Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Studio Shop at 100! The Early Years

This is the first in a series of posts describing the 100 year history of The Studio Shop, beginning here in the 1890s when the founders Dorothy and Ralph Crawford met at school in Kansas.

Before Dorothy and Ralph opened the Studio Shop in Burlingame in 1915, Dorothy had been a pioneering entrepreneur in rural Kansas with the emerging technology of photography. In the early 1900s Dorothy was an independent minded single woman who apprenticed with an established photographer and eventually ran two successful studios of her own.

Dorothy was born in 1877 with the given name of Maude Frink along with a twin sister, May Frink, on a Kansas farm settled by her parents who arrived by covered wagon. To get a decent education the twins were sent to boarding school at a Baptist college in Ottawa, KS, now called Ottawa University and named after the local Indian tribe. After graduating in 1897 Maude returned to the farm to take care of family. At school she met her future husband, Ralph Crawford, though they wouldn't marry for another 16 years.  Ralph continued his education as a civil engineer and left to Alaska for a surveying job in 1900.

Ottawa Boarding School, Ralph Crawford,
Maude Frink and twin sister May Frink.
Courtesy of Burlingame Historical Society

Dorothy Crawford, nee Maude Frink, undated.
Courtesy of Burlingame Historical Society

Maude had a short stint teaching in a country school but she didn't like that and later contacted the school photographer from boarding school for an apprenticeship. After a few years of apprenticing, independent Maude opened her own studio in Wellsville, Kansas in 1904 where she lived with her sister May who was now married to the editor of the Wellsville newspaper.

By 1907 Maude was living on her own and it was noted in the local newspaper gossip column (a little like Facebook today) that she got a telephone installed.

By 1909 she moved back to the big city of Ottawa where she purchased the studio of her former employer, Mr. Martin, when he moved to a prestigious studio in New York.

In 1911 Maude achieved some photographic success by winning state awards for her photo portraits of her niece Carolyn, May's daughter, who would later help her aunt run The Studio Shop.

Ralph Crawford, undated
Courtesy of Buirlingame Historical Society
Over the years Ralph Crawford would return to Kansas to visit relatives and maintain some relationship with Maude, but he would soon leave for another surveying job, such as Death Valley and the high Sierras for the Los Angeles Water Project.  He was part of the great quest to conquer the West, like so many Google cars mapping today's city streets, armies of surveyors were employed to swarm over deserts and mountains to map the West. The Crawford family history states that during one of these visits Ralph and Maude became "engaged" only to be later called off by Maude as she grew tired of waiting.

By 1913 Ralph had landed a job as assistant engineer for the City of Burlingame and he lived in San Mateo. His new found stability must have lured Maude to California because she packed up her photo studio, moved to California and the two got married in February of 1913.  She was 35 years old and Ralph was 33. This is when Maude Frink completely changed her name. She claimed to have never liked her name, Maude, and its rhyming sound with Crawford would only make matters worse.

Soon she opened her third photo studio as Dorothy Crawford Photographer at the corner of Burlingame Ave. and Lorton, on the second floor of the Miller Drug building, what is now the Luggage Center.

In the photo below a small Dorothy Crawford Photographer sign can be seen above "Miller" in the Miller Drug sign. This photo would be 1914 or 1915.

Next episode: Ralph and Dorothy join forces by opening a new picture frame shop and photo studio called Crawford's Studio Shop.

I would like to thank Jennifer Pfaff and Martha May of the Burlingame Historical Society for their assistance with research and supplying images.



  1. Loved reading this! Maude (Dorothy) is my great, great aunt - my Grandma is May's daughter Elizabeth. We have a huge box of Dorothy's pictures, we've always thought it would be nice to find their families! I found this article researching some family info for Ralph Crawford's father. Grandma (Elizabeth Hope Converse Layton) became a famous artist - you can check out her website at www.elizabethlayton.com - my sisters and I recently published her memoir/biography and it included many letters from her sister Carolyn, who lived with Aunt Maude and helped at the Studio Shop. Thank you for posting! Kathy Russell Tracy

  2. I would love to get in touch and learn more about the Frink Crawford family, and get a copy of the memoir. We are celebrating the 100th Anniversary of The Studio Shop, the business founded by your great great aunt and Ralph Crawford, tomorrow night, Sept. 18.

    1. Hi Carl, you can contact me at kbtracy@homail.com or my address is 17213 US Hwy 71, St. Joseph, MO 64505, 816-390-0017. The memoir, Signs Along The Way, is $20.00 plus $4.00 shipping and handling. If you'd like a signed copy let me know. I can send copies of some of the information I have with the book if you will send me your address. Thank you! Kathy Tracy

    2. My husband and I currently live in the house that Ralph's father built in Ottawa, KS. I would love to speak with you more and we can exchange information. Please contact me at Emily_rose_fisher@yahoo.com