No Place Like Home
Carmel Valley Historical Society struggles to find permanent site for archive.
Thursday, July 16, 1998
"Dedicated to the future of our past," is the motto of the Carmel Valley Historical Society, which since its founding in 1987 has assembled an invaluable treasure trove of artifacts, documents and memorabilia pertaining to the history of the Carmel Valley.
Yet, despite its success organizing its unique collection of historical items, members of the Society say the true value of the collection may be lost forever to historians and academicians if it cannot find a permanent home for the archive, which is now housed in a 40-foot aluminum shipping container in a small industrial park in Carmel Valley Village.
"I get lots of inquiries, but I''m worried about the archive not being made available for researchers," says Society Historian Marvin Pylate, one of the organization''s original founders. "Every other town has people who support such efforts, but not the kind of people who live out here. As far as I''m concerned, [the archive] will just sit down there and rot."
Pylate''s anger and disappointment over the status of the archive stands out in marked contrast to the Society''s hopeful beginnings almost 12 years ago.
"We had 150 of the most prominent people in the Valley and all the old-timers there talking about the old days," Pylate recalls. "It started as a large organization when we decided to form the society."
According to Pylate, 12 committees were formed for collecting historic materials, fundraising, and taping audio interviews with longtime residents and families.
"Within months we folded because of a lack of enthusiasm, and the seven members in the collection committee became the de facto Society," says Pylate.
Since 1987, the Society''s archive has been housed in five different locations in the Valley, including Rosie''s Cracker Barrel on Esquiline Road, and the old Bank of America building in Carmel Valley Village, which now houses the Bernardus Winery offices and tasting room.
Items of historic note collected by the Society over the years include both originals and copies of Valley land grant maps, over 200 hours of taped interviews with longtime Valley residents and families, one of the area''s largest collection of Native American artifacts and early farm implements, a collection of photographs of ranchers and pioneers dating back to the 1800s, over 2,000 issues of local newspapers beginning in the 1940s filed and cross-indexed, and an antique rosewood grand piano which once belonged to the Hatton family.
More than just an organization for collecting old historic items, the Society has also been very active fighting to preserve local historic landmarks, and working to highlight the area''s living history.
In 1991, the Society filed a lawsuit to preserve Rosie''s Bridge in the Village, which was eventually replaced with a safer structure. The Society has also been active trying to preserve the deteriorating Johnathan Wright Cabin at Rancho San Carlos where author Robert Louis Stevenson stayed while recuperating from an illness.
The Society continues to conduct tours and field trips to historic sites throughout the county, and hosts the annual California Cowboy Show in Carmel Valley, all in an effort to keep the rich traditions and history of the area alive.
"The Valley is filled with archaeological sites and we have some of the most historic spots in the state," says Pylate. "There''s the Boronda Adobe where Jack cheese was first made, the Stevenson Cabin at Rancho San Carlos, the Berwick home in Mid-Valley which is on the national register [of historic places], and the San Clemente Dam, one of the first constant angle concrete arch dams which has been recommended for the list."
Ironically, the Society''s struggle to find a permanent home for its archive is due in part to the fact that Carmel Valley remained undeveloped for so many years.
"Carmel Valley is too new as a community, and up to the second World War there was nothing on ''main street''," says Society President Ellsworth Gregory. "We don''t have an old fire or police station, a church or school or the kinds of buildings most societies are given as a home."
Despite efforts to raise money through donations, grants and fundraisers, Gregory admits the Society has struggled and fared poorly against innumerable other organizations seeking donations for their causes. Additionally, says Gregory, the Valley''s increasing attractiveness to upscale homebuyers has driven up property values beyond the Society''s means.
"Rents are so high and everything is so expensive that a considerable amount of money is needed, which is why the society has struggled," Gregory explains. "It''s difficult to get support for something that doesn''t pay money, and while there have been fundraisers [over the years], nothing has materialized in terms of a big drive. As it stands now there are too many fundraisers split in too many directions. People are tapped out before we even start."
According to Gregory, the Society currently has $35,000 in its building fund and has received promises of grants if it can secure a building or building site. Gregory remains hopeful and says there have been informal talks between local landowners about the Society acquiring either a small building adjacent to White Oak Plaza in the Village or a small building site on Pilot Road.
"We certainly need someone for financial help or access to land on the main thoroughfare," adds Gregory. "Most people should know that by now. Even though we''ve had our ups and downs with promises never materializing, we keep on plugging away and collecting. I have no doubt we will have a nice small museum with a research library connected with it. We are still a young organization with high goals." cw
A large rummage sale to raise funds for the Carmel Valley Historical Society will be held this Saturday at the Carmel Valley Trail and Saddle Club on Boronda and Garzas Roads at 9am.