Monday, October 20, 2014

The Wide View (Part One)

The sweeping view from the clock tower of the Pennsylvania Building taken in 1919 (top), then known as the Officer's Material School, contrasts with the digital composite taken from the same vantage point last week (below).

The museum is lucky enough to have a number of panoramic photographs in the collection – photographs much longer than they are tall.  These unique prints were made by either swing-lens cameras, where the lens rotated while the film remained stationary, or 360-degree rotation cameras, where both the camera and the film rotated.  Photographers made “panoramics” of ships, groups of people, banquets and other subjects that lent themselves to the wide-angle format. The first mass-produced American panoramic camera, the Al-Vista, was introduced in 1898, and the format became quite popular during the first several decades of the Twentieth Century.

Naval subjects lent themselves readily to this popular art form. The museum collection contains examples of panoramic photos that celebrate ships, buildings, and sweeping views of the Naval Station like the image above. This particular image was taken from the clock tower of the museum’s former home, the Pennsylvania Building, in 1919.

There are some notable features in the photograph.  The administration complex is on the extreme left, a stately group of buildings from the Jamestown Exposition twelve years earlier.  Two of these, N-21 and N-23, survive today.  New barracks roll across the complex in the left center of the print. The waterfront, stretching across the right background, has yet to be extended by the extensive dredge and fill operations that occurred.  Probably the most recognizable feature to modern eyes is the graceful Dillingham Blvd, lined with Exposition state pavilions.  The waterfront is directly across the street – today a golf course and much more occupies that area.

The G.L. Hall Optical Company of Norfolk produced this image, and many others like it.  Mr. G. Leslie Hall opened the business in 1901 as a manufacturer of lenses and eyeglasses.  A 1922 article in The Optical Journal and Review described the company’s headquarters on Granby St: “The building is three stories high and the layout embraces the optical store and display room in the front [and] the photographic department in the rear, for the company handles, in addition to its optical operations one of the largest Kodak stores and developing and printing plants in the south.”  At some point the firm abandoned panoramic photograph production, although the company is still to be found in the Norfolk City Directory of 1949/50. Besides his optical business, Mr. Hall served the city in a variety of capacities, including the presidency of its chamber of commerce and the chairmanship of its Office of Price Administration, the World War II price control agency.

(This blog post was written by HRNM Curator Joe Judge.  Special thanks to Terri Davis of Naval Station Norfolk Public Affairs and Andy Meagher, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Mid-Atlantic)

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