By Avinash Iyer
Eric Warren has been captivated by local history since 2004, when he discovered neglected archives that had been moved from the Eagle Rock City Hall to the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock. The documents, clippings, photographs and other records were “in a couple of closets, just thrown in the corner, unsorted and in danger of being lost,” Warren recalled in a recent interview.
It took a lot of effort, but those and other archival materials are now carefully tended by the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society (ERVHS). And Warren, a native of Eagle Rock, remains fascinated by the people, places and things of the past that have made Northeast Los Angeles what it is today. His recent work for the historical society included collaborating in April on a short film by Alexandra Epstein for the Boulevard Sentinel honoring past Eagle Rock resident Helen Pratt (1883 – 1965), a pioneer of bird watching, bird observation, habitats and ecology. Warren is shown in the film at Pratt’s house in Eagle Rock, admiring the garden that Pratt developed in the early 1900s and which the current owner of the house has continued to cultivate.
“We have photographs of the garden when it was just beginning with Miss Pratt in it, and we also have photographs of the garden now,” Warren said.
Comparing and connecting the past with the present is in Warren’s blood. He is a past president of the ERVHS and has written three books on local history, including “Pioneers of Eagle Rock,” co-authored with former ERVHS President Frank Parrello. The book details the history of Eagle Rock up to 1923, when Eagle Rock, then its own city, was annexed to the city of L.A.
“We were able to find first-person accounts of the history that said things a whole lot better than we could,” Warren said.
Warren has also been a leader in the effort to digitize local historic records. David Dellinger, the current chair of the ERVHS and the Administrator of Information Technology Services Systems at Occidental College recalled Warren’s work to transfer documents, photographs and other archival materials when the society migrated to its current website.
“Once he gets going on something and learns the technology, he just goes with it,” Dellinger said.
Warren has also worked with John de la Fontaine, an ERVHS board member and Occidental College librarian, to archive and digitize old newspapers from Northeast L.A., a collaborative effort that also includes the Highland Park Heritage Trust and Occidental College Special Collections.
“We went through all the paper archives and organized them the best we could, even with some issues that were in poor condition,” de la Fontaine said.
For his efforts, Warren, a graduate of Occidental College, class of ’69, was awarded the Alumni Seal Award for Service to the Community at his 50th college reunion in 2019. Recipients of the award are encouraged to produce a program for the occasion. Warren worked with Craig Dietrich, a research fellow at Occidental’s Center for Digital Liberal Arts on a history of the college from 1910 to 1923, when Oxy and its surroundings were undergoing the transition from a largely rural area to a growing suburb of L.A. The program was created using Scalar, an open source writing and publishing platform co-created by Dietrich..
Warren said he would like to continue the project. Local history, he said, is fun.
“I always find out new things that I missed in past collecting,” he said. “There’s so much to history — I enjoy it.”
Avinash Iyer, a freshman at Occidental College, is a participant in the NELA Neighborhood Reporting Partnership, a collaboration of the Boulevard Sentinel and The Occidental campus newspaper.