Where to Find California's Oldest Flag & Other Objects in SoCal's Archives

The 1836 Alvarado flag, possibly the oldest surviving flag of California. Courtesy of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection, Autry National Center of the American West. 8.P.1.

Most of us associate archives with the two-dimensional primary source documents of history: manuscripts, photographs, films, and their digital counterparts. Occasionally, three-dimensional objects find their way into archives; often these objects, known in the library world as realia, are bundled with the papers that authors, public figures, and organizations entrust to an archival collector or institution.

This week, we asked L.A. as Subject members to search through their collections for notable realia that inform our understanding of Southern California history. If you like what you see, you can get a first-hand look at many of these and other collections at the Los Angeles Archives Bazaar, coming up this Saturday at USC.

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Braun Research Library, Autry National Center of the American West

The 1836 Alvarado Flag. Photo by Mark r. Harrington, courtesy of the Braun Research Library Collection, Autry National Center of the American West. P.13327.California's state flag is most often noted for its two contradictions: a grizzly bear, the official state animal that was hunted to local extinction in 1924; and the words "CALIFORNIA REPUBLIC," which seem to forget the state's admission to the Union in 1850. These features are relics of the 1846 Bear Flag Revolt that proclaimed California's independence from Mexico just weeks before American troops would enter the state and claim it for the U.S.

Another feature on the flag, the red, five-pointed star, refers to an earlier and lesser-known revolt that also proclaimed California's independence. In 1836, Juan Bautista Alvarado led a rebellion against the unpopular Mexican president, Antonio López de Santa Anna, and his hand-picked governor. Alvarado led a small army, which included at least 70 Americans, to the California capital of Monterey. On November 6, the rebel force captured the city, declared independence from Mexico, and hoisted the flag pictured to the right.

Inspired by the five-pointed lone star of Texas, another breakaway province, which in turn drew its inspiration from the stars in the canton of the U.S. flag, Alvarado's simple design featured a lone red star centered on a white field. Today the flag, part of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection at the Autry National Center of the American West, may be the oldest surviving flag of California.

CSU Dominguez Hills Archives and Special Collections

Scale-model replica of Jerome War Relocation Center in Arkansas by Min Sueda. Courtesy of the CSU Dominguez Hills Archives and Special Collections. After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the western United States a military zone, which provided the legal rationale for forcibly relocating Japanese Americans to internment camps. Many Southern Californians of Japanese descent were imprisoned at Manzanar in the Owens Valley, but others were sent as far as the Jerome War Relocation Center in Arkansas. Among them was Min Sueda of Torrance, who created the scale replica pictured above of a barrack at the Jerome camp.

Sueda's model is now preserved at CSU Dominguez Hills' Archives and Special Collections.

David Boulé Collection

A miniature orange crate souvenir from of the David Boulé Collection. The orange you buy from a Southern California supermarket today likely comes from California's Central Valley, Florida, or as far away as Brazil. That wasn't always the case--in the late nineteenth century and through the first half of the twentieth, Southern California was one of the world's top orange growing regions. From a pair of seedlings planted in Riverside, the groves spread to cover much of the Southern California landscape. Disneyland is built on a former orange grove, and the city of Pasadena got its start as the San Gabriel Orange Growers Association, an agricultural cooperative founded by migrants from Indiana.

Oranges weren't just important to Southern California as an exported good; they also helped the region's boosters import new tourists and residents. The labels on orange crates sent across the county depicted Southern California as an idyllic agricultural paradise. Once here, tourists were enchanted by the sweet-smelling orange groves framed by snow-capped peaks.

David Boulé's extensive collection of orange crate labels, postcards, and souvenirs from this bygone era explores the relationship between the orange and the myth of California. The photograph above shows a typical orange-themed souvenir from Boulé's collection that a tourist would give to friends or relatives back home.

USC Libraries

Rubén Salazar's briefcase, part of the USC Libraries' Rubén Salazar Papers Collection. Photo by Rachelle Balinas Smith.

Rubén Salazar was an award-winning journalist who died while covering the National Chicano Moratorium march in East Los Angeles. On August 29, 1970, an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 demonstrators marched down the streets of East Lost Angeles to protest the Vietnam war. It was a landmark moment in the burgeoning Chicano civil rights movement, and Salazar—an award-winning Los Angeles Times columnist and KMEX news director—covered the event on television. Amidst the protests, which drew a police response, Salazar was resting inside the Silver Dollar Bar when a deputy sheriff fired a tear gas canister into the building. The canister hit Salazar, killing him instantly.

His controversial death—Salazar had been critical of police practices—was a seminal moment in the emerging Chicano movement, and his achievements in life have inspired countless Latino journalists since.

Salazar's children recently donated their father's papers to the USC Libraries, where they are now a part of the Boeckmann Center for Iberian & Latin American Studies inside the libraries' Special Collections. The photograph above shows Salazar's leather briefcase filled with an assortment of documents from his personal archive.

Many of the archives who contributed the above images are members of L.A. as Subject, an association of more than 230 libraries, museums, official archives, personal collections, and other institutions. Hosted by the USC Libraries, L.A. as Subject is dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden stories and histories of the Los Angeles region. Our posts here will provide a view into the archives of individuals and cultural institutions whose collections inform the great narrative—in all its complex facets—of Southern California.

About the Author

A writer specializing in Los Angeles history, Nathan Masters serves as manager of academic events and programming communications for the USC Libraries, the host institution for L.A. as Subject.
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