The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1975, Volume 21, Number 3
James E. Moss, Editor

Book Reviews

David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

The California History Plan. 2 Vols. California Department of Parks and Recreation. Sacramento: California Department of Parks and Recreation, 1973. Bibliography. Illustrations. Maps. 115 pages Volume I, 222 pages Volume II. Softbound. $3.00 each volume.

Reviewed by Michael Carman, Curator, San Diego History Center.

The California History Plan proposes implementation of a comprehensive program to preserve and interpret California’s historic resources. These resources, also referred to as historic features, are defined as the “objects, sites and structures. . . [that] are all that physically remain of an event or activity that played an important part in the development of a local area, the state, the nation or even of other nations.” The actual plan is to increase the staff, funding and responsibilities of the Department of Parks and Recreation to inventory California’s history resources, determine each feature’s significance, and coordinate the preservation and interpretation of selected features. This proposal is outlined in volume one of the Plan. The second volume is an initial inventory of some 3,000 historic features compiled from various historic site registers. With additional staff, funding, federal and local assistance the authors expect this list to eventually include approximately 50,000 historic features. Subsequent annual volumes are proposed that will update the statewide inventory, and include revisions of the long range plans outlined in volume one, as well as describe future preservation proposals. These annual revisions were not available to this reviewer.

Coordination of historic preservation and the interpretation of history resources at the state level does have obvious advantage. A statewide program can identify historic features that need attention and at the same time avoid duplication of effort. In short, such a program is the most efficient and businesslike manner of preserving and interpreting California’s history resources. Many of the recommendations in the California History Plan merely expand current programs. Acquisitions of private enfoldings in state parks is a continuing process and increased emphasis on interpretative programs in these parks is overdue. Also overdue is emphasis on the teaching of state history at all levels of the educational system and state development of appropriate resource material to teach new courses in California history. Very welcome is the recommendation that the state assume leadership in the modification of building codes to permit restoration of historic structures that might not meet current building requirements. As in any such proposal to centralize responsibility for activities in an area as diverse as the State of California there are, however, reasons to fear the loss of local autonomy.

There is little in the California History Plan to dispell such fears. Some of the proposals appear grandiose, impractical and a definite threat to the development of local history programs. A good example is the recommendation that the state assist in the development of regional history museums owned and operated by local governments or private organizations. The authors of the Plan recommend that the state “assume leadership” in monitoring the acquisition, storage, inventory, and exhibition of artifact collections in these museums, as well as provide technical assistance for museum personnel. The assumption of “leadership” of activities in regional museums appears to mean that the state intends to exchange its assistance for control of local museum preservation and interpretation programs. Most museum administrators would welcome help with the cataloguing and storage of their collections, but how many local history museums would want Sacramento to schedule their exhibits and monitor their acquisitions? Since many history museums maintain inventories of their collections with great difficulty, if at all, is a statewide inventory practical? Is the State of California really qualified to provide the technical assistance and specialized training in museology that they propose? Questions similar to these are also applicable to other recommendations that the state microfilm and index all historical data pertaining to California history and inventory all archaeological sites in the state. The desirability and practicality of such proposals is questionable.

In the second volume, distributions of historic and archeological sites across the state are plotted in a series of maps, tables and lists that seem somewhat vague. In some cases vagueness is desirable to protect sites from looters, but vague tables and maps make very dull reading. The main part of this volume is the list of historic sites by counties. These lists can be used to determine the historic period, and cultural category (according to the State Park and Recreation Department) of a particular site and its level of significance from local to national.

The California History Plan is not a publication intended for public consumption. It is, rather, a proposal for development of a statewide program for compliance with the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act. The PLAN is the product of a study authorized by a National Park Service grant. One suspects that the California State Department of Parks and Recreation did not seriously contemplate implementation of some of their recommendations, that perhaps they were merely fulfilling a grant requirement.