Shirlie Alice Montgomery • June 9, 1918 – Nov 5, 2012

Shirlie always had her camera handy.
Shirlie Alice Montgomery was born on Chapman Street in San Jose on June 9, 1918. She was an only child. To her friends and neighbors she was a treasure trove of history. Shirlie remembered it all. She remembered the Great Depression as a child, the Second World War as a young woman, and eventually the transformation of the Santa Clara Valley from a moderately sized agricultural town to the hustle and bustle of modern Silicon Valley. The majority of her memories were supported by the thousands of photographs in her collection.
Young Shirlie Montgomery

Shirlie a few years ago from an article in the Rose Garden Resident.

She was the grandniece of San Jose’s forefather T.S. Montgomery. Shirlie lived a colorful life but professionally she photographed it with a 4X5 Speed Graphic in B&W. She was a celebrated photographer that shot Hollywood stars, U.S. Presidents and pro wrestlers. Although Shirlie did work for the S. F. Examiner and the San Jose Mercury her works remain some of the best representations of pro wrestling from the 40’s thru the 60’s. When asked about her penchant for shooting professional wrestlers she would answer “I always liked the big boys”. Such stories Shirlie had! She passed away quietly on November 5, 2012. She will never be forgotten. God rest her soul.

Obituary written by Shirlie's good friend and neighbor Joe Holt

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Dough Girls at the Germania Masquerade Ball 1938

Shirlie Montgomery and Harriette Moulton (Saunders) were bosom buddies from an early age. We see her in so many of Shirlie's early photo albums ... on the beach, with the boys, at the dance. This party was the second annual Germania Masquerade Ball held at the San Jose Civic Auditorium. It was Feb 6th, 1938, and the girls were both 19 years old. Shirlie and Harriette dressed up as the Dough Girls! Even these "crazy" dough girls disguises could not hide the attractiveness of this duo.

(L) Harriette • (C) Gov. Merriam • (R) Shirlie


The Mercury Herald referred to them as the "Beauty and the Beast." The "Beast" was then Governor of California, Frank Merriam! Pretty good company, I would say, as he was the guest of honor at the ball. Shirlie remembered the party well. She told me that they really had a good time that night.

She wrote about it in her diary:

Dear Diary --
The week has been full of thrilling things, and here I am just writing about them now! … Saturday was the big German Brawl – whoops – I mean Ball. Some fun! Larry Stringari was there, also hundreds of others. I had so much fun! 

This photograph is from the Mercury Herald archives. Shirlie rescued it from the "morgue" when she was first working there, along with a bunch of other photos of Santa Clara University and San Jose State College sports and entertainment events. Those photos are now in the SCU archives.
 
Submitted by Bob Bortfeld

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Shirlie Remembered

Remembrances of Shirlie from her Friends (from the Legacy site Guest Book):

November 16, 2012
Shirlie was a Great photographer and she touched a lot of people with her photography! Shirlie was the 1st woman photographer in the early years of the wrestling world. She was a good friend of the Glen D. Neece family in San Jose. Shirlie thank you for all your beautiful photographs! We miss YOU!
Shirley Neece, Antioch, California

November 17, 2012
Shirlie was the matriarch of our street, every evening sitting on her front porch imbibing in a cocktail or two, conversing with anyone that struck her fancy. She was a San Jose treasure. The stories she could tell! She will be missed.
Joe, California

November 18, 2012
Shirlie was a friend of mine. It started out in 1960 when my mother, a news reporter, had Shirlie do a formal portrait in her studio of me. Shirlie was a powerful woman when women had to be powerful to succeed at any work career. I sure miss talking with you Shirlie.
Kirk McClelland, San Jose, California

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Happy Holiday from Shirlie

If you were one of Shirlie's friends back in the fifties, you might have received one of these Holiday postcards from her.

This double good card is from 1950
While undated, I think this is from the late 1950s
Submitted by Bob Bortfeld

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Taxi Number 88

While Shirlie lived by taking photos of celebrities and disasters, along with portraits and corporate promos, she took pictures of just about anything that fascinated her. Like this taxi cab. Mission Taxi Co. of San Jose was around in the 1950s, just like this picture. Joe Holt resurrected this from an old negative.
To Quote Joe: This fella might have been the only cab driver in town but I doubt it.  Cab number 88. (Shirlie Montgomery)
Submitted by Bob Bortfeld & Joe Holt

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Shirlie in Santa Cruz 1939

Shirlie loved Santa Cruz ... loved the beach, loved the "hunks" and loved getting her picture taken in a bathing suit. These photos (pictures, she liked to call them) are from a 1939 album of Shirlie's. It starts at the 1939 World's Fair on Treasure Island and goes on to a lot of fun things she did that year. I focused here on Santa Cruz.

One thing I learned from seeing Shirlie's albums was that she was not just a photographer, but an artist! Take a look at some of her illustrations and graphic layout in these pages. Pretty neat!









Great sources for old photographs and historical information about Santa Clara Valley are the websites The Valley of Heart's Delight and The Society of California Pioneers of Santa Clara County.

I found this great video titled Trips to Santa Cruz, 1937 and 1938 on the Pioneer website. 
Submitted by Bob Bortfeld

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Picture's a Bit Hazy ... 'tho Weren't We All!

Most of the many letters I got from Shirlie are written to her by friends, lovers and family, as you might expect. However, I found this little gem. It is a letter Shirlie wrote in June 1942 to John Bricker in San Francisco. It was returned a month later "unclaimed." That mishap gives us a chance to have a little insight into the world of Shirlie, age 22.

While in later years, Shirlie was drawn to San Francisco and all its pizzaz and uniqueness, in her teens and early twenties, she would spend as much time on the Santa Cruz beaches as she could. This letter is about one of those "swims." I think the first sentence say it all, but read on:

The picture wasn't an outstanding success -- in fact, it's a bit hazy ('tho weren't we all!), but we thought that maybe you'd like to see it anyhow.

So -- here it is!

I hope you all arrived home in (at least) an able-to-move condition! Patty and I felt swell, and we've been talking ever since about what a good time we had.

Which reminds me -- Patty said to be sure and say "hello" if I sent you the picture; also give our "regards" to the rest of the kids, won't you, John?

"So long" 'til the next swim --


Click on the photo to get a larger, more readable image
Patty Howard and John Bricker (Shirlie Montgomery)
Contributed by Bob Bortfeld

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mary Gottschalk Salutes Shirlie

Mary Gottschalk, columnist for the Rose Garden Resident newspaper, just wrote a very nice article about Shirlie (Nov 21, 2012). Her article, San Jose Native Shirlie Montgomery Dies at 94, is more than just an obituary. Read it to learn more about Shirlie's life, inspiration and friends.





Wednesday, November 21, 2012

History San Jose: Shirlie Montgomery RIP

Ken Middlebrook at History San Jose just published a nice blog post about Shirlie. Many of Shirlie's photographs are in the HSJ collection, as noted by Ken. We hope to see her photographic art featured at HSJ sometime in the future. 

History San José collects, preserves and celebrates the stories of diversity and innovation in San José and the Santa Clara Valley. Here's a link to the History San Jose website.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Shirlie's First Flight

Shirlie loved to tell the story of her first trip up in an airplane. Shirlie had never before been airbound when she was offered an opportunity to go up high and take some aerial photographs of downtown San Jose. This was about 1938 and flying in such a small plane was not common. But she was a trooper and got into an open cabin single engine plane to take some photos. The pilot apparently had a sense of humor about this whole thing ... Shirlie held on for her life! When up over the targets he tilted the plane so Shirlie could get a good shot as she hung over the side with her trusty Speed Graphic camera. She did it and was ever so happy to get back to solid ground.
Shirlie getting ready for her first flight ... all smiles and butterflies!
The old City Hall, which is shown in the aerial photo below, was in the center of the Central Plaza of San Jose (now named Plaza de Cesar Cavez) on South Market Street where it was bisected by Park Avenue. The park area itself dates back to about 1797 when the city government moved its operations to what was then the "new downtown". California's first state capital was located here from 1849 to 1851. The City Hall in this photo was built in 1887. Other prominent buildings in the photos are the San Jose Civic Auditorium and Montgomery Theater built in 1936 (bottom center of top photo and top left in the other) and Sainte Claire Hotel built in 1926 (right in top and top left in bottom photo). The Hotel Montgomery built in 1911 is nearby just beyond the left in the top photo. All of these buildings were built by (or financed by) by Shirlie's Grand-Uncle T. S. Montgomery.
Shirlie's aerial photo of the Central Plaza and the old City Hall (Shirlie Montgomery)
Shirlie's aerial photo of the Central Plaza Market & San Carlos (Shirlie Montgomery)
City Hall c1890, designed by Theodore Lenzen, was built in 1887 at a cost of $150,000 (San Jose Public Library)
Overview of Central Plaza c1910 from atop City Hall, showing St. Joseph's Church, the Post Office (now the San Jose Art Museum) and the Electric Tower, whose main sponsor was J.J. Owen, publisher of the San Jose Mercury. (C.C. Pierce)


Shirlie's photos from Joe Holt, 
who restored the aerial photos from deteriorating negatives.
Text contributed by Bob Bortfeld.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Shirlie Montgomery Obituary in San Jose Mercury

Shirlie's obituary appeared in the San Jose Mercury yesterday (Nov 16th). You can offer your message to Shirlie and her friends on this site.

Shirlie Alice Montgomery
Jun 9, 1918 - Nov 5, 2012
Resident of San Jose
Shirlie Montgomery was born in San Jose, where she spent her entire, event-filled life. She was a celebrated professional photographer and the grandniece of San Jose's forefather T. S. Montgomery. Shirlie had many wonderful friends and she will never be forgotten. God rest her soul.

Lou's Village

During her heyday, Shirlie had her favorite haunts both in San Jose and San Francisco. One of those was Lou's Village, an Italian restaurant at 1465 West San Carlos Street in San Jose. When Lou’s Village opened in 1946, it offered a smorgasbord, barbecued dinner, and dancing in its 5,500 square foot building. For decades the Santoro and Muller families, who built this icon, offered live entertainment in addition to quality food. Over its long and colorful history, guests enjoyed entertainment, parties and fine food at Lou’s Village, including the likes of Max Baer, Lucille Ball, Hilo Hattie and many politicians. Unfortunately, in 2005 the Mullers made the decision to close Lou’s Village after sixty years.
Lou's Village in 1947 (Shirlie Montgomery)
Lucille Ball at Lou's (Shirlie Montgomery)
Heavyweight Champ Max Baer at Lou's (Shirlie Montgomery)
Lou’s Village began offering live music and dancing not long after it opened in 1946. On New Year’s Eve 1946, the restaurant provided a special menu, confetti, noise makers and dancing to Mike “Passy” Passarelli and his band. In the 1950s, Joe Tomasello and his band treated customers to three shows a night. The last great house band was made up of Don Welch on piano, Jimmy Turner on trumpet, Marty Proccacio on bass and Chuck Hughes on drums. The house band played in between performances by singers, dancers, comedians, and novelty acts. In 1946 and ’47, “Breakfast at the Village” was broadcast live on radio station KLOK, AM 1170, Mondays through Fridays from 9:00 to 9:30 AM. Customers were encouraged to “come out and join the fun”.
The Joe Tomasello Band at Lou's (Shirlie Montgomery)
Through all of this time, Shirlie was there, photographing events and personalities for fun and for profit. Many of her photographs of life at Lou's Village are on display at History San Jose and can also be viewed on the Lou's Village historical website.

Contributed by Bob Bortfeld 

Shirlie's Beginnings as a Photographer

Shirlie’s unique future in photography started as a hobby.  She had always been interested in photography and she attended San Jose State she enrolled in photography classes.  When she had the opportunity to work at a camera shop on First Street she jumped at the chance.   Her father, Rea Montgomery, had built her a darkroom in their home so Shirlie could perfect her hobby at a more leisurely pace than at school.  She suspected her future would involve photography.  All she needed was a chance.
Shirlie with her trusty Speed Graphic 4x5 Camera
In the late 1930’s it was common for certain night clubs to have a young lady photographer roaming among the guests, taking pictures of couples or parties.  For a dollar the subjects could have a copy of the photo in half and hour, which was very fast in those days.  The De Anza Hotel was one of the establishments which had such a photographer.  The manager of the De Anza Hotel came into Shirlie’s place of employment and eventually asked her if she could help out with the developing phase of the process, giving the photographer more time to solicit photos.  Shirlie enthusiastically agreed.
The De Anza Hotel had an upstairs bathroom converted into a darkroom. The photographer would give Shirlie the undeveloped negative of a photo she had taken just moments before. Shirlie would develop it, then make a print from the wet copy in order to save valuable time.  Shirlie was paid for her services, but she can’t remember the amount.  It was not much.
Hotel deAnza circa 1930s
The camera girl decided one day to quit (the story, according to Shirlie, was that she eloped with her boyfriend and moved to San Francisco).  The hotel manager immediately asked Shirlie if she would take over as the roaming photographer.  Shirlie was horrified that her mother would find out that she would be working in a bar.  At first she refused, but she eventually came to terms with the fact that the lounge at the De Anza was not a saloon, it was a rather sophisticated environment, and it would not conflict with her job at the camera store.  The patrons of the De Anza lounge turned out to be a polite, relatively urbane, cross section of San Jose.  Her reputation was safe, at least as far as her mother was concerned.

Shortly thereafter, on New Years Eve, Shirlie learned how lucrative photography could be.  She earned $64 in that one evening of work, from eight to twelve.  In 1939 that was an impressive wage for one day.  The following day Shirlie quit her job at the camera store, and her career as a successful professional photographer was launched.

Then came the Second World War.  San Jose, as the other cities on the West Coast, changed almost overnight.  Servicemen were going to or coming from the various bases in the Pacific theater of war, and San Jose was one of the hundreds of cities that welcomed them, adopted them, and it became their second home during their brief stays in the Bay Area. The De Anza hotel, one of the finest establishments in San Jose, became a mecca for these servicemen yearning for entertainment and to be in the company of a young, attractive woman such as Shirlie.  Shirlie was a confident, self sufficient, professional woman of twenty-three.  She was a rare woman indeed in those days of early marriage and expected domesticity.  The servicemen adored Shirlie and she adored them.  They were very respectful, obviously protective of her reputation.
This photo was taken at a large party for the crew of the USS Castor. Obviously the war had it's high points as far as Shirlie was concerned.
 Contributed by Joe Holt with additions by Bob Bortfeld

Friday, November 16, 2012

Anybody want to buy something from an old lady?

“Anybody want to buy something from an old lady?” Those were the first words we heard from Shirlie back in 1999. Susan and I were dealers in an antique shop in San Jose where Shirlie had come in to see if she could dispose of some of the family items she had at home. Susan struck up a conversation and they hit it off, so we agreed to come over to Shirlie’s home on Hester Avenue and buy some antiques.

When we arrived, she had everything neatly laid out on tables. There were some wonderful items, mostly from her aunts Ella and Marie. Neither aunt had children, so Shirlie was the recipient of their treasures. Shirlie was shrewd, as those of us who know her understand, and she said she had more, but “as my father used to say, when the cows are hungry you don’t put out all the hay.” … Vintage Shirlie!

Her treasures sold well for us. We were happy and she was happy. Best of all worlds in the antique business. We continued to buy items from Shirlie, even two lovely vases that had belonged to her aunts that she saved from crashing off the shelf in the 1989 earthquake. As the supply dwindled, the relationship grew. I found that Shirlie and I had similar interests in sports and photography. I think it was the sports conversations – well maybe spirited disagreements, as she was a Giants fan and I am an A’s fan – that helped our friendship grow. I always loved her stories, relished her old photo albums and scrapbooks, and came to love her as a friend. Our weekly sit downs continued right up to the end. I enjoyed every one of them. Her timing was nearly perfect. She got to celebrate the Giants’ World Series Championship again. The Giants have lost a long time fan and we have lost a friend. Bless you good friend. You will be remembered.

Contributed by Bob Bortfeld

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Shirlie: Little Blossom Princess

Shirlie always wanted to perform. In her early years she trained to be a dancer.  She performed at many local venues with a group of young girls, the Little Ballerinas. In San Jose, which enjoyed a relatively small town atmosphere, Shirlie obtained a degree of fame, first with the group of girls, then as a solo performer.  An honor Shirlie received as a young girl reflected the agricultural nature of the Santa Clara Valley.  In 1929, she was selected as a Blossom Princess at the annual Saratoga Blossom Festival. She was a mere eleven years old. That's Shirlie, the little Princess on the left.
Saratoga Blossom Festival Blossom Princesses 1929 • Shirlie on left.
 Submitted by Joe Holt

Shirlie Alice Montgomery • June 9, 1918 – Nov 5, 2012


Shirlie always had her camera handy.
Shirlie Alice Montgomery was born on Chapman Street in San Jose on June 9, 1918.  She was an only child.  To her friends and neighbors she was a treasure trove of history.  Shirlie remembered it all.  She remembered the Great Depression as a child, the Second World War as a young woman, and eventually the transformation of the Santa Clara Valley from a moderately sized agricultural town to the hustle and bustle of modern Silicon Valley.  The majority of her memories were supported by the thousands of photographs in her collection.
Young Shirlie Montgomery

Shirlie a few years ago from an article in the Rose Garden Resident.

She was the grandniece of San Jose’s forefather T.S. Montgomery. Shirlie lived a colorful life but professionally she photographed it with a 4X5 Speed Graphic in B&W. She was a celebrated photographer that shot Hollywood stars, U.S. Presidents and pro wrestlers. Although Shirlie did work for the S. F. Examiner and the San Jose Mercury her works remain some of the best representations of pro wrestling from the 40’s thru the 60’s. When asked about her penchant for shooting professional wrestlers she would answer “I always liked the big boys”. Such stories Shirlie had! She passed away quietly on November 5, 2012. She will never be forgotten.  God rest her soul.

Obituary written by Shirlie's good friend and neighbor Joe Holt