Over the years, the Historical Society of Long Beach exhibitions have chronicled local traditions, the impact of World War II on the city’s residents, and the formation of Long Beach’s LGBTQ community.
According to executive director Julie Bartolotto, the Historical Society of Long Beach contains a “treasure trove of information”—within the organization’s Bixby Knolls location, visitors can find a collection of California women’s chapter newsletters, an extensive newspaper collection, a crown from the oldest LGBTQ+ organization in the city, the Imperial Court, and a scrapbook documenting films produced at Long Beach’s silent film studio, which was located on the Museum of Latin American Art’s current site from around 1913 to 1920.
Beginning on Feb. 3, spectators will be able to discover another piece of Long Beach history through the Historical Society’s new exhibition featuring the Black Student Union Elders Association.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about since March 2020,” said Bartolotto. “We’re excited to finally get to show this collection and help people to understand this history, demonstrate that we are interested in all of Long Beach history, and share this great partnership we’ve been developing.”
With multiple banners and timelines displaying five sections of approximately 50 items total, including photographs, newspaper articles and other documents, visitors will learn about the history of both the educational opportunity program and the Black Student Union at Cal State Long Beach.
Its current exhibition, “A Woman’s Place,” will still be on display, albeit condensed, and contains biographical sketches and photographs of women from throughout Long Beach history, collected both from community outreach, through a partnership with the Long Beach Suffrage Group and through the Historical Society’s own collection, Bartolotto said.
Expanding, organizing, and archiving the Historical Society’s extensive collection has been a labor of love for Bartolotto, who first began as a part-time staff member while in graduate school at Cal State Long Beach, before taking on a full-time position in 1996.
Bartolotto knew she had her work cut out for her. “There were impressive photos on display, but most weren’t even described,” she said.
Within a couple of years, the Historical Society’s entire collection had been archived and rehoused, Bartolotto said.
“It’s been a process of professionalizing the organization all of these years and securing collections and proper locations,” said Bartolotto, who also worked to update the database system to better track items and information, as well as members and donors.
While the nonprofit has lived in several locations throughout the years since its 1962 founding, the Historical Society has been in its current location in Bixby Knolls since 2007, which has allowed the space to accept large collections, Bartolotto said.
While over the years, the Historical Society has become recognized in the community for its historical cemetery tours each October and participation in community events, particularly First Fridays in Bixby Knolls, its efforts in archiving Long Beach remains one of its most integral roles.
The city of Long Beach doesn’t have an archivist, and it isn’t always possible for libraries to prioritize saving historical materials, Bartolotto said.
“Without saving these materials, and (having) a place for the community to learn about local history, (community members) only know what’s happening right now. They don’t understand any of the history, which we think is important for building strong communities, and giving people a sense of place,” Bartolotto said.
Today, the Historical Society’s archive is “full of stories that are fascinating,” whether they’re stories of corruption or more inspiring, Bartolotto said.
As the economy and the demographics in Long Beach have transformed over the years, Bartolotto hopes for the Historical Society to expand its collections even more, and continue its work in documenting more of the stories of its people, rather than solely its institutions, she said.
Without specific collecting efforts, such as with the upcoming Black Student Union Elders Association exhibit, the Historical Society often ends up with great materials that are more about the institutions in Long Beach rather than its people, Bartolotto said.
“Therefore we also are often lacking the people whose names aren’t written in the newspaper, all underrepresented communities whose stories haven’t been chronicled or shared,” Bartolotto said.
Bartolotto and the Historical Society encourage communities to bring their materials, or have their families share historical materials with the organization, “so that we can better tell the story of Long Beach as people, not just this institution,” Bartolotto said.
“We kind of have called that initiative, ‘the changing face of Long Beach,’” Bartolotto said.
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