The Chicago Architectural Photographing Co. Collection includes photographic images taken by the firm for architects and builders. The collection includes approximately 1,400 negatives of 250 theatres mainly in the Midwest with a few others in other areas of the country. The negatives are 8×10″ glass plate negatives, 8×10″ film negatives, and 4×5″ copy negatives. The Collection also includes prints made from the negatives.
The Chicago Architectural Photographing Co. was organized in 1885 to serve the demand for architectural photography in the bustling post-fire building boom. Many well-known architects used the services of the company such as Adler & Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Burnham & Root, etc. The firm survived in its original form until 1973 when the last two principals, Walter Kaszubowski and Paul Broderson, retired due to failing health. Around that time the main collection was offered up for sale. However, the principals would also occasionally sell groups of negatives to various organizations. It was during this time (early 1970s) that Theatre Historical Society acquired the theatre related negatives. The remaining negatives were eventually acquired by a private collector.
The negative numbering system started a few years after the firm was founded. The earliest series started with number 1 and continued to 9999. It then started again at A-1 through A-9999, then B-1 through B-999, and so on through the alphabet. The exceptions to this system were the omission of I, Q, Y and Z. The X series was completed around 1949 and the numbering started again at A-1.
All negatives prior to 1930 were 8×10″ glass plate negatives. Over the years many of these were damaged or destroyed during moves and/or as superfluous stock. Additionally, in the 1950s and 1960s the company began a systematic purge of negatives to reduce the stock due to lack of space. Many negatives were discarded or destroyed with only a few representative views kept from each series. The firm had reached the K series before a representative of THS convinced the company to retain the theatre negatives from that point forward. The negatives which remained and were purchased by THS in the 1970s are what comprise THS’s Chicago Architectural Photographing Co. Collection.
A typed index of the collection is available in the Archives. A finding aid for the collection is in development.
In honor of American Archives Month I will be highlighting collections from the Archive throughout the month. The purpose is to spread the word about the Archives and to the types of collections to be found in the Archives.
–Kathy McLeister, MLIS
THS Archive Director