The Great History Freeze

In summer 2015, PMH turned to two sources for help in preserving its highly at-risk, irreplaceable historic photos: cryogenics and crowd-funding. So far, the Great History Freeze has over 80 generous backers who have contributed over $37,000 in donations. This generous funding from our supporters is enabling us to move much more quickly on the monumental task of preserving these invaluable negatives. But why do we need freezers in the first place?

Photograph from the J. Allen Hawkins Collection

GREAT HISTORY FREEZE UPDATE 10/26/2018 - Our staff just packed up Freezers 9 & 10 with over 41,000  negatives from the J. Allen Hawkins Collection. Some negatives have companion prints that have been re-housed and stored in the Archives.

This image shows a group of celebrities dining at the Stuft Shirt restaurant at 1000 E Green Street, on September 24th, 1960. Actor Phillip Reed is sitting on the far right - Reed was active in Hollywood from the 1930s to 1965. Do you recognize anyone else at the table? According to the photographer's notes, a set of the photos taken were sent to the Star News. (JAH19796)

Check our Great History Freeze Facebook album for past updates and more photos.

Our Historic Negatives Collections

PMH maintains the area’s largest and most complete photographic archives of Pasadena and its environs, numbering an estimated one million photographic images. Staff, interns, and volunteers work tirelessly to catalog, digitize, and share the Museum’s collections, which contain well over 1,000,000 historic photographs, rare books, manuscripts, maps, architectural records, and more.  Our historic negatives collections contain irreplaceable early views of Pasadena life and industry, which are all one-of-a-kind. Two of these collections are the most in need of preservation: the collections of J. Allen Hawkins and Helen Lukens Gaut.

The over one-million photographic images in Pasadena Museum of History’s Archives are among the Museum’s most valuable resources, attracting researchers worldwide and utilized on a regular basis by local journalists, scholars, and individuals. In spite of careful preservation efforts, however, many of them are deteriorating at a rate that will destroy them completely within 20 years


Estimated cost of one freezer and associated costs: TOTAL $2,450 

This includes:

One 20 cubic ft. industrial freezer equipped with a wireless data monitor (for temperature and humidity): $1,400

Archival storage containers for one freezer: $300

Inventory and re-house approximately 16,000 negatives, per freezer: $750

Deterioration can be stopped!

Freezers = Stability:  Freezing the negatives will put them in a chemically inert state, and limit off-gassing. It is more cost-effective than scanning every negative and digitally storing them, and has the added benefit of preserving the historic artifact. This is the method currently in use by major historical museums with photographic collections.

Special Precautions:  Installing freezers to preserve our negatives is not a project that was taken on lightly. Photo conservator Gawain Weaver spent several days assessing our photograph collections and storage capabilities, and recommended installing individual freezers to preserve the Museum’s negatives.  Collections staff then spent months researching cold storage, including attending a seminar run by the Image Permanence Institute.  Members of the Museum’s Collections Committee also consulted conservators at the Getty and visited their freezer storage.

When the first freezer was installed, staff spent additional time doing “test runs” with supplies, equipment, and “test” negatives before placing any of our collections into the freezer.  When the negatives were stored in the freezer, they were first packed in archival boxes that were then wrapped in two layers of plastic bags, including a static shield bag and a polyethylene zip lock bag to create a micro environment for each box.  The freezer is equipped with 24 hour temperature and humidity data logger that collects data every minute and  is capable of alerting staff should temperature and humidity goes over the acceptable range. Click on the links below for more information on cold storage and preservation of photographic materials.

Great History Freeze logo

Progress So Far

One freezer had already been donated prior to the Great History Freeze, and nine freezers have been purchased with donated funds. They are hard at work saving some of the most at-risk negatives. The freezers have been programmed for humidity and temperature controls that are monitored remotely and digitally, keeping conditions perfect for the preservation of the negatives. Now our staff is busy ordering additional supplies and preparing more fragile negatives for freezing. We will post periodic updates on the PMH Facebook page.

How You Can Help

Just because our Kickstarter campaign is over doesn't mean that you can't still help. We are thrilled by the $37,000 in donations this project has received to date. This generous funding from our supporters will enable us to move much more quickly on the monumental task of preserving these invaluable negatives. Additional funds will be allocated to upgrading our electrical systems to handle more freezers and archival supplies for housing the companion prints.

To make a contribution, you can donate online through our website, or mail a check to: Pasadena Museum of History, Attn: The Great History Freeze, 470 W. Walnut Street, Pasadena CA 91103. You can also call us at 626.577.1660, ext. 11 to make a donation over the phone.