File boxes that were likely only collecting dust somewhere in the City’s storage areas got a new lease on life. One organization is betting that those boxes may hold the key to understanding Long Beach’s history.
It’s a very routine event for the Long Beach city clerk’s office to destroy records after some time has passed, and files from some municipal offices that date as far back as 22 years ago were on the list to be shredded. However, when members of the Historical Society of Long Beach asked to look over the 17 file boxes that were scheduled to be destroyed, they discovered documents that recorded significant moments from the city’s recent past.
At its Aug. 5 meeting, the Council supported the Historical Society of Long Beach’s desire to review these archived boxes with the understanding that the organization will save what it thinks may be important.
The file boxes are from the City’s legislative department, the 7th-council district and the mayor’s office, and they cover the years 1992 to 2011. It was this span of time that caught the attention of Julie Bartolotto, who serves as the executive director of that historical society. She knew that major public projects happened in those two decades.
She and Craig Hendricks, the society’s secretary and a former history professor, briefly reviewed the file boxes last week. Among the printed emails, recommendation letters, thank-you notes and other routine documents, Bartolotto and Hendricks discovered important correspondence that could help tell the story of Long Beach’s recent past…especially the city’s military past.
Bartolotto remembered Long Beach’s former Navy base, shipyard and naval hospital, which eventually closed in the 1990s. The letters between government entities and the city officials who were serving at that time offered to shed light on Long Beach’s transition from its roots as a navy town to the city that it is today.
For historians like Hendricks, the boxes represented a major part of Long Beach’s past. Hendricks is working on a history of Long Beach in the 20th century, and he noted that these archives could play a key role in explaining what happened at the time the naval operations were about to close.
“The whole story at some point needs to be told,” Hendricks said in a phone interview. He described the extensive correspondence contained in the file boxes that detailed what he called a “very heroic effort by the mayor and city council” to keep the Navy base open and when the base couldn’t be saved, to help the City recover from the loss of military facilities in the area. He said those file boxes contained extensive correspondence between Long Beach city officials, federal agencies and the White House.
“These are the kind of records…[that] help us understand exactly what happened in that critical moment,” Hendricks said.
Bartolotto agreed. She acknowledged that the city staff already saves documents that relate to the council meetings, legislative actions and ordinances, but she noted that there is significance to the particular documents in the boxes.
“So we think that these [documents] are important because this helps to determine why decisions were made at council [meetings],” Bartolotto said as she described how some key documents in the archives could help to explain the background behind their decisions.
“So we think it’s the context,” she concluded.
Bartolotto said that her organization is already maintaining an archive of 75 file boxes that came from the city manager’s old archives. She acknowledged that the society will thoroughly examine the new cache of 17 boxes to determine what should be kept. The box contents aren’t in a digital format (e.g. external hard drives or CDs of the files), but some of the material may be already available in electronic format on the City archives on the website. City Clerk Larry Herrera-Cabrera said that since 2005, studies and reports related to council-agenda topics have been digitized. He said in a phone interview that he was happy to comply with the society’s request.
“Otherwise it would have been sent to the shredder,” Herrera-Cabrera said, explaining that he was happy that someone did desire to preserve this piece of history. “There’s nothing secretive. There’s nothing that anyone is trying to conceal [or] contain in those files, so we’re happy to share those [files] for the history of the city of Long Beach.”
There aren’t resources for the Society to make digital archives out of the file boxes. Bartolotto noted that the organization relies on staff, volunteers and some grant funds to take on projects like this one. The Society will be working with the city clerk’s office to determine what will ultimately be kept or tossed, and Herrera said that he will be reporting back to the Council in about 30 days. ß