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Saturday, September 23, 2017

An Enduring Symbol: The Sunset Limited

“Sunset Limited March” by Henry Bartell, 1910
Sheet music published by McKinley Music Co., Chicago and New York
In 1894, the Southern Pacific inaugurated its premier train, the Sunset Limited, which ran between San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New Orleans (with SP steamship connections to New York). Its name invoked a romantic vision of westward migration from cold and dreary Eastern winters to California’s balmy and healthful year-round climate, fragrant orange groves, and crashing surf, gilded each evening by the setting sun. So deeply were Southern Pacific’s trains associated with the California dream that a sunset behind a receding train track became the corporate logo.

French Quarter New Orleans-style lounge car, undated
            Courtesy, Los Angeles Union Station Historical Society

In 1950, a new, streamlined Sunset Limited was introduced. Clad entirely in polished stainless steel, it featured a “French Quarter” New Orleans–style lounge car painted in watermelon red, an “Audubon” dining car with birds painted on the ceiling, and a “Pride of Texas” ranch-decor coffee shop car.

The Route of the Sunset Limited
Published in The New Sunset Limited: 42 Hours New Orleans-Los Angeles
(Southern Pacific, 1952)
Courtesy, Los Angeles Union Station Historical Society
Eventually, the Sunset Limited’s route was curtailed to run only from Los Angeles (via Palm Springs) to New Orleans—a route that came into favor among the Hollywood crowd, who had a newfound fascination with the desert spa city that blossomed each winter. The Sunset Limited became such a travel institution that when a government-funded entity, Amtrak, took over operation of money-losing passenger trains across the country in 1971, they continued to serve this historic route.
Sunset Limited Amtrak Poster
Both the outcome of an ingenious marketing campaign and evidence of the public’s romance with rail travel, the Sunset Limited still brings riders into Los Angeles’s Union Station every week. It is the oldest named train in the United States and has adapted and persevered over the past 123 years.
History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles
The story of the Sunset Limited is represented in History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles, on view at the El Tranquilo Gallery on Olvera Street at El Pueblo National Monument in Los Angeles from August 4 to October 1, 2017. 
Contributing institution of this story to History Keepers: Eleven That Moved Los Angeles: Los Angeles Union Station Historical Society. The Los Angeles Union Station Historical Society holds a divers and comprehensive collection of Union Station memorabilia, including photos, postcards, railroad artifacts, uniform regalia, building relics, and vintage souvenirs.

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Message of Compassion: Stewart Stern

Photo and poster from Rebel without a Cause
Courtesy Classic Films Reloaded;

Released in 1955, the film Rebel without a Cause vividly and insightfully captured the frustrations and anxieties of Los Angeles’s troubled youth. It was an instant hit, and it turned its stars into icons. Stewart Stern (1922–2015), the screenwriter, had sought to treat the subject of troubled youth as more than a social problem. Understanding teens and the familial situations that drove them to act out was important to him, and he refused to let violence define these confused, vulnerable, and inarticulate youths; his goal was to depict them compassionately. To Stern, the film succeeded “in terms of finding one’s own alternative family.”

Stewart Stern, 1988
Published in McGilligan, Patrick. Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s. Berkeley:  University of California Press, c1991.
Courtesy UC Press E-Books Collection; photo: Davis Freeman

For all of the film’s success and his own, Stern ultimately left Hollywood after twenty-five years and dedicated the rest of his career to teaching screenwriting. Intense anxiety, stress, and angst over “not being good enough” had left him deeply unhappy. His inscription “You are not alone” is provocative. Is it aimed at troubled youth? Struggling writers? Anyone who feels misunderstood? Regardless, Stern’s message resonates, reminding us that even in our darkest moments we are never truly alone.

From the script Rebel Without a Cause, with inscription by
screenwriter Stewart Stern, 1955
Courtesy, Writers Guild Foundation Library
History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles
The story of the Rebel without a Cause script is represented in History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles, on view at the El Tranquilo Gallery on Olvera Street at El Pueblo National Monument in Los Angeles from August 4 to October 1, 2017. 
Contributing institution of this story to History Keepers: Eleven That Moved Los Angeles: Writers Guild Foundation Library. As the only library in the world focused entirely on screenwriting, the Writers Guild Foundation Library preserves and promotes the art, craft, and history of screen storytelling. It is open to the public and contains more than thirty thousand produced film, television, radio, and video game scripts, many of which have received major writing awards. The library also collects related materials such as Writers Guild of America historical records, writers’ papers, unproduced scripts, letters, photographs, production notes, memorabilia, and oral histories. In addition to its library, the Writers Guild Foundation maintains a full calendar of public events featuring high-profile speakers discussing the craft and business of screenwriting.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A City Mourns: President John F. Kennedy’s Memorial

Senator John F. Kennedy and Police Commissioner John Ferraro during the Democratic National Convention at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, 1960
Photo courtesy of Ferraro collection, Los Angeles City Archive
On November 22, 1963, the Los Angeles City Council was in the middle of its regular Friday meeting when it was announced that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Officials scrambled for news updates; by day’s end, Kennedy’s death was confirmed and the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, had been sworn in. Johnson immediately called for a national day of mourning on Monday, November 25.

The news of Kennedy’s assassination spread shock and sadness across the country and around the world. Three cities held special ceremonies to mourn him, in consideration of their special connections to his life and work. Washington, DC, was the focus of the national observance. Boston was Kennedy’s home city and the place his political career had begun. And Los Angeles was where, at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, held in the Sports Arena and Memorial Coliseum, he became his party’s candidate for president.

Democratic National Convention, 1960
Los Angeles Public Library

As the Herald-Examiner reported on July 14, 1960: "Sen. John F. Kennedy acknowledges the cheers of the crowd as he appeared at Sports Arena after he won the Democratic Presidential nomination. 'We shall win!' he pledged in his brief remarks, pending formal acceptance in the Coliseum tomorrow night."

Kennedy visited Los Angeles several times as president. The local Democratic Party base was a reliable source of fundraising, and the president’s sister Eleanor and her husband, the actor Peter Lawford, lived in a Santa Monica beachfront home.

President Kennedy thanks Police Chief William H. Parker, 1966
Los Angeles Public Library

One of Chief Parker's prized possessions was this 1966 autographed photo, hanging on a wall in his office, that shows President Kennedy thanking Parker for the police department's security work during Kennedy's visits to L.A.

The events of November 1963 live on in anyone who still remembers them, but as time passes, it will be up to the artifacts and written accounts to tell the story of how Los Angeles responded when America lost its leader.

Los Angeles City Hall, November 22, 1963
Courtesy Los Angeles City Archives
In Los Angeles, as City Archivist Michael Holland has written, "public observances began Sunday afternoon at the Sports Arena, where Kennedy had been nominated as his party's candidate three summers earlier. The Los Angeles Times reported the attendance surpassing 7,000 Angelenos. That evening, by order of the mayor, Los Angeles City Hall displaying crosses made out of open window blinds lighted windows on all four sides of City Hall and remained lighted all night long. The windows used to be blacked out in similar fashion for Christmas and Easter."

Los Angeles's mourning observance on the steps of City Hall, Nov. 25, 1963
Courtesy Los Angeles City Archives
The city’s day of mourning, timed with the nation's on Monday, November 25, was spearheaded by the office of Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman, who had been active in Kennedy's campaign for Democratic nominee and who arranged for the City Hall steps on Spring Street to serve as a grandstand. The master of ceremonies was actor Charlton Heston. Although the event was recorded by TV station KTLA and radio station KHJ, neither of the broadcasts are known to still exist.

Los Angeles's Day of Mourning on the steps of City Hall, Nov. 25, 1963
Courtesy Los Angeles City Archives

People gathered on the City Hall steps facing Spring Street at noon to grieve. Seated left to right in the photograph above are Joseph Quinn (assistant to Mayor Sam Yorty), Councilman Tom Bradley, Councilman John P. Cassidy, Councilman John S. Gibson, Councilman John C. Holland, Councilman Billy Mills, and Councilman Gilbert Lindsay. Lindsay was the first African American on the City Council and an ardent supporter of civil rights. He had hoped Kennedy would push social change forward.

Memorial, 1965
Los Angeles Public Library, Valley News Collection; photo: Peter Banks
In June 1965, a bronze plaque was placed in the approximate location where John Kennedy accepted the Democratic nomination for president in the Coliseum in 1960. Gathered around the memorial plaque (left to right) were Sen. Pierre Salinger, County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, A. E. England, chairman of the Coliseum Commission, and Mrs. Harriet Dexter, president of Gold Star Mothers. In Los Angeles, as City Archivist Michael Holland has written, "public observances began Sunday afternoon at the Sports Arena, where Kennedy had been nominated as his party's candidate three summers earlier. The Los Angeles Times reported the attendance surpassing 7,000 Angelenos. That evening, by order of the mayor, lighted windows on all four sides of City Hall formed a cross and remained lighted all night long." 


History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles

Los Angeles's response to President Kennedy's assassination is represented in History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles on view at the El Tranquilo Gallery on Olvera Street at El Pueblo National Monument in Los Angeles from August 4, 2017 to October 1, 2017. 

Contributing institution of this story to History Keepers: Eleven That Moved Los Angeles
The Los Angeles City Archive is the official repository for the records of Los Angeles city government. Documents include council files, ordinances, minutes, and budgets. There are also permanent collections of photographs, annual reports, council papers, and ephemeral. The archive is open to the public by appointment during normal office hours.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Meanwhile out West: El Presidio de San Francisco

Opening October 13, 2017, the California Historical Society (CHS) will welcome Alexander Hamilton: Treasures from the New-York Historical Society. In conjunction with this exhibition, CHS will present Meanwhile out West: Colonizing California, 1769–1821, exploring the colonial history of the region now known as California with books, manuscripts, maps, paintings, and artifacts drawn chiefly from the CHS Collection. The shift from an Atlantic Coast narrative focused on the founder of the United States’ financial system—and freshly memorialized thanks to the beloved Broadway musical—to the Pacific Coast promises to draw contrasts and connections between the two regions as they existed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Reglamento, e Instrucción para los presidios que se han de formar en la linea de frontera de la Nueva España (Mexico: Br. D. Joseph Antonio de Hogal, 1773), Vault 349.462 Sp15r (1773), California Historical Society.
The same year that the founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in a first assertion of shedding their British dependency, Spanish soldiers established El Presidio Real de San Francisco, now referred to simply as the Presidio, at the far northern edge of the San Francisco Peninsula in view of the Golden Gate. Four years earlier, in 1772, the Spanish King Charles III delineated his specifications for military garrisons in New Spain, affirming their role as not only military but physical representations of Spanish unity and power. In these regulations, known as the Reglamento of 1772, the King expressed the importance of claiming militarily strategic positions, building according to uniform architectural plans, and providing adequate food and clothing for soldiers in an effort to, in his words, “defend the lives and estates of my vassals on the frontier from the attacks of the barbarous tribes,” as well as from other European powers exploring Pacific waters. According to archaeologist Barbara Voss, the Crown was actively interested in how location and presentation would affect “the frontier.” This reflected the Spaniards’ concern that the more politically non-centralized organization of Native peoples stood in direct opposition to the “colonial view of a proper civilized lifestyle” (Voss, The Archaeology of Ethnogenesis, p. 51). The King’s insistence on well-regulated presidios, therefore, was a way to aid in the overarching goal of establishing “civilized” Spanish settlements to Christianize and Hispanicize indigenous people in the Americas.

Letter and Administrative File concerning Storm-Related Damage to the Presidio of San Francisco and Proposals for Its Repair, MS Vault 34, California Historical Society

The maintenance of the presidio, due to its construction in wood and plaster, meant that keeping it in the good shape desired by the crown became an important part of life in San Francisco. A 1799 census of troops at the Alta California Presidios offers a unique record with an enumeration of officers and regular soldados at the San Francisco Presidio, along with their salaries; the total numbered only thirty-eight men. According to Barbara Voss’ analysis, the Presidio housed military men, their families, along with older men and widowed parents of soldiers, thus inflating the number of Spaniards without increasing their military strength. Missing from this census is the number of indigenous men working at the Presidio, “adult men recruited or impressed into service as laborers working in agriculture, craft production, and building construction” (Voss, p. 72). As the Presidio was home to the “the administrative, judicial, residential and economic centers” of the Spanish government on the frontier, the work of Native men would have been inexorably tied to its success (Voss, p. 57).
Louis Choris, Voyage pittoresque autour du monde… (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1822), Vault 910.4 C45, California Historical Society
The lithograph, “View of the Presidio in San Francisco,” sketched in October 1816 by German-Ukrainian artist Louis Choris (1795-1828) during his journey aboard the Rurik as part of a three-year Russian exploration of the Pacific, visually corroborates the speculation as to the comparative number of Spanish soldiers and indigenous workers, as well as their relationship. In the hand-colored lithograph, Choris shows three soldiers on horseback holding lances, two of whom seem to be driving groups of Native Californians, who are organized in rows like chain gangs. In this way, the lithograph conveys the disparity between the number of Spanish soldiers and Native people, as well as the hierarchical relationship established by the soldiers’ position on horses as opposed to the indigenous men on foot.

While Hamilton gained the military rank of Major General and political prestige in the newly formed United States government as the first Secretary of the Treasury, the Spanish empire sought a foothold in Alta California. They established Catholic missions along the coast and strategic military garrisons such as the San Francisco Presidio up until the Mexican Revolution of 1821. This Hispanic past of what would later become the thirty-first state of the United States often does not garner the same amount of interest as the dramatic events of the early Federalist period, especially with the ongoing performances of the “Hamilton” musical. By placing the objects of “Meanwhile in California” alongside the New-York Historical Society’s Hamilton exhibition, the California Historical Society hopes to draw attention to this critical period in California history, a time of momentous change and upheaval with lasting impacts on the landscape, culture, and peoples of California.

Louisa Brandt
Library and Collections Intern, California Historical Society


Dorn, Samantha. “Major General Alexander Hamilton.” The National Museum of the United States Army. 16 July 2014. Accessed 12 September 2017.   

Ellis, Clifton. “Spanish Colonial Architecture: Forts and Presidios.” Texas Tech University, College of Architecture. 

Voss, Barbara L. The Archaeology of Ethnogenesis: Race and Sexuality in Colonial San Francisco. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008.

“Voyage pittoresque autour du monde [illustrations—excerpt]: Background. “ American Journeys: Eyewitness Accounts of Early American Settlement and Exploration: A Digital Library and Learning Center. Wisconsin Historical Society. 2017. Accessed 12 September 2017.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Prominent Voice Silenced: Ruben Salazar

Ruben Salazar, 1955
Courtesy of USC Special Collections

Ruben Salazar (1928-1970) is recognized as the most prominent Mexican American journalist of the twentieth century. Through his work for the Los Angeles Times from 1959 to 1970 and at KMEX-TV (the first Spanish-language television station in Los Angeles) in 1970, Salazar was an outspoken advocate for the Mexican American community and the first mainstream journalist to cover the Chicano Movement; he opened doors for Latina/o journalists in other major newspapers.

Salazar shocked readers with his coverage of issues that still resonate today: discrimination, race relations, freedom of the press, state surveillance, inferior schools, lack of political representation, and police abuses.

On August 29, 1970, during the largest anti–Vietnam War protest in Los Angeles’s history, L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies aimed their weapons at the open door of the Silver Dollar bar in East Los Angeles, where inside, Salazar and his colleagues from KMEX-TV were taking a break from covering the rally and the chaos outside. The tragedy that occurred next is well known. Salazar, seated at the bar, was struck in the head and killed instantly by a ten-inch tear gas projectile. Was it a horrific accident or a premeditated assassination? For many, these questions have never been satisfactorily answered.

Coverage of Ruben Salazars August 29, 1970 murder at the Silver Dollar bar in La Raza, September 3, 1970; cover photos by Raul Ruiz 
Courtesy of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Records on the Homicide Investigation of Ruben Salazar, USC Libraries, Special Collections 

What is certain is that Salazar’s untimely death was a defining moment in the history of the Chicano Movement. More broadly, it reminds us of the importance of our First Amendment rights—freedom of speech, the press, and peaceful assembly—and the continuing struggle for equal rights and inclusion for minorities and immigrants in twenty-first-century United States.

Public viewing Salazar's casket at the East Los Angeles Mortuary
Courtesy of Lisa Salazar Johnson

On September 1, 1970, several thousand Chicano and Mexican American mourners attended a public wake in East Los Angeles. The community Salazar had reported on for many years for the Los Angeles Times and KMEX-TV showed an outpouring of admiration for the man they embraced as one of their own.

Otis Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, delivered the eulogy at the funeral. He noted that Salazar “was a fighter, a firm believer that all men, regardless of color or language barriers, could, in the end, live together peacefully and productively in our city. He devoted himself to try to bring about this sense of comprehension through the medium of communications.”

American burial flag draped on Ruben Salazar’s casket at his funeral, September 2, 1970
Courtesy of Ruben Salazar Papers, USC Libraries, Special Collections 

This American flag was folded according to military protocol and given to Salazar’s wife, Sally, and their three young children. It offers a glimpse into Salazar’s identity as Mexican and American: he immigrated with his parents to the United States from Mexico, served in the U.S. military, graduated from a Texas college, became a naturalized American citizen, and was honored with the flag in death as an American veteran.

History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles

Ruben Salazar’s story is represented in History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles on view at the El Tranquilo Gallery on Olvera Street at El Pueblo National Monument in Los Angeles from August 4, 2017 to October 1, 2017. Contributing institution to History Keepers: Eleven That Moved Los Angeles: Boeckmann Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies, USC Libraries, Special Collections. 

Coming to the Aid of Orphans: Ysabel Varela del Valle

Ysabel del Valle
 California Historical Society Collections at University of Southern California 

Ysabel Varela (1837–1905) was only fifteen years old when she married Ignacio del Valle, a man nearly thirty years her senior. She and her new husband lived at El Pueblo, among other elite Californio families, in an adobe facing the plaza. As there was no child welfare system at that time, orphaned children were left to roam the streets. So while Ignacio was busy with his work as an elected official, Ysabel ministered to the poor and homeless in the area. 

Ysabel Varela del Valle with Orphans, ca. 1884    
Courtesy of Seaver Center for Western History Research,
Los Angeles County Museum of National History

In 1861, Ysabel, Ignacio, and their young children moved to Rancho Camulos, a property Ignacio had inherited. Continuing her commitment to children, Ysabel brought eight orphans with her to be raised in her family. According to some accounts, she periodically brought more children to the ranch. 

Portrait of the Del Valle family, Rancho Camulos, ca. 1888
California Historical Society Collections at University of Southern California
The journalist and preservationist Charles F. Lummis, who was a friend of the del Valles, noted that Ysabel also saw to the care and well-being of the Native Americans who lived on her property; for example, she studied the medicinal qualities of plants and used them to care for the sick. Lummis wrote, “She was a woman whose life was dominated by the spirit of absolute and simple faith which led her through a long life of untold deeds of kindness and charity.”

Ysabel del Valle
Cabinet Card
California Historical Society, MSP 2230_004

The child in the cabinet card above may be Ysabel del Valle’s son Reginaldo, who went on to become a California state senator in 1882. Boys at this time often wore dresses, primarily for the convenience of toilet training and because dresses were easier to fit to growing children.
Rear view,  Los Angeles Orphan Asylum (1891-1953)
Courtesy of Seaver Center for Western History Research,
Los Angeles County Museum of National History

When Ysabel del Valle’s funeral procession passed the Los Angeles Orphan Asylum in Boyle Heights orphanage on its way to the cemetery, three hundred children stood outside to say goodbye to the woman whose work among the homeless was legendary.


History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles 

Ysabel’s story is not unlike the other 10 stories of perseverance, kindness, and lasting history in History Keepers: Eleven That Moved Los Angeles, on view at the El Tranquilo Gallery on Olvera Street at El Pueblo National Monument in Los Angeles, August 4 to October 1, 2017. Contributing institution to History Keepers: Eleven That Moved Los Angeles: California Historical Society.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Collections from the California Historical Society Help SFTravel Win Major Award

Last week, San Francisco Travel Association (SFTravel) announced that it had won the the U.S. Travel’s Destinations Council Destiny Award, in the $5 million to $10 million category, one of the most significant awards in the travel marketing industry. SFTravel was honored for its Summer of Love 50th Anniversary celebration campaign, and effort created in partnership with the California Historical Society.

One of the key components of the campaign was an engaging and original brand identity (see below) that promoted the 50th Anniversary and helped connect San Francisco's counterculture past to the present. The creative for the campaign was developed by Teak SF, a San Francisco-based branding and content studio. The archives of the California Historical Society played a critical role in this campaign as Teak was inspired by a range of materials in the CHS collection. Of particular note were vintage typographic materials from its Kemble Collections.

The Kemble Collections of the California Historical Society (CHS), established through gifts from George L. Harding and further enriched by donations of materials from a variety of printers, publishers, typographers and collectors, are named for pioneer California printer and publisher Edward Cleveland Kemble. The Kemble Collections consist of more than 3,500 volumes, extensive pamphlet and ephemeral materials, over 300 runs of trade periodicals, and significant manuscript holdings, all pertaining to the history of printing and publishing, with a special emphasis on California and the West.

A significant strength of the Kemble Collection is its materials related to typographic and graphic design. The collection holds type specimens and catalogs dating back to the early 19th century originally used in foundries and printing offices of the time to periodicals showcasing the latest graphic design from early 20th century design centers such as Leipzig, Germany. These materials are available to be viewed in the CHS library, offering artists and designers the opportunity to research, engage with and be inspired by original materials in design history.

Type specimens from the Timely Typography and Dan X. Solo’s collection of vintage type captured both the acid rock and art nouveau influences of countercultural 1960s design. Timely Typography, a San Francisco typography firm, offered their customers typefaces such as Harem or Swath. Examples include:

The company’s late 1960s – early 1970s type specimens feature typefaces that captured the exaggerated lines and bright colors typically seen in graphic design of this era.

Dan X. Solo was an Oakland-based collector and distributor of antique typefaces. By providing advertising agencies with repro-proofs from his collection of antique typefaces, Solo was able to bridge the gap between counterculture artists, designers and printmakers who were so influenced by art nouveau and Victorian-era design and the ad agencies that would co-opt these styles for mass consumption.  Solo was a strong advocate for making typefaces available for public use and dissemination and the CHS library is proud to support the spirit of Solo’s work by making his, and all of our Kemble Collections available to the public for both research and inspirational endeavors.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Reuniting a Collection: The Importance of Carte de Visite Albums to Victorian Society

Francisca Tejada de Orendain and daughters, Hipolita and Virginia, Portraits from the Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MSP 1441
While today we might have separate digital albums to display albums of photos to our friends through Facebook or Flickr, the Victorians made their advances in photographic technology a fad of their own. The development of being able to have multiple, identical albumen-print photographs that could be pasted onto uniform, 2 ½-by 4-inch cards transformed possibilities for the distribution of images. While previously images were exposed directly onto the surface of the object that would become the "photograph," as in daguerreotypes and tintypes, cartes de visite came from a single negative, meaning that one could give their portraits to numerous individuals without multiple sittings. To incentivize the mass consumption of the new technology—called “cartomania,” as noted by Andrea L. Volpe—people could purchase photo albums which were specially formatted for cartes de visite. According to Olivier Debroise, these albums became "an indispensible object in homes after 1865" and were "exhibited from time to time" to guests in formal parlor rooms, filled with images of personal acquaintances and purchased copies of famous public figures. Collecting photographs became a new form of social "networking."
Beatriz and Adolfo Quevedo, Portraits from the Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MSP 1441 
Hipolita Orendain de Medina (c.1847-c.1922), a Mexican-born San Franciscan socialite and author, gathered a large assortment of such carte de visite photographs, now held by the California Historical Society as an example of this type of Victorian collecting. Her particular assemblage of images, however, is at once unique to her position as a Mexican American woman connected to both of her countries, and classically Victorian for the array of images from her family, friends, and local celebrities. Many of the former images were taken in Mexico at studios in Guadalajara, Colima, Mexico City, or Acapulco, as Mexico also engaged in the carte de visite trading tradition, while most of the United States photographs came from San Francisco studios. The difference in the dress and poses is negligible, but the San Francisco images of Mexican Americans succeed in revealing a section of society often invisible in discussions of post-Civil War era San Francisco that largely ignore the region's past as Mexican territory. The visual unity of Mexican, Mexican American, and Anglo American subjects also shows that this trend was a cross-border phenomenon, and with her background, Hipolita could bring images together as equally part of her world and a representation of who was important to her identity.

Concepcion Navarro de Camarena and child, Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MSP 1441
When Hipolita Orendain de Medina’s papers and photographs were accepted by the California Historical Society, the portraits were removed from the rest of the collection and filed alphabetically amongst the other images in the Society's large portrait collection. While this gave the individuals an identity, the dispersed images, most of which had personalized messages to Hipolita on the back, meant that the care that Hipolita put into gathering her album was lost. Now, back together, the connections Hipolita had with the Mexican American community in San Francisco and her family in Mexico emerge. This unification provides a complete view of Hipolita’s social circle available for researchers, and perhaps more insight into the Victorian era than the images could on their own.

Pablo Rocha & Portu, recto and verso, Portraits from the Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MSP 1441
Louisa Brandt
Library and Collections Intern, California Historical Society


"A Brief History of the Carte de Visite." The American Museum of Photography. 2004. Accessed August 14, 2017.

Debroise, Olivier. Mexican Suite: A History of Photography in Mexico.  Translated by Stella de Sá Rago. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2001.

No Rooms of Their Own: Women Writers of Early California, 1849-1869. Edited by Ida Rae Egli. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 1997.

Shields, David S. "Buying and Selling Cabinet Cards 1865-1905." Broadway Photographs. Accessed August 14, 2017.

Volpe, Andrea L. "The Cartes de Visite Craze," The New York Times. August 6, 2013.