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Sherman Library & Gardens uploads catalog of historic photographs across Southern California

A photo of the Balboa Pavilion in 1907
A photo of the Balboa Pavilion in 1907, viewed from Main Street in Newport Beach. Over the entrance to the pavilion hangs a “Bath House” sign.
(Courtesy of Sherman Library & Gardens)

Historians, rejoice! The Sherman Library & Gardens just uploaded at least 4,000 of its archived photos that detail the history of Southern California since the late 19th century.

That 4,000 is just a fraction of the estimated 40,000 photos in the Newport Beach library’s archives, still to be uploaded in the coming months as part of an ongoing project to digitize its materials for public accessibility. Paul Wormser, director of the library, said the project’s been a long time coming, but that the coronavirus pandemic allowed for the library to push forward with its online initiatives.

“We would love to get all of those materials online, but that would be a very long-term goal,” said Wormser, laughing. “The scanning, describing the materials before you put them in the system — it takes a lot of time. We will initially focus on uploading those collections that we know are of the most interest to the broadest number of people and then continue on.”

“It’s really an almost endless task because we are continuing to receive more photographs over time and so there’s a lot of work to be done,” Wormser added.

A photo of the Newport Wharf and Station, taken approximately in 1905.
(Courtesy of Sherman Library & Gardens)

Normally, interested guests would have to make an appointment online with the library and register as a user upon arrival. Staff and volunteers would ask what photos that guests wanted to see, then bring them up from storage. Most photos are in plastic sleeves, but others require handling with gloves only as to not damage them.

But with the pandemic shutting down the library’s physical building, that makes it difficult for users to access the materials.

That’s where the online gallery comes in.

Orange County Public Libraries are providing curbside pickup, along with several virtual services, as the O.C. Health Care Agency reports new cases.

“Digitizing materials is a wonderful way of broadening access to the materials and letting them know that they’re there,” Wormser said. “People have an expectation that many things are online and that’s the primary advantage.”

Wormser said that, because of its location in Corona del Mar, most people are interested in seeing photos of Newport Beach, often to see older photos of their respective neighborhoods or iconic buildings or ones that are no longer there. But Wormser said the library’s archives also have photos from the Los Angeles area.

A photo of opening day at Richard's Lido Market in Newport Beach in 1948.
A photo of opening day at Richard’s Lido Market in Newport Beach in 1948.
(Courtesy of Sherman Library & Gardens)

The library will continue uploading photos and Wormser said users can expect that any given month will have new photos to see. Their current goal is to get up the collection of photos from W.C. Sawyer, an engineer with the city of Los Angeles that took photographs along the coast of Southern California, by the first quarter of 2021.

“I think what appeals to people about photographs is that they’re very accessible,” Wormser said. “They’re very clear and easy to understand for the most part.”

“You can see the very stark physical difference from our time and earlier time. They don’t require, say, sitting down and going through a set of papers for hours to kind of grasp the nature of the past,” Wormser added. “You can easily look at a photograph and see how things might have been very similar to today or very different.”

To view the photos, visit images.thesherman.org.

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