|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