A “Collection of Collections”

Altadena Heritage is known for its advocacy, preservation, and activism — things like helping to build parks, the Golden Poppy Awards, getting the Farmers Market started, planting trees. But we also maintain important paper and digital archives. Unlike our sister organization Altadena Historical Society (AHS), with its larger holdings documenting town history, our collections are quite concentrated. Architectural records and civic history are our two main interests. A consultant Altadena Heritage’s board hired ten years ago to assess our archives said, “You have a collection of collections, not huge, but focussed on records and history no one else has collected and preserved.”

If you are looking to find information on your home, or a structure built pre-war, (or later, if it is considered significant), we likely have a record of it in AHAD (Altadena Heritage Architectural Database) — which was the first such digitized database in California, now searchable from our website. We also have important paper-based holdings, including the William Wilson Real Estate Agency’s files on homes sold here from 1919 through the 1940s, that you can research in our office. These archives were used last year to help a resident have his home listed as a historic landmark — among the first named after Los Angeles County finally created a Historic Designation Ordinance in 2015.AHAD’s path-breaking predecessor database was assembled as

part of Heritage’s founding mission in the mid-to-late-1980s: to document Altadena’s diverse architectural stock at a time many significant structures were being torn down. The effort was led by our founding Chair Tim Gregory, who understood that to preserve anything, job number one is to take stock of and measure it. The “Windshield Survey” of every Altadena Street, compiled at a cost of over $20,000, determined Altadena had the most significant concentration of architecturally significant homes and buildings in all of Los Angeles County — many indeed worth saving. Altadena Heritage raised consciousness of this important resource, and filled the void created by the then-lack of a historic preservation ordinance for Los Angeles County by designating seven Altadena Heritage Areas, or “AHAs!” to bring attention to architecturally interesting neighborhoods.

Before Altadena Heritage gave it a name, for example, “Janes Village” (which now pops up on Google Maps) did not exist! Successive boards of Altadena Heritage have felt a keen sense of stewardship over the original, outdated Paradox database — “migrating” it at great expense to a more stable and user-friendly platform today. And LA County is looking at several of our AHAs! as potential candidates for its new “Historic District” designation. Without AHAD leading the way, this is unlikely to have happened.

Altadena Historical Society holds wonderful paper (and digitized) old Altadena newspapers in its collection, but sadly, newspapers ceased publication here in the 1970s. Altadena Heritage’s newsletters, although hardly comparable to a daily or even weekly newspaper, have covered major civic and preservation topics and events continuously since the 1990s. Because there is no other paper record, for the past 30 years (for better or worse), our in-depth coverage of Altadena-centric topics has become Altadena’s “paper of record.” Altadena Blog was wonderful while it lasted — but that was only 6 or 7 years.

Do you want to learn about updating Altadena’s Community Standards District, creation of our Hillside Ordinance, the County’s Parks Assessment survey, arguments pro and anti-incorporation attempts? How about redevelopment, health history, or efforts to update our libraries? We’ve covered such civic topics in-depth more than any other publication. In fact, our newsletters have become an important part of our “collections of collections.”

A project now just starting up is creating an index of topics of 30-plus years of newsletters and digitizing them, to make our newsletter archive useful and searchable. If you are interested in helping or leading this effort, please get in touch!