SWLAW Blog | Faculty Features

Bullocks Wilshire tower in black and white

December 1, 2022

Preserving Southwestern's Past for Future Generations

By Archivist Sara Halpert

Southwestern Law is dedicated to documenting, preserving, and celebrating the rich history of the law school and the Bullocks Wilshire building. In September, Southwestern hired Sara Halpert as its first Archivist as part of the law school’s continuing effort to ensure that future generations can learn from records, artifacts, and other historical items the school has accumulated over 111 years.

Starting the Archive

Building on past efforts to start an official archive, Halpert and Associate Dean Margaret Hall have identified four main collections focusing on (1) the history of Southwestern Law School, (2) the historic landmark Bullocks Wilshire building, (3) the Bullocks Wilshire department store, and (4) personal collections donated to the law school, such as those from the estates of the Hon. Marshall F. McComb, the Hon. Harry Pregerson, and most recently, the Hon. Arleigh Woods ’53.

Document official announcement of Southwestern University School of Law from 1945-1946

In addition, Dean Darby Dickerson is working with Halpert and Hall to produce a series of tours and lectures that will highlight the law school, building, and department store and hopes in the future to develop an oral history-video collection that features interviews with alums, faculty, and others who have impacted the law school. She’s also working with some alums to explore the possibility of producing a documentary about the law school and the building. Halpert is also interested in preparing a book about the law school’s history.

Currently, the law school archives consist of documents that record its history, such as yearbooks, brochures, other publications, photos, and newspaper articles about the school. Halpert’s interesting discoveries include the cutting-edge dictograph installation in classrooms in the 1924 Hill Street Building and a 1914 brochure that warns students that it is “frequently difficult to secure good lodgings at reasonable costs in Los Angeles.” She noted that the first shows how much has changed, and the second illustrates how much things have stayed the same.

Southwestern has been doing a great service to the City of Los Angeles by repurposing and preserving the Bullocks Wilshire, an Art Deco landmark that appears on the National Historic Register. We want to celebrate the history of the building and remind students of what a special and unique location they get to experience every day. There truly is no other Law Library quite like this one!

Bullocks Wilshire branded dresses on display during Homecoming
Click here to view the full BW Collection photo album on our Flickr.

The Bullocks Wilshire store was known for high-end luxury goods. Southwestern is building a collection of BW-branded clothing and memorabilia to showcase the fascinating heritage of the department store and building.

We are still looking for Bullocks Wilshire branded items such as a complete wedding dress with veil, school uniforms, equestrian items, men’s clothing from the 1930s through 1970s, and other merchandise. If you have any items that you would like to be considered as part of this collection, send a photo to shalpert@swlaw.edu, and Halpert can contact you to discuss our needs and interest.

Archive Project Goals

Halpert’s first goal is to prepare a complete inventory of the materials currently in the archive. Halpert is doing what archivists call arrangement and description, which means organizing documents logically and creating finding aids for discovery and accessibility. Preservation is another process, which means removing harmful materials like metal staples and keeping documents in acid-free boxes.

The second goal is to ensure the archives are accessible to students, alums, and researchers through finding aids and digitization. The archival items are non-circulating, and generally, a patron needs an appointment to view them. It will be ideal for making documents digitally available at some point. While the project is just beginning, the hope is that the archive will serve as a resource to verify facts or obtain copies of documents.

Halpert will work to acquire a grant for an archival-quality scanner, which will allow the law school to digitize many of the historical documents. Right now, we have at least one copy of each yearbook from 1926–1932 and 1978–2007. Our goal is to have three copies of each yearbook: one for preservation, one for use, and an extra one just in case. If you have copies that you would like to donate to the law school, contact alumni@swlaw.edu and let us know the years you have.

Sara Halpert, Archivist

Sara Halpert HeadshotHalpert has always been passionate about history and preserving our past to benefit our present and future. She is so passionate that she started her career at nine years old as a Junior Docent volunteer at a local history museum, The Stagecoach Inn Museum in Newbury Park, California. Since then, she earned a bachelor’s degree in history, a master’s degree in museum studies, and a graduate certificate in archival studies. Most recently, Halpert was Museum Manager at The International Printing Museum in Carson, California.

Halpert remarked that what she has seen since starting her inventory is a vast amount of records and objects from throughout Southwestern’s history that have been saved. She appreciates the hard work and initiative of many individuals who, while not officially tasked with preservation, were prudent and perceptive enough to know that certain items were important and should be saved. “I’m just here to put all the puzzle pieces together and make sure the puzzle is put in a nice frame and hung someplace where all can see,” she said.