Since taking over the Photo Collection nearly four years ago, there are two questions I get asked most. The first is, “Do you have any photos of my house?” If your residence is named Pickfair or was once owned by Gloria Swanson, then yes, we probably do. If you live in a rather modest dwelling in one of the city’s many middle class neighborhoods, then the chances are a bit slim. However, the LAPL Photo Collection never ceases to amaze, and we do have a lot of residential images, so go ahead and plug in your address or cross streets into the online collection, and you may strike gold, or at least find an aerial view of your neighborhood.
The other question I hear a lot is, “What’s not online?” There are around 90,000 photos available through our website, so let’s start with what is online. Most of the Security Pacific National Bank, and WPA collections have been digitized, which include street views covering all of Los Angeles County, along with detailed shots of commercial and residential properties. The Shades of L.A. collection has also been put online, which is comprised of over 7,000 copies of family photos donated to the library in the early 1990s. We also have scanned a lot of smaller collections from photographers like Ansel Adams, Herman Schulthies, William Reagh, Lucille Stewart, Gary Leonard and Carol Westwood. The images taken by these individuals cover over eighty years of Los Angeles history and provide amazing visual insight into how our fair city has changed during the decades. Since we started digitizing our photo collection well over ten years ago, I like to think we’ve done a pretty good job getting the high demand L.A. images online.
So, back to what’s not online. We have an estimated 3.4 million photos in the physical collection, so the answer to that question is – a lot of photos are not online. However, these numbers can be a bit misleading.
The collections with the most offline images are our “newspaper morgues.” We have the prints from the Los Angeles Herald (photos spanning 1925-1961), its later incarnation, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner (1962-1989), as well as the Valley Times (1946-1970). These newspaper collections make up over two million photos in our holdings, a large percentage will never make their way onto the online collection for a couple of reasons. Newspapers had staff photographers, but also obtained photos from outside sources like wire services and movie studios. Since these types of photos are not unique, may cover subjects outside of Southern California, and potentially have copyright held elsewhere, these would not be selected for digitization. However, that still leaves us with an untold amount of exclusive shots taken by Herald and Valley Times photographers that cannot be found anywhere else. At this point we’ve digitized closed to 25,000 photos from the newspaper collections, and have attempted to find the high interest stories we frequently get asked about, like the Black Dahlia case, the 1988 World Series, the redevelopment Bunker Hill & Chavez Ravine, anything to do with Marilyn Monroe, and the Zoot Suit Riots, among countless others.
However, these collections are massive and we are always unearthing new gems. Just a few months back I discovered a batch of photos of Pacific Ocean Park that had not previously been scanned, but are now available. Digitizing these images are a big priority and we’re constantly digging through the collections, so coming to a computer near you in 2013 will be 1950s images of Disneyland, the opening of the dearly departed Movieland Wax Museum, the Alexander Pantages/Eunice Pringle crime trial, gorgeous shots of Pacific Electric stations throughout L.A. and Orange counties, along with hundred of other subjects. Who knows, we may even stumble upon a photo of your house.