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L.A. area's history lives in these unique archives

Pamphlets, maps, photographs -- even a football helmet -- tell their collective story

October 18, 2009|Carla Hall

The women are lined up in a row--straight backs, dark starched dresses, sober faces. They clutch long-handled brooms to their sides, bristles up, as if they were rifles. The black-and-white photo is dated 1886.

A cleaning crew? Unlikely. For one thing, the women are too well dressed. For another, they look ready to march into battle or, at least, a parade.

"Isn't it neat?" asked Laura Verlaque, collection manager at the Pasadena Museum of History, which counts the photograph of the Pasadena Broom Brigade in its archives. "We don't really know what it was. We think it was a social group. Whether they marched in brigades, we don't know."

The mysterious photo was one of the artifacts that the museum displayed at the fourth annual Los Angeles Archives Bazaar held Saturday at USC's Davidson Conference Center.

Verlaque made a point of displaying unusual artifacts from the Pasadena museum, which she described as a mid-size facility with fewer online services than large archives. In a prominent spot on the table was a well-worn brown leather football helmet that belonged to a 1924 Pasadena High School player.

"With archives, people think of one-dimensional paper objects," she said, "but when you've been around as long as we have -- 1924 -- you collect a lot of odd things that are three-dimensional."

While shorts-clad college students ambled along the campus sidewalks on a hot sunny day, history lovers wandered in the fluorescent lighting of the conference room, trolling tables set up by dozens of historical societies, institutional archives and private collections.

The event was organized by an association of archival institutions called L.A. as Subject. "It's a place where we can gather with like souls," said Randy Young, 56, who attended with his mother, Betty Lou Young, 90. The two are co-authors of several history books, including "Pacific Palisades: Where the Mountains Meet the Sea." "Historians are odd people," Randy Young said, chuckling. "They like to show off what they know."

As his mother chatted with a Cal State Northridge archivist about a YWCA collection documenting the history of young women who worked in the film business, Randy Young marveled at the treasure troves of archives in L.A.

"Just think: In the garages of L.A. are some of the greatest collections," he said.

Wally G. Shidler's collection of memorabilia, gathered over 50 years, isn't stored in a garage. Shidler, 70, keeps the items in one room of his Walnut Park home.

On Saturday, he had an array of Southern California pamphlets, maps and postcards arranged neatly in plastic sheaths. He noted that he was displaying duplicates of items from his collection of "Southern California ephemera," as he called it. A brochure for a decades-old Mandarin Ballroom in Redondo Beach lay near a Pacific Electric Railway timetable for early 20th century trips by trolley and incline cable cars to Mt. Lowe in the San Gabriel Mountains.

"The Mt. Lowe trip went up to Altadena and then to Rubio Canyon and up to Echo Mountain and then up to Mt. Lowe. . . . You should know about that. It's famous," Shidler said. From 1896 to 1936 -- the year the tavern atop the mountain burned -- it was popular: "Everyone came to Los Angeles, they went to Mt. Lowe," he said.


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