Yellow binder: Inventory of missing, stolen and destroyed items from the William S. Hart Museum.
Green binder: Partial reconciliation of "Co"unty and "H"art accession numbers, reflecting separate cataloging systems of the County Museum and the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.
Includes lists of catalog numbers and file cards with no physical artifact in the collection at the time of the inventory.
Index, with "starting" page number:
- Duplicate "Co"unty and "H"art Numbers — pdf page 2
- Notations Only — pdf page 10
- Inventory Items Missing, 8/17/1963 and other dates — pdf page 22
- Inventory Items Partly Missing, 8/17/1963 through 1971 — pdf page 32
- Used and Destroyed Items (includes ammunition destroyed by Sheriff's Department, 2/3/1966) — pdf page 35
- Stolen Items and Dates Reported — pdf page 37
- "H"art Numbers without "Co"unty Numbers — pdf page 39
- "Co"unty Numbers without "H"art Numbers — pdf page 59
- Card File: County Cards without "Co"unty or "H"art Numbers — pdf page 70
There used to be a lot more "stuff" in the William S. Hart Museum. A trip to Hart's Newhall mansion gave the visitor a sense that s/he was intruding on a place where someone actually lived. At any moment, the old cowboy actor might emerge from the Dogs' Room, greet you, and go about his business.
This inventory of missing and stolen items paints a picture of why it's no longer that way. A candlestick here, a Navajo rug there — before you know it, the place is stripped bare. Hundreds of artifacts disappeared from the time the mansion opened to the public in 1958 to the 1970s. Even the lucky horseshoe over the Ranch House door became someone's souvenir.
There are stories, too, of less nefarious motives. The Hart Ranch has been threatened repeatedly by wildfire; some old-timers remember "rescuing" paintings and other objects from the fire's path — not necessarily to be returned right away when the danger passed.
Los Angeles County has always been short on money. It's not a new phenomenon. Hart wanted to leave his Newhall estate to his fans; when he made out his will in 1944, the practical way to do it was to bequeath the estate to the county. He also provided a sum of cash in the bank to function as an endowment. He believed the earned interest would suffice to fund future operations. He miscalculated.
It would be another four decades before the Santa Clarita Valley had its own city government — a government that had neither the responsibility nor the financial burden of providing municipal and social welfare services to impoverished communities dozens of miles away, as the county government had to do. If Hart been able to teleport to the 21st Century, it might be a different story. But that's not the reality.
In the beginning, Hart's estate was bureaucratically bifurcated between the Los Angeles County Museum (now called Natural History Museum) and the County Department of Parks and Recreation. The museum was responsible for everything inside the buildings — until 1962, when it became untenable to have two masters in one county park, and the Board of Supervisors put the entire estate under the parks department.
In 1963 the parks department inventoried the museum items and discovered a problem. Things didn't add up. They couldn't put their hands on some of the items that were described in a card file.
Additional inventories were conducted in the 1960s and 1970s. Things continued to disappear. There were even artifacts on hand in 1968 that were gone by 1971, and several breakable objects were also lost in that year's earthquake.
Park volunteers gave guided tours of the museum and became more and more involved in collections management under county parks supervision. In 1981 they incorporated as the Friends of Hart Park and Museum, and they began lobbying newly elected County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich for Natural History Museum support and pursued outside grant funding to curate the collection.
In 1986, the grants came through, and Antonovich convinced his colleagues to assign a Natural History Museum curator to the Hart collection on a part-time basis. Then, in 1987, at the Friends' request, the Board of Supervisors transfered the Hart Museum (back) to Natural History Museum control effective September 1.
Two months later, the Natural History Museum removed many of the documents and artifacts that weren't nailed down and took them to its Seaver Center of Western History Research in Los Angeles for long-term care.
The community was up in arms. How dare the county museum come in and take away "our stuff?"
Truth be told, there was no alternative to whisking away the artifacts for safekeeping at a facility in Los Angeles that was already equipped for that purpose. If past experience is an indicator — if history tells us anything — everything would be gone if the Natural History Museum hadn't rescued the artifacts and locked them away.
In 1988, the Hart Friends and museum officials reached an agreement: One day, when there is an adequate facility at Hart Park to store them, the documents and relics would be returned. After all, Hart's will required that they be maintained in their present location (Hart Park), with the proviso that they also be "kept in good repair." The latter wasn't happening. Inside Hart's aging house, volunteers and professional staffers were losing the battle to save artifacts, especially textiles, from infestation and decay.
The on-site storage facility and research library that was envisioned for Hart Park in 1991 never materialized, despite the passage of park bonds. 1992 brought rioting to L.A., 1994 brought another earthquake; then came penal reform, an economic recession and a spiraling homeless population that monopolized the county's attention and consumed its budget. A proper facility for the Hart collection at Hart Park was relegated to the back burner — and eventually the pilot light went out.
Back in 1987-1988, when the county museum took over, the Santa Clarita community would have had no way to grasp the magnitude of the problem — which you now do, thanks to these lists of missing and stolen items. That is because, prior to archiving them now, in 2019, on SCVHistory.com, the general public has never seen them. In fact, nobody has seen these lists for the past 30 years. This (original) has been the only copy in existence.
Interpreting just what is missing will require some research on the part of the reader. In some instances, there are descriptions of the items. In many instances, there are only catalog numbers that would have to be matched to descriptions in this 1971 inventory.
If you happen to have one or more of the items listed here, please drop them off or mail them to the Museum office or the Park office. No questions will be asked.
— Leon Worden 2019