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Eleanore Kiersted has spent a lifetime picking up the pieces of various disasters.
In 1966, the retired librarian single-handedly reorganized Castaic Elementary's library, re-shelving books once organized by their colored bindings. And in 1971, she dutifully straightened out the Mint Canyon school library, damaged in the 6.5-magnitude Sylmar Earthquake.
Now Kiersted is one of several volunteers toiling to create a historic research library for the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.
"This is my fate — to pick up the pieces," said Kiersted, an octogenarian with a sharp wit and ready smile.
At stake is a collection of materials that catalog the Santa Clarita Valley's growth from oil boomtown to cityhood. Among the materials, now housed in a cramped upstairs office at the society's headquarters, are Los Angeles County court records dating back to the 1900s, a telephone registry featuring William S. Hart and articles written by Hubert Howe Bancroft, a historian and California pioneer.
The society wants to create a library, visitor center and museum in the Pardee House, one of several historic buildings at Heritage Junction, south of [sic: inside] the William S. Hart Park.
But the Pardee House, an 1890s single-story building that once housed a movie set and telephone exchange, needs about $130,000 worth of repairs, including a new roof that could cost up to $25,000.
So far, the historical society has raised about $6,000 toward the repair of the Pardee House and another historic building at Heritage Junction.
"We're going to really depend on volunteer help," said Cynthia Neal-Harris, a board director overseeing fund raising for the library. "We want to restore it to the era it was built."
The house, occupied in 1894 by oil driller William E. Pardee, used to sit at the corner of Market Street and Newhall Avenue. In 1917, Western star Tom Mix used a cottage behind the house to make movies. Thirty years later, the Pacific Telephone Co. bought the property, where it installed the valley's central telephone exchange in the living room. By the 1970s, Newhall had one of only three remaining manually operated exchanges in the country.
In 1992, the historical society moved the house to Heritage Junction.
Now volunteers envision the house as a well-stocked library used by students hungry for information on local events.
"It's where young people or anyone can do research on local history," Harris said. "One of the charges of the society is to help people learn about local history."
Kiersted, who has already lined up donations for the future library, said she can hardly wait for the facility to open.
"It's going to be beautiful," she said. "The object is local history. I hope eventually we can coordinate with local schools."
Santa Clarita Councilwoman Jo Anne Darcy, an active preservationist who has previously helped raise money for the Pardee House, said it's an ideal spot for the library.
"It's the queen of the whole Heritage Junction," said Darcy, noting that elaborate dinner parties were once held in the house. "We're taking it right back to its roots as a hospitality center. We're taking it full circle."
[The Eleanore Kiersted Memorial Library inside the Pardee House can be viewed by appointment. — Ed.]