Around the state in pre-1960 Texas, every major city had photographers to capture the sights and street style of the era. Here our intrepid style gatherer Lance Avery Morgan shares how the state looked then.
A trip down memory lane? More like a journey in a time machine to an era when people considered few options but dressing up for business and pleasure while strolling on bustling downtown Texas streets in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. In fact, Michael Barnes of the Austin America Statesman did a story on these photos recently.
Growing up I always loved seeing two images of my parents of the same timeframe – Congress Avenue in Austin in 1952. The 3” X 2” snapshots leapt to life, even in black and white. So I decided to look into the history of these photos, and others like them, to discover what stories they contain.
I contacted archivists Amanda Jusso and Nicole Davis at the Austin History Center where I began my search. According to them, the photos in question were likely taken by Studer’s Photography Studios, which was owned by Benjamin Studer, located on 916 Congress Avenue. The photos were a promotional tool to drive business to his store, and to capture the glam style of the times. Jusso and Davis agreed, “It promoted the studio’s services. This was before instant development, so the likely subjects were given a business card to claim their photo at the shop. Studer’s had labs in Austin and several in San Antonio.”
One image is of my mother, Carolyn Nichols Morgan Montgomery sauntering with my grandmother Ollie Nichols and older brother, Rodney Morgan riding in a baby stroller. They were dressed in suits ready to shop on a crisp morning in November of 1952.
“Yes, I remember that day well. We were all dressed up in our suits and as you can see your grandmother wore a hat with a veil,” Carolyn Nichols Morgan Montgomery remarked. “She was also wearing gloves — in fact we may have been shopping for gloves or a new dress. I, without gloves and a hatless head, represented a little rebellion. Not a surprise since my mother called me Miss Independent growing up.”
My dad, Donald Grant Morgan, is the young guy in the white shirt and I believe that’s his boss from when he was with the National Shirt Shop located on Congress Avenue. It looks to be warmer since he’s in shirtsleeves without a jacket and the gent he is walking with is in a light suit. My colleague Forrest Preece, who grew up in Austin has a collection of these photos of his own. In fact, he gives it his own caption to one seen here: On Jan. 31, 1948, Forrest “Toddy” Preece Sr., and his wife Florence went shopping on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin. Forrest, Jr. was enjoying seeing the world from his father’s arms.
No matter which city your family’s roots come from, you likely have a trove of photographic history to discover. So, what are you waiting for? Dig into those family albums to see what Texas street treasures you may be able to find that show the style from a time when Texas was a legend, as captured by the epic grandiosity of the 1956 film, Giant.