JAIC 1995, Volume 34, Number 1, Article 6 (pp. 77 to 83)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1995, Volume 34, Number 1, Article 6 (pp. 77 to 83)

RESCUING WATER-DAMAGED TEXTILES DURING THE LOS ANGELES RIOTS

DUBRAVKA TURKOVIC-KISELJEV



3 HOW THE STUDY COLLECTION BECAME WATER DAMAGED


3.1 RODNEY KING CASE AND RESULTING RIOTS

The acuittal of several Los Angeles Police Department officers who were on trial for the beating of an African American prompted violent rioting in parts of Los Angeles from April 29 to May 2, 1992. The looting and arson of the evening of April 29 through April 30 was extensive in the neighborhood of the LACMA off-site storage facility. The museum, several miles away, was closed to the public, and all but essential staff left the building by midday on April 30. A citywide curfew went into effect at sundown. The museum remained closed to the public for the next four days.


3.2 DAMAGE AT THE STORAGE FACILITY

The museum's off-site storage is located in an old-style shopping center with rows of one-story shops. The museum rented the entire basement of a former department store in the shopping center for storage. The basement does not have overhead water sprinklers for fire suppression, but the floor above it does. On the evening of April 30, the buildings adjacent to the off-site storage were set on fire. Film footage of the fire could be seen on television at around 9:30 p.m. About that time, the blaze triggered sprinklers on the floor above the basement storage. The sprinklers could not be turned off immediately because the fire had melted all the keys to the shut-off valve room. The next day, fire personnel had to be diverted from other duties to break down the door to this room and shut off the sprinklers, which were on for approximately 12 hours. The delay was unavoidable because of the concerns for staff safety. No one was permitted to enter the storage facility until the National Guard had secured the area.

On the morning of May 1, the sprinklers were turned off on the floor above the off-site storage area. When the National Guard had determined the area to be safe, a few staff members, including one person each from the conservation, costumes and textiles, and art preparations departments, went to the off-site storage area to photograph and assess damage. They were permitted to spend only a limited time there. Due to the instability of the area, they were not permitted to remove any objects from the storage area on this first trip.

On May 2, a few staff members went to the storage site to bring out the most seriously damaged artifacts in the Costume and Textile Study Collection. The visit was kept to two hours because the museum's security staff did not want to draw attention to the storage site. Inside, it was found that the floors were covered with 2 to 6 in. of water, which contained dirt, broken glass, ceiling tiles, and pieces of cardboard (fig. 1). Though the crates had been stored 2 to 4 ft. off of the floor, in some places the water level had risen higher. Some crates had water collecting on the top. As many crates as possible were quickly raised further to begin the drying process. Two small truckloads returned to the museum carrying tapestries and some costumes that were clearly wet.

Fig. 1. A conservator examining the damage to the storage area after the water sprinklers on the floor above had been shut off. The debris on the floor consists of acoustic ceiling tiles.


Copyright 1995 American Institute of Historic and Artistic Works