Norfolk 1919 Photograph Collection
Scope and Contents
This collection is a portfolio of 46 prints, each were contact printed from the original 6.5" X 8.5" glass plate negative. These photographs were taken in November of 1919 by an anonymous photographer. Most of the businesses depicted in the photographs appear to have been located in the area of East Main Street between Commercial Place and Union Station in Norfolk. The Norfolk 1919 Photographic Collection has been digitized and is available in the Old Dominion University Libraries Digital Collections.
- 1919 November
- Other: Date acquired: 11/21/1988
0.6 Linear Feet
Conditions Governing Access
Open to researchers without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
Before publishing quotations or excerpts from any materials, permission must be obtained from Special Collections and University Archives, and the holder of the copyright, if not Old Dominion University Libraries.
Biographical or Historical Information
The photographs presented here show some of the people and businesses of Norfolk, Virginia about one year after war ended on the western front in 1918. The anonymous photographer was clearly interested in certain kinds of businesses as the pictures feature scenes that other observers tended to miss. Rather than portraying the political leaders and the finest homes in Norfolk, the unknown photographer depicted small shop owners and employees, along with a few of their customers. The folks portrayed in this fashion look reasonably normal, but neither the nation nor Norfolk were experiencing normal times when the pictures were taken.
The Norfolk of 1919 differed considerably from the city of the 1980s. Then, as now, there were distinct districts within the city, but these varied drastically from any current configuration. Between Water Street (now Waterside Drive) and the river were warehouses amid steamship and railroad terminals. Main Street presented an appearance entirely different from that of today. East Main Street, which commenced at Granby and ended at the large Union Station featured dozens of small shops, many of which appear in the collection of photographs. The eleven or twelve blocks contained some brothels for which this part of the city became notorious, but in 1919 it also held at least twelve lunch counters or restaurants, an equal number of tailor shops or garment makers, several groceries, shoe stores, and emporiums of various descriptions.
Of the handful of photographs that have been identified, all were taken of the small businesses on East Main or nearby streets. The Boston Cafe, managed by Hop Sing and Joe Eng, stood at 711 East Main while the New York Lunch Room was located just a few doors down across the street, at 728. Demetrious Feleros, the proprietor of the latter establishment, may be the fellow standing behind the lunch counter at the New York Lunch Room. The address on one of the menus, 1115 East Main, confirms the presence of the Olympic Restaurant in the collection while the Maryland Fruit Store and Cleopatra's can be identified by the signs on their store fronts. The local directory fails to confirm the existence of these places in Norfolk or Portsmouth, but Cleopatra's neighbor, Brown's which sold breakfasts, stood near the ferry slip. Many of these establishments appear quite tiny and of questionable longevity.
The fruit store that also sold candles and cigars, with an address of 908 and a half, is listed in the directory on East Main. The two gentlemen in the picture are probably Antonio and Philip Tagliaveria, the owner and clerk in the store, respectively. They both lived on Bermuda Street, a short distance to the east of the East Main Street location.
While few other sites can be definitely identified, almost all of the photographs were taken in the East Main Street area, especially between Commercial Place and the Union Station. The area contained all of the different types of businesses portrayed in the collection. One of the other restaurants, for example, could be the Savoy. The barber shop might be the U.S. Barbershop at 709 East Main and/or the Victoria Hotel Barber Shop at 523 East Main. One of the three barber shops looks elegant enough to qualify as the Monticello Hotel shop on City Hall Avenue, outside the East Main Street district. Hofheimer's Shoe Store found at 444 East Main could well be one of the shoe stores pictured in the collection. W.B. Shafer, Jr., a long time resident of Norfolk, thinks that the rather stylish women's dress shop belonged to one Peter Smith and stood at the corner of Bank and Main streets. He also recognized the Norfolk Harness Shop on Union Street among the photographs and believes the bicycle repair shop belonged to a gentleman named Councilman, who later made his fortune in Detroit.
At the 400 block East Main passed through Commercial Place with its statue of Johnny Reb. Here passengers from the ferry from Portsmouth passed on their way to Norfolk's commercial center. Some potential customers doubtless went to one of the city's well known stores such as Miller, Rhodes and Swartz on Commercial Place that advertised as the "largest department store" in the city. Or they may have headed to Smith and Welton's on Granby, which in 1919 rearranged its interior after the Red Cross vacated its 5th floor. Or they may have gone to Ames and Brownley, which moved into the Fergus Reid building that year.
One block west of Commercial Place was Roanoke Avenue, the location of almost all of Norfolk's produce wholesalers just as Church Street contained many of the city's produce solicitors. One of the photographs shows such an establishment.
It is hard to visualize now, but grocery stores were all over downtown Norfolk in 1919. Pender, the most successful of the 400 or so grocers who operated in Norfolk, advertised heavily and ran two stores. In the era before chain stores became commonplace, every neighborhood in Norfolk, including its downtown, possessed individually owned grocery stores, which were usually quite small and offered only a comparative handful of items for sale. The one chain store in the city, Piggly-Wiggly, stood on the corner of Granby and 27th Street, well uptown, and quite a novelty in 1919.
The city market off City Hall Avenue contained several stalls where meat, fresh vegetables, and fish could be found. In 1919 the local government also managed a municipal grocery store at first on Monticello Avenue in back of the public market and later at the Red Circle Club on Atlantic Street. This outlet handled government surpluses at special prices during limited hours.
Note written by Peter Stuart, 1988
Language of Materials
A portfolio of 46 prints that depict small shop owners and employees of businesses in Norfolk, Virginia in 1919. Also, includes a study written by Dr. Peter Stewart, an Old Dominion University History Professor and local historian, that examines what Norfolk was like in 1919. This study is located in the collection’s control folder.
Physical Access Requirements
Due to the fragile nature of the photographs, researchers are encouraged to use the online images in the Old Dominion Univeristy Libraries Digital Collections.
Source of Acquisition
Gift of David E. Johnson, Associate Professor of History
Method of Acquisition
Gift. Accession #A88-5
- A Guide to the Norfolk 1919 Photograph Collection
- Peter Stewart and Janice Halecki
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.