Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sepia Saturday 339: 16 July 2016 or How to date a photograph

Alan Burnett from Sepia Saturday gives us the following prompt:
Pictures, palaces, and bingo numbers are amongst your possible themes this week for Sepia Saturday 
There have been some murmurings in my select audience (allright one dear cousin) wondering where I've been lately blog-wise.  Justified murmuring, I might add, given the dead silence for a month or so.  And so I take this well meant prod to blog about picture palaces in Brisbane  - one in particular - and a photographer as well.  I've headed up the Post with the title "How to date a photograph" as that is part of the study I am doing at the moment online through the University of Tasmania.  I've enrolled in a short course called Place, Image, Object . It's all about material culture - good stuff.  I'm enjoying myself.  

And so to today's Sepia Saturday prompt.  I tried to choose a photo that matched the picture prompt.  I don't know how I ended up with this one but there you go. Here it is.

courtesy of John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Imperial Picture Pavilion at Lutwyche - photo by FW Theil - Negative number: 115450
So ... what could you use from this image to help date the photograph?

Well, if there were people in the photograph you could use their dress/costumes to help date it in terms of fashion.  But, there aren't any people. Sigh.

You could look up the history of the Imperial Picture Pavilion at Lutwyche to get an idea of when it might have been taken.  If you Google "Imperial Picture Pavilion" at Lutwyche, you get some great results.  

The February 2016 edition of the Windsor & Districts Historical Society Inc. Journal has a small article here on page with some more photographs of the Pavilion and its staff and a film poster.  This article tells us that the cinema opened in May 1915 so there's a start in terms of dating.  Sometime from 1915.

A look at the Brisbane History Group's 1993 Northern Suburbs Heritage Tour says the following:

"The Telecom building at the southern end of the shpping area was the site of an old picture theatre, the Imperial." 

This was confirmed by fellow library assistant, Dette, today whilst I was on duty at the Queensland Family History Society library.  She remembers seeing Herbie Rides Again there in the early 70s.

According to a Brisbane City Council Heritage Study of Brisbane Places of Worship, Volume 2 here, the Picture Pavilion was across the road from the Lutwyche Methodist Church which is located at 456 Lutwyche Road. Hoorah!  We can map the Imperial Picture Pavilion.  Let's do that.

I'm thinking it would be where Ladbrokes is on Lutwyche Road.  How very appropriate - a betting shop.  Did anyone say Bingo!?

The image of Ladbrokes on Google does seem rather reminiscent of the arches in some of the earlier photos but I am happy to be corrected.

There is also a great article here in the Federation of Australian Movie Makers Journal about Richard Stephens, a cinema pioneer, who had interests in the Imperial Picture Pavilion at Lutwyche.

A cultural heritage report for the Brisbane City Council here gives us an insight into what the area would have been like at the time.  Policing of Lutwyche was the province of Windsor police station and research conducted at the Queensland State Archives found the following:
These officers were responsible for an area of 40 square miles and a population of 25,000 people. In comparison, the Newmarket station had a Sergeant and two constables covering an area of 105 square miles and 15,000 people (Kerr,1926). These figures show the intense nature of population development in Lutwyche and Windsor compared with neighbouring districts. This large population bought with it policing problems for the station. On 5 May 1929 Sergeant Adams recommended that Acting Sergeant Murray replace the existing occupant of the Barracks. Adams felt that as Murray was attached to Windsor Station he would be more effective in countering ‘the larrikin element’ of the area centred around the Crown Hotel Billiard Saloon and the Imperial Picture Theatre (Adams, 1929). 
What else could we use in the photo to help us date it?  There is the poster on the wall that features the word Vitagraph and of course there is also the photographer's name FW Theil.  

A quick google of Vitagraph revealed the following fascinating You Tube video. Despite working in the film and television industry at one stage, I am embarrassed to say I had never heard of Vitagraph til now.

Wikipedia tells us that Vitagraph sold up shop in 1925 to Warner Bros.  

So there's a bit more refining of dates - somewhere between 1915-1925.

Let's take a closer look at one of the photos that the Windsor and Districts Historical Society used.

courtesy of John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Negative number: 57678

See how the building has changed substantially in structure?  And the name too.

Good old Trove helps us out a bit at this point.  In July 1922 an advertisement appears in the Brisbane Courier.

If we search Trove for the "Imperial Picture Theatre Lutwyche", entries start to appear from about August 1922.

So my guess is that the first picture was taken between 1915 and 1922.  Of course the poster on the front of the picture paviliion in the first photo is probably the best clue.

But let's look at the photographer FW Theil as per the photo caption on the first photo.  I wasted quite a bit of time looking for him this morning.  It's all in the spelling you see.  Look for FW Theil and you get nowhere...look for FW Thiel and you get somewhere...just saying. 

FW Thiel was the son of FW Thiel - yes, just to make it even more interesting.  

FW Thiel Jnr was born in 1896 to Frederick William Thiel and Louisa (nee Rouse) (birth certificate B58188).  In 1902 a younger brother was born Arthur Hector but he died the same year.  Frederick Jnr  had a sister Forence Rita according to his father's death notice in 1932.  She married Rupert Kirk in December 1920.

Frederick Jnr married Miss Elsie Bruce Smith of Myora Swan Terrace Windsor on Saturday 2 October 1920 in Bendigo.  They returned to Brisbane after the wedding but unfortunately Elsie died six months later as per this funeral notice in the Courier Mail on 18 April 1921.

How long had Frederick been a photographer?  Well the 1917 Electoral Roll is the first to show FW Thiel Jnr as a photographer when he was living at Annie Street Albion with his parents.  His father was an inspector of shops and factories.

In February 1924 Frederick re-married this time to Vera Donovan at St Stephen's Cathedral.

So we still can't really narrow down the dates of the photo to anything more than 1917-1925. 

I have searched the web for Vitagraph posters and the closest I can find to the one at the Luwyche Imperial can be found on Flickr as part of the Missouri History Museum collection dated at 1914.

In the end, I am forced to conclude that the photo was taken when the cinema first opened so 1915-1917.  The paintwork on the building looks very white and relatively unscathed.  

So what was it like going to the flicks here?  The advertising says cosy but the word Pavilion and the article about opening night suggests to me that it was at least partially open to the elements.  More of a shelter than an enclosed space.  Here is an advertisement from 1918 advising of the cost of going to the picture palace in suburban Brisbane.

Truth, 8 December 1918 courtesy of the National Library of Australia

Definitely a deck chair cinema or canvas seating.  

The owner of the cinema Osborne James Fenwick re-modelled the cinema again in 1940 as per this article:

Courier Mail, 26 November 1940 courtesy of the National Library of Australia
Doesn't it look enormous?  1200 people - crazy!  I also notice that one of the architects names is Voller.  There is still an architectural firm in Brisbane today called Bligh, Voller and Neild. I wonder if they are related/descendants.

Mr Fenwick was the president of the Motion Pictures Exhibitors Association from 1917-22.

Daily Standard, 21 July 1927 courtesy of the National Library of Australia

He looks quite a character doesn't he?

I think that's enough for one day.  For more picture palace stories head on over to Sepia Saturday.


diane b said...

You are such a good sleuth. Fascinating stuff.

Anonymous said...

Great detective work! As an archivist I often have to date photographs and it is lovely to see such a clear demonstration of how to tackle dating.

Titania Staeheli said...

Picture dating, how very interesting detective work. You have done very well looking for clues and finding them. It looks easier from afar.

Jo Featherston said...

I very much agree with Diane! That course you are doing sounds like a good idea.

Alex Daw said...

Thank you one and all for your encouraging comments. I love doing this detective work and seeing it all come together. The best bit was talking to Dette at the Society yesterday afternoon...having done all (or pretty much most of the research) the real delight was talking to someone who had actually been to the cinema, knew it well and was happy to share her memories with me and confirm that I had got the location right. So much fun.

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

Excellent sleuthing and an interesting story in the middle of the puzzle. Sounds like a great course.

Alex Daw said...

Thanks Helen. It is a good course. I have really enjoyed the courses offered by the University so far.

Tattered and Lost said...

You have done what I love to do with scraps of old paper. There's always a story to tell and you've done a fantastic job. At my ephemera blog I once did a lengthy post about a woman in an old Camel cigarette ad. Months later I heard from the woman's granddaughter who never even knew the ad existed. It's those little scraps and the stories that make this so much fun.