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

Friday, May 16, 2014

Martha Ewing Newcome

Martha Ewing Newcome (1870-1959)
Shirlie Montgomery led a life filled with family, friends and celebrities. By 1950, she had built her reputation as one of the premiere photographers of the Bay Area. Her business grew and while she loved the prestige of journalism and the excitement of wrestling, she also developed a reputation among corporations that needed advertising images and individuals who wanted first class studio portraits. In the late 1940s, Shirlie met with Martha Ewing Newcome to take some photographs.

Martha Ewing’s story is a lot like Shirlie’s, only a generation earlier. At a time when women generally stayed in the background … or stayed home to raise the family … she partnered with George W. Harris to open a photography studio in Washington D. C. in 1905. Harris had covered the Johnstown, Pa., flood of 1889 as a rookie news photographer. After working at Hearst News Service in San Francisco from 1900 to 1903, he joined Roosevelt's press entourage on a train trip. According to the papers nominating the studio to the National Register of Historic Places, "the president personally urged him to start a photographic news service in Washington because it was so difficult at that time for out-of-town newspapers to get timely photographs of notable people and events in the Nation's Capital."

The partnership of Harris and Ewing drew on the strengths of both partners … Harris was the photographer … Ewing was the “front man” persuading political celebrities to work with them. With forty subscribers in that first year, Harris and Ewing soon ran the largest photo studio in Washington and sold photos to media outlets throughout the nation and world. Upon the death of her husband, William A. Newcome, Ewing sold her interest to Harris in 1915. Harris ran the news service until 1945 and stayed in the portrait business until 1955. Ewing moved to California.

In 1919, when Samuel F. B. Morse formed Del Monte Properties Company and began transforming the development, there were only 17 homes at Pebble Beach. A December 1921 company report showed that other than company employees and caretakers, there were only three year-round residents. One of those was photographer Martha Ewing Newcome. (The other two were home building contractor Raymond Austin James and international banker and land speculator Llewelyn Arthur Nares.) Mrs. Newcome, as she was known in Pebble Beach, purchased two lots in 1915 above what is now the 14th tee of Pebble Beach Golf. The home she built was known as “Sunset Hill.”

Two views of Sunset Hill looking from the 8th green across the 14th fairway. Top in the early-1930s (Courtesy PBC Lagorio Archive).  Bottom, the same view in 2013 (Courtesy Wikipedia).

Shirlie first met Martha Newcome through mutual connections in the South Bay. Shirlie did some photography for Newcome at her home in Pebble Beach. They hit it off well and developed a friendship well beyond that of photographer and client. They shared many good times ... dinners, picnics, fun in "The City" and even golf.

Shirlie had been a fairly good athlete in her school days, playing on her high school basketball team. She preferred the grace and beauty of dance, however, and avidly pursued dance classes and a variety of roles in dance and theater as a youngster. In fact, she took dance classes with the famed sisters Olivia Dehaviland and Joan Fontaine, who were raised in the West Valley town of Saratoga. Martha Ewing Newcome introduced Shirlie to golf. While she enjoyed it, she said that the only rounds she ever played were with her friend on “that course down in Pebble Beach” … i.e., Pebble Beach Golf Links. Not a bad place to be introduced to the game!

I have gathered together here some of the letters sent to Shirlie by Mrs. Newcome, as well as some of the photos Shirlie took of her at “Sunset Hill.”

The above photos were all taken by Shirlie at Sunset Hill.

February 1951 postcard from Ewing Newcome inviting Shirlie to spend the weekend in Del Monte as she has "an empty guest room" and they could share a "simple little dinner fare".

January 1951 letter from Ewing Newcome talking about shirts! Apparently Shirlie was pretty handy at seamstress work and Martha needed some shirts altered!

Love this letter dated July 1951 with multiple messages! It is written on "old H&E paper now obsolete," in multiple colors. It shows the casual, friendly relationship these two independent women had together.
Images not otherwise credited, are taken from documents in the Bob and Susan Bortfeld, Shirlie Montgomery Collection at History San Jose. Used with permission.


The following is the extensive obituary for Mrs. Martha Ewing Newcome published in the Monterey Peninsula Herald, Oct. 24, 1959

Mrs. Martha Newcome, Long Time Resident, Dies

Mrs. Martha Ewing Newcome of Pebble Beach died last night at a local hospital after a short illness. She would have been 90 years old next May 18. Mrs. Newcome lived quietly for many years at “Sunset Hill” her Pebble Beach home with its breathtaking view of ocean, mountains and curving shoreline.

Even some of her friends did not know that for over half of her exciting and active life she was the partner of George Harris of Washington, D.C. in the firm of Harris and Ewing, one of the most famous photographic news service organizations in the world.

Born Martha Kuntze in Yankton, S.D., she often used to say she had traveled far to the day when she was arranging photographic sittings for presidents, kings, Supreme Court justices and most of the great people of the world from “Roosevelt to Roosevelt.”

Built “Sunset Hill.”
At the suggestion of a dear and long-time friend, Samuel G. Blythe, one of the great newspapermen of all time, Mrs. Newcome searched out the Del Monte Forest area with the late Charles Olmstead, a representative of Del Monte Properties Co. Blythe had said the requirement was a place where the ocean, the forest and the mountains met. “A large order,” he once wrote. Mrs. Newcome found the spot, cabled the single word “Eureka” to Blythe who was then in China representing his newspaper, the New York World.

She built “Sunset Hill” in 1916. It was one of the first houses on the hillside overlooking Pebble Beach golf course. Over the years the visitor’s book has become a “Who’s Who” of the world’s great statesmen, musicians, artists, writers and many who were just plain friends of which Mrs. Newcome had many. The latchstring at “Sunset Hill” was always out. And many who pulled it were neither important nor famous.

Opened Studio in 1905.
Mrs. Newcome came to California as a young girl and first settled in Stockton where her father had a brick factory. They later moved to San Jose where she first met George Harris. The two opened a branch of the Bushnell photo studio, as managers. It was in 1905, after Harris had become personally acquainted with President Theodore Roosevelt while traveling with him as a free-lance photographer, that he and Mrs. Newcome established the Harris and Ewing studio at Washington. For the next half-century the firm continued photographing men and women who ran the nation and the world … presidents, kings, queens, prime ministers, ambassadors. Mrs. Ewing was the “front man” as she often described it and Harris took the pictures. Her job was by the far the most exciting of the two at times, since many famous persons were photographed only after considerable diplomatic maneuvering, strategy and cloak and dagger tactics.

In Rome.
As a young woman Mrs. Newcome spent some time in Rome, Italy, where her husband was connected with the American embassy. It was in Washington that she met Blythe, who became a lifelong friend. He once wrote of Mrs. Newcome that she was “the dearest, most loyal, most understanding, most courageous, and most intelligent friend any man ever had.” For some years before the firm of Harris and Ewing was sold, Harris managed it alone. He remained a close friend however, and spent some weeks on the Monterey Peninsula every year – including a visit in August of this year.

Services Monday.
Mrs. Newcome was hospitalized only a short time. Death resulted from cancer. Mrs. Newcome leaves three nieces, Ella de Leon of Los Angeles, Viola Raczkowski of Hawaii, and Iva Kingsbury of San Jose; two nephews, Carl Kuntze of Stockton and Paul Hammond of San Francisco, and a grandnephew, Wayne Kingsbury of San Jose. Funeral services will be held at the Little Chapel-by-the-Sea in Pacific Grove Monday at 11 a.m. The Rev. David Hill of All Saints’ Episcopal Church of Carmel will officiate. Paul Mortuary is in charge of arrangements.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

It was a product of the times ...

Back in 1920 when Shirlie's family moved to a new house on Atlanta Avenue in San Jose, the deed had a couple of codicils that were truly a product of their time. Such conditions are illegal today, but were quite common back then.
The paragraph under the microscope is the last in this image:

"This conveyance is made and accepted upon the express conditions that if a dwelling house be erected upon said premises, the same shall cost not less than $2500.00 and upon the further condition that said property shall not be sold or conveyed to any Italian, Slavonian, Negro or Japanese.”

Now I understand the home value condition ... a bit weird, as why do the sellers care? But the prohibition of a future sale or conveyance to "any Italian, Slavonian, Negro or Japanese" really caught my eye. The Negro I understand due to the race issues of that time. The Japanese ban is equally understandable in relation to the fear of Asians taking over the USA back in those days. BUT why Italians and Slavonians? Especially in San Jose which had a significant population of both ... or maybe it was because of that presence.

History is always interesting, many times it is surprising, and sometimes - like this one - just plain strange.

Shirlie never mentioned this and she certainly did not have a racist bone in her body. I am sure she could have helped me understand it.

NOTE: 
Document and image are from the Bob and Susan Bortfeld, Shirlie Montgomery Collection at History San Jose. Used with permission.