Southeastern Log, Ketchikan, Alaska, Vol. 8, No. 2, February, 1978.

Pages 20-27.

[Illustrations placed at the end of the article, and as many original photographs as possible located and scanned for better quality.]

Luella Smith

Keeping Sitka's
beauty, history
alive in photos

By Jane Hanchett
Log editor

When Luella Smith came to Alaska over 60 years ago, she carried an Eastman box camera her father had given her. Today she owns a 35 mm Argus C-3. In between were many years of photography mainly at Sitka.

Her father, James Gilpatrick, with Luella, operated The Photo Shop there from 1924 to 1960 when he died. Mrs. Smith worked with him and they learned the business together. She continued the business until Dec. 31, 1972.

It was only about a year or two before then that she joined the Sitka Historical Society, she recalled. But her father and she already had left a historic legacy of photography of the Sitka area.

She donated boxes upon boxes of pictures to the historical society museum in Sitka's Centennial Building. For almost 40 years they annually trekked up Mt. Verstovia and recorded the town's development in pictures.

Some old negatives and prints of previous owners were in The Photo Shop when Gilpatrick bought it from C. G. Geyers in July 1924. Some dated from before the turn of the century. Occasionally, fellow Sitkans would bring in old photos from which they wanted duplicates made.

"We copied historical photos whenever it looked like they would be interesting," Mrs. Smith said about the material that came with the shop.

Pictures bearing the Photo Shop Studio inscription were always black and white. With the 35 mm Argus, "I take color, but never got into it," she said. "It was always black and white in the shop," although she also did hand-tinting.

Colorful times for photography

But the times Mrs. Smith and her father photographed were colorful years in Alaska's history. They included two world wars, with thousands of servicemen stationed in Southeast during the second, radical changes in fishing industry technology, logging and transportation.

Gilpatrick came to Southeast to Juneau in the early teen years of the century. He and his family had been living in West Seattle where he had owned a cabinet finishing shop and worked as a finish carpenter.

He preceded his family to Alaska where he worked as a carpenter on structures such as Juneau's city hall. Mrs. Smith, born in December 1896, was in her late teens when she first traveled the Inside Passage on the move to Juneau.

She took pictures of the scenery with the box camera her father had given her. During her years in photography since then she has taken mostly scenics because they are her favorite subject matter, she said.

In between were "baby pictures for awhile before the war and I did some portrait work, too."

The Gilpatricks had three girls: Luella, Georgia and Josephine. In Juneau Luella's interest in photography grew. She even did her own printing there.

After Juneau the family lived at Suloia Bay on the southwestern [sic, it is actually on the southeastern tip in Peril Straits] tip of Chichagof Island from October 1917 to June 1918. There Gilpatrick worked with his hands and wood again making boxes for the canned salmon trade.

In the same month that they last lived at Suloia Bay, the Gilpatricks moved to Sitka. Once again Gilpatrick's carpentry skills brought income to the family. In 1922 and 1923, Mrs. Smith recalled, he worked on the Bayview Hotel.

The hotel when out of business, but a photo of it is at the historical society museum [Present site of McDonald Bayview Trading].

An eye for beauty

After coming to Sitka, Luella married Robert Claire in 1919. In 1926 she remarried, becoming Mrs. Smith. Her husband Fermin [sic, Firman is correct in social security and her birthday book] is no longer living, and today Mrs. Smith lives on an island within view of Sawmill Creek Road just outside of Sitka.

She had two children with Claire: Margaret Dangel who with here husband Walter lives just a short distance from Mrs. Smith's home and Robert James Claire who live in California.

Mrs. Smith moved to her island home in June 1973. It is connected to Sitka's Baranof Island by a wind and surf-swept causeway. The house faces the ocean of Sitka Sound. It is protected by a few tall spruce spaced enough so a front window affords a view of the scenery Mrs. Smith always has admired about the Sitka area.

Inside in her living room, furnishings in greens and yellows give a bright atmosphere complemented by oil paintings done by her sister Josephine Carter. And a visitor is likely to be treated to a piece of huckleberry pie and tea.

Her culinary abilities are well-known to those in the historical society. In 1976 she put up 1,062 jars of six different kinds of wild berry jelly that was sold at the museum. Last year she made 1,440 jars for sale by the Sitka Woman's Club.

Today, her life is far from just memories of the past, but she does have many interesting ones of her years in photography. Today, a pizza and Italian food restaurant stands where The Photo Shop once stood, between Barracks and American streets along Lincoln Street.

The business once stood where the Lutheran Church is now. In 1927 Gilpatrick moved it across Lincoln to its last location. At first the shop had no enlarger with which to make prints, and Gilpatrick used an old view camera set up as an enlarger.

Photo equipment changes

Equipment varied over the years, but Mrs. Smith recalled personal cameras she had included an Eastman "postcard-size 3A" and a folding camera with a double extension bellows and a Zeiss-Icon lens. With it she got close-ups of many local wildflowers. The sharpness of those prints would be hard to beat today with many macro lenses.

In the shop were a 6 1/2 x 8 1/2 view camera, an 8 x 10 printer and later in 1932 [This is not the correct year. Many of their negatives are dated 1928 from this camera.] Gilpatrick got a 7 x 11 view camera. It was with the latter that he and Mrs. Smith took pictures of Sitka almost annually from Mt. Verstovia from the early 1930's to 1972. [In the years after the war her son in law, Walter Dangel, and grandchildren carried the camera. Walter took additional views with this camera.]

During WWII years with American troops stationed on nearby Japonski Island and in lookout posts in the mountains just behind Sitka, the photographers weren't allowed their yearly photo trek, she said.

Censors came to the shop regularly and cut out whatever they didn't want recorded in pictures Gilpatrick and Mrs. Smith developed for servicemen.

Today, concrete bunkers exist several places around Sitka. Most of the wooden lookouts dotting small islands just west of Japonski Island have fallen down, but Sitka's scenic beauty remains.

Mrs. Smith has a sharp eye for that beauty and has collected many shells and wildflowers of Southeast.

"I've always enjoyed being outdoors," she said. In addition to over 150 different types of shells of Southeast, she has many from elsewhere in the world.

"People write wanting Alaska shells and send shells from where they live," she explained.

[End of Southeastern Log text except captions for pictures.]

Illustration section for the above article, not reproduced in the same layout as the original. Many of these photographs have been scanned from originals and are located in an adjacent web page section on photographs. I doubt I will get them all linked so you could click here to get better detail. I think you should be able to recognize them from their names in that section.

James Henry Gilpatrick, owner with Luella of Sitka's Photo Shop Studio business from 1924 until 1960, prepares to take a scenic picture with a sturdy, but heavy-looking, view camera. The Photo Shop Studio photo.

Luella Smith and her father James Gilpatrick do an about-face for a moment and pose for a picture instead of setting up one of someone else. He died in 1960. Mrs. Smith finally closed the shop in 1972.

Huge flags including a union jack decorate The Photo Shop on a Fourth of July of yesteryear. The Photo Shop Studio photo.

Sun bathes trollers nestled among floats off Sitka's Katlian Street in this Photo Shop Studio picture of yesteryear.

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This 1933 view of Sitka shows a much smaller town than photo on opposite page, taken in 1972. The above was one of the first town overviews taken by the Photo Shop Studio owners James Gilpatrick and his daughter, Luella Smith. The studio about 1932 started taking pictures of the town from a nearby mountain.

This picture taken in 1972 was the last taken in almost 40 years of annual Photo Shop Studio pictures charting Sitka's growth. The pictures were taken always from high up on Mt. Verstovia with a view camera. In 1972 Photo Shop Studio owner Luella Smith, then 76, had her son-in-law, also of Sitka, carry the large format camera up the hill. That year she closed the shop.

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Revised by notes made by Grandma Luella Smith from a copy given to Jim -- she marked corrections on a number of extra copies. She died a few months later, 22 May 1978, in Sitka of a stroke. The March issue had an apology on the labeling of Baranof's castle photograph.

There are many photographs of hers and the shops that have nice captions in the article. I have scanned them from the Log except those that I have found actual photographs for the same picture. Can not find a few of them, and the rest are Log pictures by the author.

I have located the bill of sale and receipts for the original photo shop to my Grandmother as Mrs. L. G. Claire, a loan application giving the value of photographic equipment at the time of purchase of the last building for the shop, and other interesting items concerning the business. The 7x11 inch Eastman Kodak view camera was purchased and used in 1928, not 1932. Despite whatever the legal arrangements the family lived together and owned the Photo Shop Studio jointly. My mother worked for wages for her mother at times, as did my father, Walter A. Dangel, who took the photograph on the first page of my great grandfather James H. Gilpatrick. My father took many pictures for the shop after great grandfather, who was known as Grandpa to us, was not able to do so. It was not just the son-in-law who carried the heavy camera up the mountain, but occasionally grandchildren also.

None of us in the family considered the business good enough to carry on. With everyone selling film and cameras, and sending out processing, there just was not much business. Now with all the automatic color processing, the family black and white business is history.

Grandmother's extensive collection of wild flowers from the area was donated by her to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, and Sheldon Jackson Library in Sitka.

Her extensive collection of Alaska shells from the Sitka area were donated to the University some years later, and the voice on the other end of the line wanted to know if the shells were from the same person who had donated the wild flowers. Only the main (best) shell collection went to Fairbanks. Early after she had died the trading stock and extras were donated to the Alaska State Museum in Juneau for use including hands on for children.

Grandmother gave many boxes of photographs and negatives to the Sheldon Jackson Museum. The museum was sold to the State of Alaska, at which time those materials were transferred to the C. L. Andrews historical collection at Sheldon Jackson Library. Many of the important photographs sold by the shop were included in picture albums. My guess is the negatives and other materials donated were duplicates or things of interest to Sheldon Jackson.

Additional materials were donated to the Isabel Miller Museum in Sitka. Isabel was my grandmother's best friend and berry picking and jelly making partner for their interests in the Sitka Historical Society and the Sitka Women's Club. Isabel was to be a guest for a turkey dinner the day my grandmother had her stroke. We had to tell her and others there was not dinner. Grandmother died four days later without coming out of her coma.

At present the family is sorting boxes of photographs and negatives from the Photo Shop Studio that have been in our attics. We intend to donate them to the Alaska State Library in Juneau and the Isabel Miller Museum in Sitka. Sections of them that are of interest to other groups we expect to share with them.

James R. Dangel
1504 Sawmill Creek Road
Sitka, Alaska 99835 USA
Phone: 907-747-3348

Hiding my address underneath to avoid getting spam and unsolicited viruses has not worked very well. You will have to type in my email address from the picture file above.

Please make sure you include a subject line that means something. I get so much spam that if you are unknown to me and leave it blank or it looks like typical junk I will never see it nor answer you. Put some family names or something useful in the subject line!!!

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