|Cover of Fran Elgin's book on the history of Rancho Yucca Loma, a desert getaway for celebrities in the 1930s through the 1950s.|
Victorville Daily Press
Meet Fran Elgin.
She’s a longtime Mohahve Historical Society member, an author and a retired Victor Valley College librarian, where she worked for more than 24 years.
But nowadays Fran spends her time in the past.
I received a letter from her on Monday in which she addressed me as “Mr. Cabe” — completely unnecessary — before detailing a little about herself, including the volunteer work she does keeping up the vast collection in VVC’s Local History Room.
So on Tuesday — her volunteer day — I took a trip over to my community-college alma mater to hear Fran’s take on the archiving of our history.
“The historical society, in the early ’80s, they had been keeping things in garages, including photographs and so on,” she said. “I started going to their meetings, and they asked me to be on the board. After a while they asked if they could bring this stuff to the college library. And the president and vice president at the time said that would be OK.”
This was in the old library, mind you, where the Math Success Center is today.
“And they brought these rickety old file cabinets,” she said. “Nothing was organized ... The historical society doesn’t have a home. We meet at the museum. In the ’70s, the museum and the historical society were like this, but then something happened. I don’t know exactly what ... So, anyway, over the years we’ve built this up.”
It’s an astounding collection.
In addition to hundreds of books, the Local History Room houses videos, audio-cassette recordings that document the oral histories of prominent High Desert figures, all of the original “Desert Magazine” issues that were published from 1937 to 1985, not all but a thick binder full of Stuart Kellogg’s “A Dry Heat” columns, and nearly 2,400 historical photographs that are catalogued in a database.
What sort of photographs makes it into the collection?
“Almost anything that has to do with the history (of the Victor Valley and the Mojave Desert),” Fran said. “Some of them aren’t very good. Some of them are very poor quality. But anything with historical value, and sometimes you’d be surprised what people are looking for.”
I asked Fran if she’d seen the black-and-white photograph Ansel Adams took of a massive Joshua Tree near Victorville in 1947. She hadn’t, but we both agreed it would make a fine inclusion before moving on.
“We have all the Apple Valley News (back issues),” she said, pointing to stacks upon stacks of bound newspapers situated atop two or three filing cabinets. “After Eva Conrad died, her son brought all these over because I had interviewed her a few years before. They’re getting pretty fragile.”
Eva Conrad was the editor of the Apple Valley News from 1950 to 1983. She also owned and operated the paper with her husband, Lloyd, a former Los Angeles Times reporter. Described as “fiery and outspoken” in her Daily Press obituary, Mrs. Conrad wrote a weekly column called “Speak No Eva,” excerpts of which were often reprinted in Reader’s Digest and the Atlantic Monthly.
Before we moved on, I took a minute to appreciate the motto that Eva and Lloyd Conrad ran across the Apple Valley News’ masthead: “A Very Independent Newspaper.”
Much of what has been amassed and incorporated into the Local History Room’s collection over the years — only a fraction of which I’ve discussed here — is well-documented and neatly catalogued, though Fran thinks it could be better.
“Well, how many volunteers do you get normally?” I asked.
“Me,” she said. “I’ve had a couple over the years, but they didn’t work out for this reason or that. Like the last person, she was great, but she got a detached retina and hasn’t been able to drive. But there have been a few.”
It baffled me to learn that Fran had taken it upon herself to — almost single-handedly — piece together the history of this desert and its inhabitants.
Fran doesn’t seem to mind though. Being as sweet as she is, I can’t imagine she holds a grudge against people for being too busy living their lives to offer a little help.
I only wish they knew that when those lives end, Fran just might be the one to come along and gather up what remains.