Thursday, August 29, 2013

Street photography in downtown Pontiac shows daily life

We at The Oakland Press asked readers to share their historical photos taken in the Pontiac area and once again, readers were more than willing to share.
The most recent historical fascination on our part is the novelty of the roving street photographer. What would likely be met with mace and personal protection orders nowadays in our increasingly introverted and camera phone-saturated culture was met with excitement (and maybe still a tad bit of irritation) in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
Previously, Waterford resident Wrenetta Stack, 85, got the ball rolling by  submitting two photos to The Oakland Press. Her photos show her mother, Cleady Green, and grandmother, Lena Hayes, being caught somewhat off-guard by a street photographer while walking along Saginaw Street in front of Chase's Department Store sometime in the early 1940s. 

Cleady Green

Lena Hayes

Waterford resident Evelyn Davidson, 88, sent in a photo of her father, Henry Davidson, walking along Saginaw Street in front of Neisner’s sometime in 1942. She doesn’t know when exactly the photo was taken, but said that she remembers her father, who had a farm on Opdyke Road, was a frequent visitor to the city.

Henry Davidson

It appears the street photographer set up shop on Saginaw Street between Huron and Lawrence streets. Grand Blanc resident Jim Brown sent in a candid photo of him and his family taken in the same location as Davidson’s father.
In the picture are Brown’s mother, Olive Brown, 34, his sister, Mary Agnes, 1, Brown, 6, and his grandmother (and Holly resident) Agnes Haddon, 60.

Little Jim Brown and Family

Brown noted that the photographer must have been present at that spot for a while because of a similar photo he mentioned.
“The picture-taking must have gone on for quite a while because at a funeral (on Aug. 3) I saw a picture of my wife’s uncle and his bride-to-be taken at the same spot,” he said. “It had to be 1946 or later because he had been a POW in Germany until the war ended.”
Another photo submitted by Nelma McKinzie, 76, shows her standing in front of Neisner’s on Saginaw Street as well in 1955, when she was 18. 

Nelma McKinzie

“I remember it being a really nice place back in the 50s,” she said. “It was clean, it was a nice place to go to shop, it wasn't like it is today.”
Kim Vorhes submitted a photo of her grandmother, Virginia Ball Foster and Foster’s sister-in-law, Mildred Foster. The photo was taken sometime in the 1940s downtown.

Virginia Ball Foster and Mildred Foster

 There's something peculiar about a street photographer running around, taking photos and handing out a card to his subjects with information on how to pay for and receive it. The only place I'm ever hit up for a photo and asked to pay for it later is Cedar Point. 

But it does say volumes about the novelty of casual photography in that day. That, and these photos aren't posed or staged in any way; these are real people who walked the streets of Pontiac years ago, going about their business or frittering away their days just like you and I. 
Well, maybe we don't walk Pontiac streets as often anymore. But they're trying to change that, right?

This next one doesn't seem to be a roving street photographer looking to make a buck, but we could be mistaken. 
Waterford resident Robert Reynolds submitted a photo of his uncle, John Spehar, who owned a newsstand in front of Walgreens at the corner of Huron and Saginaw. The photo was taken sometime in the early 1950s.

John Spehar

“I am very familiar with the downtown area back then as I worked for my uncle when I was 11 years old selling the Pontiac Daily Press as well as the Detroit Times, Free Press and Detroit News,” Reynolds said.
He said his uncle ran the newsstand to help make ends meet after a tragic loss.
“Uncle John came from a very large family and with their mother passing away at a young age, he contributed to the family to help pay living expenses.

Got any pictures of you and your friends hanging out at your favorite spots in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and even ’90s? Send them to us. Send your photos to or mail them to The Oakland Press c/o Andrew Kidd, 48 W. Huron St., Pontiac, MI 48342.

—Andrew Kidd

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A treasure trove of Pontiac's history

Back in March, a Waterford Township woman shared with us a historical treasure trove of images from Pontiac’s past.

Eula Hornbeck, 91, recently shared a photo book showcasing Pontiac in 1928, which included attractions and future developments such as renderings of the Riker Building.
Hornbeck said she wanted to share these photos to show that Pontiac used to be a bustling city where people spent their weekends shopping and socializing.
“I’ve showed this (book) until it’s fallen apart,” she said. “It’s really old. I’ve shared it with a lot of people just to show them what the town looked like at one time to see the difference. I like Pontiac.”
She said a typical Saturday in Pontiac was spent all over the city’s downtown.
“We used to go to Pontiac, go into all the stores, walk around, then we’d have lunch at Neisner’s,” she said. “They used to serve lunches at the counter, we used to go in there to eat, then we’d go to a theater. That was a highlight of our day.
“We used to practically live there in downtown Pontiac,” she added. “We liked it so well.”
Of the multitude of department stores and shops downtown, one of them stood out for Hornbeck and most other residents who wanted to save a dime, she said.
“We liked Simms the best, that was a nice store,” she said. “Everybody bought their cigarettes and tobacco there because it was cheaper. It was sort of a budget store. It had everything.”
Hornbeck received the book from her late husband, Don, almost 30 years ago. She moved to Pontiac from Highland Park when she was 11 years old, almost 80 years ago. She said most of the sights in the book were around when she first arrived in the early 1930s.
“I remember most of these pictures and most of these buildings because I was young when I came here,” she said. “I'm 91 now, so they’re antique just like me.”
Hornbeck remembers working at places such as Federal’s, the Oakland County Tuberculosis Hospital and the Fisher Body plant before it shut down in the 1980s.
Hornbeck primarily blamed the increased popularity of large suburban shopping centers for the decline in Pontiac’s downtown area, a prevalent belief contributing to the demise of the iconic American Main Street.
“I saw them one by one go down,” she said. “Like the theaters, one would go down and then a little while later another one, then another one, then another one, and with the stores, one would close up and then another one.”

—Andrew Kidd

The Oakland Press wants readers to share old photos of their favorite places while growing up in Oakland County. Make sure to include the location of the picture, the year the photograph was taken and the names of any people in it.
Mail your photos to The Oakland Press c/o Andrew Kidd 48 W. Huron St. Pontiac, MI 48342 or email them to Selected pictures will be featured in the print edition of The Oakland Press.

Monday, May 13, 2013

We're still here!  Here's a little blast from the past:


This is a photo from The Oakland Press's archives: The Oakland Theater, seen here in this photo taken sometime in the 1930s, which was located at 41 S. Saginaw Street just south of the Strand Theater. The theater was built in 1917 and burned down in 1960.

Got any more historical photos you'd like to share? Send them to or mail them to 48 W. Huron St., Pontiac, 48342.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Barbour & Blaylock

The Oakland Press asked and so it received.

Readers submitted a number of historical photos of the Pontiac area and several of them included their stories as to why these photos were important to them, such as Clarkston resident Jack Blaylock.

Blaylock sent in photos of businesses his family has owned or had been a part of throughout the years.

"My grandfather, Benjamin Blaylock and his partner, Mr. Barbour, owned a grocery store, Barbour & Blaylock, on S. Saginaw Street in Pontiac in approximately the early 1900s," he said, describing the first photo. "In the picture, on the left, is Benjamin Blaylock and Mr. Barbour on the right. The boy on the right is my father, Galen Blaylock."

"The other photo is of my father's business, G. A. Blaylock & Company, Coal and Building Supplies," he added. "He opened the company in the mid-1920s and operated it until 1966. It was on Orchard Lake Avenue in Pontiac.”

Keep sending in your photos, readers!
—Andrew Kidd

The Oakland Press wants readers to share old photos of their favorite places while growing up in Oakland County. Make sure to include the location of the picture, the year the photograph was taken and the names of any people in it.
Mail your photos to The Oakland Press c/o Andrew Kidd 48 W. Huron St. Pontiac, MI 48342 or email them to Selected pictures will be featured in the print edition of The Oakland Press.