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Historic San Francisco Artifacts Lost Due To Poor Preservation Guidelines

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco is a city rich in history, but its government agencies often do a poor job of preserving it.

That's the key finding from a new report commissioned by the city administrator's office that found many city agencies have no guidelines for what artifacts to keep and what to discard, and it's often left to untrained employees to decide what to do with old items.

The artifacts that are kept are often not well-preserved or cataloged, and they're rarely put on display for the public to see, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday.

"It's one of the most historic and known cities in the world," said Ken Maley, a consultant who prepared the report for about $9,000. "But we are losing stuff right and left."

There are treasures from the city's two World's Fairs, works by local artists, and maps and documents dating back to the 1800s. And plenty of these valuable relics are hidden from view or have simply vanished, Maley found.

The city administrator's office will use the report as a "good first start" to improve the way city agencies handle historic artifacts, said project manager John Gavin.

Some of Maley's disturbing findings include a huge three-dimensional relief map of California from 1924 — known as "Paradise in Panorama" — that used to be displayed at the Ferry Building but was cut into pieces, with some dispersed and some destroyed. Another example is pieces of art purchased from local artists by the San Francisco Arts Commission from the 1940s to the 1980s that are now missing, damaged or destroyed. Many were lent out, but there's no inventory of where they went, Maley wrote.

Maley also found Brooks Hall, an underground exhibition facility built beneath the Civic Center Plaza in 1958, has become a giant mishmash — much of it junk like broken office chairs and electronics from the 1980s, but some of it treasures like the giant organ from the 1915 World's Fair.

City archivist Susan Goldstein emphasized that the library's section of Brooks Hall is well-cataloged and well-used. And she noted that there are plenty of departments that do a good job of saving their old items and sending them to her at the library's San Francisco History Center.

But while the History Center keeps documents, maps and photographs, it doesn't have much capacity for three-dimensional items.

There have been efforts to create a museum at the Old Mint on Fifth Street, but the nonprofit San Francisco Museum and Historical Society was booted earlier this year by the city after 11 years of stalled attempts to establish one.

"Major cities all over the world and the country have a history museum," Maley said. "But we really don't have a place that visitors or locals can go and experience the history of the city."


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