National Archives in College Park, MD – 20th Anniversary

I’m Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National
Archives. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the National Archives
at College Park, better known as Archives II.
Construction of the original National Archives Building in
Washington, DC began well before the agency was created in 1934.
The problem with designing and constructing a building
without staff input became immediately apparent once employees
began to occupy the building. The Archives simply needed more space for records. Plans
for an inner courtyard were instead filled with stack space.
But that only temporarily eased the situation and by the late 1960s,
the National Archives building had run out of room. After attempts to
secure a building in downtown Washington failed, the National Archives extended its
search into suburban Maryland. And in 1988, Congress approved funds
for the National Archives to construct and operate a new building in
Prince George’s County, MD. Thus began the planning, construction and
move to Archives II. Archives II opened for research in 1994 and
in a ceremony held on May 12, 1994, Acting Archivist Trudy Peterson dedicated the new
building, saying the original building on Pennsylvania Avenue was built with hope but
not expertise. In contrast, this new facility was built to archival specifications
representing our experience over the past 60 years
of caring for this nation’s documentary history. In celebration
of the 80th anniversary of the National Archives and the 20th anniversary of the National Archives
at College Park, we have compiled staff recollections and remembrances of the design,
construction, and move to Archives II. We had to start the task five years before
the actual completion date of the new facility was going to be.
So in 1988, records relocation was created and we started that work.
And there was a similar unit developed out in the Washington
National Records Center at Suitland and in Pickett Street. They began planning for the building many
many years prior to my coming on board, knowing that the space in Archives I was running out
and also knowing that the space at Suitland also was being rapidly filled. Even the rain in Maryland is special.
If you notice, you may think it’s a dreary day,
but this is special archive rain. And we must remember
this day on what happened. We had the opportunity to design a building
here out of whole cloth and we took a look at some of the more
modern archives to get some design ideas. You have to remember that the
background to all this is the Archives Building in Washington. So we wanted to learn the lessons
from that place and apply those lessons learned to here in College Park.
Ed McCarter, our supervisor, kind of gathered the staff around and told us what was happening
and that we were going to be doing a lot of reboxing, a lot of surveying.
There was 40-odd years of stuff that had never really been
accounted for. It was a lot of excitement. Even back in Archives
I when they were building the building, they had some tours. So you got to go out and see
the building and walk through it as it was being constructed.
A lot of people did that. It was really exciting to see
the new building going up. We developed the move cart that everybody,
those ugly wooden carts that mimic what a shelf looked like.
That was brilliant. It was brilliant! There was a long list of specifications for
the move that the movers had to fulfill. There were several months of
testing appropriate wooden crates for moving the plates with foam inserts.
There was a great focus on identifying those records that needed custom housings. We worked
heavily with the Conservation Staff in creating new containers, new portfolios
for records that needed them for their long-term preservation
but also to facilitate the move better. Well the challenges, there were many because
we have so many different kinds of records. We had, you know,
in addition to the 6,000 original Brady glass plate negatives and Western Survey
negatives that had to be moved, we probably had 750,000 pieces of glass.
Brady negatives was done using a special art mover. There was
an additional component of the move team that, that had a lot of
experience moving things like that, so that was a real big challenge
to get that out here without any damage. Which we did,
which was astounding. And then we actually had to follow the move
trucks in vans coming out here. The trucks were locked up and
sealed and we had to follow behind the van the whole way out here.
I moved out here to begin processing the first large accessions that were being moved from
Suitland, which were the P-95 accessions. I don’t know if you have gone to
any of the textual stacks here but if you, if you’ve had the
pleasure of being able to go to one, those are the FRC boxes that
had the blue dots on it. That is how we all know that those are still old P-95
accessions that were first transferred to this building.
As far as I know we didn’t, not one box fell off the truck, not one volume got lost.
We had an army of students and every year Meda Loescher,
who was our branch chief here downtown, would always arrange for Mac McDonald, who
recently passed away, to come out and take our pictures out on
the Constitution Avenue steps. There are a couple of current staff members
still here. This is me, and a couple other ones.
I’ll let others try to pick them out. So between 1988 and 1992
this is what we did. When I first came aboard, I was impressed
with just the general look and feel of the building as you drove up the
driveway and you saw it for the first time. And when I first
started here I was just I was impressed by how clean and how
efficient the building was operated. It was such a change in terms of access to
holdings, in terms of I think the researcher experience too.
We had these huge research rooms now, where researchers could really spread out
with the records, set up their copy equipment safely,
the lighting was so much better. The physical access from the stacks
to the research rooms was much improved.
When we got out here, it had actually lived up to a lot of that hype. Not only in Declassification
downtown, we didn’t have windows. This was, when we came out here we actually had windows,
which was a big change for us. You have your own desk with new furniture.
Your own phone. You know, it was stepping into the 20th century! Moving to this building has helped us step
into the 20th century first and then now. So I would think coming here,
I remember bringing my typewriter because at the time
we were still typing labels on typewriters.
The first thing that popped into my mind was the scene from Field of Dreams
when the old ball players come onto the field and they’re
just completely astounded by this baseball field that was like nirvana
for them. Well that’s kind of the way I think a lot of us felt
when we got out here was like wow, this is really impressive, you know?
When you come to the National Archives, you never know what you’ll find
when you open a box. And the same is true for when you open a
door. These are Polaroid photographs of the staff of the Still Picture Branch
during its move to Archives 2 in 1994.
They have been hanging here on this door to this supply closet ever since.
These photographs show various people who were involved in our move,
including some of the personnel from Mayflower Movers and then also
various staff from the Still Picture Branch. There’s Barbara Burger and Jennifer Lease,
Jonathan Heller, Sara Stone, Donna Larker, and yours
truly. The tornado that happened, the announcement
came over “Everybody take shelter” and alot of people didn’t,
they went up, We’re on the 6th floor so we have
a beautiful view of the surrounding area. They actually went over
to the windows and watched the tornado go down the street.
It was a little scary for some, but these guys didn’t mind it at all.
At the dedication of Archives II in May of 1994, I was up in the nosebleed section
of the bleachers. And to make sure I was commemorated,
I made sure to wear a radioactively green shirt. And in the video today you can see
me up there in the stands. We sat in the bleachers out front, across
the circle in the front of the building. And I remember sitting there
listening to Steny Hoyer and Acting Archivist Trudy Peterson at the time.
And it was a nice ceremony. It was very nice.
I did attend the dedication. I was invited as a seated attendee because
one of my suggestions for what should go into a time capsule, which
was placed, was accepted. And that got me a ticket to sit.
Most notably, Congressman Steny Hoyer was there. Steny’s office is
largely responsible for having this site made available to the federal
government. The site is leased for a dollar a year for as long as this
building remains the National Archives. We in Maryland are proud to welcome you, all of you here. You will join other high-tech,
high-wage job earners who are the key to the future
prosperity not just of this state, but of this nation.
I think the design that was chosen has its own degree of timelessness as well.
It works well. It’s efficient. It’s crisp, it’s clean. It
looks modern and I think it will stay looking modern for a long, long time. It has lived up to its reputation as a world
class leader. In fact, I still routinely get emails and phone calls
from my counterparts in other countries asking for details on
how we designed this building and how we operate it. And, you know,
a lot of thought went into designing it, a lot of thought went
into constructing it. I think it certainly lived up to that reputation.
And I think it will in the future. I mean, it’s still a world-class
archival storage area. On behalf of the National Archives,
welcome to the future of our past.

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