What Story Does this Photograph Tell?

by Laurie Thompson

Cheda Building, San Rafael, circa 1914–1916. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

We recently acquired this wonderful early 20th Century photograph. I was quite sure I was looking at downtown San Rafael but beyond that, I needed to do a little detective work to figure out just exactly where and when the photograph was taken.

Today’s technology -creating a high-resolution digital replica of an historic image- allows one to zoom-in close and literally go back in time to pick-up details on the life and times revealed by the image.

The most obvious clue was the name of the prominent business on the facade — Marin County Bank. Next, zooming in on the top of the building , I could make out the engraved letters “Cheda” on one of the ornaments.

The Chedas were the founders of the Marin County Bank, so the picture began to come into focus. The Marin History Museum’s book, Early San Rafael , tells us that “ In 1899 Silvio Cheda, at the age of 30, established the Marin County Bank. The handsome bank building was constructed at Fourth and A Streets in 1910.”

Next, I checked our own Marin Journal digital archive and found out a little bit more on the early history of the building:

The new Cheda Building is now practically completed. All the stores and most of the office rooms have been rented. Some of them are now occupied and others will be by the first of August. The building is the handsomest and most substantial in Marin County, and would be a credit to any city. It is of the Mission style of architecture, handsomely finished and painted…. ( Marin Journal, July 28, 1910.)

The Marin Journal article goes on to mention several of the pioneering businesses established in the Cheda Building including William Von Husen & Co. grocery store; James Begley’s “gent’s furnishings” and shoes; the Model Drug Store and the Millinery and Hair Store.

Going back to the picture, it was clearly taken at a patriotic celebration, given the flags and bunting and well-dressed crowds who appear to be waiting for something -perhaps a parade?

I also noticed that at the left edge of the building on the second floor there is a large sign announcing “Hart for Congress.” This might help place the photograph in time. Who was Hart and when was he running for Congress? I found some good information in our clipping and biography files. Edward H. Hart ran on the Republican ticket for Congress three times between 1912 and 1916 (twice against William Kent), losing all 3 races. He died on September 28, 1917.

This new information seems to place our photograph in the time frame of 1912–1917. I’m still not sure of the occasion. However, I find an interesting article in our World War I clipping files dated Sept. 20, 1917. It’s headlined “Throngs Cheer as 57 Boys Leave for Camp. Parade Through Streets and Farewell Gathering at Armory Mark Leave Taking.” The article continues:

Their departure was preceded by one of the most unique of San Rafael’s many recent parades. With the exception of the members of the Local Board and the San Rafael school teachers, youth, the most envied of all possessions, marched in lines many blocks in length and in front of crowds that stood along Fourth street from the corner of E to the Union Station.

Of course, the last election Hart ran in was in 1916, so the photograph may tell a completely different story.

One other, non-conclusive clue meets my eye. In the photograph, a part of the second story of the Cheda Building was occupied by Dentist Dr. Norman S. Halsey. I find various records for him in Ancestry.com, including a 1910 census record showing him in business on 4th St. in San Rafael and a World War I Draft Registration Card dated Sept. 16, 1918.

If you’d like to delve into the photograph to look for more clues, please let me know and I’ll send you a high-res version of the image so you can do your own detective work.

Originally published at https://annetkent.kontribune.com.

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Anne T. Kent California Room

Anne T. Kent California Room

The official Medium account of the archive of Marin County history & culture at the Marin County Free Library http://tinyurl.com/MarinCoSocialMedia