Vallejo trans archive to reopen after crash damage

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Wednesday March 29, 2023
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The newly refurbished Louise Lawrence Transgender Archive will officially reopen March 31. Photo: Courtesy Ms. Bob Davis
The newly refurbished Louise Lawrence Transgender Archive will officially reopen March 31. Photo: Courtesy Ms. Bob Davis

One year after sustaining damage in a hit-and-run crash, the Louise Lawrence Transgender Archive in Vallejo is set to reopen on Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31, and a community open house is planned for next month.

Ms. Bob Davis, a trans woman who founded the archive in 2017 — it opened in 2018 — told the Bay Area Reporter that she looks forward to researchers and others coming to the archive.

"I'm excited and partially in a state of disbelief to see everything in place," Davis said in a phone interview. "It's breathtaking."

It was March 31, 2022 as Davis was rushing into the archive to get brochures for a Transgender Day of Visibility event when she was "greeted by an SUV parked in the middle of the office," she wrote in an email to supporters last year. "How did it get there?"

Neighbors said the driver lost control of the vehicle, which crashed through the rear wall of the archive, as the B.A.R. previously reported. The damage was mostly confined to the archive's office, which Davis said "was obliterated."

The archive is named in honor of Lawrence (1912-1976), a northern California transgender pioneer who began living full-time as a woman in 1942, first in Berkeley then San Francisco, as the B.A.R. noted in a 2017 article. She, along with Virginia Prince and others, published the first incarnation of Transvestia in 1952. Lawrence's address book was the initial subscription list, and she was instrumental in developing the trans community's connection to pioneering sex researchers such as Alfred Kinsey and Harry Benjamin, according to Davis.

Immediately after the crash, Davis stated in a news release, Rob Oakley, an ally who designed the original space, loaded his truck with plywood and two-by-fours to board up the gaping hole left by the SUV. Last year, Oakley told the B.A.R. that he's known Davis for about 20 years.

Since then, Davis noted that volunteers have spent about 100 hours working on the space.

The transgender symbol is featured in a piece of stained glass at the Louise Lawrence Transgender Archive in Vallejo. Photo: Courtesy Ms. Bob Davis  

"Without the aid of the community, we wouldn't be welcoming researchers and curiosity seekers back to explore our remarkable collections," Davis stated. "The rebuilt archive has additional storage space to better meet professional archiving standards, making more of the collection easily available to our guests."

The GLBT Historical Society, which is the archive's fiscal sponsor, helped out with emergency financial support, as did Horizons Foundation, LEF Foundation/California, and dozens of individual donors, Davis stated. She told the B.A.R. that the rebuilt archive cost about $35,000 total, including dealing with termites that were discovered. The money came from insurance as well as the other financial support, she explained.

Additionally, Davis said that three Bay Area archivists pitched in to help her out. Isaac Fellman, a reference archivist at the GLBT Historical Society; Marjorie Bryer, accessioning and processing archivist at UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library; and Al Bersch, metadata and systems librarian at the California Historical Society, all volunteered a day at the archive, she said.

In an email, Fellman, who stated he was commenting in his personal capacity and not on behalf of the historical society, wrote that he and the other archivists assisted Davis last April 21.

"As an archivist, I'm very aware of the fragility of things," explained Fellman, a queer trans man. "Every item in an archive has survived against the odds — it's avoided fire, flood, mold, neglect, and the garbage can. But we forget sometimes that the archives can't keep that item safe forever. The archives aren't static; they need to be protected, repaired, and renewed."

Fellman stated that he was "thrilled" the Louise Lawrence archive was reopening.

"Hell yes," he wrote, adding that trans people have long archived their own history. "Ms. Bob's project is both an archive of trans history and an act of trans history — Louise is vital and unique."

Fellman added that when the archivists helped Davis last year, they were renewing their commitment to each other. "And we have an opportunity to remember that some broken things are fixable," he stated.

Bryer and Bersch did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Davis, a retired music instructor from City College of San Francisco, noted the Louise Lawrence archive is one of the few archival centers in the U.S. to focus entirely on documenting transgender and gender-nonconforming history and culture.

The archive will be open by appointment only beginning March 31. On Saturday, April 8, Davis will be holding an open house to welcome supporters and the public. It will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. at 3021 Irwin Street, in Vallejo.

To schedule a visit or tour, email [email protected]. For more information, visit the website.

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