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

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Bon Anee 1943

Simple, clear and heartwarming ... this little New Years' Greeting sent to Shirlie on Christmas Day 1942 wishing her Bon Anee for 1943. Notice the interesting postmark from U. S. Army Postal Service A.P.O., the censorship stamp and tape.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Christmas and New Year - All Well and Safe 1943

Leonard Farmer was off in the military "somewhere" on November 14th 1943 when he sent Shirlie this Western Union telegram greeting ... the equivalent of an email today! His message is rather poignant.


I guess you could not ask for a happier message ... considering the circumstances of a world at war! "all well and safe" ... praise to the Lord.

Merry Christmas from Shirlie and her Friends

Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas from a South Sea Coral Isle 1943

Shirlie's friends were in far off places during WWII. Among her letters I found this fantastic Christmas Card from "A South Sea Coral Isle." Whimsical graphics and poem. Love Santa in his flack helmet singing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" as he trudges up the sand to the palm tree lined shore.

The sailor's lament about Christmas ... missing the comraderie at the bar and good beer. His close is super ... "I hope we were Home & Free in '43 or jump and jive in '44, Out of the sticks in '45, Golden Gate in '48. 'Amen.'" (I think his years were off in the rhyme, but it doesn't matter, does it?)

The letter was mailed Dec 4, 1943 through US Navy mail and had to pass through the Naval Censor.

Monday, December 14, 2015

San Jose's Electric Light Tower

A Century Ago San Jose's Famous Electric Tower Collapsed!

In May of 1881 J. J. Owen, editor of the San José Mercury, suggested a project to light up the city of San Jose and surrounding areas with lights attached to a gigantic 237-foot tower. On Dec 13th he saw the culmination of his bright idea with the lighting of the tower in the intersection of Santa Clara and Market Streets. While interesting and visually spectacular, the tower was a bust as far as illuminating the valley. But the tower was a landmark and brought folks into the little country town south of The City ... San Francisco. Unfortunately, the tower was damaged in an August storm in 1915 and collapsed in another storm on December 3rd 1915. Fortunately no-one was hurt ... except for some egos!

Here are a couple of postcards we have from 1911 with the famous San Jose Electric Tower on them. One of them has a message to Shirlie's mom ... Mantie Beuck ... when she was living in San Francisco before she married Rea.

For more about the story of San Jose's Electric Light Tower see these two sites:
History San Jose
The Soft Underbelly of San Jose

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The World's Biggest Kangaroo!

Found this photo in Shirlie's archive. 

Love the note: Speaking to the Biggest Cangaroo in the world in Australia. March 12/1925. To Blonde from Carr Lynn ... with love to a clever girl.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Shirlie at San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition 1939-1940

Like virtually everyone in the Bay Area ... and across the nation ... Shirlie went up to San Francisco's Treasure Island for the Golden Gate Expo ... i.e., World's Fair. Treasure Island is a man-made island in the middle of San Francisco Bay next to Yerba Buena Island. It was specifically built for the expo of 1939 ... something that would not happen today.

Treasure Island included a landing area in Clipper Cove for the famous Pan Am Clipper ships ... large spectacular seaplanes that went from San Francisco to Hawaii and beyond in the late-1930s and into the mid-1940s. It was expected that Treasure Island would become an airport for San Francisco once the world's fair ended. BUT when WW2 started, the US Navy took over the island and did not give it back to the city until recently.

Back to the Golden Gate Expo. Shirlie went up to the fair several times ... with her parents and with friends. She left behind a fantastic album of photographs and comments, which is now in the History San Jose Shirlie Montgomery Collection. I just love the photos of Shirlie and best friend Harriette all dressed up wandering the exhibits and walkways of the expo. No shorts, T-shirts and backpacks. They were dressed to kill in dresses, hats and handbags ... and of course the coat or jacket needed to keep warm in the San Francisco summer!
Hariette (L) and Shirlie (R) at the World's Fair
Below are a selection of photos from Shirlie's album. Enjoy.

Rea & Mantie ... Shirlie's Parents

Shirlie ... Hat & Gloves

Shirlie Again

Statues Galore!

Trapeze Artists Way Up High!

View of Treasure Island and the Expo from the Bay

The above photos from Shirlie's album are from the Bob and Susan Bortfeld, Shirlie Montgomery Collection at History San Jose. Used with permission.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

1920s Woman's Home Companion Wreath Cake Recipe

Shirlie's mom, Mantie, sent away for this recipe sometime in the 1920s. It was the Woman's Home Companion Christmas Special recipe for a Fruit Wreath Cake. Kind of a multi-flavored layer cake with a "fruit cake" topping. Looks pretty tasty ... but I warn you ... it is totally "from scratch." Try it. Let me know what you think.
(Click on the photo for a larger image.)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

WWII Letter - Kiss Me Again, Betty!

Shirlie received tons of letters from her fans and friends when so many were away from home during WWII. This one is from her friend Phylis Jung, who worked in US Army Recruiting in Washington DC in 1943. Phil's letter is interesting for a few reasons:

The cartoons are terrific ... both inside and out. The corny guy at the top of the letter is soooo 1940s! Ant the soldier sleeping under the tree? What can I say except ... go ahead Betty, give 'em another kiss!

Phil also makes it clear that she is loving her job ... even with the weird hours and busy schedule ... and loves Washington DC.

Probably the most significant part of the letter are her comments about mutual friends: "I received a letter from Tom Coleman's mom. He's in Australia - sick with malaria. ... Matt Brazil is a prisoner of war over in Italy ..... and Ted Halden is going over seas soon ..." 

These people were tough ... mentally. The whole country was behind the war, giving up products and materials, working in jobs supporting the war effort and putting up with rationing. They signed up for the military ... women and men ... and went where they were needed. This was all a little before my time, but Shirlie was in the middle of it. While she was on the home front, she did her part to cheer up the troops with letters, photographs and cookies!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Experimental Wrestling Photo

Shirlie was generally straightforward about her photography. She manipulated photos for publication ... cropping them, highlighting parts of the image and blacking out backgrounds when they got in the way of the message. But these were part of the standard journalistic photographer's toolbox.

There were times where she played a bit more with the images, however. She had one at home that made her look like she was diving ... when actually she was standing on her toes and she printed the photo turned 90 degrees. For greeting cards she would embellish the prints and even use double exposure to make some pretty cool cards.

Only once have I seen a wrestling photo with a double exposure effect! This one from the 1950s where she combined two out of the ring fight images to hype up the action. Very effective. I think these are the Sharpe Brothers and at least one Torres or maybe Ronnie Etchison, but not sure. BTW, that's Glenn Neece trying to break them up.

Friday, August 28, 2015

WWII Letter to Shirlie 1944

USS Buchanan (DD-484) was launched on November 22nd 1941 and commissioned on 21 March 21st 1942. She got underway for the Pacific a week later on May 28th 1942, and played an effective role in the landings at Guadalcanal and Tulagi in August.

After an eventful couple of years, the USS Buchanan returned to port for repairs and upgrades, then returned to the Pacific and served with the transport screen during the assault and capture of the southern Palaus (September 6th – October 14th 1944). She next participated in the strikes against Luzon in December. During the remainder of World War II she participated in the Iwo Jima invasion (February –March 1945), the Okinawa operation (March – June 1945) as well as the raids against Japan at the end of the war (July – August 1945).

Click on the image for a larger view.
This letter to Shirlie from Henry Clay Cooley III was written on “Sept 20th At Sea” and mailed on Oct 16th 1944. This was right in the middle of the Palau campaign, so he was very limited on what he could say … as expressed in the censored letter. The censors did not take any chances, not just blacking out the offending sentence, but actually cutting it completely out!
Click on the image for a larger view.
Henry was no Shakespeare … in words or spelling … however he spared little in getting his feelings across … direct and to the point.

Shirlie Montgomery, Book Reviews

Young Shirlie Montgomery was an avid reader. Throughout her life she read and saved books. Upon her passing, she left behind hundreds of books ... novels, art books, coffee table tomes, cookbooks, biographies ... She wanted these to go to a good home or cause, so we donated over 40 boxes of books to the Friends of Los Gatos Library and the local Tate School in her name.

What was cool about her collection was that she still had many of the books she read as a girl. She would write essays and submit them to the San Jose newspaper in a contest. She won so many awards in the contest ... the prizes were books ... that they asked her to be a part of judging the essays and reviewing books. I'll post some of her essays and poems later, but here I have a couple of her book reviews. (These are the only ones still around.) These are from the early 1930s, when Shirlie was in her mid-teens.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

San Jose High School Class of 1935

Shirlie graduated from San Jose High School in 1935. She would be celebrating the 80th Reunion of the Class of '35 this month! At that time SJHS was the only high school in San Jose! Far cry from today. Population in this little country town south of "The City" was just 62,000 (est.) ... I read that San Jose has just officially joined the ranks of US cities with populations exceeding one million! There was no Silicon Valley ... in fact "High Tech" had not been thought of yet. San Jose was mostly an agricultural town. It's come a long way baby!

While looking through some of Shirlie's memories that we have, I found this flyer/handout from (what I think is) the 1999 Class Reunion for the SJHS Class of '35. I just have pages 3 and 4, but I thought it was interesting .. especially since it featured a photograph from the 20th Class Reunion (May 1956) of "The lovely, talented Shirley (sic) Montgomery showing off her dancing gams ..." (Click on the images for a larger version.)

SJHS Class of '35
SJHS Commentary by Hazel Belli

Shirlie's Yearbook Photo
Shirlie's SJHS Diploma

The above diploma photo is from the Bob and Susan Bortfeld, Shirlie Montgomery Collection at History San Jose. Used with permission. The reunion flyer is from our private collection.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Shirlie Montgomery Photography Exhibit -- Founder's Day 2003

In celebration of Founders Day in November 2003, History San Jose, through the support of then Vice Mayor Pat Dando, mounted an exhibit in then Mayor Ron Gonzales’ offices at San Jose City Hall featuring the photographs of Shirlie Montgomery. The invitation said about Shirlie: Montgomery, one of photography’s pioneering women, captured on film a slice of San José life from the mid 1940's to the mid 1970's. The exhibit ran for a year, through November 2004, and was made possible through a donation to History San Jose by Leonard McKay and Ms. Montgomery.

The invitation to the Opening Afternoon Reception
Shirlie Montgomery -- The Photographer
Leonard MacKay -- Long-time Friend of Shirlie
Shirlie and me (Bob Bortfeld) at the Exhibit
Vice-Mayor Pat Dando did the introductions
Leonard gave a speech too -- He never needed much encouragement to talk about friends.
Kirk McClelland is another close friend of Shirlie's
Shirlie loved the scouts ... she had featured some of them in a few photo shoots with wrestlers!
Leonard McKay, a HSJ Director, Shirlie and Pat Dando
Same crowd posing for more photos
Shirlie looking over the Exhibit Catalog with some of her fans
All images from our private collection.