Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Occupational hazards

I AM LOOKING for a picture of a tree. One of the Sisters, lamenting the recent loss of a huge, hundred-year-old tree on the Doheny Campus, has asked for a memento. Trees are seldom the subject of a photo but often in the background, so looking for a specific one means sifting through a lot of photos. And therein lies today's theme.

Inevitably, when I'm researching something in the records I come across plenty of things I'm not looking for, tidbits and tantalizing references to situations and events of yesteryear. Most of the time I have to let them go and press on. And, of course, later on when I recall such a tidbit, for the life of me I can never find it again.

This contact photo from a publicity shoot, not dated but probably 1962, shows Matt Doran, a member of the Mount's music faculty, with some children playing musical instruments. According to our written history he formed a youth orchestra that year.

But somewhere in the records I have seen a reference to a plan around the same time to create a prep school at the Doheny campus for school-age musicians. It was going to be called something like Mount St. Mary's Academy of Music. The plan was probably read into the administrative minutes in the early 1960s, which I spent a lot of time with last year trying to figure out how the Mount ended up with the Doheny Campus in the first place. Academy of Music? School children? Wow. But I had to let it go.

This kind of thing can drive you crazy if you're the kind of person who likes a good story. Was the youth orchestra a prelude to the academy that never happened? What did happen? And so on.

I have a lot more photos to go through in search of Sister's tree. I know I'm in for many more memory-jogging finds and frustrations. Like paper cuts, they go with the job in archives.


After all the posts about mold, I realize that I never concluded the saga of the Disaster of '10. Everything is more or less back in order: ceiling repaired, damaged tables and chairs refinished, most of the books back on the shelves and the water- and mold-damaged ones lined up for repair. Building improvements have been made, including diverting rain gutters away from the building. They got a big test in the deluge of March 20, but we survived. Deo gratias.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


SEEING THE MOUNT'S lush azaleas and camellias in springtime bloom reminds me of a story told by the late L.A. Times columnist and alumna Zan Thompson '40 about the grounds in the late 1930s when she was a student.

The campus was a bare hilltop when the Sisters took occupancy of the new college building in the spring of 1930. Landscaping got under way immediately, with redwoods and fruit trees and shrubs to stabilize the hillsides.

And flowers, of course. But the flowers had a particular purpose. Mother Marie de Lourdes Le May, head of the English Department and later president and Provincial superior, planted camellias, gardenias and roses near the front steps, blooms that would make a pretty corsage.

No Mount student, Zan wrote, would be without a corsage when her clueless blind date (usually a Loyola man) showed up without one. Mother Marie de Lourdes would take flowers and ribbon in hand and send her student off for an evening on the town with a classy corsage of home-grown posies. (P.S. -- The young lady had to be back in her dorm by 1 a.m.)

I don't know whether the flowering shrubs near Brady hall are the ones planted by Mother Marie de Lourdes, but it's nice to imagine that they are. Let the feminists take umbrage, but it's also fun to imagine a time when a young man on a date was expected to arrive with flowers.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Giving up mold for Lent

IT'S ASH WEDNESDAY, a day or two shy of three months since the Big Leak. We're celebrating by moving an undamaged table and chairs into the Spearman Room. There is a lot more to do before we can close the book, so to speak, on the Disaster of '10, but at least I can say we're done with mold.

Green mold, black mold, white mold, and other interesting colors emanating from mold. I didn't know that the pastel hues we noticed on damaged endpapers -- pink, yellow, lavender and a delicate celandon -- were actually mold souvenirs, "excrement," in the pungent diagnosis of an expert.

Day after day, page after page, my volunteer Mary Marshall and I plied our little spore-trapping vacuum cleaner and had the satisfaction of watching thick layers of dried mold being sucked away. In the process we also cleaned up the dirt and debris of centuries, in some cases: Half the pages of Volume XI of the works St. Augustine (1689) were coated with fine, white sand, as if a seminarian had taken the big folio to the beach for some summer reading.

The colorful mold stains remain as reminders of what happens when an old building leaks. But these are merely the latest ones. Among our rare books are many ancient stains that tell the stories of other buildings, other leaks. I pity those poor librarians who didn't have HEPA vacuum cleaners.