Among the treasures preserved in the Castle Museum’s collection are a group of panoramic photographs. Taken with a special camera called a Cirkut camera, many are the work of the Goodridge Brothers, pioneer Saginaw photographers. Several, taken on South Washington Avenue on the street in front of their studio, capture the growth of an ever-changing Saginaw business district.
Thanks to a recent grant by the SVSU Foundation, we are undertaking a project to improve the storage and increase public access to these irreplaceable resources. While we will have more information about this work in the near future, we want to share a recent discovery.
While one of the earliest of the Saginaw panoramic views may not have been made by the Goodridge Brothers, the image reveals new information about the history of the building that housed their studio. The firm’s first location was in the Crouse Block on the corner of South Washington and East Genesee. After the Crouse Block was destroyed by fire in 1872, William and Wallace Goodridge purchased a lot at 220 South Washington Avenue. There they constructed a building that would remain the home for the studio for fifty years. In his book, Enterprising Images: The Goodridge Brothers, African American Photographers, 1847-1922, John Jezierski documents several renovations to the building – especially the interior. For much of its history, the structure was graced with a distinctive pressed metal front with the family’s name in raised letters. The exact date when this façade was installed was not documented (see image 1). However, this panoramic view (see image 2) shows the framing for this façade and uniquely records its installation. The – then - newly completed Saginaw Auditorium provides a means of dating this image. Dedicated in October 1908 by October 1, 1909, construction had started on a canopy over the front entrance to the Auditorium.
This date directly corresponds with a fire in the Goodridge Brothers’ Studio that was documented by John Jezierski. On May 3, 1908, William L. Goodridge was in the darkroom when an overturned oil lamp started a fire that gutted the rear portion of the studio. The photographer was injured. While the initial estimate for damages was about $400.00, this amount proved inadequate to repair the studio and replace lost equipment. The Goodridge’s took out a loan to complete the work. Although accounts indicated that the fire was restricted to the rear portion of the structure, either the damage was more severe than reported or William and Wallace Goodridge used this event as the opportune time to put on a new front. (Especially observant viewers may note a damaged section of wood siding on the building to the south of the studio. Compare this image with the view of the building - image 4 - and you will note that the missing siding corresponds to the area where the cornice above the studio’s storefront extended onto the adjoining building.)
As we work with these images, we will have more discoveries to share.
1. View of Goodridge Studio with pressed metal façade, c.1911 2. Pano