GGNRA archive open house offers look into national park’s past

Amanda Williford GGNRA archives

GGNRA archivist Amanda Williford leafs through historical maps of Fort Funston, part of the national park’s collection. The Golden Gate Museum Project will open part of its collection to the public at an open house Friday and Saturday. Photo: Tom Prete / Ocean Beach Bulletin

The cultural history of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area will be on display Friday and Saturday, offering a chance to see historical items rarely available to the public, such as a swimsuit from Sutro Baths.

From that Sutro Baths swimsuit to FBI evidence collected at Alcatraz Penitentiary to artifacts from the life of an 1890s soldier, the Golden Gate Museum program collects and archives objects and papers from the history of the park, going back far beyond the beginnings of the park itself to the start of European contact in the lands that would later become the GGNRA.

“We … have items like Adolph Sutro’s papers, a lot of historic photographs including a series of glass-plate negatives in the collection that feature the second Cliff House, Sutro Baths and a lot of creation-of-the-park materials,” said Amanda Williford, curator and reference archivist for the GGNRA.

Some of those materials will be on display as part of the museum program’s open house at the Park Archives and Records Center, a converted U.S. Army cavalry barn that houses much of the historical collection. Visitors also can learn how to care for their own collections and historical materials from museum workers.

According to the GGNRA, there are more than 370 archeological sites in the park that have yielded 500,000 artifacts, including arrowheads, toys, old medicine bottles, tools, building materials and jewelry.

But the collection isn’t just about the human history of the park. Williford said plant, animal and geological specimens also have an important place, and some of those, including part of the butterfly collection, will be on display at the open house.

Although the open house is a special event, the historical collections are available to the public all year long.

“We’re open to the public. Anyone who has any interest in history is welcome to come down and take a look through archival materials,” Williford said.

The Park Archives and Records Center is open Mondays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Individual appointments are also available by calling (415) 561-2808.

Watch this video to learn more about the Golden Gate Museum collection and the open house, including Williford’s favorite part of the archives:

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  1. hello,

    my grandmother had an uncle who was a priest who put together the butterfly collection for the Cliff House Museum before it was destroyed by fire. Do you have the name of the person who put this particular butterfly collection together?

    sincerely, cynthia rovero

  2. Great post! We really owe a lot to the designers and stewards of GGNP. These people have protected these landscapes and made them accessible for the public to enjoy and learn from. They are the cultural landscape jewels of the Bay Area.

    The Cultural Landscape Foundation is hosting an event in honor of these individuals on April 4, 2013 and will be presenting the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the Presidio Trust and the National Parks Service with its Steward Excellence Award. Anyone who shares our value for these places and the roles of the designers and stewards are invited! Get your tickets here:


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