Thursday, September 20, 2012

Happy Six-Oh, Pi Theta Mu

Pi Theta Mu members were the Mount's official "hostesses."
THE HISTORIAN OF PI THETA MU, Connie Diwa, paid a visit to the Archives yesterday. Like other sororities, this  venerable Mount institution is interested in rediscovering its history and reaching out to alumnae. Founded in the 1952-53 academic year as an honor society for graduating seniors, that's six decades' worth.

Fortunately for the sorority, about 3 feet of shelf space in the archives is devoted to Pi Theta Mu's scrapbooks, so Connie and her sisters have lots of history to work with.

In the first years of Pi Theta Mu's story, graduating seniors were elected to membership based on their service to the college and community during their four years at the Mount. In 1963, the charter was changed to a service organization for sophomores. According to Sister Germaine McNeil's History of Mount St. Mary's College, Los Angeles, 1925-75, members were the "hostesses" of MSMC, "serving at luncheons, teas, and banquets, officiating at student body elections, and ushering at formal college events on and off campus."

The PTMs are easy to spot in the historic photos -- they are all dressed alike, right down to their black pumps.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A week of 'Doheniana'

Poster collage of historic Mount bulletins.
THE COLLEGE HAS BEEN CELEBRATING the anniversary of the Doheny Campus, which opened to about 250 students on September 12, 1962.  

The annual Mass of the Holy Spirit on at Doheny on September 13 was followed by lunch and the 50th Anniversary Fair, comprising several booths showcasing different aspects of campus history:  changes to the physical plant and landscaping, notable films and TV shows filmed there, a look at dorms through the decades, Weekend College and the Graduate School, alumnae and the CSJs. Nearly 200 Mount students took advantage of the opportunity for a rare look inside Doheny Mansion and signed up for tours held continuously all afternoon.

'Documenting Doheny' exhibit is on display
at the McCarthy Library through December.
Running between now and December, an exhibit of "Doheniana" -- items from the College Archives illustrating the Doheny family, the College and Chester Place -- is on display in the J. Thomas McCarthy Library on the Doheny Campus. The "Documenting Doheny" exhibit is available for viewing during regular library hours, including weekends. Included are historic photos and books, yearbooks, bulletins and newsletters. Check out those 1960s fashions!

Touring a 'weekend getaway'

Central courtyard of the former 
Doheny hacienda in Ojai.
ANYONE WHO HAS SEEN THE DOHENY MANSION at 8 Chester Place is not going to associate the words "rustic" or "country" with Countess Estelle Doheny.

Nevertheless, we had the privilege of joining the Doheny Docents on a tour of St. Thomas Aquinas College in Ojai, whose beautiful, remote valley was once part of the Ferndale Ranch acreage of Edward L. Doheny. Near the oil-rich hills of Santa Paula, Doheny's company drilled at Ferndale, but in 1928 it became the family's rustic weekend retreat during the dark days of the Teapot Dome hearings and in 1929 after the sudden death of Doheny's only son, Ned. 

The simple, almost austere, pantiled hacienda, designed by Wallace Neff, was legendarily built under Countess Doheny's direction in just six weeks. For many years it has served as the residence of the president of St. Thomas Aquinas College, and recently underwent its first extensive renovation without losing any of its classical California charm. President Michael F. McLean and his wife, Linda, graciously opened their home to the docents, the first time these Doheny history experts have had a look at this hidden treasure.

For more photos, please click here for the MSMC Archives page on Facebook, 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lost and found: the art of Sister Ignatia

Mount convent (Rossiter Hall) in ruins after the 1961 Bel Air Fire.
SISTER IGNATIA CORDIS, CSJ, founded the Mount Art Department in the 1920s and passed away in 1986 at 99, renowned for her sometimes avant-garde work and for pushing the boundaries of what was considered suitable for a Catholic nun to paint.

In a film cabinet drawer in the College Archives, a yellowed envelope tells a familiar story of pictures borrowed and never returned. A typewritten label dated December, 1985 -- a few months before Sister Ignatia's death -- reads:
Lost -- set of slides of Sr. Ignatia's art show. The set was removed from the archives and never returned. I have asked the Art Department, the press, etc., but no positive results.
It's signed by Sister Margaret Lynch, then the College Archivist.

Every archivist knows that kind of frustration, but for Sister Margaret it had to be especially painful. When the Mount convent (Rossiter Hall) was destroyed in the Bel Air Fire in November, 1961, most of Sister Ignatia's early work also went up in flames. She continued to paint -- including documenting the damage to the College in a series of impressionistic watercolors like the one above -- and in October, 1979, the College staged a tribute exhibit of 50 of her paintings. Photographic copies were carefully made of the hanging work by Los Angeles photographer Gerson Bender and a set handed over to the Treasure Room (as the Mount's Archives & Special Collections were then known).

We are happy to report that after nearly 27 years, the slides have surfaced. Our intrepid volunteer Vivian Santibáñez unearthed them in a shoebox full of unmarked yellow slide boxes, and the Skirball Cultural Center archives kindly let us scan them there last week.

We'll post some of the images over on Facebook at MSMC Archives. Mostly buildings and interesting landscapes, some paintings have historic value, like the one below, a drawing of 21 Chester Place. This imposing white mansion next to the Doheny Campus was torn down and the land sold to L.A. Unified to build Lanterman High School.

That's life in the archives world -- you lose a few, you find a few. Some of Sister's originals hang here and there around both campuses, but the location of many from the 1979 show is unknown. At least now we know what we're looking for. We're sure Sisters Margaret and Ignatia are pleased.

21 Chester Place was the model for the Addams Family home in the
classic 1960s sitcom. No other images exist in the MSMC Archives.