Have a question about San Pedro history?

Ask Anne Hansford.

If she doesn't know the answer, she'll know exactly where to find it - amid thousands of articles, photographs, reels of microfilm and dusty city directories housed in the San Pedro Historical Society's archives.

For more than a decade, Hansford has voluntarily commandeered the too-small room filled with files, maps, books and quirky mementoes - like the box filled with old matchbook covers from businesses no longer in town.

Few people in town know San Pedro history as well as Hansford does.

"We all go to her. She knows it all," said Doris Theriault of the San Pedro Bay Historical Society.

Looking for a photo of the old department store that used to be on Pacific Avenue? Hansford will know that it can be found in the background of an old holiday parade photo, among the 10,000 photographs on file in the society's archives.

Other curiosities in the archives are a piece of the old Warner Grand Theatre curtain, World War II ration stamps, old cruise line menus, stationery, greeting cards, calendars and "Last Night on Beacon Street" drinking glasses.

Documents also can be found that tell the story of the town's founding and of its annexation into the city of Los Angeles in 1909.

Hansford has been an indispensable resource for countless individuals, groups and government officials through the years.


Advertisement

With her no-nonsense but accommodating manner, Hansford is the go-to person for San Pedro history.

"At first I was sort of scared of her," said Angela Romero, who launched her own Townee Tours business several years ago giving walking tours of San Pedro and is a regular at the archives doing research. "She's very matter-of-fact. But over the years I've just completely fallen in love with her, she's really my favorite person.

"When I come in, she'll say, `What'll it be today, Angela?' It's like, `You can have anything you want in this room."'

Hansford requires guests to sign in and then will bring items to them and make sure they're put back in just the right place.

Graduating from San Pedro High School more than 60 years ago - in 1950 - she isn't particularly conversant with the computer and Internet age.

Even if she were, there isn't much of a budget for something like that in the archives, she said.

Instead, Hansford makes good use of an old-fashioned card catalog system, doing much of the typing at home.

After she assigns system numbers to everything that comes into the archives, Hansford said she tends to remember where things are.

"By the time you've done all that, some of it sticks," she said."

The system may be old-fashioned, but it works - as does everything in the archives - like a "well-oiled machine," Romero said.

"It's very much an `Anne' system, it's so well-organized," Romero said. "It's not modern because it's a card catalog. For me, being someone who's very dependent on technology, it's hard for me. The last time I touched a card catalog was when I was in grade school."

For those who work with her, Hansford's keen grasp of historic detail is something akin to "mental magic," said Bob Beck, former managing editor of the town's now closed newspaper, the News-Pilot.

Many of the paper's old clips and photographs are housed at the archives now.

Hansford has always been fascinated by history.

"Any kind of history," she said. "History is fun to me, it's never been about dates. It's about choices people make."

She wasn't born in San Pedro but arrived in time for the ninth grade.

Her mom, a dispatcher for the Wilmington Cab Co., was tired of commuting in the heavy fog from Los Angeles to the Harbor Area so she moved the family closer.

After graduating from San Pedro High School, Hansford began her history studies at UCLA but quit to get married.

After her husband died - their three boys were in college at the time - Hansford returned to college herself, finally earning her bachelor's degree in history from California State University, Dominguez Hills. 

She went on to work for the Los Angeles Unified School District - she was the office manager for 15th Street Elementary School in San Pedro for 15 years - and began her full-time volunteer work with the archives after she retired in 1994.

Among the frustrations are the loss of valuable pieces of history after people die.

"The kids look at it and think, `No one wants this stuff,"' she said.

donna.littlejohn@dailybreeze.com

Follow Donna Littlejohn on Twitter at http://twitter.com/donnalittlejohn