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History 303 - Finding Primary Sources in Archives

Help with archival research for HIST303

What architectural archives does Special Collections and Archives have?

Special Collections and Archives houses the personal and professional papers architects, landscape architects, architectural photographers, and other collections related to the built environment of California.

Types of materials include:

  • architectural drawings of built and unrealized projects
  • correspondence with clients and colleagues
  • publicity files
  • photographs
  • examples of student work of architects
  • architects personal and family papers

You can browse and search the collections we have at our online collections portal on the Online Archive of California

Searching the collections

The collections are organized by archivists. Records related to projects are divided by type of record and format: publicity and public relations, presentation drawings, architectural drawings, project records (correspondence, project specifications, etc.), and photographs. Not all projects have all types of records.

Projects are identified with the following information, when known:

  • Client Name
  • project type
  • job #
  • Country Club (if applicable)
  • city, state
  • year of project (approximate)

FF stands for flat file, which indicates oversized drawings stored in folders. TUBE indicates oversized drawings (5 ft. or longer) rolled on tubes.

A flat file folder may contain between 1 to 15 items. A box folder may contain between 1 to 30 items. A tube can contain 1 to 2 items.

Setting up an appointment

Set up an appointment to research the collections. 

  • Look at the finding aids and identify Boxes or Flat File Folders you would like to look at. You will submit this list of materials to the archives and they will pull the material before your visit. 
  • When requesting materials, it is important to track the collection title or manuscript number (e.g. Cody Papers or MS 007) so archives staff know which collection to pull from.
  • Email or call Special Collections to set up an appointment and request these materials. We are open M-F, 9am-4pm.
    • 805-756-2305

During your research appointment you will:

  • Complete a researcher registration form (first visit only)
  • Leave all your belongings in the cubbies. You may have in the reading room pencils, cameras, laptops, phones, or ipads. Staff will provide you with paper.
  • Look at one folder at a time. Keep materials in folder in order. 
  • Use care when handling materials. Ask staff for help with fragile or folded materials.
  • Oversized drawings will require assistance from staff
  • If you take photos, make sure to record the location of the item

Searching the digital collections

We are digitizing materials from the collection on a regular basis. 

You can search our collections at our digital collections page:

The easiest way to find materials is to search the last name of the architect and the client name/project name.

You can search a specific client or project name, location, or keyword.


You can check to see if a specific folder or item has been digitized by searching the image identifier number (a unique number for each item digitigized). The formatting of image identifiers is: MS#-SeriesLetter-SubseriesNumber-Box#-Folder#-imagenumber. To find images from one folder, for example:

007-3-e-20-01-* (adding an asterisk searches everything that includes that first string).

Secondary sources and scholarly research on architects

The library has books that include research on the archives we hold. Some of these books are located in Special Collections and can be requested to the reading room if you ask the archives staff.

You can search the library catalog and also search for articles in library databases. Check out CAED Librarian Jesse Vestermark's pages on finding secondary sources:

Palm Springs newspapers, 1940s-70s

Desert Sun (1934–1978) available online at the California Digital Newspaper Collection

Selected publications in the library including Cody:

Bogert, Frank. Palm Springs: First Hundred Years (1987)

Cygelman, Adele. Palm Springs modern: Houses in the California Desert (1999)

Hess, Alan. Forgotten Modern: California Houses 1940–1970 (2007)

Hess, Alan. Palm Springs Weekend: the architecture and design of a mid-century oasis (2001)

Lubell, Sam. Mid-century modern architecture travel guide: West Coast USA (2016)

Palm Springs Preservation Foundation. The architecture of William F. Cody: a desert retrospective (2004)

PSModCom. A map of modern Palm Springs (2007)

Weiner, Steward (editor). The desert modernists: the architects who envisioned midcentury modern Palm Springs (2015)

Zah, Leo. Desert maverick: the singular architecture of William F Cody (2016) DVD

Finding architectural archives beyond Cal Poly's Special Collections and Archives

If you are researching an architect who is not at Cal Poly, you will want to determine where that architect's papers are located. 

  • Try searching the Architect's name + "archives"
  • Look on the wikipedia page for the architect and see if the archives is listed at the bottom of the page
  • If using secondary sources, look at the footnotes or citations area to see which archives the author cites.

If you find the architect's records, check to see if that archives has digital collections. 

  • you can also try searching the architect's name + "digital collections"
  • see where images and drawings are credited to

If the items you are looking for are not digitized, you can reach out to the archives to determine their policies for providing digital copies of materials.