Promoting Archives: Notes from the Santa Monica Public Library’s “Bay City and Beyond”

Santa Monica’s 10th Annual Citywide Reads in 2012 chose a quintessential Los Angeles author – Raymond Chandler.  Chandler’s  Noir detective stories, starring Philip Marlowe as the hard-boiled sleuth,  frequently use distinctive L.A. locales.  The Chandler story chosen by the Santa Monica Public Library, “The Lady in the Lake,” refers to a place Chandler called “Bay City,” an obvious stand-in for the City of Santa Monica by its description. “Altair Street lay on the edge of a V forming the inner end of a deep canyon. To the north was the cool blue sweep of the bay out to the point above Malibu to the south the beach town of Bay City was spread out on a bluff above the Coast Highway” – Raymond Chandler

“Lady in the Lake” presented a perfect opportunity for a tie-in with the Library’s Image Archives collections.  To promote the Library’s historical collections web site,  Imagine Santa Monica,  during Citywide Reads, the Library created  a program called “Bay City and Beyond.”  The program included a panel of notable noir authors, such as Ernest Marquez  discussing his book “ Noir Afloat,” along with my presentation of evocative Noir images from the Library’s Image Archives.  

Chandler’s Noir is a popular topic so “Bay City and Beyond” was a successful draw – the audience was standing-room only in the Library’s MLK Auditorium  - it proved to be a great promotion of the Image Archives’ “treasures.”  Choosing appropriate images from the Library’s collections included illustrating concepts such as: mystery, darkness, shadows and light, as well as finding bandleaders, movie stars, and Santa Monica icons such as beach estates, hotels, the Santa Monica Pier and yacht harbor that were appropriate to the era. 

Portraying the Library’s Archives as a treasure trove and research as an adventure was wonderful publicity .  The audience was fascinated with the relationship of the images and their portrayal of a certain visual point of view created by the Noir theme.  Making history relevant to personal interests is an excellent means of introducing archives and special collections to a wider audience.

Image: Night view of street lights from Colorado Avenue and Third Street in Santa Monica, 1955. (SMPL Image Archives #N214)

Cynni Murphy is thee Image Archives Librarian for the Santa Monica Public Library.