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Treasure-trove of maps headed to L.A. Public Library

October 19, 2012 |  9:42 am

Maps in Mount Washington cottage
When real estate agent Matthew Greenberg cleaned out the Mount Washington cottage after the occupant died, he couldn't bring himself to throw out a treasure-trove he discovered inside--all kinds of maps.

Instead, he invited the Los Angeles Public Library's map librarian to look at the find.

Stashed everywhere in the 948-square-foot tear-down were maps. Tens of thousands of maps. Fold-out street maps were stuffed in file cabinets, crammed into cardboard boxes, lined up on closet shelves and jammed into old dairy crates.

Wall-size roll-up maps once familiar to schoolchildren were stacked in corners. Old globes were lined in rows atop bookshelves also filled with maps and atlases. A giant plastic topographical map of the United States covered a bathroom wall and bookcases displaying Thomas Bros. map books and other street guides lined a small den.

The library's Glen Creason called the find unbelievable.

"I think there are at least a million maps here," he said. "This dwarfs our collection — and we've been collecting for 100 years."

Creason returned to the home Thursday with 10 library employees and volunteers to box up the maps. The acquisition will give the city library one of the country's top five library map archives, behind the Library of Congress and public libraries in New York, Philadelphia and Boston, he said.

As the workers went through the tiny house, they tried to piece together the wanderlust life of John Feathers, the man who amassed the collection, apparently, beginning in childhood. But they had little evidence to go on, and it remained a mystery exactly how and why he obtained so many maps.

Feathers died in February at age 56, leaving no known survivors. He was the companion of the home's late owner, Walter Keller, who arranged for him to continue living there after his own death two decades ago. Keller's brother and sister, Marvin Keller and Esther Baum, retained Greenberg to sell the property, which is located next to the Self-Realization Fellowship meditation center.

According to Greenberg, it was the "nagging voice of my mother in the back of my mind" that prompted him to hesitate before tossing out the maps. He has a soft spot in his heart for archives and collections; his mother, Marilyn Greenberg, is a retired university professor who specialized in library science.

It took hours for the workers to pack up the maps Thursday. Everywhere they turned, they found more. As the morning wore on, neighbors came over to watch.

Feathers' trove contained run-of-the-mill gas station maps and Chamber of Commerce street maps as well as historic gems, Creason said.

"He has every type of map imaginable. There's a 1956 pictorial map of Lubbock, Texas. He's got a 1942 Jack Renie Street Guide of Los Angeles," Creason said. "He has four of the first Thomas Bros. guides from 1946. Those are very hard to find. The one copy we have is falling apart because it's been so heavily used. We had to photocopy it."

Creason was also enthralled by the discovery of several "Mapfox" Los Angeles street guides published in 1944. Creason said in his 32-year library career he had never seen one.

The house where Feathers kept his collection sits on a lot that has its own history. The site was once used by the Los Angeles and Mount Washington Railway, which was operated from 1909 to 1919 by Robert Marsh, himself a turn-of-the-century Los Angeles mapmaker and developer of the Mount Washington Hotel, now used by the Self-Realization Fellowship.

A section of steel cable used to move the railway's trolley cars up and down the steep hillside remains embedded in concrete in a corner of the lot, which is priced at $450,000.

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-- Bob Pool in Mount Washington

Photo: Realtor Matthew Greenberg looks through compact discs in the former Mt. Washington home of John Feathers. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times.

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