History in the Making: Preserving the Al Monner News Negatives

December 1, 2020

By Lindsey Benjamin

Ballet master Alexander Oumansky teaches students at the Oumansky School of Dance in Portland, Oregon, located at 128 NW 23rd Avenue. A line of young ballerinas, wearing matching leotards and tutus, follows Oumansky. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 1284, 1811-1.

Train catastrophes, Portland Rose Festival princesses, lost puppies, and World War II welders. As a project archivist processing and digitizing the Al Monner news negatives at the Oregon Historical Society (OHS), these are but a few of the many topics I’ve spent my days on since the summer of 2019. Donated in 1986 by long-time Oregon Journal photographer Al Monner, the collection spans almost forty years of his career, documenting every conceivable type of event in Oregon between 1936 and 1974. My friends appreciate my newfound ability to recite the history of every bridge in Portland, recall buildings demolished fifty years ago, or point out a particular house where a bus had somehow ended up in a living room (hint: it’s on North Portsmouth Avenue in Portland).

The goal of this project was two-fold. First, OHS library staff set out to process the large format negatives produced by Monner between 1936 and 1959, moving them to safer, long-term storage in new archival sleeves and boxes. Monner began using 35mm film in February 1959, and while not in the scope of this project, that film is now resting in new boxes, awaiting another lucky future archivist. The physical processing of the 19,242 large format negatives was completed in early 2020, forming the basis of the next phase. Since that time, I’ve been selectively digitizing what I’ve referred to as “Monner’s greatest hits,” with the intention of selecting a wide variety of topics and years. Now available on OHS Digital Collections (OHSDC), over 3,000 of Monner’s photographs can be viewed online. As an archivist, I’ve always loved the ability of photography to bring history alive, and the images taken by Monner are no exception.

Child with “Pendleton Round-Up” newspaper, August 24, 1950. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 1284, 1757-20

A smiling child wearing a western shirt and hat holds a 1950 copy of the Pendleton Round-Up newspaper. This is one of thousands of images that document Oregon life in the Al Monner News Negatives collection held at the Oregon Historical Society. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 1284, 1757-20.

While the digitized images are only a small portion of what Monner captured before 1959, they offer a fascinating glimpse into the everyday happenings in the state, primarily in the Portland area. My hope is that the digital collection also provides users with a gateway to the physical collection (a complete inventory of the large format negatives can be downloaded from OHS’s library catalog). It’s been an honor to spend the last year and half of my life with Monner, and I’m excited for the public to have access to his fantastic work in the future. For those interested in reading more about the project, OHS has published “A Q&A with Project Archivist Lindsey Benjamin” on OHSDC where I go into more detail about the project phases, how the collection is organized, and how I selected images for digitization. The slideshow below includes a few that show the range of the collection.

Digitization of the Al Monner News Negatives was made possible by The Jackson Foundation, The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, The Wyss Foundation, Robert S. Miller & Geneva Miller, and Gifts to the OHS Research Library Designated Fund.

“Hellcats” women welding crew at Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation, Portland, Oregon, January 23, 1944. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 1284, 901-3

Women from the “hellcats” welding crew at the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation in Portland, Oregon, appeared in a photograph published on page D1 in the Sunday, January 23, 1944, edition of the Oregon Journal. Top row, from left: Hazel Zimmerman, Georgie Towell, Verna McCaughey, Frances Reid (helper). Front row: Mayme Matchett, Mabel Geist, Bess Blankenship, Vivian Sales, Martha Raymond, and Leadman Paul (‘Doc’) Shade. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 1284, 901-3.

People dressed as cavemen next to an “Oregon Journal” helicopter, May 8, 1847. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 1284, 1197-2.

People dressed in caveman costumes pose next to an Oregon Journal helicopter in Grants Pass, Oregon, on May 8, 1947. A woman reaches out of the window and toward one of the men dressed in fur and holding a stick. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 1284, 1197-2.

Floating debris after Vanport City, Oregon, flood in 1948. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 1284, 1439-6

Collecting debris floats in Vanport City, Oregon, following the large 1948 flood. A teddy bear lays in the water amid pieces of wood and grass. A photograph from this series was published in the Oregon Journal on Thursday, June 24, 1948. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 1284, 1439-6.

Grace Kern plays an accordion for a bird at her home at 1421 NE 21st Avenue, July 1953. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 1284, 2147-4

Grace Kern plays an accordion for a bird at her home at 1421 NE 21st Avenue, built by her father in 1915. The house was sold in 1953 to the Lloyd Corporation in 1953 for development of what is now the Lloyd Center in Portland. Photographs from this series were published in the Oregon Journal on Friday, July 31, 1953. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 1284, 2147-4.

Woman sweeping sidewalk litter after Portland Junior Rose Festival parade, June 12, 1954. OHS Research Library Org. Lot 1284, 2292-1

On June 12, 1954, a woman sweeps trash along SE Sandy Boulevard and SE Ankeny Street after the 1954 Junior Portland Rose Festival parade. Looking southwest, the viewer can see the west hills and a tall building on SE Grand Avenue in the distance. A sign next to the street reads “No Parking, Parade.” OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 1284, 2292-1.

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