Culpeper's Treasure: Classic Recordings

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There's good news for classic film lovers and music enthusiasts. The world's largest collection of audio visual recordings now calls Culpeper home.

Currently, the Library of Congress is working to move their entire collection, including audio recordings and original classic films, to the new facility. The move is ongoing, but a huge part of their collection is already there.

Although you can request the materials in the center for research purposes, you can't go behind closed doors to see it all in one place.

It's located at Mount Pony, home to the former Federal Reserve Bank, which dates back to the beginnings of the Cold War.

With walls built to survive a nuclear attack, the facility once housed the nation's emergency fund. Fifty years hasn't changed much--from bills to reels, the space still houses one of America's treasures.

“It's the most diverse of any archive library in the world,” said Gregory Lukow, Chief of the Motion Picture, Broadcast and Recorded Sound Division.

The Packard Humanities Institute, a private foundation, purchased the 45 acres in 1998. It was later given to the Library of Congress. Today, the National Audio Visual Conservation Center serves as a haven for film and music lovers alike.

It starts with the paper print collection, which was made before anyone knew how to duplicate film.

“It's the finest record of early American cinema anywhere in the world,” said Mike Mashon, head of moving images.

The first American feature length narrative, “The Great Train Robbery from 1903” is one of 3,300 hundred films in the collection. Fast forward a few years and we end up in the nitrate era. Extra protection is a must for the highly flamable film.

“We have recordings in our collection that people have never heard,” said Audio Engineer Brad McCoy.

Three million sound recordings and 1.2 million film, television, and video items are kept at this facility.

But the collection doesn't stop there. Each year 150,000 new items are brought in for storage and safe keeping. Copies of every Law and Order, American Idol episodes, the Today Show and CNN broadcasts are highlights from the most recent additions.

But while modern items are making their way in, the past is being preserved.

“We're not just about making sure you can watch this tomorrow…you want to be able to watch this 100 years from now,” said Mashon.

The top floor of the media fortress is home to technology that can make that happen. Critical listening rooms provide an environment free from outside noise. Their robot, which they refer to as Samma, digitizes videotapes without supervision.

Over in the film room, although things are being made smaller for storage, saving originals is important to keep the classic movie experience alive.

“They don't want a digital version of a 1939 film like Gone with the Wind. They want a film version. They want to be able to recreate the original experience,” said Lukow.

The public will soon be able to have that experience at the facility--a night at the movies.

“We have a great collection to showcase and we think we'll bring a lot of people to that,” said Lukow.

As of now, summer of 2008 is the tentative time frame that has been set for the opening of the theatre and the beginning of the public viewings. The decision to bring the center to Culpeper is a huge deal for the town.

Tuesday on your news at sunrise we'll show you why people are welcoming their new neighbor with open arms, and specifically how the center is working to save a piece of downtown history.

Reported by Jenn McDaniel
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