G-P records vanish
BELLINGHAM – Last May Georgia-Pacific moved an estimated 1,700 cubic feet of corporate records out of the Administration Building. Archivists and historians all over the state are asking where the records are now, from both the G-P and pre-G-P eras. Unfortunately, that isn’t clear.
The Port of Bellingham wanted an inventory of the reams of files, photographs, films, blueprints, and drawings in G-P’s Administration Building. They wanted to know – before their acquisition of the G-P site was finalized in January 2006 – which records they would want to keep. But historians and archivists are asking another important question: how can those records at the G-P site, spanning well over 140 years of life on Bellingham Bay, be kept here permanently and not lost or destroyed?
In July 2005, Michael Sean Sullivan, partner in ARTIFACTS Consulting Inc. and President of the Washington Trust for
Historic Preservation, conducted an overview survey of the many boxes, flat files, and filing cabinets housed in the G-P Administration Building. Going through the many rooms of corporate records, Sullivan estimated the total volume at approximately 1,700 cubic feet. And what he found astonished him. “It was amazing,” Sullivan said, “to go into a site and find all the original drawings. It’s unheard of.” The drawings, he added, went back 80 years to the beginning of Puget Pulp and Timber and represented “a diary in graphic form of the history of the buildings.”
G-P and pre-G-P records
Then later last summer, Elizabeth Joffrion, archivist at Western Washington University’s Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, along with two WWU graduate students conducted a comprehensive, full-scale inventory of the same materials. Joffrion grouped the records into two main categories: 1) G-P’s own corporate records starting from when the company acquired the site in 1963 and spanning through 2000; and 2) many records pre-dating G-P which track the rise and fall of the Puget Pulp and Timber Company (1929 to 1963) on the site. There were also many papers pertaining to various other pulp and paper mill operations up and down the coast from California to Ketchikan, AK. According to Joffrion, some of the pre-G-P papers date back as far as the 1860s.
While all the records may have historical and local value, Joffrion is especially concerned about the second category – the pre-G-P files. “These are some really, really important records,” she said as they reflect the “community-based waterfront history of the site.” It is critical, she said, “to make sure these records are saved so historians 100 years from now” will know the history of the area. “Extractive resources were the financial base on which a 100- to 200-year-long piece of our history was built. If we lost that, it would be such a shame,” she explained. The documents, Joffrion added, “…comprise an important group of primary sources documenting the history of Bellingham and the impact of the logging and pulp mill industry on this region.” Joffrion has offered to keep the pre-G-P records properly archived and housed at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, but has so far heard nothing from the Port or G-P.
As for the much more extensive G-P records, Joffrion and others have proposed the establishment of a “Waterfront History Project” in which perhaps the Port, Waterfront Advisory Committee, Whatcom Museum, Bellingham Library, WWU, Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and Center for Pacific Northwest Studies could all partner. If located in one of the G-P buildings, such a collaboration could provide a way to permanently archive the materials on site. The museum could develop historic exhibits and offer educational tours, while the center could organize and monitor access to the archival materials (with restrictions on personnel files and other sensitive materials). To succeed, Joffrion said, there would need to be a dedicated space on the waterfront, a commitment to long-term funding, and resources for processing the 1,700 cubic feet of records.
Where are the records now?
But the more pressing question is: Where are the records (both G-P and pre-G-P) now? That isn’t clear. According to Joffrion, last May, G-P moved all the records out of the Administration Building. The reason for moving the materials, according to Sullivan, was the result of finding rolls of flammable, silver nitrate-based film in the same location. “So we knew there were combustibles around a lot of paper,” he explained. When the records were moved, G-P turned over about 12 cubic feet of material to the center. According to Joffrion, the records she received at that time included “some wonderful photographs, film footage, and informative publications and brochures,” but they were, as she described them, mostly public relations materials meant “for public consumption anyway.”
To further complicate the matter, G-P has since been bought by out-of-state Koch Industries, Inc. Thus, G-P no longer has complete control over the materials. Koch lawyers are now involved, and there is concern both G-P and Koch attorneys may want to limit further public access to the records. When asked directly about the whereabouts and the status of the records, G-P spokesperson Richard Perry would only say, “I have no comment. I will continue to work with Elizabeth (Joffrion).”
Joffrion admits the G-P records legally belong to the company, “and they have every right to do what they want with them.” But as for the pre-G-P materials – “Puget Pulp and Timber belongs to this community historically and ethically,” she maintained. She wants people to be aware of the situation before the early Bellingham Bay records are lost, destroyed, or moved out of the area.