SACRAMENTO -- California's past is getting a new, safer home in a building built to survive a nuclear blast.
A vast collection of heirlooms ranging from a Donner Party survivor's wedding dress to thousands of Native American baskets will be moved over the next three months to a building at the former McClellan Air Force Base north of Sacramento.
The state has at least 2 million artifacts and roughly half are in aging warehouses on a flood plain in West Sacramento that lack proper protection from heat and humidity.
That was one problem cited last week in a Little Hoover Commission report that criticized the Department of Parks and Recreation for funding and management problems.
"It's totally unacceptable," Ross McGuire, a state museum curator, told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/YquNqc).
The new building has thick concrete walls that were built to withstand a nearby nuclear blast.
The parks department is in charge of artifacts that include gold-mining tools; dugout redwood canoes; Gov. Leland Stanford's stagecoach and 4,500 Native American baskets that will occupy a mile of shelving when they are settled into the new building.
"If we didn't keep this together, this knowledge would be lost," McGuire said. "This is knowledge. This is heritage."
Moving the collection will preserve an invaluable resource and may bring to light forgotten items, said Wendy Teeter, curator of archaeology at UCLA's Fowler Museum.
"There's a million stories being told throughout the state right now and a million stories left to be told," she said. "If you don't take care of that material, you don't have a way to tell the story."
The state also is trying to catalog the collection and thin it out to more manageable proportions. New acquisitions are being limited and at least 1,000 pieces have been handed over to local historical socieites and educational institutes, McGuire said.
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com