How the first-ever Marina del Rey Historical Society came to be is more complicated than it may seem.
Founded in September 2007 by longtime Marina residents Greg Wenger and Willie Hjorth to collect and preserve historical documents, artifacts, publications, photographs and information relating to the development of Marina del Rey and its future, the nonprofit organization just got its final incorporation papers last month.
“It’s all reality,” says Wenger, photographer and resident of the Marina since 1969. “Every now and then Willie and I look at each other and say, ‘What have we done?'”
But the work toward the creation of this historical society started years ago.
Wenger took pictures for the county and had gone to the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors for a photo assignment. He saw two boxes on the floor labeled “Photos,” where prints were stored. The negatives were filed downtown.
“Jokingly, I said, ‘Can I have them?'” Wenger recalls. “They said, ‘Okay. What for?’ I said I wanted to create a historical society. I said I wasn’t here for the beginning of this place but I had taken a lot of photos with The Argonaut.”
Wenger took the boxes home with him, and two weeks later, he got a call from the Howard Hughes Corporation (the Summa Corporation) asking if he would be interested in some photos. He indeed was.
The word spread and people became familiar with what Wenger was doing and offered photographs and historical materials they had.
Wenger remembers that Security Pacific Bank had a “fabulous archive of prints” and the Department of Beaches and Harbors also had an abundance of selected materials for Wenger to photocopy.
Eventually, yacht clubs started providing photographs of their opening ceremonies to Wenger.
Meanwhile, “I myself was going to create a historical society,” said Hjorth, who has lived in the Marina since 1964, and spent over six years as a liveaboard with her family. “I had amassed a lot of information.”
Hjorth had collected many publications, including The Dinghy, now defunct, the Marina News Magazine, and all of the Marina Foundation papers.
Ultimately, Wenger and Hjorth decided, “What are we waiting for — it’s time [to collaborate],” Hjorth remembers. “We decided, we’re going for it — it’s now or never.”
The two agree that they make a great team.
“I’m not that up on boating,” said Wenger. “I was just a photographer with commercial clients and ties to The Argonaut, whereas Willie had experience in boating.”
For now, the two store the historical society archives in their offices.
They also keep their collection electronically filed, which means that personal contributions can be scanned to the historical society’s files and returned to the donor. Credits for contributions are listed and included in the captions.
The two eventually want to find a space for the historical society, but they’re not sure where yet.
“I think that it’s wonderful that this community has such dedicated people like Greg Wenger and Willie Hjorth who have all this information and are willing to put the time and energy and make it available to all of us,” said Dusty Crane, a spokesperson for the Department of Beaches and Harbors. “We tap into those resources all the time.
“It’s a great thing for this community. Nobody would’ve archived that material. These resources are invaluable and will probably live on forever. It’s truly a gift to this community and we’re so appreciative of them.”
Looking back at those archives, one can certainly see that the Marina hasn’t always appeared as it does today. The dredging of the harbor began in 1960 and was completed in 1961. But the Marina — one of the largest man-made small boat harbors in the U.S. — was not officially open to recreational boaters until 1964.
Today, the Marina is home to about 5,000 boats and 8,200 people.
“I don’t have any degrees in history, but it has always fascinated me, because people forget history,” said Wenger. “I read lots of books and novels on history. I think it’s very necessary to remember the past because people forget very quickly. I was astounded that nobody in the Marina had much of a desire to keep a record of the past.”
Says Hjorth, “I think it’s important to not lose contact with your past. We’re living it; we’re breathing it. Why not preserve it so we can maintain our identity?”
Of the historical society, Wenger says, “It had to be. I put too much time in — and so did Willie. From my point of view, it was impossible to not have a Marina del Rey Historical Society.”