You may have experienced the annual Historical Cemetery Tour at Sunnyside Cemetery or have heard of Chrome! Cruisin,’ an exhibit hosted by the Historical Society of Long Beach that highlights classic cars and Long Beach’s cruise culture.
“[The Chrome! Cruisin exhibit] introduces us to an entirely new audience and a new audience to us, it really increases our reach,” executive director Julie Bartolotto said.
Reach is the name of the game because these events require significant community involvement. But when you go even further behind the scenes, you’ll find the small group of people working to preserve the city’s history.
The Historical Society of Long Beach has three part-time and two full-time employees who are in charge of storing and processing countless Long Beach documents.
“At our core, we are an archive,” Bartolotto said.
As you walk down into the literal safe of the former furrier where the historical society is now, there are seemingly endless file cabinets, each filled with photo negatives. There are 10-foot shelves stacked with boxes from the city manager’s office dating back to 1923 and countless albums full of microfilmed, archived articles. They have personal business records, organizational records, scrapbooks, yearbooks and recorded oral histories. Most of the artifacts have been input into a searchable database that continues to grow.
“People are in here doing research five days a week,” Bartolotto said.
The Historical Society began collecting such items in the ‘60s as a project of the Kiwanis Club. It was the work of several like-minded volunteers, but as the volunteers began to retire, they were able to hire the first full-time employee, Bartolotto, 23 years ago.
“To me, it’s just really important that we are preserving the material history of Long Beach and everywhere, because it helps us understand the world around us and the future, and make better decisions about the future,” Bartolotto said.
For years, the Historical Society was strictly an archive that had several offices and storage locations throughout the years, including both Ranchos. They moved to their first location with a gallery in 1993 and moved to their current location on 4260 Atlantic Ave. 10 years ago.
On top of being a hub for research, they dedicate the gallery to various exhibits like the current Chrome! Cruisin’ classic car exhibit. A gallery like Chrome required a year of outreach that included meeting people at car shows and starting a committee that included members from various car clubs willing to lend vintage materials to the exhibit.
“We were very fortunate that so many people turned out [to the community sharing day] and the car clubs especially were very generous with their materials and their time,” Bartolotto said.
Chrome! Cruisin’ will be open until March 7, 2019, and the next exhibit will be Waterways, detailing the two rivers and changing shoreline that shape the city. In the meantime, Bartolotto will be focusing on the Historical Cemetery tour, a walking tour where reenactors tell the stories of people from Long Beach’s past at Sunnyside Cemetery.
Their motto is to collect, preserve and promote the history of Long Beach, and as long as they continue to do so, maybe one day this article will be filed away there too.