The curious case of the 1956 roll of Kodak Super XX – Part 2

Last September, I wrote a post about a roll of unprocessed Kodak Super XX 120 film (which turned out to be 5 rolls) that I developed – 62 years after it was shot. You can read all about what I now refer to as the “miracle of the 5 rolls” here.

The skillfully shot photographs that emerged depict Vancouver’s Chinatown and False Creek in April of 1956. As I mentioned in Part 1,  there was a name included on the wrapper that I thought may have been the name of the shooter, but I needed to investigate all possible leads in order to determine who shot these wonderful images and to figure out why the films weren’t processed back in 1956.

If you aren’t aware of the story thus far, I strongly recommend you take to the time to get up to speed before continuing with this post.

Men’s public convenience at Main and Hastings, 1956 (cropped). Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.

After finishing my investigation the mystery the photographer behind these images has been solved! Well, sort of.

From 2006 to 2013, I worked at CBC Vancouver as a Media Librarian in the English Television Archives.  While I was there, I saved an exposed but unprocessed roll of film from being tossed out.  The roll was in a box of odds n’ sods (unexposed film rolls, take-up reels, and other related non-photographic material) kept with CBC staff photographer Alvin Armstrong’s collection of still photographs – negatives, positives, prints, and mounted enlargements. Armstong was the in-house still photographer at CBUT from April 1, 1954, to April 3, 1973. During his 19 year career, he took about 10,000 photographs (negatives & transparencies); all of which were shot on either 4×5 sheet film or 35mm roll film.

Paper wrapper found around the roll of film(s). Photo: C. Hagemoen
The unprocessed 120 roll film was wrapped in a paper label with “Ron Kelly in Chinatown in April 1956” written on it. Since I was intimately familiar with Alvin Armstrong’s work I immediately recognized his distinctive handwriting on the label. Was this film shot by Armstrong but never developed?
It was possible but seemed out of character with what I knew about Armstrong and the way he worked. He kept meticulous records and this film was not recorded in his logbook. It was also 120 medium format film – he didn’t shoot medium format film for CBC. Also, the fact that is was kept separate from his collection was also a red-flag, but I added him to the list of people that were possibly responsible for these images.
What about the name on the wrapper? Ron Kelly was a producer/director at CBC Vancouver in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1956, he produced and directed a CBC Vancouver film unit program that was set in Chinatown called ‘Summer Afternoon’.  It is a fantastic visual document of mid-century Chinatown. [More about ‘Summer Afternoon’ at the end of this post.] It is very likely these shots were intended to be used as location scouting shots for ‘Summer Afternoon’ and the exposed film was given to Alvin Armstrong for safekeeping. But they were never used as such, or even processed for that matter! Why? So, Ron Kelly was also added to the list of potential photographers.
My former colleague and (now retired) Senior Media Librarian at the CBC Archives, Colin Preston, suggested a third possibility – Jack Long, the cinematographer for ‘Summer Afternoon’. It would make sense that he would be the one to take scouting shots for this production. Sadly Jack Long, now deceased, would not be able to provide any insight into this mystery, so we would have to rely on the memories of others.
One telling image shows the photographer reflected in the window of a boat that he is taking a photo of.  We can’t see the face of the person, but you can see his hairline and that he is wearing a trench coat (neither very distinctive). It also looks like he is using a Leica-style or folding medium format film camera.
The photographer is reflected in this image (detail). Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
Since his name was on the wrapper, making him the obvious person responsible, I started my search with Ron Kelly.  It took a little digging, but I was able to obtain his landline phone number as, at 90 years old and living in small-town Ontario, Ron Kelly did not use email or social media.  Colin Preston made the cold call since he was more familiar with Kelly’s work at CBC. He told Ron Kelly the story of the photographs and that we believed that they were associated somehow with the production of ‘Summer Afternoon’. During their conversation, Ron Kelly revealed that he was not the photographer and that he was quite sure Jack Long wasn’t either.
Ron Kelly was generous enough to provide his mailing address so that I could send him a hard-copy of my original post and prints of some of the photographs including the image of the photographer above. This way he could review the material in case it might jog a long lost memory and to see if he recognized the person in the reflection.
Several weeks passed when out of the blue I got a telephone call from Castleton, Ontario, it was Ron Kelly. We had a nice chat during which he confirmed that he did not take these photographs and neither did Jack Long. He explained that Long was a very short man, only 5’3″, and he didn’t physically match the photographer in refection. He wished me luck on my search.
So then we were back to CBC staff photographer, Alvin Armstrong now the primary (only) candidate.  He died in 1989, but I had contact information for his son, Arthur, who I had first met in 2012  at the launch of the  VHF The WALL outdoor installation I curated that featured one of his father’s photographs.
In my email, to Arthur, I gave him the background to the mystery and explained the reasons why I had doubts and didn’t think it was his father who shot these images.  I also asked him to take a look at the reflection image to see if he thought it was Alvin. This is what he wrote back:

I had a look at the photo that you sent me along with the photos on your blog. I cannot say with a certainty that the photo you sent me is my father. I am attaching a photo of Dad taken in 1956. As you can see the hairline is similar. I can also tell you he wore a long beige raincoat as did many men of that era. I recall there was a Leica camera around the house, but that was 35mm. Dad did shoot 120 film but used two Rolliflexs that he owned.

If his handwriting was on the film wrapper, he must have been given it or taken the photos. However, two things lead me to believe it was not my father. Firstly, he would never have put 5 rolls of film on one spool. Secondly, he would have cataloged it in some manner. Neither of these actions fit with his personality.

I am sorry to add to the mystery of these photos and hope you get it sorted out. Please keep me posted! Thanks for keeping the memory of old Vancouver alive.

I had to agree with Arthur on his perception of the situation. Though he thought there was a possibility that the man reflected could be his father, the other evidence does not fit with Alvin’s photographic practice. For some reason, Armstong was the caretaker for this film, but we both believed he was not the shooter.

Having run out of possible candidates, the mystery of who is responsible for these images is “solved” in that we have come to the end of the investigation. Therefore, unless new evidence appears (highly unlikely due to how much time has passed) all we know is (with some certainty) who isn’t responsible (Armstrong, Kelly, or Long) for these fabulous documentary images.

Every time I look at the images I am glad that my curiosity didn’t allow this collection to be lost forever. If you ever find an old roll of exposed film I urge you to take the time and expense to get it developed, you never know what exposing the latent image could reveal.

*2021 update: A few people have commented that the most likely scenario is that 5 rolls of film were already developed and were then rolled onto one spool and covered with a couple of winds of backing paper for protection many years ago. I had previously wondered the same thing but didn’t know what the effect of processing film twice would have on the rolls. It seems that processing film twice would have no effect on film once the film has been fixed once. This would explain why the decades old, loosely rolled film had such great looking negatives with no fog. The technician at The Lab would not know that the film was already processed since they were working in full darkness and all film feels the same in the dark.

In 2021, I wrote about this discovery in the latest issue of Geist magazine: Geist 118.

Enjoy some more of these images:

Men reading newspaper. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
Girl in by entrance to Ho Sun Hing Co. Printing on E. Pender Street. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
Double exposure False Creek. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
House boats/shacks on False Creek. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
I love all the black in this image. Chinatown alley 1956. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
More of the same theme – narrow view from an alley. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.

[More images can be seen in Part 1 of this post]

If you haven’t seen ‘Summer Afternoon’ yet, I strongly recommend you take half an hour to do so. When you compare the visuals in the TV film with those found in the still photos found on the 5 rolls of Kodak Super XX 120 film you can clearly see that they are connected.

Columnist John Kirkwood had this to say about “Summer Afternoon’ in the August 22, 1956 edition of the Vancouver Sun: “The program skillfully produced to capture the desired mood and with a light touch of humour was, of course, a work of art, and, except for a rather too insistent musical score, was an outstanding show”.

The Province Newpaper’s TV critic, Les Wedman, was more critical about the program.  Here is his review from August 21, 1956:

I think the passage of time has improved the overall impression of “Summer Afternoon” as we view it with a nostalgic lens.  I’ll let you be the judge…

Pacific 13  – Summer Afternoon,  air date: 1956-08-20, length: 28:25
“Presented without commentary, this exploration of Vancouver’s Chinatown follows the wanderings of two young boys at play in and around the shops, streets, and False Creek waterfront.”
PD/DIR- Ron Kelly
PH- Jack Long
ED- Stanley Fox
MUSIC- Ed Baravalle [John Avison, conductor]
CAST- Andrew Mar, Chipper Mah

Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 18 – Triangle Building

Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019.  So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019.  Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Triangle Building in the 1950s with neon signs. The large one at the point was a large clock face with a swinging pendulum. The text reads: “Wosks for Ranges”. Photo: (cropped) Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection

The Triangle Building, the cornerstone of Mount Pleasant, sits at the intersection of Main and Kingsway. It’s part of the ‘Triangle Block’, which is recognized and celebrated as the “historic heart” of the neighbourhood.

Furniture retailer, developer, and philanthropist Ben Wosk built this landmark structure, initially known as the “Wosk Block”, in 1947. During its 70-year history, it’s been home to numerous street-level shops and cafes, including two of Vancouver’s iconic businesses: Wosk’s Furniture and Bain’s Candies & Fine Chocolates. The second-floor offices (2414 Main) have hosted a variety of trade unions, community groups, professionals, writers, artists, and not-for-profit organizations that have been an integral part of the city’s cultural fabric.

Triangle Building looking all streamline and moderne. Photo: C. Hagemoen

The Wosk Block/Triangle Building is a rare Vancouver example of the Streamlined Moderne architectural style. A later variation of the Art Deco style construction, Streamline Moderne buildings display the influence of the technological marvels of the day and developments in materials science, characterized by aerodynamic curves and smooth planar surfaces. The Triangle Building’s stainless steel window and door frames are also representative of the period’s affection for slick, shiny surfaces.

Currently hidden under a skin of painted mural on grey stucco, the triangle-shaped building once featured the mid-century palette of jade green and black Vitrolite exterior finish. A product of the machine age, Vitrolite is a pigmented structural glass that was used in interior and exterior applications. Recently exposed areas of the building on both the Kingsway and Main sides reveal glimpses of the original exterior finish (take a look for the next time you pass by).

Jade Vitrolite revealed around the door frame of Dig It Select Vintage on Kingsway side. Photo: C.Hagemoen

The Triangle Building is not only notable for its architectural significance. It might even be more significant in the continuing history of the social and cultural identity of Mount Pleasant and the city as a whole.

The types of businesses that have called it home have always been a reflection of the evolving community. The graphic design businesses and skateboard shops of the 1980s and 90s replaced the dress shops and shoe stores of the 1950s and 60s. In the 1990s, several independent theatre and arts groups like the Public Dreams Society, Ruby Slippers Theatrical Society, and the Fringe Festival eventually replaced the high concentration of trade workers’ associations and credit unions that occupied its offices during the industrial 1950s and 60s. In addition, many popular-priced eateries like Palm’s Grill (in business from the 1950s to the 1970s) and Budgies Burritos (2005 to today) have occupied the Triangle Building’s street-level restaurant spaces. And of course, we can’t forget that the Triangle Building was where MP for Vancouver East, Libby Davies had her official office.

Budgies Burritos along Kingsway. Photo: C. Hagemoen

The community-based Mount Pleasant Heritage Group (MPHG)* believes that the Triangle Building’s continuing “popularity as a social gathering place, both inside its shops, café’s and eateries and outside along the sidewalk, reflects how much the building and its tenants are held dear by the residents of Mount Pleasant and the citizens of Vancouver”. The ultimate goal of the MPHG, and of heritage supporters all over the city, is to identify buildings like the Triangle Building that not only have “architectural significance” but also have a “history of contributing to the social & cultural identity of the community”.

The Triangle Building is not included on Vancouver’s Heritage Register. This is an oversight that should be remedied. In my opinion, it could easily be included on the Heritage Register under the “Recent Landmarks Program”, an initiative that recognizes the historical and cultural importance of structures built during Vancouver’s post-war period.

Today’s post was an abridged version of the article I wrote for Scout Magazine, March 12, 2018.

*I am an active member of the Mount Pleasant Heritage Group.

Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 15 – Streetcar scars

Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019.  So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019.  Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Street car on Quebec St. (between 14th & 13th) on its way from the Mount Pleasant Car Barns. Photo: CoV Archives

Day 1 of the LHAC 2019 featured the Mount Pleasant Streetcar Barns and its resident janitor cat ‘Toots‘. The car barns were bounded by Main Street on the east and Quebec Street on the west,  between 13th and 14th Avenues . The building was two-tiered to compensate for the grade of the property at the Main St side vs the Quebec Street side. Cars could enter and exit at grade from both sides. For 46 years, from 1906 to 1952, street cars would start and end their routes from that location.

For 10 years starting in 1945, the entire transit system was converted from streetcars to trolley buses – the campaign was called “Rails to Rubber“. In 1952, the ‘Fairview Beltline’ was transferred from streetcar to bus and the Mount Pleasant car barns were closed. The land was eventually sold and a series of supermarkets, starting with the Dominion Store, have occupied the site ever since.

Old street car tracks still visible on Quebec Street between 12th and 13th. Photo: C. Hagemoen

But you can still see evidence of this part of Mount Pleasant’s history on Quebec Street between 13th and 12th Avenues (just south of the Fire Hall).  A portion of streetcar rails, like a scar on the landscape, can be seen on Quebec street near the former site of the Mount Pleasant carbarns.

In his novel, All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy wrote, “Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.” We should similarly appreciate urban landscape scars like those of the Mount Pleasant streetcar line. These historic “scars” on our city’s landscape form part of the history of Vancouver; as such they should be shown and celebrated rather than hidden.

Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 8 – 1895 Abray House

Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019.  So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019.  Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

The 1895 Abray House in 2017. Photo: C. Hagemoen

On Day 4 of the LHAC 2019 we learned about the old Broadway Theatre that once stood at Broadway and Main – now a parking lot. Directly adjacent to that parking lot stands a structure that was originally built around 1895 beside the ravine of old Brewery Creek. One of the oldest structures still standing in Mount Pleasant, this building was one of three family homes that once stood proudly facing Main Street (then called Westminster Avenue).

Detail of Plate 37 of the Insurance Plan of the City of Vancouver from July 1897 (revised June 1901) showing Brewery Creek crossing the 2500 block of Watson Street (then Howard St.). Library and Archives Canada.

Its current state is adjacent to Watson Street, hidden behind grey/brown vinyl siding on one side and a colourful mural on the other; oddly tethered to the rear of a single-story, older commercial building. A historical building permit entry reveals that the home was moved in 1912 to the rear of the lot, where it stands today; ostensibly to make way for one of the commercial spaces that were then beginning to line this section of Main Street. It is unrecognizable today when compared to what is pictured in the historic photos below.

Looking southeast from the intersection of Westminster Ave. and 9th Ave. (Main and Broadway) from 1908. Photo: George Alfred Barrowclough, UBC Digital Collections

This fantastic photo (above) from ca. 1908 shows the intersection of Broadway and Main Street and the three ca. 1895 houses facing Main Street. You can just make out Watson Street (then Howard Street) running parallel to Main. In the background is Kingsway (then Westminster Road) and the large brick building is the old Mount Pleasant School. This property (owned by the Vancouver School Board) is now home to Kingsgate Mall. It’s interesting to see how this area of Mount Pleasant has changed over the years, as it transitioned from a mainly residential sector to the commercial hub it is today.

1908 photo showing Abray House, 2520 Westminster Ave., in the centre. Photo: George Alfred Barrowclough, UBC Digital Collections

This house has played a very significant role in the history of the area and the city. The first occupant at 2520 Westminster Avenue was Ewen Henry McMillan, owner of Ideal Grocery (353 Carrall Street), who lived there until 1898. In the past, it was called “Horne House”, after the famed “capitalist” J.W. Horne who once owned the property (ca. 1912), but never lived there.  Today it is known as “Abray House”, as it was once the home to Jackson T. Abray, one of Vancouver’s first police constables and early hoteliers. Abray lived in this Mount Pleasant home with his family from 1898 to 1906.

Wearing uniforms from Seattle, the four new police officers posed in front of the tent situated at the foot of Carrall Street in 1886. Jackson T. Abray is on the far left. Photo: CoV Archives, LGN 457

Before the Great Fire of June 13, 1886, that nearly destroyed the newly incorporated city, Vancouver had a police force of one. All that changed after the fire. The details of the story differ depending on the version told, but the gist is as follows: the day after the fire, Mayor Malcolm Alexander MacLean met Abray and convinced/coerced him to become a police constable for the young city. Two others, V.W. Haywood and John McLaren, it seems, were “appointed” under similar circumstances. And so, led by Chief J.M. Stewart, Vancouver’s first police force was formed. Abray remained a police constable for four years until 1890. Following his career in law enforcement, he went into the hotel and restaurant business as the owner of the Cosmopolitan Hotel (101 W. Cordova), and later the Burrard Hotel (400 W. Cordova).

1895 Abray House in 1978 (2529 Watson). In this photo, you can still see some of the original features of the house. Photo: COV Archives, CVA 786-61.03

The “1895 Abray House” is affixed to the rear of a commercial building that was built around 1926, which is currently home to Caffe Barney and Bean Around the World. The building has the distinction of being the first location, from 1926-1947, of one of Mount Pleasant’s cherished long-time businesses, Bain’s Chocolates. In the early days, original proprietors William and Viena Bain lived at the same address – most likely in the house at the rear of the shop (I wrote about Bain’s Chocolates in a March 2018 Scout Magazine article).

Let’s hope the soon-to-begin construction of Broadway Subway does not destroy the old Abray house and the building and businesses attached to it.

The juxtaposition of one of the newest buildings (The Independent) in Mount Pleasant with one of its oldest is jarring but also interesting. The mix of old and new makes a stimulating visual tableau and lessens the “shock of the new” – homogeneity is only good in milk, not liveable cities.

For the complete story on Abray, his house, and this section of Watson Street check out the 2018 article I wrote for Scout Magazine.

Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 4 – Broadway Theatre

Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019.  So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019.  Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

The Broadway Theatre in 1917. Photo: VPL Special Collections 20365

The southeast corner of Broadway at Main (now a parking lot) was once home to Mount Pleasant’s own movie theatre! The Broadway Theatre (2530 Main St)  was built on property owned by Charles M. Bowman in 1916 for the Broadway Theatre Company Ltd. and was designed by William Frederick Gardiner (1884-1951), who designed many institutional and commercial buildings in Vancouver during the course of his long and prolific career. Retail businesses occupied the street-level spaces along Main street and there were offices above on the 2nd floor. The grand opening was held on October 16, 1916, and featured Pauline Frederick in “The Moment Before”.

Vancouver Sun, December 23, 1921

The history of the Broadway Theatre in Mount Pleasant is an interesting one. The first Broadway Theatre opened in 1912 with a seating capacity of 450 at 114 East Broadway (at Quebec) and was operated by Frank H. Gow (later with Famous Players Canadian Corp. Ltd.). Frank H. Gow managed the Broadway Theatre for the remainder of his career. A classified advertisement for a doorman for the new theatre stated that the ideal candidate was to be “sober and industrious”.

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Advert for the Broadway Theatre from the Vancouver Daily World Oct 11, 1912.
Vancouver Daily World. June 7, 1913.

In 1934, the Broadway Theatre was completely renovated and reequipped offering “Mount Pleasant citizens a completely new standard of motion picture entertainment”. The refreshed theatre reopened Christmas day complete with new “Dunlopillo” seats and a modern front entrance designed by Townley & Matheson in conjunction with Dixon & Murray Ltd.

The Province< December 22, 1934.

The Broadway Theatre closed in 1961 and was torn down shortly thereafter. The lot (actually two city lots) has been empty ever since.

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Google Streetview from April 2009 of the former location of the Broadway Theatre.

Before and After – Main Street

Heritage Hall
Heritage Hall, Main Street, Vancouver – 2012. Photo: C. Hagemoen

To loosely paraphrase Benjamin Disraeli: In a progressive [city] change is constant; …change… is inevitable. Vancouver is a city that most inevitably is constantly changing … sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. But, how much has the city really changed? Sometimes it can be hard to tell unless you can directly compare the past with the present.

Primary source documents like visual historical records, whether they are still or moving images, capture a moment in time and allow us to compare the past with the present.  I think it is really interesting to look back and compare how much (or, how little) a place has changed over the years. So, inspired by photographer Dan Toulgoet’s “Then and Now” series in the Vancouver Courier and the blog of ‘then and now’ images Changing Vancouver , I decided to try my hand at creating my own comparative pairs of ‘before and after’ images.

Continue reading “Before and After – Main Street”