The burden of the present weighs heavily on the past, Bobbette Fleschler was arguing. The present may be delinquent in its responsibilities, she said, but those who recognize a debt to history must “never give up.”
The past that Fleschler is concerned with is the San Fernando Valley’s. As president of the San Fernando Valley Historical Society, she was giving a pep talk to a group of allied troops, members of the Los Angeles Valley College Museum Assn.
Fleschler was telling about 45 members of the association, which supports a Valley history museum on the campus, that they are not alone in the world, or even in the Valley. There are others, in other groups, dedicated to preserving Valley history, she told them.
Fleschler, 30, looked over the group, most of them elderly or at least deep into middle-age.
“All of you can tell me what the Valley was like 30 years ago--nothing like it is today.”
A gray-haired woman piped up that it was nice to see “a young woman like yourself taking an interest in carrying on the work of our organizations.”
“I hope we can get more people my age to carry on,” Fleschler lamented.
“The younger generation’s knowledge of history in the United States is on the decline. It’s hard for me to understand that there seems to be less interest in our history or heritage than ever before, or even what’s happening today. Many young people don’t even know who the President is now, even on the eve of the presidential election. They seem to care less and less, a sad commentary on the United States.”
But a number of small groups are preserving the Valley’s story, she told the group, which had gathered in a room off the cafeteria at Valley College.
She noted the Chatsworth and Calabasas historical societies, the docents who guide visitors to the Los Encinos and Cahuenga historical parks, and the Canoga Park-Owensmouth Historical Society. The group’s title incorporates Canoga Park’s original name, abandoned in 1931, which publicized the fact that the previously arid Valley was watered by the Owens River, flowing through the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
Fleschler called it a hopeful sign that the Canoga Park group had been founded only this year, an outgrowth of the effort to establish a small historical museum in an abandoned fire station, and has already gathered about 100 members, “a pretty tremendous takeoff.” The Calabasas society split off 5 years ago from the organization that maintains the Leonis Adobe home there, she said.
“All these little local historical societies are serving a tremendous need in our community to preserve our past, because it is quickly disappearing,” Fleschler said.
“All of our historical societies, whether we have 200 members or we dwindle to 25, we have a provision in our bylaws that even if we only have one living member, we still go on.”
The audience chuckled ruefully, clearly considering that a possibility.
“Never give up.”
Fleschler, a Valley native who majored in history at Cal State Northridge and is working on a master’s degree thesis on historical preservation, was the curator of the recent exhibition of historical photos and materials at Cal State Northridge, “Early Images of the San Fernando Valley.”
The exhibition was mounted with materials preserved by local historical societies and the school’s urban archive. The archive, established in 1979, preserves Los Angeles-area historical material, including the records and files of nonprofit organizations and labor unions.
She noted that the Chatsworth Society had preserved the Palmer House, a pioneer homestead, and is now trying to have the Stoney Point area--where Indians built villages and bandits lurked beside the stagecoach trail near what is now the Simi Valley Freeway--designated a state historical park.
Her own group, which is 45 years old, maintains the city-owned Andres Pico Adobe in Mission Hills, former home of the brother of the last Mexican governor of California.
Last year more than 900 schoolchildren toured the adobe, where her group has its office.
School groups come from as far away as Tehachapi, she said--"mostly private schools, since the L.A. school district cut out funding for field trips.”
The societies are also trying to reach more people by making the historic adobe buildings of the Valley’s pioneer days available for private parties, weddings and meetings, she said.
She said her society is looking forward to Christmas this year, when it will present a traditional Mexican-style Christmas drama and posada procession at the Pico Adobe on Dec. 16.