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Historical Society Awarded Funds to Preserve Visual History

By Teresa Rochester

If a picture is worth a 1,000 words, the 64,000 images that make up the Bill Beebe Archival Collection at the Santa Monica Historical Society Museum speak volumes.

There are images of the last gray whale harpooned in the Santa Monica Bay in the 1920's. There are images of World War II troops training at Fourth Street and Santa Monica Boulevard in 1941. And there are the famous images of Elizabeth Taylor and Nick Hilton applying for a marriage certificate at the county clerk's office in Santa Monica.

Amelia Earhart at Clover Aviation (now Santa Monica Airport), Aug. 5, 1935. Courtesy of the Santa
Monica Historical Society Museum

The Ahmanson Foundation recently awarded the museum $15,000 to ensure the images continue to serve as a visual time line of the city and its surrounding areas. The money will be used to conserve and digitize many of the images in the collection donated by Beebe, who spent 29 years as an award-winning photographer and columnist for the now defunct Outlook.

"We're very excited about it and very appreciative of the generous grant," said Louise Gabriel, the Historical Society's president. "It will help further our work in preserving the valuable images in our collection."

"That's wonderful," said Beebe about the museum's grant. "They were all from a collection of news events on the Westside, from Redondo to Malibu to Beverly Hills... Historically they are very significant."

The news events captured on the negatives Beebe donated to the museum were snapped by a band of photographers working for Pacific Press Photography, a news photography agency stared in the 1930s by Emerson Gaze.

Beebe went to work for Gaze in 1948 after taking the first photography class offered by Santa Monica City College's Technical School. He then went on to work for the Los Angeles Examiner, the Los Angeles Mirror, the Los Angeles Times and the Outlook. Beebe was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his famous photograph of President John F. Kennedy emerging from the Santa Monica surf surrounded by admiring women.

When Gaze died in the late 1960s, his wife was left with a garage crammed with boxes of negatives. Beebe bought the negatives for $50, storing them in the Outlook's offices. When it came time to find a new home for the negatives, Beebe gave them to the Santa Monica Historical Society.

"They were eager to get them," Beebe said.

The 64,000 images Beebe donated make up only a percentage of the over 200,000 rare and original prints, negatives, glass-plate negatives and slides that make up the Santa Monica Historical Society Museum's photo collection. The collection documents the city's history from its rancho beginnings in the 1800s through the present.

Beebe hung up his camera in 1993 but remained the outdoor columnist for Copley Press, the Outlook's parent company. On Saturday, March 25, he will be honored by the Los Angles Press Photographers Association with a lifetime achievement award.

"My job was my hobby," Beebe said. "Didn't make much money, but I made a lot of friends and had a lot of fun."

The Santa Monica Historical Society Museum is located at 1539 Euclid St. For more information call (310) 395-2290 or 394-2605.

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