Photo Essay: Americana Through the Eyes of a 16 Year Old
Recently Patrick and I went did a massive clean out and reorganization of our garage. Part of it involved me sifting through boxes of photos. Yes, real, glossy, shot on film type of photos. Growing up in the infancy of digital photography means my early memories were captured on film, and I learned the ropes of photography on film.
As soon as I could hold a camera my parents let me take pictures. I took some pretty off kilter photos, even broke two cameras, but by the time I was in high school my dad entrusted me with his beloved Minolta that he used to capture the 1984 Olympics, my parents’ visit to Egypt, and much more. In addition to using it for a film photography class in high school (a class that was discontinued the year after I graduated) I used it at auto races, car shows, road trips, and day trips to capture old cemeteries, drive-ins, decrepit buildings, and vintage neon signs. When I took these photos I really had no idea what I was going to do with the photos, I just had a strong desire to capture certain places.
Among the shots of friends, school plays, and more, were several envelopes of day trips out antiquing and a road trip to California, but all happened to be taken in 2004 when I was 16 years old. To be honest, I’ve almost forgotten what it was like to shoot with film. In looking at these images I see mistakes I’d like to think I would not make today, but also today I have the luxury of shooting hundreds of photos without fear of running out of film, and see my photo immediately after taking it, and delete what I don’t like. I can also use programs such as Lightroom to alter the exposure, shadows, and so much more. But, one thing I can’t often do is repeat photos I took over 15 years ago, since some of these places are gone, or completely changed. And I thought, even if some of these photos aren’t the perfect angle, or the perfect exposure, I thought it would be fun for some of them to be seen by someone other than myself, Patrick, or my family, as they are images of places I would gladly share with you all had I taken them yesterday.
The following shots were taken between June and September of 2004, all on Kodak Gold, and are presented untouched.
Cameo Theatre, still in operation, 304 E 1st Street, Newberg, Oregon.
The Cameo became one of my go-to places to see movies in the early 2000s. Built in 1937, it is owned and operated by the Francis family, who also own and operate the 99W Drive In, where I spent many a summer night. In Oregon, drive-ins can only operate seasonally, so for continued support of the Francis family, I would often go see movies here at the Cameo, including midnight showings, opting to support a small family business rather than a big corporate megaplex. I distinctly remember seeing the second Pirates of the Caribbean, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire here. While not photographed (and why I do not know what was going through my head) on the front, facing the street is a small, backlit plastic image of a silhouetted bust of woman, ringed by neon.
Abandoned car. Unsure of location.
Oftentimes my dad and I would take lesser used roads on our outings to antique malls, hiking trails, etc. and I often brought the camera along. I recall driving up to Harrisburg from Eugene and stopping by to shoot this car, so I’m certain this car, and the following two locations were somewhere between the two towns.
Abandoned House. Unsure of location.
Abandoned House. Unsure of location.
The remainder of these photos are from a road trip to California in September of 2004. My dad and I chose to take our time and drive most of the way on Highways 99 and 49. He not only supported my hobby of photographing these places, but patiently waited while I took these, and often pointed out details, and came up with creative angles and framing.
Abandoned Drive-In, Grant Smith Road, Roseburg, Oregon
Since I haven’t returned to many of these locations, I attempted to relocate them on Google Street View, and see if they were still there. As of May 2018, this drive-in theatre was still there.
Harder’s Gas, 7th & Highway 99, Artois, California
As of June 2012 (the last time Google drove by) Harder’s was still standing, but much more overgrown, and had a for sale sign attached to it.
Gene Valla’s Blue Gum, 2637 Co Road, Willows, California
This is perhaps one of my favorite places that I ever photographed. It simply hypnotized me. I vividly remember wanting to see if I could get inside, and my dad talking me out of it. I wish I had taken more photographs, because when I returned two years later it had been taken over by not very friendly Jesus freaks, who had painted the building cream, and put up signs reading “Jesus Loves You” side-by-side with “No Trespassing” signs. In some ways I wish I would have photographed that version of it for the comparison. Like Harder’s, as of August 2016, when Google last drove by, it was still standing.
Gene Valla was a baseball player for the Yankees, but sadly little is known about his restaurant, and there are virtually no images of it online. But I like to imagine it was a fun place to dine and kick up your heels.
Grove Motel, still in operation, 2591 Co Road, Willows, California
Coffee Shop. Unsure of location.
I attempted to find images of this sign elsewhere on-line and found one photo that simply said it was in Sacramento, but with no other details. If you know, please comment!
Italian Dinners & Cocktails. Unsure of location.
I’m fairly certain this sign was in Sutter Creek, California, along Highway 49, however upon street viewing that area, I could not locate this sign. So, if you know where this sign was/is, please comment below!
Angels Theatre, still in operation, 1228 S. Main Street (Highway 49) Angels Camp, California
Built in 1936, this is one of my favorite little cinemas along Highway 49 in one of my favorite gold rush towns. It’s just so charming. The town is also home to the unique tradition of a frog jumping contest.
Frost Shop Drive-In, demolished, Mariposa, California
For a long time my great aunt and uncle lived in Mariposa, which is where I first fell in love with the gold rush towns along Highway 49. Much like Sutter Creak and Angels Camp, it’s a delightful small town. I was sad to discover on-line that the Frost Shop Drive In had been demolished.
Astro-Burger, now abandoned, 40654 US-395, Boron, California
When I visited this Astro-Burger back in 2004 it was still in operation, however according to Google, it has since closed. As of November 2018, the building was still there.
Abandoned Motel, located across the street from the Astro-Burger, Boron, California
This was another favorite place that produced some of the photographs I am the most proud of, especially the window through the open door, and the merry-go-round shots. As this is located across from the Astro-Burger, I could see it was still standing as of November 2018 via Google Street View.
Orange Bowl, demolished in 2008, Rialto, California
Rubidoux Drive-In Theatre, still in operation, 3770 Opal Street, Riverside, California
Built in 1948, I was happy to find out the Rubidoux was still operating when we moved to California, however I have yet to return, but hope to visit soon and photograph it further.
Van Buren Drive-In Theatre, still in operation, 3035 Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside, California
The Van Buren opened in 1964 as a single screen drive-in theatre, later expanding to three screens in 1975. Unlike the Rubidoux, I have visited the Van Buren since moving to California, but have yet to blog about it. Between my first visit in 2004 and now, the back of the back of the original screen was painted with a mural inspired by the vintage fruit crate labels of the 1920s through the 1950s, and the snack bar has also received a different paint job.
5 Corner Liquor, still in operation, 109 W. Main Street, San Jacinto, California
Growing up, each of our drives to California meant a visit to grandma. For the early part of my childhood she lived in, owned, and operated a small hotel in San Jacinto, and I remember knowing we were very close when I saw this amazing liquor sign, as it was where we turned onto her street. It was the first sign I really remember falling in love with, as the script was just so dreamy.
Well that wraps it up! I hope you enjoyed this retrospective look at some of my early photos. I also unearthed photos from Disneyland in the 90s, which may be fun to share in the future. Who knows, you may see images of a very little Atomic Redhead soon!
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8 comments on “Photo Essay: Americana Through the Eyes of a 16 Year Old”
Great memory. Love the “vintage” photography, your travel stories & updates on the locations.
The Rubidoux drive in is still going. They ho;d regular swap meets there. It’s down the street from our house. Also,randomly,my husband grew up in San Jacinto.
Janey, these images are incredibly special. I feel privileged that you opened up a slice of your teenage past with us. Your tremendous skill behind the lens was apparent even at an early age and has only blossomed and developed all the more since then.
You are truly fortunate to have these photos, just as we are to be given the opportunity to connect with them as well.
Autumn Zenith 🎃 Witchcrafted Life
Thank you so very much!
Now this is a great stash of photos! What a flash from the past. I love it. I started taking photos young too, around 12. My dad always had a camera in his hands and then I sorta started to do the same lol xox
Great documentation of a bygone America.
“We are all migrants through time.” (from Moshin Hamid’s Exit West, a book I highly recommend)
Did you see this postcard from the Blue Gum online?
Shows two pictures of the inside.