July 7, 2008

Farewell to the Archaeological Survey Foundation

The End of the Archaeological Survey Association

By Anne Q. Stoll, President and Executive Director

LaMonk Collection

“The next generation” – a quick look through a recent SCA newsletter suggests this is a hot topic for many of us. The future was certainly on our minds when we board members voted this past April to disband the Archaeological Survey Association of Southern California, Inc. or ASA, as it was fondly known, after 61 years of operation.

Many of you may remember the ASA – some of you are former members. This organization, recognized as the oldest avocational archaeological society in California, covered a lot of ground in the early days. The name often shows up in old reports.

The Archaeological Survey Association was started back in January 1947 at a meeting in the Southwest Museum in Highland Park, near Los Angeles. Mark R. Harrington, Edwin F. Walker, Frederick W. Hodge, and Howard A. Edwards, were worried about the rate at which archaeological sites were being destroyed by Southern California’s post-war development boom. If that first meeting was anything like the one I was at many years later that started the Coachella Valley Archaeological Society, these guys were sitting around talking, eating pizza and drinking beer after spending the day in the field.

At that meeting in 1947 it was resolved to create the ASA to conduct a complete archaeological reconnaissance of California. The vision – and the naïveté – of such a goal are hard to grasp today, but such was the bravado of the times. These men proposed to form a team of professionals from local universities and museums who would use crews of volunteer amateurs to do the work. They drafted a very persuasive letter which they sent out to everyone they knew (and M. R. Harrington knew everybody). The Southwest Museum became the first sponsor but USC, UCLA and the LA County Museum of Natural History participated too. George Brainerd at UCLA served as the first president, followed by Robert Ariss of LACMNH, and then Gordon Hewes at UC Berkeley. Early field leaders included Stuart Peck, Freddie Curtis, Charles Rozaire, Edwin Walker, William Wallace, Ruth DeEtte Simpson (known as “Dee”), and Ben E. McCown.

As we all know, it isn’t hard to recruit volunteers to help dig. ASA was soon a big success with well over 200 enthusiastic members. Between 1947 and 1963, ASA volunteers were at work in the field somewhere between Bakersfield and San Diego nearly every weekend, surveying, scouting, photographing, or digging. Some of the bigger excavations were at Malaga Cove, Arroyo Sequit, Temeku, Phillips Ranch, and Burro Flats. The tough part was getting site maps made, artifacts catalogued and analyzed, and reports written but in the beginning, ASA’s publication record was pretty good, especially during the 16 Southwest Museum years.

In 1963, the ASA moved to the San Bernardino County Museum in Bloomington and the organization changed. The group’s focus turned from coastal sites to the Mojave Desert, and several more big projects were undertaken in Kern, Inyo, and San Bernardino counties. Then followed a few more moves and many changes but somehow, through the efforts of many devoted volunteers, the ASA hung on. Through the 1970s, ASA worked in Black Canyon, near Barstow, surveying and excavating. Much of this project was recorded by ASA photographer Charley Howe, who published the summary report in 1980. Through the end of the 1980s, there were more weekend surveys in the East Mojave. The Mud Springs Lab nights in LaVerne continued through the 1990s, but the group was clearly losing steam. There were just enough members left in 1997 to make the 50th anniversary party worth having. The invitations and catering almost broke the bank, however. When we decided to throw in the towel at our final meeting on October 26, 2002, a grand total of 19 people attended. The vote to disband the ASA was unanimous.

And then – surprise! The ASA hit the lottery. Seriously. Who knew Dee Simpson was worth that much money!? She lived alone in a funky trailer with a half dozen cats in Calimesa. Who knew those stock certificates and bank account books in her kitchen drawers were real? Dee Simpson passed away on January 19, 2000 and when the dust settled three years later, the ASA found she had bequeathed us one-eighth of her considerable estate.

What to do? There was no shortage of ideas. At last, this was ASA’s big chance to track down our scattered collections, find the old field notes, and write up the old reports. We would give grants and scholarships. We would clean up all the old messes and deal with the skeletons in the closet. The new streamlined five-member board voted to stash the money in an investment account and look for good professional advice. Investment managers, lawyers, accountants, appraisers, web-designers – we hired them all.

We floundered at first. We paid good money for bad legal advice, and spent the better part of the next two years working with another lawyer to unravel the mess with the State and the IRS. Because we no longer had dues-paying members or took public funds, we became by default a private charitable foundation. In 2004 we turned the corner. We officially renamed ourselves the Archaeological Survey Foundation (ASF) and began to enjoy some success. We supported the publication of several long-overdue reports and gave out a number of research grants. Ben McCown’s report of years of survey work at Lake LeConte was finally published. Russ Kaldenberg’s Ayers Rock report went to the printer. Thanks to SRI’s support, we consolidated our collections in Redlands. We subsidized CSUSB students attending archaeology field school in the San Bernardino Mountains. We moved slowly but we were doing good things.

Then the accountants delivered some bad news (non-profits beware!). There are new definitions of what is a “taxable expenditure” for a private charitable foundation. Thanks to the lawbreakers who scammed the IRS by setting up bogus foundations and giving themselves grants, the government changed the rules. No more simple cash grants to private individuals or deserving students. Unless you give to a non-profit, you have to ask the IRS permission BEFORE you give away the money, the recipient needs to prove their qualifications, you have to follow up on how the grant is spent and if misspent, you must try to retrieve the money, you must submit reports to the IRS in a timely fashion for each grant, etc. etc. See Internal Revenue Code 4945 for the rest of it.

The paperwork seemed onerous and was the last thing the ASF needed. We were already starting to bog down with competing demands for our time and too many boxes of orphaned artifacts. It was time to molt and move on.

In the end, the decision was surprisingly easy to make. We voted unanimously to give our entire 119-piece LaMonk art collection and almost all our money -- $340,000 -- to the Foundation for CSUSB to benefit their traditionally underrepresented student population here in the Inland Empire. With the wave of the pen, we created the ASA – Southern California Archaeology Endowment to ensure that the funds will be used exclusively for the benefit of the Cal State San Bernardino Anthropology Department in support of their undergraduate program in archaeology and cultural resource management. It’s the largest cash gift the CSUSB College of Social and Behavioral Sciences has ever received. Everyone is happy -- our legacy will serve the future.

In shutting down the organization, we’ve had the fun of giving two $10,000 distributions to worthy local non-profits, the first to the San Bernardino County Museum Association for the renovation of the Anthropology curation facility. The SBCM has graciously given a home to our archives, business papers and artifacts. The second gift went with the Charley Howe photos to the CSUSB Library, Special Collections, to properly curate the collection and get it online.

So we close the book on the ASA/ASF with a smile. Sixty-one years is a long run for any volunteer group. We hope other avocational societies who are struggling with shrinking membership rolls will consider following our lead and will plan for the needs of the next generation of California archaeologists.