees authorized to touch its contents.

Bare bulbs hanging from the low, cement-beam ceiling cast an eerie light on the drab army-green file cabinets. Despite the sealed walls, dust has accumulated in the 46 years since the vault was built into the current City Hall in 1942. Clerks who must go there head immediately for the nearest sink to wash after they leave.

Yet, on the rare occurrence of a private showing, a hidden pulse could easily be perceived there, a sense of life and time.

Dating From 1906

The early ledgers dating from 1906 are handwritten, revealing a character of their own. The clerk was neat, precise and right-handed. Pen strokes verged on calligraphy. Mistakes were rarely made. Original ordinances and resolutions were copied to the T, complete with a drawing denoting the city seal. Changes in the thickness of letters reveal that the writer used an inkwell and dipped into it more often, possibly when tired or frustrated. Occasionally, someone else helped keep the books, evidenced by interjections of different penmanship.

There are two sets of early ledgers in the vault, one for the City of Glendale, another for the City of Tropico, an area of south Glendale that finally merged into the city in 1918.

The vault is a link with the minutiae of the past that rarely shows up in history books, although Glendale's story has been thoroughly chronicled by several authoritative writers.

Records from 1907 detail the proper method to grade and oil the city's dirt streets. The dogcatcher, in 1909, was paid a bonus of 50 cents for each dog he killed, hinting that the overpopulation of stray dogs had already become a brutal business. The same year, residents petitioned the city for permission to plant black acacia trees on Elk Street between Adams Street and Verdugo Road.

Most of the streets in the city originally were named numerically or alphabetically. The alphabetical names on north-south streets changed in September, 1907. A Street became Adams, B became Belmont, I is Isabel, J is Jackson and so on until O, now Orange Street.

Roller-skating on public sidewalks in Glendale became illegal on July 18, 1906. Today's skateboarders are ticketed under that 1906 law.

Another law was added two weeks later banning horses, bicycles, tricycles and automobiles from sidewalks. The same expansive law also prohibits littering, requires all residents to keep their yards clean, and bans tying a horse to a tree in the street. The law is still in force today, and violators are subject to a hefty $100 fine and/or 50 days in jail, although no tricycle or horseback riders have recently been found guilty of the crime.

Mandate for Mufflers

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