In search of lost time

February 27, 2009

In UCLA’s basement, just some steps removed from the the hallowed steam tunnels, is a secret treasure: the Benjamin and Gladys Thomas Air Photo Archives.

Entering the room—at the going rate of $40 per hour—is like stepping into temps perdu. You can see Orange County back when it had orange groves. They’re gone now; replaced by a moniker that Arrested Development tells me I shouldn’t use. You can see the groves as they surrounded Disneyland, back before the latter became a sprawling megalopolis—when it was just an 8-acre family park. You can see the university when it was just a few years young and consisted of nothing more than three or four buildings.

In this photograph from 1923, Bunche Hall (which houses the Air Photo Archives) was just an empty arroyo. The road that bisects present-day Dickson Court, a.k.a. the Sunken Gardens, looks like a bridge because, well, it used to be one. It’s visible there on the right.

One of the most interesting aspects of working in an office whose userbase includes every UCLA student, past and present, is being able to speak to people older, sometimes much older, than I. Last week, an elderly couple entered and sat at the stained-glass window that faces the student union’s wall. Quietly, they remarked that the very same window had overlooked rolling fields when they had attended in the 30’s.

I had the pleasure also of assisting a distinguished and articulate gentleman who was much tech-savvier than most his age. A program was behaving erratically and would not install on his computer because of what seemed to be a conflict with the remnants of a previous installation. He observed pithily that it wasn’t unlike drugs and medicines in the human body. (The bottom line, though, is that Conficker sucks, and following so many years spent virus-free, I nearly had a heart attack when I found that it had spread from his laptop to my personal flash drive!)

This one isn’t an aerial photo, but it was taken in 1932. Who says it never snows in California?

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One Response to “In search of lost time”

  1. vickeyk Says:

    Hi–I would love to know how your connection to the Benjamin & Gladys Thomas archives–especially the Spence photos. I’m doing an article on the off-beat ways they are being used, and I’m looking for any anecdotal information. Please email me: Vickey AT Kalambakal DOT com Thanks!


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