Here’s a simple story told through a photograph, a small grocery store, its proprioress, her daughter perhaps and a puppy on a leash. Pearson’s Grocery sat at 702 South 35th Street, just across the street from Lincoln Park and a block away from Lincoln High School. The tiny wood frame store was on a busy streetcar corner that in 1918 would have been a perfect location for selling penny candies and sodas to students and milk and newspapers to the neighbors getting
home from work or downtown errands. The crisply painted wall sign advertising Tacoma milled Pyramid Flour was sized and oriented to passing streetcar passengers.
Presumably, the glass plate negative captures a portrait of Ms. Pearson in her long daily apron, sleeves rolled up and hair in a tidy bun. Her most popular goods were blazoned on the window signage and stacked inside the storefront. A hand written card in the window is a bit of soft sell merchandising-it says Lenox Soap Special 5¢ . The image is the work of an itinerant commercial photographer who made a living selling photos of merchants and small businesses in Pierce County around the time of the First World War.
Enterprising business women who operated small, independent shops and services like this grocery were not that unusual but quality photographs of them and their shops are fairly rare. The added charm of the little girl and her puppy give the image a singular, almost exquisite sense of the moment lifted out of a daily routine. The missing, broken corner of the negative gives the story a fragile subtext and a suggestion that it’s all the more valuable having survived a near disaster.
Taking the privilege of injecting a personal backstory into this photograph I need to thank Bellingham historian Gordy Tweet for giving me a small collection of glass plate negatives about 15 years ago. Gordy could tell from the signs on the storefronts in the collection that they were taken in Tacoma, Puyallup, Wilkeson and other south sound locations. He had made prints of some of them and I copied the rest and just recently I donated the collection to the Washington State Historical Society. Thanks to Ed Nolan and research folks at WSHS, images from the collection are being digitized and posted online. The subjects, stories and even the photographer have been a mystery but slowly the backstories are being uncovered. A major part of the puzzle is the identity of the photographer. None of the negatives have a brand or signature. The one important clue can be seen in this and other photographs. It’s the small suitcase that sits near the edge of the building. It may be the photographer’s camera case and the illegible graphics on it may reveal a solution. The glass plate negatives to come are remarkable so stay tuned.
A bit more on Pearson’s store from the elite investigator Jonathan White…..
Cool. I went to library yesterday and found Lawrence and Mary Pearson in the business directory. Lawrence owned several commercial properties including the Grand Hotel on 21st and Jefferson. Lawrence and Mary (Fressel) were married in Dec 1903 both of them late in their lives, Lawrence would have been 58 and Mary would have been 47. The first year the store opened was 1912 and it served as both their home and place of business. Lawrence died on 5 Oct 1917. The last entry of Pearson Grocery in the business directory was 1919. Mary was German and Lawrence was from Sweden. No children that I could find according to census records. And I haven’t found out what became of Mary after 1919.
This was so enjoyable! Thanks for Your work. I feel it’s very beneficial and important.
I wonder where in Lincoln Park the swimming area was? Maybe yoh know. Also I’m curious about what year it was decomissioned.
William, I used the swimming pool as a child in Lincoln Park in the early and mid 1960s. Most neighborhood parks had swimming pools that were about 3 feet at the deepest point. The pools were only used in the summer months under the supervision of a Recreation Specialist (don’t know what else to call them). Metro Parks probably eliminated the pools I’m guessing around the late 1970s or early 1980s. The pool was located at the south end of the park. If you were to extend South 35th Street from G street across to Thompson Street, the street would run along side of pool and the baseball field (if that’s still exist). Each park had a caretaker, Papa John was the caretaker of the Lincoln Park. I never knew his real name but all the kids in the neighborhood called him Papa John. Lincoln Park had the most beautiful Rose arbor and gardens. Papa John had an amazing talent for flower gardens. Many memories of the neighborhood kids and Lincoln Park. There probably wasn’t an inch of that park we didn’t explore.
I meant the north end of the park and not south end.
I wish my father was here to read this post. He grew up on K Street (3526 to be accurate) and Lincoln Park was his stomping ground. How he loved that park. I’m sure he visited this store on many, many occasions when he was a boy. Thanks for a great post.