Packard makes donation to Library of Congress

New audio-visual center will save, share old films

Nearly six million American memories have a new home outside of Washington, D.C., courtesy of David W. Packard and the Los Altos-based charity the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI). Packard, son of the Hewlett Packard co-founder and PHI president, made a gift of $155 million to establish the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation, which was officially transferred to the Library of Congress on July 26.

The conservation-and-research-oriented Campus, located in Culpeper, Va., will house approximately 5.7 million artifacts, from the original negatives of "Casablanca" to an 1894 film by Thomas Edison. Its state-of-the-art conservation features include a robotic system that works day and night to digitize cassette recordings and a program that takes high-resolution images of damaged, old media such as phonographs to create a digital audio recording. Reading rooms and on-site research facilities will make archives available to scholars and the public.

"We have been enormously impressed by the dedication of the Librarian of Congress, Dr. James Billington, to increasing public access to the Library's audio-visual collections," Packard said in a prepared statement.

Public exposure will be increased by an Art Deco theater that will screen both classic and little-known features from the Library's extensive collection.

If that sounds familiar, it may be in part because Palo Alto's own Stanford Theatre on University Avenue, which screens classic old-Hollywood films, is also funded by the PHI. The theatre was bought in 1987 by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, which then established the Stanford Theatre Fund to run the movie house.

The Packard Foundation also created the PHI in 1987 to foster the growth of research facilities in a hands-on way, by guiding the projects it funds rather than more passively receiving grant proposals and providing funds.

Besides the Stanford Theatre and the new Packard Campus at Culpeper, the PHI also supports the preservation of audio-visual archives by giving to the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the George Eastman House in New York.

This latest donation to create the Packard Campus, however, tops all previous giving as the largest-ever private gift to the U.S. legislative of government. It was augmented by $82 million that Congress appropriated for the project. These enormous amounts have made a 415,000-square-foot facility -- 41 times the size of the Media Center in Palo Alto -- expected to triple the Library's film printing and processing ability.

Librarian of Congress Billington expressed the hoped-for result of the new center last month when the facility was transferred.

"Thanks to private and public generosity and this unique partnership we will be able to sustain an audio-visual legacy that might otherwise be lost to the ravages of time or indifference," he said.

— Arden Pennell

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