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21 June 2017

A Visit to the California Statewide Museum Collections Center

by Kathryn M. Doyle

California State Park Archives
4940 Lang Avenue
McClellan, California 95652

Earlier this year I accepted an invitation to tour the Statewide Museum Collections Center in McClellan, California. I tagged along with California Genealogical Society President Linda Okazaki and Tynan Peterson and visited the sprawling facility located about seven miles northeast of Sacramento. The day began with specific goals: execute research plans, tour the vast warehouse, and enjoy genealogy camaraderie. We accomplished all three.

California State Parks Archive Exhibit Hall and Lobby

The main entrance opens to the archives exhibit hall where artifacts representing California’s diverse heritage are on display. The images and objects highlight the “professions that identify, study, and care for them.”

Visitors check in at the reception area of the main lobby to obtain a badge and locker. (Handbags, backpacks, food/drinks are not permitted beyond the lobby.) Researchers may bring laptops, scanners, cameras, and phones into the research room. No pens are allowed, but the archive provides pencils and paper. Protective gloves may be required when handling fragile materials.

Researchers must request materials in advance and preschedule a time to use the facility by contacting the archives by phone or email. Appointments are available Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m.–11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m. The research room is closed during lunch and on all state holidays.

Linda in the research room.
A Little History 

Officially, California has required the preservation of historically significant materials since its inception. An 1850 law mandated the preservation of “all public records, registers, maps, books, papers, rolls, documents, and other writings... which may be interesting, or valuable… to the government or people of the state.” The California State Archives is the repository of state records with permanent retention value.

By 2001, the state parks decided that more of their materials should be preserved and a separate California State Parks Archive was approved. Under the auspices of Victoria Yturralde, archivists visited parks throughout the Golden State to collect historically important materials.

Artifacts were housed in various places around Sacramento until suitable quarters could be located. The Museum Collections Center opened at the former McClellan Air Force Base, now McClellan Park, in 2013.

Cameras are not permitted beyond the research area so I don’t have images to share. But you can get a sampling from KQED’s The Treasures Living in the California State Parks Warehouse.

“There’s no point in saving the material if no one ever gets to see it.” 
—Archivist Lola Aguilar

Linda Okazaki and Archivist Lola Aguilar

While it remains a goal to process all holdings, to date only twenty physical collections from the California State Parks Archives have been fully described and catalogued at the Online Catalog of California (OAC). According to Archivist Lola Aguilar, these represent only about 5% of the total. The creation of Finding Aids for historical parks are the highest priority. 

The Photographic Archives consists of more than 350,000 images in various formats, "covering a broad range of California subjects." 

The California Genealogical Society will be hosting a field trip to the collection on Tuesday, August 15, 2017, for a limited number of attendees. Register now.

© 2017 by California Genealogical Society


Chris Pattillo, FASLA said...


Thanks for writing about this. I had no idea it existed. Sounds like a fascinating place. I think I'll sign up to go see for myself.