Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bob Bailey Research Progress

It's like all that money that went for training in a Master's Degree (and the associated skills in research) is getting used for my nonprofit hobby instead of my job that pays the bills!

Back in August I'd tripped over a new lead in my South Belt Digital Archive project when I spotted a photograph of the ribbon cutting at Foley's Almeda-Genoa in a Houston Chamber of Commerce Magazine from October 1966. The photo credit of Bob Bailey led me to the discovery of his half a million photographs now held at the Briscoe Center at the University of Texas in Austin. 

About 5000 of the negatives have been digitized online for perusal, mostly those of the largest of the Houston icons and the oldest of the holdings. 

Bob Bailey Studios was in operation from the 30s through the 90s although the last decade seems to have focused on moving pictures instead of film. Bob Bailey himself died in 1971 but his brother Marvin ran the show until his retirement in the mid 90s when he passed rights on to UT. 

My interest lies in the middle years, when the South Belt was just getting started in the late 60s, none of which is available for viewing online, so I emailed the Briscoe Center a query about the October 1966 find. 

Amy quickly emailed me back with a screenshot of the ledger page: 

The ribbon cutting photo from 10/2 is likely the one reproduced in the Chamber of Commerce magazine. 

But the mind reels at those other entries nearby. 

Could the "Shoe Dept." be the pirate ship? It's very likely since it was such a distinguishing feature. 

The "Girls at Almeda Genoa Store" -- is that Girls Department or Girls Standing Around? The Girls' Department had a Holly Hobby type gazebo in the center. 

Now my planned trip for April seems far too far away to wait to know. 

The cost of obtaining prints from these negatives is not cheap, either. 

Part of me hopes some of my findings are a wash just so I'm not tempted to buy all of them.

And part of me is weighing the delicate topic of crowd-funding with the Facebook South Belt and Almeda groups. 

This morning, I asked Amy if these ledgers were digitized for perusal and she sent me a password link to get into them and search at my leisure. 

The problem lies with my sense of leisure. 

In between work today, I've scrolled through 5 folders A - P (roughly 500 hand-written ledger pages alphabetized by client) and am currently up to "S" in the largest of the folders labelled Q-Z (1966 - 1986)

Scads and scads of clients means there are passport photos and wedding photos and manufacturing photos (Armco was a client!) as well as construction photos from every construction company in Houston across three decades. About the time I think I am getting weary of scrolling for today, I hit on something exciting, which keeps me going. 

Each file contains a set of letters, and each letter is consecutive by year. 

So you scroll through all the A clients 1966 - 1986 then find yourself back at 1966 with the Bs, and so on. 

Let me just say, the woman (and I know it was a woman) keeping the entries in 1966 had impeccable handwriting. The later years? It gets quite abysmal. 

The trick is that different clients are lying in wait to be discovered under names I'd never know to search for. But the description of the order in an adjacent column would catch my eye.

So far, my list includes the five from the ledger page Amy sent me above and another 16 that include the Northwest mall Foley's (the twin to Almeda means it would match our Foley's) and several stores that were opened in 1968 with the addition of the rest of the mall: 

11/23/65 Foley's Ground Breaking Gulf Freeway 35410
9/6/67 Ayreshire Color Photo Sagemont 37436
8/25/70  Battlesteins  Color Window 40661
9/2/70  Battlestiens Color Window 40689
9/26/66 Foley's New Store Almeda Genoa 36345
9/26/66 Foley's Girls at Almeda Genoa Store 36344
10/2/66 Foley's Shoe Dept Almeda-Genoa 36376
9/28/66 Foley's Pre-Opening Almeda Genoa 36363
10/2/66 Foley's Ribbon Cutting Almeda-Genoa 36377
7/19/67 Foley's Northwest Store 37287
7/27/67 Foley's Press Party at NW Store 37307
7/31/67 Foley's Grand Opening NW store 37318
2/28/68 Foley's Photo New Budget at Foley's NW 37915
8/16/68 Foley's Crowd at Showing of Houston Oilers Hi-lites 38430
4/21/69 Florsheim Color Almeda Genoa Store  39177
6/10/68 Manhattan Photos of School on Beamer Rd. 38255
9/28/66 M Macari Color Gift Dept at new Foleys
10/9/68 Manhattan Progress J. Frank Dobie High School 38584
10/30/68 Melville Shoe Corp. Thom McCann Shoe Store at Almeda Genoa 
3/12/74 Manhattan Legal Photos Tranquility Park 42887 and 42888
11/8/68 Picadilly Cafeteria at NW Mall 38699

The Macari client that ordered the gift department shot had to have been taken the same week as the opening photos ordered by Foley's, but it's buried far away from the rest of them, due to the person who was writing the check. Google led me to discover Marilyn Macari was a Foley's employee, running the Gift Wrapping Department (for all the Foley's stores) at that time. Perhaps she ran into him on September 28, 1968 and asked for a photo of her newest department?

The Manhattan construction company entry caught my eye with "J. Frank Dobie", so I scrolled back up the previous pages to make sure I hadn't missed another. Sure enough, before it was named Dobie, Bob Bailey had traveled out to shoot photos of the progress of the construction for the "School on Beamer Road" three months prior. It turns out Manhattan Construction has a pretty diversified portfolio of projects, including Houston's Reliant Stadium as well as the little shrine to Jerry Jones up in Dallas.

Interesting stuff. 

Now, back to the "S"s . . . 


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