Carolyn Kozo Cole really loves photographs. They cover every inch of wall in her office on the bottom level of the downtown Central Library. The library's photo collection curator, she also loves Los Angeles history. And when she vets new volunteers to help with projects, she looks for people who feel as she does. The least successful volunteer, Cole says politely, only wants to look at the photographs. The best is a Los Angeles history buff who also happens to be a fan of photography.
I was more of the former than the latter, and gave it up after a half-dozen sessions. But Cole currently has several of the good kind helping to organize and research her newest project — poring through thousands of photos in the collection looking for gems that reveal the industrial past of Los Angeles, then — the hard but crucial part — digging up the stories behind the images. Two key volunteers on the Industrial L.A. project are mystery writer John Shannon, who grew up in San Pedro and is working with images of the port area, and Tom Dinger, a third generation engineer for Southern Pacific. He's all about the train photos.
The images span the 1920's through the 1970's, when Los Angeles was at its height as an industrial center. There are photos of tire plants and factories turning out everything from airplanes, ceramic dishes and macaroni to pillows, beer and perfume. One series of photos gives a 1926 glimpse of Ernest Batchelder and the kilns for his iconic fireplace tiles. In another, women in demure bonnets label jars of honey. The photographs come mainly from the Los Angeles Public Library's Security Pacific National Bank and Herald Examiner collections, and some showed up in the stacks from other sources. The photographers range from newspaper staffers to chamber of commerce free-lancers.
Cole felt a visual survey of the industries of Los Angeles would provide the historical record of "a beautiful subject." She has a particular fondness for an image that makes art of the merchandise at the Duracraft Casket & Urn Factory in Culver City. Her goal is to get as many of the photographs as possible up on the LAPL website, and mount a public exhibit in 2009. In the meantime, she could use a few more diligent volunteers. Cole can be reached by by email or at the library.
Photo of the L.A. Knitting Co., date unknown: LAPL / Security Pacific collection
Photo of 38-ply tire at Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, South Gate, 1964: LAPL / Herald Examiner collection