Society’s historic books restored after flood Justin Gillett, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, March 2, 2009
The California Historical Society reopened last week after a December flood damaged more than 1,500 antique and historic books and its building.
A car hit a fire hydrant in front of the society’s Mission Street building after midnight Dec. 19, causing a geyser several stories high and a flood that seeped through the front doors into the building. Water soaked through the hardwood floors and into the book vault below, damaging the books.
When staff members showed up in the morning, “there was a lake in the middle of the foyer,” said Mary Morganti, director of library and archives at the society. “We (quickly) assessed the situation and determined that there was significant damage to a large number of books.”
Library staff realized they could not handle the water problem themselves and called Belfor Property Restoration, specialists in restoring damaged documents and structures.
The estimate for restoring the books is about $240,000 and repairing the building is about $60,000, said David Crosson, executive director of the society. About 20 books are probably unsalvageable, although these items are expected to be replaced through specialized book dealers, Morganti said.
The efforts of restoration technicians and library staff are credited with saving many of the historical texts that date back as far as the 1920s.
“We’ve never had any sort of recovery that has approached this magnitude,” said Crosson. “If it hadn’t been for the quick response, it could have been a lot worse.”
After Belfor staff arrived at the scene, the waterlogged texts were quickly put into boxes and then into a freezer trailer where the cold fended off the onset of mold growth and deterioration, said Keith Lightbody, the Belfor project manager overseeing work on the society’s books.
Once the books were transported to Belfor’s Bay Area headquarters in Hayward, the company assessed the damage to them.
“Saturated books were sent to our Fort Worth facility that specializes in preserving damaged books, while books that were damp or partially wet went to our facility in Hayward,” Lightbody said.
At the Fort Worth, Texas, document facility, 670 soggy books were put in a vacuum freeze-dried container that expels moisture from damaged texts, said Morganti, who traveled to Texas to oversee the restoration efforts. At the Hayward compound, nearly 1,000 books were put on specialized racks in sealed rooms equipped with dehumidifiers and fans to draw the water out.
Because the society’s building also was damaged by the flood, crews were called in to remove nearly 2,000 boxes of undamaged books so construction could begin on the waterlogged hardwood floors, insulation and celling of the library.
Work was recently finished on the building and the books have been reshelved, although the more damaged texts are not expected to be back from Fort Worth until the end of March, Morganti said.
Belfor has 59 offices across 27 states specializing in commercial property restoration and document repair. The document facility in Fort Worth where many of the society’s books were repaired was also used by Tulane University after many of its books were damaged by Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters.
The privately funded California Historical Society is primarily a library of books, used by researchers and historians. It also houses manuscripts, pictures, documents, artifacts and various texts that chronicle California’s past.
Originally opened in 1997, the free-to-the-public 678 Mission St. compound is one of four major research libraries in California.
E-mail Justin Gillett at email@example.com.