by Ben Glazier (MA, 2016)
Interning with the Museum Program of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) feels like I’m living out a real-life action adventure movie in the same vein of National Treasure or Indiana Jones. Every day I begin my morning commute among the citizens of San Francisco on the public bus. My fellow passengers are glued to their phones totally unaware of the precious treasures I’ll be protecting that day. From the bus I trek across the sweeping cinematic landscapes of the Presidio with a backdrop of some of the most iconic landmarks in the United States. Seeing the tops of the Golden Gate Bridge peak through the morning mist, or Alcatraz Island floating like a ghost in the fog are sights that truly never get old. My final destination is an unassuming former mule stable hidden in plane sight down a bike path just north of Crissy Field. The building has been retrofitted to house the second largest archive and object collection in the National Park Service. Guarding the collection is a small but mighty team of uniquely specialized museum professionals working toward the common goal to preserve this collection for the future.
The GGNRA is a division within the National Park Service that is responsible for all designated national park lands located in Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties. This includes such landmarks as Alcatraz Island, Muir Woods and the Nike Missile Site. The division’s Museum Program has a collection of nearly 6.5 million items in four disciplines: Archives, Archaeology, History, and Natural History. As an intern with the Museum Program I am learning to help care for this huge and diverse collection, as well as assisting with the daily operations of an active public archive. The Park Archive is open to the public 2 days a week allowing researchers access to our archive collection. Feel free to peruse the research aides, which can be found here. However, it is our object collections that suffer most from a lack of visibility. GGNRA has very limited exhibition space available to display the collection. Small cases at Alcatraz, Fort Point, and the Marin Headlands Visitor Center are considered permanent exhibits that very rarely change. Otherwise, GGNRA’s collections primarily remain in storage.
In order to increase visibility with the public, once a year the Park Archives hosts an Open House event. This includes displays of some of our more rare objects including items from the Sutro Baths, a jewel from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition’s Tower of Jewels, and FBI evidence from the famous 1962 Alcatraz escape. Also included are educational displays that explain the dangers of working with historical artifacts, and teach guests how we care for the objects. These interactive opportunities allow the GGNRA staff to demonstrate their professional skills and provide Open House visitors with a basic knowledge of the work performed at the archive. My own contributions to the event included preparing objects for display, assisting in the assembly of exhibit cases, and creating a coloring book from historical photos in the collection that was given out as a gift to guests.
This year’s Open House event took place on July 17th and 18th, and it was a smashing success. 881 guests visited the Park Archive in just two short days. “That’s more than all the past Open Houses combined,” declared Amanda Williford, the GGNRA Curator & Reference Archivist. This year’s success was in no doubt due in part to an article previewing the event in the San Francisco Chronicle, as well coverage by CBS SF Bay Area and FunCheap SF. Good press is invaluable to a small operation like the Park Archive, and thanks to the coverage GGNRA began a new season with larger and more diverse audience than ever before.
I am lucky to be continuing my work with the GGNRA Museum Program, and I am looking forward to witnessing first-hand the growth in audience attention that could come from the success of the Open House event. Visit the Park Archive during public reference hours (Mondays, 1pm to 4pm and Thursday, 10am to 1pm), and follow the GGNRA on Facebook and Twitter.
For more information about the NPS Museum Management Program, click here.
To learn more about University of San Francisco’s graduate museum studies program, click here.