- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2000

The priceless original negatives and prints of such classic films as "Casablanca" and "The Great Train Robbery," stored for decades at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, will get a new home in Virginia.
The Air Force's film vaults in Ohio are deteriorating, said David Francis, chief of the Library of Congress' Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, based in the District of Columbia. He said films stored in various locations will be centralized in late 2003 in Culpeper, Va.
The Air Force built vaults after World War II to store reconnaissance film. In 1969, they were turned over to the Library of Congress, which had been looking for a place to store nitrate film.
Nitrate film, which can deteriorate if it is not kept in the right temperature and humidity, was used in commercial cinema until 1951, when it was replaced with cellulose acetate.
Stored in the Wright-Patterson vaults are the original negatives of such classics as "Birth of a Nation," "The Maltese Falcon" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
"It's a pretty impressive collection," Mr. Francis said last week. "We must ensure we do the best we can to maintain this vital heritage."
In Virginia, the Library of Congress is creating a National Audio Visual Conservation Center in an underground building previously owned by the Federal Reserve. It will be renovated and a new lab built next to it.
Mr. Francis said the center will enable the library to consolidate its film storage and preservation operations. Besides Wright-Patterson, film is stored at sites in Boyers, Pa., and Suitland and Landover, Md.
"We're spread out all over the place," Mr. Francis said. "The opportunity to purchase a site where we can consolidate all of our activities really was too good of an opportunity to miss."
The building purchase and redesign is supported by a $10 million grant from the Packard Humanities Institute of Los Altos, Calif.
"We have a tremendous lack of proper storage space," said Ken Weissman, head of the Motion Picture Conservation Center at Wright-Patterson. "This new facility will solve that and give us growth for the next 25 years or so."
Mr. Weissman said plaster on the outside of the building is crumbling and that the roof leaks.
"We've been worried about those vaults for several years now because they are starting to crumble," Mr. Francis said.
There are about 110,000 cans of film containing between 25,000 and 30,000 movie titles in the 99 vaults at the base. Mr. Weissman said the Culpeper center will have 120 vaults and offer better temperature and humidity conditions as well as improved fire protection.
"If we were to have a fire in the vaults, chances are every one of those cans would go up in smoke," he said.
Mr. Weissman said he has mixed feelings about the move.
"I've lived in Dayton since I was 9 years old," he said. "I feel it will be a loss to the Dayton community. It was always a source of pride for me to say this was in Dayton."
George Willeman is among the 21 workers who will have to decide whether to move to Culpeper along with the job.
"On the one hand, it's kind of exciting to think we're going to have a new home. But on the other hand, the whole idea of sort of being torn asunder from your home that is a little daunting," said Mr. Willeman, 37, of Springfield, Va.
"But if truly a new facility would add life to these films, then I'm all for it."

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