Saturday, December 29, 2012

Visit Old California at museum

Mojave River Valley Museum in Barstow, California.
Trevor Summons, Correspondent
San Bernardino Sun

With so much concrete around us, it's sometimes hard to imagine that life was not always this way. Take away the roar of the freeway running close by and you can begin to piece together life as it used to be at the Mojave River Valley Museum.

It's perched up above the cut that now provides access to Interstate 15, with people heading out to Sin City several hours away to the east.

Back in 1776, Father Francisco Garces came along this way as the first European to forge tracks across the almost empty land. But he was not the first human.

Long before Europeans arrived, the Native Americans used the route as a trading link, leaving behind evidence of their lives in the form of baskets and jewelry, pots and other artifacts.

Explorer Jedediah Smith came through in 1826 and soon afterward the road became a busier, and more dangerous thoroughfare. It's hard to imagine today but you took your life in your hands if you traveled this way.

The museum is quite small but crammed with a huge variety of artifacts.

Wandering around the glass-fronted cabinets, I was taken with a couple of old uniforms. They belonged to Herbert J. Simmons. He served as a soldier in World War I, and then once again as a seaman out in the Pacific in World War II. It must have been tough for those people who were of an age where they were liable for service in both those mighty conflicts.

Next to this display I came upon a little bit of history from my own past. A collection of old cameras took me back to my first real job after I left school.

It was with a company that was the English equivalent of Kodak. They made all types of photographic materials and X-ray films. They also made cameras and I was trained to take photos and develop them.

How strange that an entire industry could collapse with the invention of digital photography. No more need for developer, fixer, film or the other chemicals that made everything happen. I well remember using sepia to add that little touch of color before that too was to disappear forever.

The cameras on display here are of all types and have the bellows to allow expansion and enlargement of the image. Some of them must have been the prized possessions of enthusiastic amateurs engaged in the capture of the perfect picture.

As you wander around you will find many examples of the local geology. The variety of local rocks and minerals is surprising and will perhaps encourage you to look further at the desert all around you. It may look empty but in fact there's a lot going on.

There are plenty of reminders of the earlier people who lived and fought in the area. I liked the account of some of the local tribes who could travel 100 miles in a day. They were called runners, not surprisingly.

Outside the building is a fine example of a caboose, which served as a drovers' wagon during the cattle driving days. The bunks inside don't look very comfortable, but after a long hard day in the saddle, any flat surface no doubt was welcome.

There is a gift shop and an archive of old newspapers, describing life way back when. You will find plenty to interest you on a visit, and the docents have a full understanding of the subjects.

Mojave River Valley Museum
Where: 270 E. Virginia Way, Barstow
Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Christmas
Contact: 760-256-5452,

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Madonna of the Trail Statue Is Restored

Employees with Keystone Waterproofing of Greensburg, Pa., have been busy performing detailed restoration work on the Madonna of the Trail statue, located near the entrance to Wheeling Park. A mason heats granite dust, which is applied to patchwork on the memorial. (Photo by Scott McCloskey)

The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

A Wheeling statue that stands as a "memorial to the pioneer mothers of the covered wagon days" is being restored for the first time since it was erected in 1928.

The Madonna of the Trail statue, located along National Road near the entrance to Wheeling Park, is undergoing a large-scale restoration, as time has taken a toll on the historic memorial.

Employees with Keystone Waterproofing of Greensburg, Pa., have been busy performing detailed work on the statue, including: pressure washing, filling cracks and missing areas on the statue, applying clear water repellent and securing the surrounding retaining wall. Workers said they hope to have the project complete soon, weather permitting. The project was awarded through a bidding process to Allegheny Restoration and Building Corp. of Morgantown and subcontractor Keystone Waterproofing.

The restoration project, which is estimated to cost nearly $35,000, is being sponsored by the Wheeling Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution and the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp.

It is funded in part by the West Virginia Division of Highways' National Scenic Byway program, including a $1,000 gift from the Elizabeth Stifel Kline Fund and the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

"The Wheeling chapter of the National Daughters of the American Revolution is honored to receive the largest Historic Preservation Grant available from the President General's Special Projects Grant Program to restore the Wheeling Madonna of the Trail," said Debi Smith, Wheeling chapter and state historic preservation chairwoman for NSDAR. She said the group was able to secure $10,000 toward the project from the grant program.

"The weather and time have truly taken its toll on Wheeling's Madonna of the Trail, and we are so fortunate to have local professionals who can complete the restoration work. ... We are also fortunate to have such a strong preservation organization as the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp. to support and help find funding to complete various preservation projects," said Smith.

She said she loves the fact that the reddish-grey granite dust workers are using to blend with the patchwork on the statue came from the same rock quarry in Missouri that the original materials for the statue came from. She said the Wheeling Park Commission plans to take care of the landscaping at the site.

Jeremy Morris, executive director of the WNHAC, said, "The Madonna is a Wheeling icon, and we are pleased to lead this great restoration project with the Wheeling Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution. ... It is a great example of Wheeling organizations partnering together."

He said a rededication for the statue is planned for next spring.

The Wheeling statue is one of 12 that were erected in 12 states between 1928 and '29 along what was then called National Old Trails Road, more commonly known today as National Road or U.S. 40. The Wheeling monument was dedicated on July 7, 1928. The statues were created by sculptor August Leimbach and were meant to honor the strength and fortitude of the pioneer women who braved the uncertainties of the great journey west and helped settle the American frontier.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Over $1 Million of Grants Mark the Upcoming 100 Year Anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct

November 5, 1913-- The scene of the formal opening for the Los Angeles aqueduct.  General Adna Chafee, president of the Water Board turned the wheel that allowed the first Owens River water to flow into the aqueduct.
LOS ANGELES -- To mark the upcoming centenary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct (11.5.2013), the Metabolic Studio is awarding grants to the following organizations to realize projects that will bring consciousness to the impact and importance of this monumental piece of hydraulic engineering.

The Metabolic Studio convened Chora Council 2012: a unique team of civic, tribal, educational, environmental, museum and nonprofit leaders from along the Aqueduct's 223-mile length to nominate the organizations and institutions that are receiving funding.

Lauren Bon and the Metabolic Studio are pleased to announce 16 Chora Council grants, representing over $1 million of funding. Providing significant support for action, research, education and community-building in the context of "one hundred years of L.A. water," the Chora docket reflects on the past century in the context of glacial time, while simultaneously acting for the coming 100 years.

Some of the recipients of Chora Council 2012 funding are:

Arid Lands Institute at Woodbury University - The Arid Lands Institute at Woodbury University brings people and ideas together across multiple disciplines to shape answers and envision a future in which landscapes and communities are resilient in the face of regional aridity--environmentally, culturally and economically.

Arizona State University Desert Initiative for ARID: A Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology - ARID is a creative and scholarly journal for contemporary works addressing desert culture, environment, and landscape. Marking the L.A. Aqueduct centenary, ARID will commission works that consider local, regional and international issues related to the social, environmental, cultural, political, engineering and economic impacts of conveying water across vast distances.

Autry National Center of the American West - An intercultural center and museum dedicated to exploring and sharing the stories, experiences and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West, the Autry National Center will digitize archival holdings related to the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

Bishop Paiute Tribe's First Bloom An initiative of the Bishop Paiute Tribe - First Bloom is an environmental education program that connects 4th and 5th grade children to the outdoors and Native American culture. Tribal elders and historians will lead activities that teach the values and history of water, while emphasizing the Owens Valley's native peoples' strength through struggles imposed by land trades and water exports.

California State University, Northridge, Special Collections and Archives - The Oviatt Library at California State University, Northridge will digitize archival holdings related to the Los Angeles Aqueduct, including the recently acquired Catherine Mulholland Collection.

Claremont University Consortium's Honnold/Mudd Library - The Special Collections department of the Honnold/Mudd Library at Claremont University will digitize archival holdings related to the Los Angeles Aqueduct, including Fred Eaton's photograph album and typescript documenting his trip to Owens River Valley in November 1905.

Henry E. Huntington Library & Art Gallery - In partnership with the University of California's Institute on California and the West, the Huntington Library will sponsor three events designed to bring historical perspective to water and aqueduct themes to draw attention to, and comment upon, issues of contemporary interest and concern regarding Los Angeles, water, the aqueduct, the Owens River/Valley and water use more generally.

Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation (LPPSR) - The Lone Pine Paiute - "Water Ute" - fought for their lands and water when settlers claimed both in the 1850s. By 1937, when the Reservation was formed, the diversion of local water to L.A. had already, in turn, destroyed the settlers' agricultural economy. Today the approximately 350 LPPSR residents depend on LADWP for water access. This Chora Council award will support charitable and educational activities on the Reservation that work to preserve and protect the Reservation's cultural heritage.

Silver Lake Reservoirs Conservancy (SLRC) - Dedicated to preserving and enhancing the benefits of Silver Lake's open waters and open space, SLRC will erect information kiosks that engage the history, ecology, infrastructure and future of the reservoirs to tell "The Story of Water in L.A."

The Eastern California Museum - Dedicated to the cultural and natural history of Inyo County and the Eastern Sierra, the Eastern California Museum will produce a yearlong series of events and programs to commemorate the completion of the L.A. Aqueduct. The series will support the Museum's exhibition of photographs exploring construction of the Aqueduct, a steel thread that has woven through life in the Owens Valley for over a century.

University of California Press Foundation's Boom: A Journal of California - A cross-disciplinary quarterly from the University of California Press, Boom embraces scholarly and less usual formats, including artworks and first-person accounts, to explore California. Boom will commission critical interpretive surveys of the L.A. Aqueduct and its historical, cultural and ecological legacies from prominent scholars, independent writers and critics.

University of California, Riverside, Water Resources Collections and Archives - The Water Resources Collections and Archives collects contemporary and historic materials on all aspects of water resources. It will digitize archival holdings related to the Los Angeles Aqueduct, including the Lippincott Collection, which contains more than 800 photographs documenting the construction of the Aqueduct.

William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University (LMU) - The Department of Archives and Special Collections of the William H. Hannon Library at LMU will digitize archival holdings related to the Los Angeles Aqueduct, including editions of the Big Pine Citizen 1922-1928, and the J.D. Black papers, which provide a view of the L.A. Aqueduct from the perspective of Owens Valley residents.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Big Bear Historical Society members take artifact for museum

An example of an arrastre used during the Gold Rush to crush ore to remove gold. Three members of the Big Bear Valley Historical Society pleaded guilty in December 2012 to stealing a historical artifact -- a similar arrastre -- from the San Bernardino National Forest. (U.S. FOREST SERVICE)

By Brian Rokos, Staff Writer

Three members of the Big Bear Valley Historical Society who were convicted of stealing a historical artifact from the San Bernardino National Forest were simply trying to preserve Big Bear-area history and didn’t mean to commit a crime, one of the members said.

One big problem — they took the artifact without permission.

David North, 66, Jean Karwelis, 50, and Donald Schaub, 77, all of Big Bear Lake, pleaded guilty Dec. 4 to removing a prehistoric, historic or archaeological resource, structure, site, artifact or property from National Forest Service lands, according to the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The item was an arrastre, which was used during the Gold Rush period around 1860 to grind ore that contained gold. An arrastre consists of a circular, stone-lined pit and a drag stone that was pulled in a circle by a horse or mule.

Scores of arrastres survived the period, but most have been destroyed or vandalized, according to a news release on the case issued Friday, Dec. 14.

This arrastre was part of an exhibit on the Gold Fever Trail at the Metzger Mine in Holcomb Valley, north of the Big Bear valley.

Schaub said in a phone interview Friday that the arrastre had been vandalized and that he, North and Karwelis wanted to take it back to the Big Bear Valley Historical Museum, which the historical society runs, to repair it.

“I had no idea that this was a historical arrastre. I thought it was just a bunch of messed-up rocks,” Schaub said. “I’m not a thief. I wanted to help the museum.”

But Schaub also said that there were no plans to return the arrastre to its original site.

“We were going to leave it at the museum for the future people to see,” he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerry C. Yang said in a phone interview that the historical society members did not have permission to take the arrastre.

“This is a big deal,” Yang said. “These are things we need to protect and people need to respect.”

The three defendants each were fined $1,000. Also, they must replace the arrastre in its original location under the guidance of a Forest Service archaeologist. The charge was a misdemeanor.

“This sends a clear message that it is not OK to loot archaeological sites,” Bill Sapp, a Forest Service archaeologist, wrote in the news release.

Forest Service spokesman John Miller said in a phone interview that theft of artifacts from national forests is a problem, but that prosecutions are rare because the thefts are seldom witnessed. The artifacts “wind up in someone’s backyard,” he said.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Historical treasures missing from National Archives

Crooks are stealing pieces of American history -- like conman Barry Landau who committed the largest archival theft in the U.S.
FDR's reading copy of his 1937 inaugural address

Bob Simon
60 Minutes

Precious historical artifacts like the Wright Brothers airplane patent, the bombing maps for the nuclear attack on Japan, the original eyewitness radio report of the Hindenburg disaster and photos taken by the astronauts on the moon are just some of the items stolen from our National Archives. So much of our past has been pocketed by thieves that the National Archives has formed a recovery team to get them back. Bob Simon reports on this alarming trend -- and the conman now serving seven years in prison for the largest theft of historic artifacts in U.S. history -- in a 60 Minutes report broadcast Sunday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Some of the items are back where they belong, like the Hindenburg recording and the space photos. Recovering the stolen artifacts is the job of people like Mitch Yockelson of the National Archives Archival Recovery Team. "We're missing the Wright Brothers patent. That would thrill me to no end to recover the patent for the Flying Machine of 1903," Yockelson tells Simon. Nobody knows when it was stolen. "We discovered it was missing in 2003."

The armed recovery team, which chases stolen artifacts along with the FBI, was formed by the National Archives' Inspector General Paul Brachfeld. With a rise in thefts in libraries, historical societies and in the 44 separate archives throughout the country, it was time. "Every institution now that has collections is threatened. We all know that there is a major threat and it's getting larger," says Brachfeld.

That threat was made obvious when authorities last year arrested Barry Landau, a conman who created a fake career as a "presidential historian" so he could get access to the archives from which he stole thousands of items. He especially liked signed documents and stole letters and other materials with the signatures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens. He had large pockets sewn into his clothing to conceal his loot. He managed to get invited to White House functions several times over the decades, where routine photos with important people helped to legitimize him to un-knowing archivists. "From everybody I talked to, he was a master thief," says Brachfeld. "Because he did it over a duration of time. He shopped. He got what he shopped for."

When Brachfeld's team and the FBI searched Landau's New York apartment after his arrest, they recovered 10,000 items, at least 300 of great historical value, including a 533-year-old document penned by a member of Italy's storied Medici family and the original reading copy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1937 inaugural address, with his hand-written notes in the margins. There is no telling what they are exactly worth, because some of these items would never become available on the open market and are irreplaceable. Says Brachfeld, "I think the value was's basically how much the market would some collector, one document could be worth millions."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Saved from Dumpster: Amazing map collection makes librarians tingle

A Mount Washington home slated for demolition yields a trove of maps, including one from 1592.The acquisition gives the city library one of the country's top five library map archives.

Realtor Matthew Greenberg looks through boxes in the former Mount Washington home of John Feathers. Greenberg is a Realtor representing the Walter Keller estate, two elderly siblings who are the beneficiary of the estate and property. (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles Times)

By Bob Pool
Los Angeles Times

The discovery that real estate agent Matthew Greenberg made when he stepped inside a Mount Washington cottage will put the Los Angeles Public Library on the map.

Stashed everywhere in the 948-square-foot tear-down were maps. Tens of thousands of maps. Fold-out street maps were stuffed in file cabinets, crammed into cardboard boxes, lined up on closet shelves and jammed into old dairy crates. Wall-size roll-up maps once familiar to schoolchildren were stacked in corners. Old globes were lined in rows atop bookshelves also filled with maps and atlases.

A giant plastic topographical map of the United States covered a bathroom wall and bookcases displaying Thomas Bros. map books and other street guides lined a small den.

The occupant of the 90-year-old cottage had died in February. Greenberg's job was to empty the home so it could be demolished and its 18,000-square-foot lot, near the top of Canyon Vista Drive, divided into two parcels. His clients had told him to rent a Dumpster and throw away whatever he found inside.

But Greenberg couldn't bring himself to do that, especially after he read a recent Los Angeles Times article about the Central Library's map collection. Instead, he invited its map librarian, Glen Creason, to Mount Washington to look at the trove.

Video: See interview with LA Central Libraries map archivist, Glen Creason.

Creason called the find unbelievable. "I think there are at least a million maps here," he said. "This dwarfs our collection — and we've been collecting for 100 years."

Creason returned to the home Thursday with 10 library employees and volunteers to box up the maps. The acquisition will give the city library one of the country's top five library map archives, behind the Library of Congress and public libraries in New York, Philadelphia and Boston, he said.

As the workers went through the tiny house, they tried to piece together the wanderlust life of John Feathers, the man who amassed the collection, apparently, beginning in childhood.

But they had little evidence to go on, and it remained a mystery exactly how and why he obtained so many maps.

Born in Massachusetts, and raised in a military family that is believed to have spent time in the Midwest, Feathers became a hospital dietitian who seems to have traveled widely. He was the companion of the home's late owner, Walter Keller, who arranged for him to continue living there after his own death two decades ago.

Feathers died in February at age 56, leaving no known survivors. Keller's brother and sister, Marvin Keller and Esther Baum, retained Greenberg to sell the property, which is located next to the Self-Realization Fellowship meditation center.

According to Greenberg, it was the "nagging voice of my mother in the back of my mind" that prompted him to hesitate before tossing out the maps. He has a soft spot in his heart for archives and collections; his mother, Marilyn Greenberg, is a retired university professor who specialized in library science.

It took hours for the workers to pack up the maps Thursday. Everywhere they turned, they found more. As the morning wore on, neighbors came over to watch. "John was a quiet, shy guy. But looking at all of this, I'd say the job at the hospital was clearly not his passion," said Michelle Litchfield, who has lived two houses away for 17 years.

Volunteer Peter Hauge was startled when he moved an old stereo. "Look at this!" he shouted. "He gutted the insides of the stereo of its electronic components and used the box to store more street maps. The front of the stereo still has the knobs."

After that, Hauge said he made a point to inspect the home's washer and dryer and its refrigerator and oven for more stored maps, but found none.

Feathers' trove contained both run-of-the-mill gas station and Chamber of Commerce street maps as well as historic gems, Creason said.

"He has every type of map imaginable. There's a 1956 pictorial map of Lubbock, Texas. He's got a 1942 Jack Renie Street Guide of Los Angeles," Creason said. "He has four of the first Thomas Bros. guides from 1946. Those are very hard to find. The one copy we have is falling apart because it's been so heavily used. We had to photocopy it."

Gingerly fingering an atlas-sized 1918 map with a faded blue cover, Creason opened it up to show the National Map Co.'s "Official Paved Road" guide to the United States. The tattered pages illustrated the location of paved roads with red and blue ink.

Creason was also enthralled by the discovery of several "Mapfox" Los Angeles street guides published in 1944. Creason said in his 32-year library career he had never seen one. Also tucked into Feathers' collection was a pocket-size "Geographia Authentic Atlas and Guide to London and Other Suburbs," showing streets, parks, lakes and rivers that Creason dated as pre-World War I.

The house where Feathers kept his collection sits on a lot that has its own history. The site was once used by the Los Angeles and Mount Washington Railway, which was operated from 1909 to 1919 by Robert Marsh, himself a turn-of-the-century Los Angeles mapmaker and developer of the Mount Washington Hotel, now used by the Self-Realization Fellowship. A section of steel cable used to move the railway's trolley cars up and down the steep hillside remains embedded in concrete in a corner of the lot, which is priced at $450,000.

Creason expects that cataloging and organizing the maps will take as long as a year. "We may have to apply for a grant to sort through the fold-out maps and ask for help from the Library of Congress. The collection will take up about 600 feet of shelving," he said.

Veteran antiquarian map dealer Barry Ruderman of La Jolla would not put a price on the find. He inspected the collection Wednesday and discovered that the oldest piece was a 1592 map of Europe. Ruderman described Feathers as "more of a hoarder than a collector." Along with his maps, Feathers also collected tiny bars of hotel soap, restaurant matchbook covers and National Geographic magazines dating from 1915 to this year.

"This person grabbed every map he could," Ruderman said, glancing at a map of Hopkins County, Ky., in the cottage's kitchen.

"I think he wasn't looking so much for maps as they were finding him."

Saturday, September 29, 2012

New MDHCA Logos Unveiled

The 33rd Annual Mojave Road Rendezvous was the occasion for the unveiling of two new updated logos for the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association. MDHCA President Steve Mongrain led the execution of this effort and thus ensured that they would be available to the membership in the form of decals in time for the Rendezvous.

Here is the text of Steve's presentation to the gathered audience:

Earlier this year, Dennis recommended that the Board of Directors develop a logo with a motto for the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association, what marketing types would call a “brand,” a picture that depicts who we are and what we are about. Here’s what we came up with.

The one above will be used for more formal needs; letterhead, envelopes, formal letters, items where we wish to express the historical aspects of the Goffs Cultural Center.

The second one here on the left will be used for more informal items; caps, decals, shirts. The creative folks tell me the maroon color has a close resemblance to red/brown associated with the color of the Earth, the beige with the sand of the desert itself.

The Joshua Tree symbolizes the Mojave Desert, what causes us all to be here. It symbolizes the Mojave Road, the East Mojave Heritage Trail, and the numerous historical sites throughout the East Mojave, our “boots on the ground” work.

The rendering of the Schoolhouse symbolizes our major goal, the preservation of the history and culture of the Mojave Desert and surrounding area. It speaks to the Mojave Desert Archives and the 19 collections housed here, the more than 120,000 historical photographs, the 6,000+ volumes, 5,000 maps, more than 700 oral and transcribed interviews, and numerous manuscripts, periodicals, pamphlets, digital databases, etc. And it speaks to the Dennis G. Casebier Library on the north side of the campus that houses much of this data. It further represents the Goffs Cultural Center campus, and all the wonderful historic antiquities on the grounds here.

The Latin phrase, Non Nobis Solum, was requested specifically by Dennis. Some years ago, a group of us were meeting at the Casebier residence across the way here. We were discussing then, as we continue to discuss today, PRESENCE here at the Goffs Cultural Center. You may have read in either the Goffsgram or Mojave Road Report that we are often in need of people to be here, generally at least four or more people all the time as this place is far too important to leave unattended at any time.

Anyway, someone at the meeting mentioned to Dennis that most people don’t have the passion he does regarding the MDHCA, and therefore not to expect lots of volunteers. I will always recall Dennis’ answer. He said that he didn't expect lots of volunteers because he had learned over the years that committed people show up “one person at a time.”

Dennis remarked that “many people have no passion for anything, and therefore why not be part of a movement far greater than just yourself? Why not pitch in and help an organization that records the history of Americans in the Mojave Desert for the benefit of generations to come? Do a little, or do a lot, but jump in. Give back and participate.”

Those were important words, and hence our motto, Non Nobis Solum, which translated means, “NOT FOR OURSELVES ALONE.”

A special note of thanks goes to fellow Board member John Fickewirth and his associate, Jim Earley, for their design assistance.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The girls of Manzanar

One was photographed by Ansel Adams. The other wrote a best-selling memoir. Their stories still resonate.

Entrance to Manzanar Relocation Center in California as photographed by Ansel Adams in 1943. (ANSEL ADAMS, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS)


The girls were 7 when Executive Order 9066 uprooted their lives in Los Angeles.

That April, in 1942, both ended up more than 200 miles away from their homes at the same desolate area in the arid Owens Valley, ordered by the U.S. government to live behind barbed wire fences and under the watchful eyes of armed guards in gun towers.

They were two children among 10,000 people, all of Japanese descent and two-thirds of them, like the girls, American citizens by birth.

They never crossed paths – at least not that they know of – at Manzanar War Relocation Center, where families lived in rows of Army barracks divided into blocks and "apartments" measuring 20-by-25 feet.
But, in different ways, each girl came to represent the place where their families were confined for more than two years.

The girl from Block 12, Joyce Nakamura Okazaki, became the face of Manzanar in 1944.

Joyce Okazaki and her sister in 1943 at Manzanar.
She's the schoolgirl with the near-perfect curls in the book "Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese Americans" by famed photographer Ansel Adams, who hoped to suggest, as he says in the introduction, that "the broad concepts of American citizenship, and of liberal, democratic life the world over, must be protected in the prosecution of the war, and sustained in the building of the peace to come."

The girl from Block 16, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, gave a voice to Manzanar with the 1973 publication of one of the most widely read memoirs written by an American author, "Farewell to Manzanar."
Her story has sold more than 1 million copies, and has landed on banned book lists, too.

Both Okazaki and Houston now spend much of their time educating young and old alike about Manzanar.
Their Manzanar discussions are part of a series of OC Public Library programs centering on the theme "Searching for Democracy" that start this weekend and continue into October.


"Farewell to Manzanar" was not intended for any particular age group, but in 2001, Publishers Weekly listed the collaboration between Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and her belated novelist husband, James D. Houston, as one of the bestselling children's books of all time.

It became part of school curriculum around the country and standard reading in grade schools to universities all over the world. A TV movie aired in 1976.

"Farewell to Manzanar" broke decades of national silence on what happened to some 120,000 Japanese Americans – men, women and children – detained under presidential order between 1942 and 1945 at 10 camps around the country.

"I was writing it for my family, for myself," Wakatsuki Houston says of her memoir. "We never imagined it would be a book that would live on this long."

She believes the power of "Farewell to Manzanar" lies in the story it tells about a family, and what relocation did to them. Rather than bring the Wakatsukis closer together, life at Manzanar broke the family's bonds.

"It's an honest story," says Wakatsuki Houston, who has traveled the world from her home in Santa Cruz to speak about Manzanar. Her stop in Orange County includes scheduled visits with youth at Orangewood Children's Home and teens from the Brea and La Habra Branch libraries.

She never tires of the subject. She sees the opportunity to engage in discussions with young people about issues such as Manzanar as the true meaning of democracy.

"I hope it enlarges (students') view of community, of California, of country, of ethnic and racial diversity – and see it as a plus.

"It's why America is the great country it is," she adds. "Of course we have failings. But we can still revert to our ideals."


In the photo that Ansel Adems took on a sunny fall day in 1943, Joyce Okazaki is smiling.

Back then, she was Joyce Yuki Nakamura. She looks sweet and innocent, with her head and her smile tilted just so.

She does not look like an enemy.

But she admits to being a cranky 8-year-old with one of the world's greatest photographers.
They were outside and she asked if he could shoot the photo in the shade. No. Could she at least face a different way? No.

She didn't like the blue-and-white striped dress she wore either. Her sister, Louise, 4, got the dress with ruffles and flowers. It was a mismatch for both.

"She was the tomboy type," Okazaki says. "I was the girly-girl."

Her father, who graduated from Berkeley with a degree in architecture, had been allowed to travel to Idaho where he picked potatoes to earn extra money. He had bought and mailed the dresses to his girls.

Her mother, Yaeko Nakamura, is included in the book. A USC grad, Yaeko Nakamura's ethnicity prevented her from being hired as a teacher before the war, but she taught physical education to youth at Manzanar.

Okazaki's image appears on the cover of the 2001 reprint of "Born Free and Equal" and has been seen in a number of exhibits, including at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles, not far from where her grandfather ran a successful dry goods store before relocation, and at the Eastern California Museum in Independence, not far from Manzanar.

Okazaki, who lives in Seal Beach, retired in 2008 after working more than 20 years in libraries and media centers in the Los Alamitos School District.

She volunteers with the Manzanar Committee, the organization behind the successful effort to have Manzanar designated a national historic site. Okazaki answers often-asked questions about how to define the camps.

"My question is always, why was I, a child, put into a concentration camp?" Okazaki says. "I was a citizen. That's against the Constitution."

That's not a discussion she could have had at 7, when relocation meant leaving behind her favorite doll, Buttercup.

But 70 years later, she can't stop talking about what else was left behind.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Arizona Historical Society to preserve Yuma's ‘hidden treasures'


Archivists have uncovered “hidden treasures” in Yuma, and they are eager to preserve and share them with the rest of the world.

These hidden treasures are photographic collections, manuscripts and historical documents that tell Yuma's story. They are currently crammed in the back rooms of the Adobe Annex Museum Shop, next to the Arizona Historical Society Sanguinetti House Museum, 240 S. Madison Ave. Due to lack of space, some items are kept in off-site storage.

Currently, if someone wants access to an old document or photograph, museum curator Carol Brooks will dig through boxes or file cabinets to find the requested record. It's no problem for her; she knows where every piece can be found.

However, the historical records are not easily accessible outside of Yuma and they're not in the Arizona Historical Society system, like other collections around the state.

AHS wants to change that, making Yuma's history as easily accessible to a local resident as to a researcher in, say, Germany. The organization's Libraries and Archives Division announced plans to catalogue, preserve and make digitally available written, photographic and other material concerning Yuma's history.

Ann Woosley, AHS executive director, met with members of the Yuma County Historical Society and other local history buffs to share the plans.

“We've been discussing for a long time what can we possibly do to preserve these historical records,” Woosley said.

Although AHS has never worried about losing historical records, the organization has been concerned about the confined space and access.

“They're so hard to get to because of the limited space, but we've never had the ability to do anything other than keep the collection secure,” she said.

Lack of funding has been the main obstacle to processing the historical records, but grants have recently become available that will make this project possible.

“Funding sources are looking for underserviced areas and Yuma is considered an underserviced area,” said Linda Whitaker, director of the AHS Library and Archives Division and a certified archivist.

Funding sources are especially excited about the historic photographs found in Yuma.

“Your stuff is so unique and you have every weird format imaginable, including the earliest type of photos taken,” such as a collection containing 20 photos from 1839, Whitaker said.

The plan is to temporarily move the historical records to the AHS Museum at Papago Park in Tempe.

“First thing, we need to get them out of the confined space they're in. They cannot work in the Adobe Annex. There's absolutely no room to work,” Woosley said.

The records will be moved “as soon as feasible,” which could be the last week of September, Whitaker noted.

The process will take about 18 to 24 months. Whitaker and her staff, which includes a certified photograph conservationist, will work on the “easy stuff” first, then the “sticky” stuff like photo albums.

“Yuma has hundreds of albums. They're hard to digitize, harder than loose photos. (The photo archivist) won't tear them apart, she'll keep them intact,” Whitaker explained.

Once staff processes a collection, they will return it immediately to Yuma. However, they won't return it to the Adobe Annex. AHS hopes to house the archives and records at the Yuma County Main Library.

“It's so state-of-the-art. It's a such a wonderful library facility,” Woosley said.

Housing the historical documents will allow access to a wider audience. “But that doesn't mean just anybody can pull a historical photograph,” Woosley noted.

Some collections will be open while others will be secured. The library staff will be trained to assist people in their search and AHS will provide someone with historical knowledge, perhaps a curator, during limited hours.

Although housed at the library, AHS will maintain ownership of the collections. If AHS builds or acquires a suitable facility, the archives and records will “come home.”

The project will cost an estimated $150,000, covered through combined grants. The State Library, State Archives and Arizona Memory Project support the project.

“Funders love finding hidden treasures,” Whitaker said. “What we have here is sexy. What makes Yuma sexy? It's underserviced. In the archives world, it's unique, unprocessed, never catalogued. It is relatively unmessed with.”

The “good news” is that the historical collections are mostly “intact,” thanks to Yuma's favorable climate.

The grant hasn't been written as Whitaker is still gathering information, but funding sources are expecting it. “I've tilled the soil,” Whitaker said.

She invited Yumans to add to the pot to conserve as many collections as possible. “I'm not above begging, and so should you,” she said.

Some locals expressed concern that collections might disappear once they leave Yuma, as happened in the case of the Yuma Territorial Prison when the state took it over.

“We want to make sure we get our history back,” Betsy Gottsponer said.

Whitaker assured them that she is “passionate” about returning historical records to their communities.

“You are talking to the returning queen here in Arizona,” Whitaker said. “I am passionate about local history and returning them to local communities.”

Items taken for processing will be inventoried before they leave Yuma so locals know what to expect when they return. She agreed to outline the process and include assurances that all property will be returned in a written document.

In addition, Whitaker explained that researchers and historians will have access to records while they are in Tempe.

County Supervisor Lenore Stuart expressed excitement about the project. “We've waited a long time to get anything done. We've been the stepchild in the state for so long.”

Jim Valenzuela said he was happy the records would be preserved for future generations.

Whitaker invited Yumans to follow the conservation process through staff blogs and videostreaming on the AHS website: She will also be happy to give tours, she said.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dottie Mann: Loving life

Dottie and Bill Mann at home in Barstow.
Desert Dispatch

Dottie Mann, the sole owner of Brubaker-Mann, a producer of colored rock for landscapes and roofs, was born in St. Louis, Mo. in 1933.

When she was a young girl, her parents moved the family to Illinois where Dottie attended high school. When she was a junior in high school the family moved to Santa Paula. After high school, she went to Pomona College where she met Bill Mann, her future husband.

Q: Why did you move to Barstow?
A: In 1953 during my Sophomore year at Pomona College, I met a graduate from Pomona College named Bill Mann. He had already established a business along with his cousin, Ron Brubaker, in 1950 called Brubaker-Mann Inc. We dated four weeks and then were married in the church on the College campus. I knew he was going to be a success and he also wanted children which was very important to me. So I moved to Barstow with him and our first home was a duplex that he built on Highway 58 just west of Brownie's Liquor.

Q: What is your passion?
A: Living in the Desert became my first passion. Later I started buying antiques and before long, our home was filled with these items. So, Bill said that I had to either quit buying or start selling antiques. Well, as we all know, any red blooded American female does not want to quit buying so I started selling antiques at shows throughout the west including Arizona, Utah and Neveda. In fact my first show was at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas. I continued working these show for about 15 years until I had a serious car accident.

Q: Describe a special memory you have of Barstow.
A: My husband, Bill, and I have very much enjoyed being involved in the Mojave River Valley Museum. We love all the times of going to the Annual Museum barbecues.
Bill was president for one year and we led the Museum excursions for about 25 years. We met many wonderful and long time friends during these trips. We were fierce protectors of the desert.

Q: Tell us one thing that most people don’t know about you.
A: What you see is what you get!!

Q: What are the top three issues facing the Barstow, and what’s your take on them?
A: The number one issue to me is the anti-business attitude that our city government has seemed to adopt. When I see a new business trying to start up, they are thrown with many regulations and requirements. Our town needs to grow and improve and this attitude prevents that.

A close second problem is the homeless and welfare recipients that roam our streets freely to steal, deface, damage and litter wherever and whenever they want. This single problem will eventually kill Barstow. They need to be out of Main street motels and away from business and private residences. We as taxpayers have the right to live in a safe and secure and clean society.

My third concern is the vacant buildings throughout the town. Of course this goes back to the anti-business attitude. The city needs to contact these owners and assist them, not necessarily with money, to upgrade or raze these properties. Barstow looks like it is dying.

Q: What person, living or from history, would you most like to have dinner with and why? What would you ask them?
A: Even though I am an ardent Republican, I would love to have dinner with Harry S. Truman and his wife, Bess. His attitude was depicted in the famous quote, "Give Um Hell." He was a gutsy leader and because of this, he ended WWII.

Q: Where do you get your values from?
A: All my values came from my Mother. She was hard working, religious and very honest. She worked for everything she earned and did not look for handouts. Now a days, too many look for handouts instead of working for them. This is not the American way. Shame on them.

Q: What’s your favorite movie and why?
A: I do not watch movies but my favorite TV interests with the stock market and national news so those two channels are CNBC and FOX News. Because of this, I feel I stay well informed on most issues.

Q: Tell us about your favorite thing about Barstow.
A: I love most things about Barstow. My children went through the local schools here and all lead successful lives. I have many friends here and thus many memories.

Q: What is the ultimate issue facing the United States, and what’s your take on it?
A: The ultimate issue is the fact that our current Government wants to take us towards a socialistic country like those in Europe. That means government intervention into our daily lives, more people on entitlements, higher taxes and a bankrupt government. That is a slow death and we will follow Greece if it is not stopped. Lazy Americans need to suck it up and start earning their own way.

Q: What is the best thing about your job?
A: As the sole owner of Brubaker-Mann, my job is to keep track of everything and ensure that the business continues to be successful. We have been in business for over 62 years. One of my main concerns is the welfare of my employees, some of whom have worked for me for over 30 years.

Q: What is your secret to living a happy, satisfying life?
A: You can always tell that when a person has a happy and satisfying life, he or she is a very positive person. Have you ever seen a person walking around with a frown on his face? That person is not a successful person. I have always been positive, even in hard times. I believe that is why I have a very happy and satisfying life.

Q: What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
A: I don't believe I have any guilty pleasures. I don't smoke or drink to excess. I don't over eat or indulge is excessive sweets. I love my life.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: Hopefully above ground. I will be turning 79 this November and am still in very good health.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Treasure Trove of Old Maps at Your Fingertips

A map of Chicago, Illinois, imprinted in 1913 from the United States Geographical Survey’s historical topographic map collection. Image courtesy of the USGS.
by Susan Spano
Smithsonian Magazine

Map lovers, rejoice! The United States Geological Survey, headquartered in Reston, Virginia, is about to complete a massive project to digitize its cache of approximately 200,000 historic topographic maps, previously available only in print or in some cases out-of-print, meaning that people searching for a special old topo had to go to the archive in Virginia to take a look.

Who cares? Geographers, geologists, hydrologists, demographers, engineers and urban planners, to be sure. Also people interested in local history and genealogy, says the USGS. And, if you ask me, travelers who want not only detailed maps for pursuits like walking and biking, but information about what a place looked like in the past. For instance, the course of rivers before impoundment by dams, villages that have grown into cities, vast empty spaces in the West now crossed by superhighways, mountain ranges reconfigured by volcanic eruption.

Some of the oldest maps in the USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection show the Chicago Loop in 1929; Tooele Valley, Utah, in 1885; New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1888; Colorado’s Mosquito Mountains in 1886. When taken as a whole, the collection can be considered a National Map, a cartographic library of “last resort,” says archive manager Greg Allord, containing hard-to-find maps when all other sources fail. Allord says that scanning is now complete, though processing may take until September and some maps found in other libraries will eventually be added.

Meanwhile, it doesn’t take much computer-savvy to search the collection by state, scale or original map name. I just tried it, successfully downloading and printing a 1886 topo map of the Escalante River watershed in southern Utah. What will I do with it? I don’t quite know, but it’s free because the collection is in the public domain and making it broadly accessible is part of the program’s mandate.

A few definitions may be useful for laypeople who want to try it out: A topographical map shows physical features and elevations, usually with contour lines. Topo mapping done by the USGS generally divides the country into quadrants, or quads, bounded by two lines of longitude and two lines of latitude; the most popular are 1:24,000 in scale (one inch on the map representing 2,000 feet on the earth surface), available in sheets that show 64 square-mile areas.

Since the advent of digitized maps, new words have been added to the cartographic lexicon like georeferencing (a method of adapting old map information to contemporary computer-based geography, a study now known as Geographic Information System or GIS) and metadata (background map information, sometimes part of the legend), not to mention technical computer terms like Bagit, TIFF, GeoPDF—but let’s not even try to go there.

There was, of course, no such thing as georeferencing when the USGS was created by Congress in 1879, chiefly to locate and describe potential mineral resources in great swatches of the country that hadn’t been closely studied. By then the government had funded several surveys, marking what Clarence King, the first director of the USGS, saw as a turning point, “when science ceased to be dragged in the dust of rapid exploration and took a commanding position in the professional work of the country.”

John Wesley Powell, the great Colorado River explorer and second director of the USGS (1881-94), believed it was impossible to convey geological information without a topographic component, though he came under fire from Congress for the added expense it entailed. As a result, topographical surveying has long been intimately connected to geology in the U.S. (unlike Britain, which has separate divisions for topographical and geological mapping) and the USGS is part of the Department of the Interior. The oldest maps in the USGS collection come from Powell’s time.

It’s fitting to note that the Smithsonian Institution was a supporter of Powell’s surveying expeditions; indeed, he went on from the USGS to serve as director of the Bureau of American Ethnology, later folded into the Smithsonian Office of Anthropology. And even now the connection remains strong with the USGS and the Smithsonian cooperating on the Global Volcanism Program, which publishes a Weekly Volcanic Activity Report detailing geothermic events that may someday require new topos.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Portion of El Garces restoration to move forward

El Garces Hotel in 2009 (Wikimedia Commons)
Needles Desert Star

NEEDLES — The transportation element of the El Garces restoration project will be getting underway as soon as possible based on Needles City Council’s decision March 13 to move forward with using federal grant money the city has for that portion of the project.

Allan Affeldt, of El Garces LLC, gave an update to the council at the March 13 meeting. He gave a brief background of the project and how the project hasn’t progressed in the last two years. He said the company and the city had been trying for a joint development agreement to allow for a transfer of the title of the building to El Garces LLC. That has been in the works for nearly two years.

Affeldt said there’s finally been a response to the letter regarding the JDA. The FTA stated they couldn’t see why the city couldn’t move forward with the project for the transportation part, such as parking and a visitors center, but indicated they weren’t likely to approve the JDA.

He said what that means is it’s highly unlikely any private investor will help with the project. It doesn’t matter how much time or money the private investor spends, they will have no security in that investment, which means no bank will back the project, he continued.

There was a conference call about a week prior to the city council meeting to see what should happen next, Affeldt said. There is still about $5 million in grant funding available, which is substantial; the catch is the city can’t spend it on anything such as restaurant or hotel. The city can spend that money on basic infrastructure and the shell of the building, he continued.

An additional challenge is Congressman Jerry Lewis is retiring at the end of the year, Affeldt said. All the funding for the project is federal and Lewis has been a big supporter. It is possible the city could lose that support once he retires, he continued.

“My advice to you as an elected official is to spend the money before you lose it,” he said. There is no expiration date on that funding, but given the economy, there is a good chance the grant money will disappear, he added.

The recommendation is to spend the money and get as far as the city can and somewhere along the line perhaps a third party will want to participate, Affeldt said. About 80 percent of the architectural engineering has been done for the building and there’s already been a process for a construction manager. It is believed the city could go to bid with all those documents within a couple of months, he added.

It’s estimated that the entire building could be completed within a year’s time since the scope of work has been reduced, Affeldt said. There isn’t any reason the city couldn’t have all the money spent within a year’s time, he continued.

Dan Lutzick, of El Garces LLC, said it is important for the city to be sure to place the proper electrical and utilities so they can expand in the future. If done correctly, they won’t have to reconfigure anything in order to expand at a later time, he added.

Tony Frazier, council member, said he wanted to thank Affeldt and Lutzick for all their time on the project. “I think that for at least a long time, Allan’s dream, Dan’s dream, was our dream,” Frazier said. They helped us along as far as they could, he added.

Monday, May 7, 2012

By Kim Stringfellow

Jackrabbit homesteads are only for folks who have a bit of pioneering blood in their veins. The land generally is rough, no water is immediately available, more or less road building has to be done. But fortunately there are many Americans who find infinite pleasure in doing the hard work necessary to provide living accommodations on one of these sites--and cabins are springing up all over the desert country.

--Desert Magazine, 1950

Beyond the proliferation of big box chains, car dealerships, fast food joints, and the nameless sprawl located along California State Highway 62 the desert opens up. Out there, where signs of familiar habitation seem to fade from view, a variance appears in the landscape in the form of small, dusty cabins --mostly abandoned--scattered across the landscape. The majority of the existing shacks, historically found throughout the larger region known as the Morongo Basin, lie east of Twentynine Palms in outlying Wonder Valley. The curious presence of these structures indicated that you are entering one of the remaining communities of "jackrabbit" homesteads left in the American West. The mostly derelict structures located among the occasional inhabited ones are the remaining physical evidence of former occupants who were some of the last to receive land from Uncle Sam for a nominal fee through the Small Tract Act of 1938.

One of the many land acts designed to dispose of "useless" federal lands from the public domain, the Small Tract Act authorized the lease of up to five acres of public land for recreational purpose or use as a home, cabin, camp, health convalescent, or business site to able-bodied U.S. citizens. If the applicant made the necessary improvements to his or her claim by constructing a small dwelling within three years of the lease, the applicant could file for a patent--the federal government's form of a deed--after purchasing the parcel for the appraised price (on average $10 to $20 an acre) at the regional land office. This highly popular mid-century homestead movement reflects the quintessential American desire to claim territory and own a piece of the land even if the property in question is virtually "worthless" from an economic perspective.

Although some cabins have been passed down from the original jackrabbit homesteaders to family members for recreation and other purposes, today the majority of the area's jackrabbit homesteads have fallen beyond repair, lending a ghostly and feral presence to the landscape. Others have found new function as primary, full-time residences with modifications, often referred to as "biltmores" by area residents. A small, but growing community of artists and musicians fleeing rising housing prices and general urban ills of the Los Angeles metropolitan area are reclaiming and re-envisioning the structures as artist studios or as creative retreats. Inventive enclaves forming within this geographically defined area are inspired by the Morongo Basin's spacious desert backdrop, its perceived tranquility, and a desire to form a sense of community within a rural environment. Many have migrated to the region with aspirations uncannily akin to the original homesteaders and share similar outlooks or values with them.

In their quest for renewal and reinvention, musicians and other artists have converged on this part of the desert during the past half-century for the creative stimulation that the openness of the place provides. Cosmic, country-rock music icon Gram Parsons, who frequented Joshua Tree often, died there; and other musicians, such as Tim Easton, Gram Rabbit, Ann Magnuson, and Victoria Williams have homes there.

Artists see the desert as a place of refuge and as a source of inspiration. Joshua Tree and its vicinity are home to a well-documented community of creative types. Bob Arnett, Diane Best, Helena Bongartz, Chris Carraher, Shari Elf, Perry Hoffmanm, Mary-Austin Klein, Jack Pierson, Randy Polumbo, and Andrea Zittel are some of the diverse group of artists living throughout the Morongo Basin and who also own cabins originally built by jackrabbit homesteaders. There have been numerous in-depth articles in both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times concerning the artists' presence in the area. Zittel, an internationally-known artist living in Joshua Tree, co-hosts the High Desert Sites, a biannual series of experimental, site-specific art projects, providing an alternative space for both local and out-of-town artists. Helena Bongartz employs the architectural structure of the cabins directly in her art, using the fascade of an abandoned shack near Amboy to project her video work at night.

Historically, the region has also served as a place to build alternative communities, including those of gays and lesbians. It is not known how many gays and lesbians settled in jackrabbit homesteaders, but there is speculation that some are believed to have done so. A long-time lesbian resident refers affectionately to her neighborhood as the "gay ghetto," a tightly knit community home to many practicing artists who have restored cabins into artist studios and very distinctive creative retreats.

As structures for the imagination, the abandoned cabins have become a catalyst for various human projections, where physical and symbolic constructions of space play out over time. If you look closely, you may also find that the cabins reveal a personal text that describes their former occupants in a much more intimate way. Chris Carraher, an artist and cabin dweller in Wonder Valley, asserts: "The homestead cabin is the other icon that figures this place for me. A pervasive relic of a small-time working-class fantasy land-rush, it is the American Dream writ miniature. Abandoned, ghostly, habited, or reclaimed, the cabin is a lone prop that sets the stage of this tremendous theater at the edge of civilization and wildness, a porous vessel through which the desert and human pass, and pass again."

About the Jackrabbit Homestead Project:

Jackrabbit Homestead is a project produced by Kim Stringfellow exploring the cultural legacy of the Small Tract Act in Southern California's Morongo Basin region near Joshua Tree National Park through a physical installation of photographs, maps, documents, and other related materials. Another component of this project is the Web-based multimedia presentation featuring a free, downloadable car audio tour component available at The accompanying book, Jackrabbit Homestead: Tracing the Small Tract Act in the Southern California Landscape, 1938-2008 was published in 2009 by the Center for American Places. The Web site and audio tour were funded by the California Council for the Humanites California Story Fund initiative and were released in March 2009.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Shuttered California state parks may be vulnerable to vandalism

Damage to the visitors center and other structures at Mitchell Caverns in the Mojave Desert has officials working to improve plans to protect as many as 70 other California parks scheduled to close in July because of budget cuts.
Kevin Forrester, a superintendent with the California Department of Parks and Recreation, walks inside Mitchell Caverns at Providence Mountains State Recreation Area. Since the remote park's closure, intruders have cut fences, kicked doors off of hinges and shattered windows and display cases at the visitors center. Critics say it might be a harbinger of what's to come when 70 more state parks are closed because of budget cuts. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / February 22, 2012)

By Louis Sahagun
Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, Calif. -- California parks officials closed a gem of the state park system last spring, sadly shuttering Mitchell Caverns, a natural wonder that for eight decades had drawn visitors to this remote spot in the Mojave Desert.

Workers hauled away the precious Native American artifacts and historical documents and locked the gates, assuming the area would sit undisturbed until the state could afford to reopen it.

But several times in the last four months, vandals traveled 16 desolate miles north from Interstate 40 to plunder and damage the park's isolated structures. Their actions left advocates for the caverns angry at the state and have officials working to improve plans to protect as many as 70 other California parks scheduled to close in July because of budget cuts.

The worst damage was to the 78-year-old rock-and-mortar visitors center at Mitchell Caverns, the main attraction of the 5,900-acre Providence Mountains State Recreation Area.

Intruders cut fences, kicked doors off of hinges and shattered windows and display cases. They stole metal signs and survival gear, including hand-held radios, flashlights and binoculars. They also stole diesel-powered generators and ripped out thousands of feet of electrical wire used to illuminate the only natural limestone caverns in the state park system, San Bernardino County sheriff's investigators said.

"What happened at the visitors center is devastating and heartbreaking," said Kathy Weatherman, superintendent of the California Parks and Recreation Department's Tehachapi District. She said the caverns themselves were not damaged. The state is taking steps to try to prevent more destruction, including searching for a full-time caretaker, Weatherman said.

The attacks have heightened concerns about possible vandalism at other state parks scheduled for closure. Those 70 parks are among the least used in the state. They represent one-quarter of the 278 that exist across California but tally just 8% of total visits. Many are in remote areas where they are particularly vulnerable.

Officials are seeking anyone with the clout and funds to keep them from being left unguarded after they are closed. "Now, amid budget constraints, we're looking for ways to get caretakers, guardians, local law enforcement and volunteers to protect these precious places," said Roy Stearns, a spokesman for the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

As with so many cuts in California government spending these days, the hope is that once the budget improves, the state will restore services and amenities that have long made the state a rich place to live. But there are no guarantees, especially because just 13 of the state parks and beaches are financially self-sustaining. Fans of many of the parks scheduled for closure are scrambling to try to find some combination of private funds and volunteerism to keep the gates open, fearing that if they ever close it could be for good.

The Mitchell Caverns visitors center, 220 miles east of Los Angeles, had been the home of the caverns' original owners, Los Angeles businessman Jack Mitchell and his wife, Ida. The couple moved to the desert to open the caverns as a tourist attraction in the 1930s and sold them to the state in 1954. A memorial plaque says the Mitchells wanted the state to preserve the area and the caverns "for future generations to appreciate."

Sue Ellen Patrick, 71, granddaughter of Jack and Ida Mitchell, said of the destruction: "My family feels betrayed because the state didn't do what it promised us, which is protect the caves and the heritage."

State Parks and Recreation Department officials decided to mothball the area last May because of two unrelated events. The park's two rangers retired and the state found serious problems with the water system, said Linda Slater, resource interpreter at the nearby Mojave National Preserve. The state couldn't afford the repairs needed to keep the park open.

After valuables were removed, the property was left unguarded, parks officials said.

"The state locked up the place and then walked away, leaving it wide open to troublemakers," said Dennis Casebier, executive director of the nonprofit Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Assn.

Said cattle rancher Rob Blair, 54, who lives within view of Mitchell Caverns: "It's disgusting what's going on out there. These intruders were pretty bold to cut the locks off a state park gate, then tear everything up and steal big-ticket items."

Park officials estimate the damage at $100,000.

Responding to a trespassing call on Feb. 5, sheriff's deputies arrested Christopher Alvarado, 48, of Azusa and Trisha Sutton, 36, of Covina. Deputies said they found stolen items at the couple's campsite near Mitchell Caverns. Alvarado and Sutton were booked on suspicion of burglary, receiving stolen property, possession of a controlled substance and possession of burglary tools, Sheriff's Lt. Ross Tarangle said.

The investigation continues, with police trying to determine whether other people were involved.

Although police reports indicate that a person interviewed at the site said vandals found a key to the cavern gates and destroyed natural features inside, Tarangle said those reports have yet to be confirmed, and parks officials insist they have no evidence the caverns were damaged.

From a distance, the entrance to the caverns resembles two large eyes on a massive rock. Their earliest inhabitants included a Pleistocene ground sloth that stumbled into the darkness 15,000 years ago and left claw marks on a wall. Later, the caverns were blackened with smoke from the fires of Chemehuevi Indians who used them for shelter, storage and ceremonial purposes for at least 500 years.

This week, Kevin Forrester, sector superintendent for the parks department, recalled memories of better times as he walked along a path to the visitors center.

"Look at it now," Forrester said with a sigh. "We've had to board up the windows and weld the doors shut.

"It's going to take a lot of money to bring this place back to life."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New book, upcoming panel discussion highlight Mojave Desert

Beverly Dudley, 80, of Victorville, can still point out trees standing today that were part of the parks original design after her efforts in 1956 helped build Center Street Park in Victorville.

Victorville Daily Press

VICTORVILLE • In a long plaid skirt and turtleneck sweater, Beverly Dudley dug a shovel into a dry field at the corner of Center and Verde streets.

It was 1956, and Dudley was heading up the effort to build Center Street Park — Victorville's first real park, complete with lit ball fields, brick barbecues and public restrooms.

Dudley, who just celebrated her 80th birthday, contributed a small memoir and several photographs from this time to the latest edition in a series of books written about local history, thoughtfully titled "Mohahve VI."

"When people see 'Mohahve' written that way, they think it's a mistake, like we misspelled it or something," Richard Thompson, past president of the Mohahve Historical Society, said with a chuckle.

The 'Mohahve' series is compiled and edited by members of the Mohahve Historical Society. Some of the local authors will be at their monthly meeting Thursday to promote the book and answer questions about their contributions. The public is encouraged to participate in the panel discussion, which will feature the authors and editors, some dressed in 1950s-style clothes, and music and refreshments.

The book is a collection of 19 essays, some of which are scholarly, professional and annotated, while others are stories of events told by "old-timers." Most of the stories are personal accounts supported with court documents and military or government records. Thompson contributed an essay about Max Strobel, the original founder of what is now Hesperia and parts of Victorville.

"It's important to know about your local history," Thompson said. "If you're living in any area, you should know a little something about it."

Thompson, who moved up to the High Desert from San Bernardino in 1990, is a retired public works engineer and a history buff. He was stunned when he moved up here and realized that very little local history had been recorded, and at once began his research in the fields of geography and history, recording what he learned along the way.

Fran Elgin, vice president of the society, is a major contributor and organizer for "Mohahve VI" and its predecessors, starting with the original "Mohahve I" which, in itself, has its own interesting record. According to Elgin and other members, the original "Mohahve" series idea started at Victor Valley College in the early 1960s with a group of students who had a penchant for local history. In 1963 the students formed the Mohahve Historical Society, which has published books, held meetings and kept history alive for almost 50 years now.

The original "Mohahve" book included stories from people who had lived in the High Desert around the turn of the century. Since its origin, students, society members and local citizens have all donated their time and material to keep the series going.

"Research for these books was like prospecting for facts, panning for gold," Thompson said. "The little nuggets of information you find along the way make my research so interesting."

"These books, this book … they are a true labor of love for us," said Elgin, who moved to the High Desert in the 1960s from St. Louis. Elgin is a retired librarian from Victor Valley College, where she worked for 25 years. She now volunteers Tuesday mornings in the library's Local History Room.

The society also published in 2010 Leo Lyman's "History of Victor Valley," which, according to Elgin, would have been more difficult to compile if it had not been for all the time, donations and hard work provided by so many people who care about the community and its rich history.

"Nobody was paid for their contributions," Elgin said. "We just love our town and we want everyone to come out and support their community. There are a lot of really nice people who have a lot to share."