- Under ThreatOne Archive’s Tale from the 2017 Napa and Sonoma County Fires
Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas founded American Zoetrope as an independent film company in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1969. It was created to bring together talented young filmmakers at a distance from the traditional ways of filmmaking that were entrenched in Hollywood. Zoetrope provided a welcoming space in which to experiment and craft stories in a much different way, appealing to filmmakers like Walter Murch, John Milius, and Carroll Ballard. Films made there left their mark, including American Graffiti (1973), The Conversation (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979), and The Black Stallion (1979), to name only a few.
In its almost fifty-year history, Zoetrope has amassed an archive of film, artwork, and movie memorabilia, including the acquisition of the old RKO Research Library.1 While these items are stored in various locations, the bulk of the collection is housed in the Napa Valley, on the famed Inglenook Estate.2
In early October 2017, wildfires quickly spread throughout Napa and Sonoma Counties in the middle of the night, catching everyone off guard. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), 11,000 firefighters combated the fires that would burn more than 245,000 acres.3
In addition to Inglenook in Napa County, the Coppola family owns two properties in Sonoma County. At the start of the firestorm, neither was in immediate danger. As the hours went on, however, and the aggressive winds fed the flames, we began implementing a disaster plan, which would mean evacuating the property in the Napa Valley.
Our disaster plan wasn’t one that was codified and kept in a binder; instead, it had been developed orally by long-standing colleagues over the last fifteen years. We had discussed what we would do in case of emergency and how we would provide geographical separation by storing our most valuable, unique, and irreplaceable items in off-site vaults more appropriate for assets such as negatives and sound masters. We discussed how we would prioritize our property assets, how to secure the site if assets were to remain on property, the need to find a safe haven for evacuated items, and how we would transport these items to the selected refuge. We were very fortunate that our company has a wealth of resources— transportation key among them. We had an amazing fleet of vehicles at our service. What’s more, we had a wonderful group of dedicated employees who worked hard and diligently to relocate materials from a total of ten buildings (from family homes to production facilities), with assets ranging from the smallest video tape to the largest painting.
One of our safe havens was a wine cave on the property, situated far enough away from the fire area that we could use it to safely store our paper documents and other archival materials too large to transport off property; we also used it to store our Ford Model T from The Godfather: Part II (1974). Mr. Coppola is a car enthusiast and has several rare vehicles in his collection, and when the garage where many [End Page 67] of these cars are housed became threatened by the fires, we moved the majority of them to the front of the property, where they could be stored outside of the immediate danger area and covered to protect them from the falling ash. Our off-site facility was a roomy, versatile airport hangar that we used as our designated evacuation area—a place we also could occupy as a command post and set priorities from as the situation unfolded. There, we processed all the materials that had been evacuated from the property, photographing, cataloging, and packing each item securely so that the collection would be safe during the emergency and could be returned to the property efficiently once we received the all-clear.
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We have experienced threats to our collections due to natural disasters in the past...