Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Studio Shop at 100! The First Forty Years (1915-1955)

This is the second in a series of posts describing the 100 year history of The Studio Shop. The last post left off with Dorothy and Ralph K Crawford’s marriage in San Mateo, and the opening of Dorothy’s photography studio on Burlingame Avenue (The Studio Shop at 100, The Early Years).

The Studio Shop began when Ralph bought a picture framing business from Henry Schath on San Mateo Drive. He was establishing his store in the Husing Building in 1915, which is now a parking lot on California Drive, behind Kabul Restaurant.

A newspaper article from January 1916 writes of a flood caused by heavy rains that winter. Ralph's store was one of the local businesses that sustained damage. He estimated his loss at an astounding $50 from the water that poured in under the doors, running over pictures and other goods.
Studio Shop business card, undated.
Courtesy of the Burlingame Historical Society.

Two weeks later another news article announces that Ralph and Dorothy Crawford plan to move their separate art and photography studios to a new building, the Stark building at 1289 Burlingame Avenue. At this time they merged the two businesses, and housed themselves above the Studio Shop on the second floor of the Stark building.

On June 18th, 1922, The San Francisco Chronicle wrote “Travelers from afar tell us of their delight with the charming Studio Shop in Burlingame which Dorothy and Ralph Crawford conduct and in which their art is expressed--the unusual Photographic Art of Dorothy Crawford, and the connoisseur’s appreciation and collection of rare objects of Art in which Ralph Crawford excels.”
Soon after establishing herself in the area, Dorothy had an eager following of clientele in San Mateo, Burlingame, and Hillsborough who sought for her to photograph and memorialize their every special event. Not just an exceptional photographer, Dorothy was charismatic, witty, and extremely driven.

In 1925 they purchased a vacant lot, 311-315 Primrose Road. Ralph drew the design for a new English cottage style building, in which to run their business.
Ralph K. Crawford building opening announcement.
Published in San Mateo Times, 1931

But in 1929, at just 52 years old, Ralph passed away from leukemia. Only a few months later the Great Depression began. In the face of these tragic events, Dorothy persisted in having the shop built. It was constructed by Williams and Burroughs, and dedicated as the Ralph K. Crawford building in 1931.

Ralph K. Crawford building, undated.
After Ralph’s passing, and through the Great Depression, Dorothy Crawford kept the Studio Shop running. Not only did she run the business, but sought to give back to her community of Peninsula residents in keeping them in touch with the art movements of the day. A series of exhibitions of leading California artists were featured at the Studio Shop during the thirties. Notable artists Maynard Dixon, Percy Gray and Ralph Stackpole were showcased.

Later, as a succession of relatives came to help with the business, Dorothy traveled extensively, through the United States, Europe, and even to China. She led a driven and exceptional life, well ahead of the changes being made in women’s rights during her lifetime. At 67, having run the business independently for 15 years after Ralph’s passing, and through the devastations of the Depression, Dorothy retired due to Parkinson’s Disease in 1944. Her niece Carolyn Misselwitz took over the management of the business, continuing with its gifts and framing aspects until she retired in 1955.
John Benson, ca 1955.

John Benson was a high school shop teacher, between jobs with a young family to support in 1955. Seeing a For Sale ad in the Chronicle for a picture frame business, John borrowed $500 from his father-in-law for the down payment, and together with his wife Martha, bought the Studio Shop.

Dorothy’s brother, Sid Frink, taught John the art of picture framing during the Bensons’ first six months with the business. Much like Ralph and Dorothy, John and Martha quickly became established and involved members of the community. They were a perfect couple to continue what the Chronicle had described 33 years earlier as customers’ “delight with the charming Studio Shop in Burlingame.”

Next episode: John and Martha Benson run the Studio Shop, raise their three daughters, and continue the business’s dedication to its community.