How will the Sonoma County archives be kept safe?
Tens of thousands of invaluable documents illuminating Sonoma County’s history up to the mid-1800s lie in a dilapidated warehouse that officials and advocates say is woefully inadequate for the protection of fragile and irreplaceable materials.
The location of the Sonoma County Archives in the Los Guilicos complex near Highway 12 east of Santa Rosa, a site twice invaded by wildfires, adds to the emergency a problem that has emerged. recently spread without much public attention.
The 3,800 square foot structure built in the 1950s, with a concrete floor and a leaking metal roof, barely escaped damage from the nuns fire which came within 440 feet in 2017 and a heartbreaking repeat of the glass fire that got even closer last September, causing $ 8 million in damage to the Los Guilicos site.
“It’s a horrible place,” said Steven Lovejoy of Sevastopol, chairman of the Sonoma County Historical Archives Commission, an advisory committee. “It’s kind of like out of sight, out of mind.”
But the archives, which are not open to the public or displayed on Google Maps, have a devoted following among those who appreciate the history and importance of archives in documenting the past.
The warehouse, which was once part of the kitchen of the Los Guilicos School for Delinquent Girls, contains over 40,000 historical photographs, deeds and mortgages, electoral registrations, business licenses, records of adoption from 1927 to 1945, four boxes of hospital records from the 1930s and 1940s, and much more.
“It can tell us how those who lived here before us made their way around the world,” said Dan Markwyn of Santa Rosa, professor emeritus of history at Sonoma State University.
Several residents of Sonoma County have asked The Press Democrat to question county leaders about what is being done to protect the records. The questions were asked as part of the North Bay Newspaper Q&A series, which collects and answers readers’ questions about life in the area.
The archival questions came after Gaye LeBaron’s January column on the historically rich but burning site.
The imminent start of another fire season in a county where wildfires burned about 125,000 acres and destroyed about 500 homes last year has magnified the need for action.
“Emergency is the word I would use,” said supervisor Susan Gorin, who lost her Oakmont home in the 2017 nuns fire.
Gorin visited the archives with Katherine Rinehart, then the county archivist, after the fire and “discovered the treasure there,” she said.
“I immediately realized that the archives were vulnerable and had to be kept in the appropriate premises,” Gorin said, initially assuming there was enough time to act.
After the 67,000-acre Glass fire last fall forced 30,000 people to evacuate, “it became a more immediate problem,” she said.
Deborah Doyle, the chair of the Sonoma County Library Commission, noted at last week’s meeting that the fire season could begin earlier this year.
“The faster we can get things out of what appears to be a fire magnet… the better for everyone involved,” she says.
A 2018 California Preservation Program assessment found that the warehouse did not have appropriate environmental controls for long-term archival storage, was in a landslide area, and was at risk of wildfires with a system of storage. ‘automatic fire suppression which “would not protect the archives from destruction. Rinehart reported in a blog last year.
Rinehart retired from the Sonoma County Library in February 2020, after nearly 18 years as a library associate and ultimately director of the Sonoma County History and Genealogy Library, work that included the supervision of archives.
She and Lynn Downey, a Western historian and consulting archivist who worked in the Sonoma County Archives, are co-chairs of Advocates for the Sonoma County Archives, a 10-member group that advocates for resettlement, better management and access to archives.
But moving some 5,000 cubic feet of disks – boxes, bound volumes, photographs, maps and oversized drawings that filled the warehouse to capacity – is an expensive proposition, with no clear source of funds.
“We look forward to the county taking a step forward because most of the material is theirs,” Doyle said at the meeting. “It’s not the library’s responsibility to move all of these things out of Los Guilicos. It’s expensive; it is not appropriate.
Commissioner Paul Heavenridge said: “It really does appear to be our records and the county should shoulder the majority of the burden by paying for this … help (to) find a safer place.”
Hammond said the question of whether the library could spend the proceeds of Measure Y, an one-eighth-of-a-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2016, on the archives was under consideration by the attorney. of the commission.