High Time To Celebrate California Archives Month


Elsewhere in the vault

October is California Archives Month, a celebration of one of the Golden State’s great treasures.

The archives, which once were shoehorned into a Roseville warehouse, now are housed mainly at the California History Museum on 10th and O Streets in Sacramento. Many of the exhibits in the museum are items from the archives, which contains far more than just records of the official acts of the Legislature and the executive branch.

The gun Sirhan Sirhan used to kill Robert Kennedy is part of the archives as are the records of the law enforcement investigation of his assassination.

So are copies of Spanish and Mexican land grants, the papers of Gov. Earl Warren, photographs, genealogies and a treasure-trove of other memorabilia and documents.

There are also 400 oral histories that augment the sometimes bland court rulings, legislative hearing transcripts and other records. These interviews help bring California history to life by recollections from actual participants.

For many years, only a handful of oral histories were available on-line. In nearly all cases, the only way to access them was by physically going to the fourth floor of the History Museum.

Recently archivists, led by Rebecca Wendt, have scanned around 75 of the oral histories and made them available electronically. It can take awhile to upload but its worth the wait.

Included among the 75 is the two-volume history of Alfred Alquist, the Southern Pacific yardmaster and long-time San Jose senator. Frank Newman, a justice of the state Supreme Court from 1977 to 1983, can also be accessed.

So can John FitzRandolph, a staff attorney for the constitutional revision commission from 1966 to 1968. Timely reading as interest in a constitutional convention increases.

Under “W” is Clement Whitaker, one of the state’s public relations, campaign management pioneers who ran campaigns for the likes of Goodwin Knight some 60 years ago. Under “N,” John Nejedly, a senator from 1969 to 1980 representing Contra Costa County, who carried landmark environmental legislation.

Wendt admits there are some wonderful reads still only available at 10th and O streets – including Earl Warren’s oral history – but says she and her fellow archivists are working to bring more on-line.

Adding new oral histories to the archives’ shelves has been on hold since money was striped from it during the tenure of Secretary of State Kevin Shelley who resigned from office in 2004. At the time, the program had an annual budget of $250,000, which budget-writers would consider “dust” given the state’s $90 billion general fund.

As part of the Archives Month festivities, Chief Archivist Nancy Lenoil will lead a behind-the-scenes media tour of the California State Archives on October 1, offering a rare chance to photograph California’s original 1849 and 1879 constitutions.

The original constitutions will be on public display during a four-hour open house October 3 at the archives, starting at 4:00 PM.



Filed under: California History


  1. Greg: Slow day on the news front? What are doing tomorrow? Scouring the relics at the Ford Towe Museum?

    As we approach the time we adoringly think as the day America was saved by Chris Columbus, let’s not forget those great Italian legislators that made the Capitol what it is today. Men like Perata, Pescetti, and Plescia. And don’t forget Marilyn Brewer.

    So when it gets slow, remember Joe Canciamilla and Frankie V. They legislated so you could lollygag and research your tug-at-the-heart stories from the State Archives.

    Who loves ya’ baby?

    Comment by A. Portantino — 9.28.2009 @ 8:31 pm

  2. Looking for the permalink … or have the budget cuts affected you indirectly?

    I’m not waxing eloquent, or indeed waxing at all, on this gray day.

    I shall return …

    Comment by Debra Bowen — 9.29.2009 @ 9:12 am

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