History Center, Library Close in Budget Crunch

Times Staff Writer

In an effort to trim its payroll, the California Historical Society has closed the doors to its library here and its history center in Los Angeles, the organization’s director announced Monday.

Along with the closures, the nonprofit organization has laid off 10 of its 21 full-time staff members. Founded in 1871, the society will keep open its Whittier Mansion headquarters in San Francisco. Another historical landmark, the Old Mill in San Marino, operated jointly by the society and the city of San Marino, also will remain open.

Nathan Sumner, the society’s executive director, said the closings will be “indefinite” but “not permanent.”

“You can’t stay open if you can’t meet your payroll,” he said

Intolerance for Deficits

Sumner said the society’s board of directors decided it could no longer tolerate deficits. In the past, the organization would periodically incur deficits, then cover them out of a reserve fund.


Both the library and history center will reopen, he said, if the society can expand its revenue base with fund-raising projects planned for the beginning of next year.

The library houses 35,000 historical texts, 8,500 manuscripts, 3,000 maps and several special collections found nowhere else. Included among its treasures is the Kemble Collection, containing the most complete history of printing and lithography in the western United States.

The society’s History Center, on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, houses more than 500,000 photographs.

Though the doors to the library and center will be closed to scholars and the public, the society will continue to insure and maintain their contents.

The historical society organizes educational programs, arranges tours of state landmarks and serves as a repository of historical documents. The society does not receive state or federal funding and must rely on membership fees, endowments and grants for its operations.

But Sumner said the society plans to raise new revenues by enlarging its membership, now just 7,500, to as many as 100,000 in five years.

The society will launch the ambitious membership drive in January with a traveling exhibition titled “Museum at the Mall.” Composed of historical artifacts and photographs, the exhibition will make two-week visits to 22 shopping malls throughout the state.

Sumner estimates that between 10 and 15 million people will see the exhibitions.

“By going into shopping malls we will reach much broader audiences than most cultural institutions are able to reach,” he said.