When former mayor Jan Dennis wrote her first book about Manhattan Beach history in 1987, she sparked a lifelong passion.
Now, nine books and thousands of hours later, the 87-year-old has just completed the final installment in her collection—a self-published edition about the Manhattan Beach Fire Department—and is poised to donate her extensive research materials to California State University of Dominguez Hills.
But, for the local history aficionado, the donation is bittersweet.
“I would rather have people reading and getting into the history,” Dennis said. “But it is a little sad, it’s like a part of my life being taken away from me.”
She hopes, Dennis added, that the collection—which includes hundreds of alphabetized and chronological binders of notes and documents—will generate local interest in Manhattan Beach’s past.
“We live in the present, but we should be learning from the past, so that you don’t make that same mistake,” she said. “The generations that are coming aboard...they need to know…”
Gregory Williams, the director of the Gerth Archives and Special Collections at the university, said the library is thrilled to be incorporating Dennis’ extensive research into their archives.
“We especially liked Jan Dennis’ collection because it’s in-depth and broad, covering a particularly important area of the South Bay,” Williams said, noting the university is only eight miles from Manhattan Beach. “We’re able to take larger collections, make sure they’re cataloged, make sure they’re digitized and accessible to students.”
“It will bring a broader understanding of the history of the South Bay…” he added.
The collection, Dennis said, will be donated in parts, beginning with her research about the local school district that is set to be shipped to the university in the coming weeks.
The 57-year resident of the city was first approached about donating her collection in 2017, but declined the offer at the time as she was in the midst of working on a book about the history of Sepulveda Boulevard.
“I said well, not until I finish the book, because I don’t know what I’m going to draw from,” she explained.
That book led to another: this most recent publication regarding the history of the Manhattan Beach Fire Department, which Dennis recently released as her last book.
“I think it’s time," said Dennis. "I believe it’s the last one I’m going to do. It’s been 32 years that I’ve been writing Manhattan Beach history and I wanted to do the fire department book because I had done the police book many years ago.”
The installment comes just as the Manhattan Beach City Council is set to discuss a potential move to Los Angeles County fire services at a meeting next Tuesday, Sept. 17.
Dennis is opposed to outsourcing fire services to the county, she said, because of the close relationship between the local fire department and the community they service, noting that contact is what stood out most in her research for the book.
“Manhattan Beach has always, from the get go, had a very direct, warm, sincere contact with the residents of Manhattan,” she said. “When you read the book, it makes it even closer.”