Historical society looks to join digital age

RANCHO SANTA FE — The Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society recently celebrated 25 years of collecting and preserving documents, photographs and artifacts connecting Rancho Santa Fe to its past.
While it’s certainly the job of the historical society to look back, it also recognizes the importance of looking forward. That is the mission of the current membership and board of directors.
They are working diligently to bring the society into the digital age, update their website, educate children about preservation and make the Rancho Santa Fe La Flecha House a friendly place to do research.
“We want to get as many of the items in the archives digitized as possible and to make the records more accessible to the community,” said John Vreeburg, president of the historical society.
They want the community to feel welcome, especially the children.
“We tell school children, this belongs to you,” said Museum Administrator Dana Evanson, as she motions around the room. “This is your building.”
Vreeburg said a lot has already been done on the organization of the archives. He said there are boxes of items in which the contents have been organized. Now comes the ongoing process of digitizing what is inside, such as newspaper clippings, photos, maps, documents and other records.
For example, when a long-time newspaper in the area went out of business, it donated rolls and rolls of film that needed to be inspected and digitized.
David Brooks, vice president of the historical society, said they use the triage method to organize the project by first scanning the most important items, then the second most important items and in the third category they will decide if they need to be digitized at all. Some items can remain in marked boxes in the archives.
A fireproof room was built in La Flecha House in the mid-1990s to serve as the archives, Vreeburg said.
There are many good photographs on record because when the Rancho Santa Fe Rail Road was turning the area into a housing development, they hired a professional photographer to document it. Many of the photos are already available for viewing or purchase.
But keeping the historical landmark and the operation going costs money.
“We are nonprofit, so our operating funds come from membership fees, donations, grants and several fundraisers,” Vreeburg said.
One of the main fundraisers is the annual home tour, which allows the public inside some of the gorgeous homes of the area.
This year six homes were featured. It took 38 docents and four drivers to pull off the event, but the 200 visitors were satisfied.
Brooks declined to say how much was earned from the event, but it was a substantial part of their budget.
They gave a special thanks to the corporate sponsors Wells Fargo Private Mortgage Banking and San Diego Private Bank.
“We really appreciate them and need commercial support,” Brooks said. “We need more than we are getting.”
Book sales of “Rancho Santa Fe — Images of America,” by Vonn Marie May are in great demand. Proceeds from it sales goes to the historical society.
“The Rancho Santa Fe Foundation has been a great help over the years,” Vreeburg said.
The foundation recently donated a computer and scanner that will speed up the digitization process.
“In the past we had members taking things home and using their own equipment,” Vreeburg said.
With the new equipment, he estimates the whole digitizing project will be finished within a year or so.
Grants from the county and from Supervisor Bill Horn helps maintain and freshen the adobe building.
The historical society was founded in 1984 by Pat Cologne, Eleanor Shefte, Sandy Somerville, Marcia Van Liew and Gwen Whitehead who recognized the need for preserving the history of the community. They hoped to document the distinctive buildings and acknowledge the architects and planners whose visions became what today is historical Rancho Santa Fe.
They started small and eventually moved their operations to La Flecha House to serve as its headquarters. There are currently 450 dues-paying members.
La Flecha House is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The historical society is sponsoring a photography contest for all ages that will run until October. The photos can be of historical buildings or something that speaks to the essence of Rancho Santa Fe. The photos of the winners will be placed on the society’s 2012 calendar.
To learn more about the contest or the historical society, call (858) 756-9291 or visit