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Viewfinders Keepers: Images of Bygone Era Found in Attic

Prints attributed to Dorothea Lange, renowned chronicler of state's migrant workers in 1930s, turn up in Thousand Oaks.

May 31, 2004|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

The prints probably landed on the desk of Assemblyman Elmer Eugene Lore, a Democrat from North Hollywood, sometime in 1937 or 1938. As chairman of the Assembly Interim Committee on Social Welfare and Institutions, Elmer Lore championed labor causes and futilely tried to wrest money from the state for government-run migrant camps.

"He was the forgotten man's assemblyman," said Allison, of Focus on the Masters. "He was a true believer with a social conscience agenda."

A retired history teacher, Allison organized the morass of Elmer Lore's papers into thousands of plastic-encased pages stuffed into 25 thick blue binders. He found supply orders for pads and pencils, notes to political allies, a voucher of $35.42 for a week's worth of stenographic work, an invitation to a reception for FDR and a copy of a letter Lore wrote to Paul Taylor, Lange's economist husband.

In it, the assemblyman asked for one of Taylor's migrant reports and "any other materials dealing with this problem."

In response, Taylor could well have sent a packet of his wife's photos, Allison said.

A fighter for social benefits, Lore received plea after plea from troubled constituents.

An elderly woman in San Fernando was concerned about her pension and wrote: "Please help us from the bondage of relatives and would-be friends by giving us the rights of human beings."

Elmer Lore answered her: "If you are unable to get a proper hearing, I will be glad to intercede for you, although that doesn't always help."

His son takes pride in that kind of response.

"It's amazing," Gene Lore said. "As far as I know, he answered every letter he ever got. He was a union printer, and he was always for the working man. Everyone wrote him for jobs."

Talks have been held with universities and libraries to find a permanent home for the assemblyman's papers.

"I want them open to everyone," Gene Lore said. "Anyone who reads them is going to feel the same way I do."

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