Guide to the John C. Gordon Photographic Negatives Collection
Daniel Jarvis and Erin M. Louthen
Finding aid funded by the generous support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).
SJSU Special Collections & Archives
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library
San José State University
One Washington Square
San José, CA 95192-0028
Language of Material:
SJSU Special Collections & Archives
Title: John C. Gordon Photographic Negatives Collection
Identifier/Call Number: MSS.2011.05.01
(70.5 linear feet)
Date (inclusive): 1905-1950
Date (inclusive): 1920-1945
Abstract: The John C. Gordon Photographic Negatives Collection documents the history of San José and Santa Clara Valley from 1905-1950
(bulk 1920-1945). The collection consists of approximately 15,000 glass plate, acetate and nitrate negatives. The negatives
are arranged by index number, format and topic, and include a variety of subjects that illustrate everyday life in the region.
This collection documents the changes in area business ventures that include agriculture, fruit canning and processing, banking,
local businesses, aeronautics, railroads, and other manufacturing businesses. This collection is arranged into two series:
Series I: Indexed Negatives – Acetate & Nitrate, c. 1926-1945; and Series II: Topical Negatives – Glass, Acetate & Nitrate,
The John C. Gordon materials also include 6,000 photographic prints, 187 panorama prints, and 525 panorama nitrate and safety
film negatives. These items are located in the John C. Gordon Photographic Collection.
Collection is open for research.
The John C. Gordon Photographic Negatives Collection is comprised of several film formats and mediums, including large format
glass plate negatives and cellulose nitrate film. Glass plate negatives in this collection have been moved and stored separately.
Due to its considerable volume and external constraints on department staffing, budget, and project time, the cellulose nitrate
film of this collection has remained interfiled with cellulose acetate film. Glass and nitrate film is especially sensitive
to environmental conditions and physical handling, and can be easily damaged or become hazardous to human health. Frequent
handling and removal from a temperature controlled environment can also accelerate the decomposition of film. Consequently,
the John C. Gordon Photographic Negatives Collection will be accessed by appointment only at the sole discretion of the Director
of SJSU Special Collections & Archives. To prevent possible exposure to degraded nitrate film, patrons approved for research
will use respiratory, eye, and hand protection. Patrons using the collection will follow staff directions on how to properly
handle and view film for research.
Copyright is assigned to the San José State University Library Special Collections & Archives. All requests for permission
to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Director of Special Collections. Permission for publication
is given on behalf of the SJSU Special Collections & Archives as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include
or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader. Copyright restrictions also apply
to digital reproductions of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.
John C. Gordon Photographic Negatives Collection, MSS-2011-05-01, San José State University Library, Special Collections &
Collection processed by Project Archivists Daniel Jarvis and Erin M. Louthen, and the student assistant staff at SJSU Special
Collections & Archives. Finding aid EAD encoded by Daniel Jarvis and Erin M. Louthen. Reviewed by Danelle Moon, Project Director.
This finding aid was created as part of the Detailed Processing of the John C. Gordon and Ted Sahl Photographic Collections
Project, a one year San José State University Library grant project funded by the National Historical Publications and Records
Commission. The project began in 2010. The Project Director is Danelle Moon. The Project Archivists are Daniel Jarvis and
Erin M. Louthen.
John C. Gordon Photographic Collection, MSS-1996-03-29, San José State University Library Special Collections & Archives.
John C. Gordon (1887-1967) was born in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin on January 3, 1887, the first son of Reverend G. W. Gordon.
Reverend Gordon earned his living as a photographer and as a Methodist preacher. John Gordon attended Albion College in Michigan,
and later took a teaching position in Nebraska. On June 8, 1910, he married Mina Eleanor Schnackenberg and following their
wedding reception, the couple moved to Campbell, California. Their first residence was in a prune orchard located on Budd
Avenue, and within a few years they relocated to Mayellen Avenue near West San Carlos Street. Gordon earned his early living
working at the local hardware store, while raising his young family.
In 1916 Gordon opened a commercial photography studio located on 97 South First Street in downtown San José, just above what
was then known as Lean’s Jewelry Store. He later moved to 395 South First Street where he remained until his retirement in
1963. As a local commercial photographer, Gordon served the business community by creating glass slides for advertisements
used to promote local theaters, sporting events, civic events, and weddings. In addition, Gordon photographed accidents and
criminal trials for the local newspaper, the San José Mercury News.
An active community member and businessman, Gordon belonged to the Chamber of Commerce, the San José Water Board, and was
Master of the Campbell Grange. He also held membership in the Knights of the Round Table, served on the school board, the
YMCA, and the First Methodist Church. Gordon was a noted singer, song leader, and musician, and loaned many of his musical
instruments (piano, guitar, marimba, saxophone, and trombone) for use in Santa Clara Valley’s annual Fiesta de las Rosas Parade,
as well as the school band.
John C. Gordon died at the age of 80 in 1967, and was buried at the Los Gatos Cemetery next to his wife, who died in 1950.
His children, Ronald H. Gordon, Doris Herschbach, and Wilbur C. Gordon sold their father’s photographic collection to San
José State University in 1996.
Scope and Content
The John C. Gordon Photographic Negatives Collection documents the history of San José and the Santa Clara Valley from c.
1905-1950 (bulk 1920-1945). The collection consists of approximately 15,000 glass plate, acetate and nitrate photographic
negatives, and includes a variety of topics that provide a 50-year visual history of the region. Arranged by index number,
format and topic, the collection documents everyday life, the historical context of place and time, and illustrates the changes
in area business ventures that include agriculture, fruit canning and processing, banking, local businesses, aeronautics,
railroads, and other manufacturing businesses. In addition, the collection includes images of the Winchester Mystery House,
the Lick Observatory, storefronts, hospitals, hotels, landscapes, funerals, weddings, parks, parades, and many mixed group
shots of families and local organizations.
Please note that other materials created by John C. Gordon include 6,000 photographic prints, 187 panorama prints, and 525
panorama nitrate and safety film negatives. These items are located in the John C. Gordon Photographic Collection.
This collection is arranged into two series: Series I: Indexed Negatives – Acetate & Nitrate, c. 1926-1945; and Series II:
Topical Negatives – Glass, Acetate & Nitrate, undated (bulk).
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Santa Clara Valley (Santa Clara County, Calif.) -- History -- Photography -- Negatives
California -- Social life and customs -- Photography -- Negatives
California -- History -- Photography -- Negatives
Series I: Indexed Negatives – Acetate & Nitrate, c.
Scope and Content
This series consists of approximately 5,580 envelopes of acetate and nitrate negatives that provide a rich visual representation
of everyday life in San José and Santa Clara County, California. The range of subjects covered illustrate change over time
in a variety of industries, with a particular emphasis on agriculture and manufacturing industries, as well as small and medium
local businesses such as Hart’s Department Store and the Hippodrome Theater. Other images include the Winchester Mystery House,
the Lick Observatory, the San José Light Tower, San José State University, parks and parades, funerals, weddings, and mixed
groups and local organizations. While the bulk of the collection documents industry, there are some fine representations of
landscapes and historic sites including churches and missions, museums, and views of the Monterey Bay, the town of New Almaden,
and Yosemite National Park. In addition, Gordon was very active in the Grange as well as the Knights of the Round Table Youth,
and a small portion of the collection is devoted to the Grange movement in California.
While all of the photographic negatives have a specific historical value, the negatives documenting agriculture and the canneries
provide the foundation for understanding the changes in the San José and Santa Clara County region’s transformation from the
“Valley of Hearts Delight” to that of the Silicon Valley. Fruit production brought prosperity and opportunity to the county,
which brought diverse ethnic groups to the area. This same prosperity and immigration to the region would be replicated with
the formation of high-tech industries in the 1960s forward. Researchers interested in tracing the diversity of life in this
region will thus find examples of urban life, education, politics, religion, ethnicity and race, transportation, industry,
art, and culture.
This series is arranged by index number.
Box 1: A10.001-A10.255
Box 2: A10.256-A10.450
Box 3: A10.452-A10.680
Box 4: A10.681-a10.940
Box 5: A10.941-A10.1150
Box 6: A10.1151-A10.1380
Box 7: A10.1381-A10.1585
Box 8: A10.1586-A10.1770
Box 9: A10.1771-A10.1990
Box 10: A10.1991-A10.2390
Box 11: A10.2391-A10.2670
Box 12: A10.2671-A10.2875
Box 13: A10.2876-A10.3060
Box 14: A10.3061-A10.3230
Box 15: A10.3231-A10.3410
Box 16: A10.3411-A10.3610
Box 17: A10.3611-A10.3785
Box 18: A10.3786-A10.3960
Box 19: A10.3961-A10.4535
Box 20: A10.4536-A10.4725
Box 21: A10.4726-A10.4940
Box 22: A10.4941-A10.5140
Box 23: A10.5141-A10.5325
Box 24: A10.5326-A10.5505
Box 25: A10.5506-A10.5685
Box 26: A10.5686-A10.5880
Box 27: A10.5881-A10.6060
Box 28: A10.6061-A10.6200
Box 29: A10.6201-A10.6370
Box 30: A10.6371-A10.6520
Box 31: A10.6521-A10.6715
Box 136: Original Index to Collection
Series II. Topical Negatives – Glass, Acetate & Nitrate
Scope and Content
This series consists of approximately 3,400 glass plate negatives, and 6,300 envelopes of acetate and nitrate negatives, which
document the history of Santa Clara County 1905 through 1925. The negatives include views of local industries such as canneries
and fruit drying yards, events, holidays and celebrations, religious and fraternal organizations, storefronts, agricultural
scenes, educational institutions, and downtown San José. Local businesses include the Bisceglia Brothers Canning Company,
Normandin Auto Dealership, the Bean Spray Pump Co., the Leonard Coates Nursery, the California Packing Corporation, Knapp
Plow Works, the Hotel Vendome, and the Sainte Claire Club. Also featured are images of the Scottish Rite Temple, the Young
Women’s Christian Association, the New Almaden mines, Alum Rock Park and St. James Park, Santa Clara County Hospital, and
the Chamber of Commerce.
This series is arranged by topic and format.
1917, 1920-1921, some undated