California Memoirs

California State Archives

The William M. McCarthy Photograph Collection

Native Californians William and Grace McCarthy pursued their passion for both photography and travel for many years. Comprised of almost 3,000 photographs, the resulting William M. McCarthy photograph collection provides rare pictorial documentation of automobile travel throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Cuba during the early decades of the 20th century.

William M. McCarthy (1876 – 1956) and Grace C. Kane (1878 – 1957) wed in the early 1900s and were married for over fifty years. They lived in San Francisco for most of their lives where William was stationed as an armament expert for the U.S. War Department. Beginning his service in 1903 at the Benicia Arsenal, he subsequently served as supervisor of Pacific Coast armaments during World War I and thereafter until his retirement in 1933.

This exhibition features photographs highlighting the McCarthys' travels primarily through California, as well as the many family members and friends they encountered along the way. Always ready with his camera, William McCarthy also captured stunning images of significant events, including shots of San Francisco before and after the 1906 earthquake, the fire that destroyed that city's iconic Cliff House in 1907, and the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.

As of December 2017, the entirety of this stunning photograph collection is available online.

Grace was a frequent subject of William’s photographs and features prominently in the collection. The following pages show Grace posed before scenes of natural beauty and at favorite vacation sites. In this c.1910 image, Grace sits before a rocky hillside at an unknown location.  

In the c. 1906 image on the left, a smiling Grace sits in a horse-drawn buggy in front of the McCarthy family home in Watsonville, California.

On the right, this c. 1920 shot shows Grace posing with an automobile that the McCarthys equipped for camping, one of their favorite pastimes.

Grace poses with a large bouquet of flowers in front of an ivy-covered wall in these 1910 images.

On the left, in this 1910 image, Grace enjoys the summer sun on the banks of the Russian River at Monte Rio, a resort once known as "Vacation Land," in the early decades of the twentieth century. On the right, Grace is framed by the entrance of a snow tunnel on the Crater Lake trail to Watchman Point, Oregon, c. 1935.

William and Grace
The following images portray a few of the sites William and Grace McCarthy visited on their many road trips through California and beyond.

The McCarthys greatly enjoyed "Camp Life," as is evident in this c. 1920 photograph and many others in the collection. Here, William and Grace sit down to savor a meal at a campsite in California.

William and Grace are seen here at the Panama Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915. The collection includes numerous photographs that highlight the artistry of the exhibits and architecture presented by participants from all over the world.

The Panama Pacific International Exposition was held to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, as well as inventive technologies and new industries. It was also a chance for San Francisco to show the world how the great city had rebuilt and thrived after the devastation of the 1906 earthquake and fire.

While the McCarthys visited numerous sites throughout California, they often traveled far afield, as seen in these images. In the far left photograph, William and Grace pose before totem poles at Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1935.

Far to the south, the McCarthys stand at the border monument at Tijuana, Mexico, c. 1920. And on the right, the couple pose with their automobile at the tunneled Coolidge Redwood tree on the Redwood Highway in Mendocino County in 1935. The tree was named after Colonel John Coolidge, father of President Calvin Coolidge.

William and Grace loved swimming and spent many vacations near the water. On the left, they stand on the beach at Santa Cruz. In the photograph on the right, and striking a similar pose, the McCarthys smile for the camera at the water's edge at Lake Tahoe.

California's Mountains and Lakes
William McCarthy captured the grandeur of California's mountains and lakes in the following images. Mt. Shasta, located at the southern edge of the Cascade Range in Siskiyou County, rises up to an elevation of 14,179 feet. In this c. 1910 photograph, taken from a moving train, the majestic peak meets a stormy sky.

These three c. 1927 photographs illustrate a variety of scenic locales the McCarthys visited in the high Sierra. On the left, patches of snow and canyon mist light up the moonlight scene. In the center, William and Grace pose in front of a snow shed at Tahoe Summit. And on the right, Grace stands near the automobile on the unpaved road of "Placerville Highway," now U.S. Route 50.

The serenity of Lake Tahoe's Emerald Bay is framed by tall trees and an imposing Mount Tallac in this 1935 photograph. Lake Tahoe derives its name,"dá’aw,", from the language of the native Washoe people, who continue to live in the area.

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, and the second deepest, after Crater Lake in Oregon. Straddling the border between California and Nevada with a surface elevation of 6,225 feet, the clear blue waters of Lake Tahoe beckon travelers from around the world, making it one of the state's favorite destinations.

These c. 1927 images of alpine lakes are two among the many photographs McCarthy took of Sierra Nevada locales. On the left is Tioga Lake, a glacial lake located two miles north of Tioga Pass in the Inyo National Forest of Mono County, in the eastern Sierra Nevada. Featured on the right is Tenaya Lake, named after Chief Tenaya of Yosemite Valley's Ahwahnechee People. The alpine lake has a surface elevation of 8,150 feet and is located between Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows.

Northern California's Rivers and Valleys
Some of the McCarthys' favorite northern California vacation spots were found along the Russian River in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. In this 1915 image, Grace and William enjoy an outing on the Russian River near Healdsburg.

These photographs capture the beauty of the Russian River landscape near Healdsburg in northern Sonoma County. Avid swimmers, the McCarthys, along with friends and family, enjoyed camping, swimming, boating, and all-around summer fun at their favorite spots along the river.

Grace and William are shown rowing their boat on a glassy Russian River in 1915, a time when sites such as this one remained pristine and uncrowded.

Along with friends and family, William, fourth from the left, and Grace, to his right and in the center of this 1915 photograph, are seen standing precariously on a large tree overhanging the Russian River at Skaggs Springs.

San Francisco
As a resident of San Francisco for much of his life, William McCarthy aimed his camera at a multitude of sites and historic events, as the following pages attest. This c. 1906 photograph shows a couple of intrepid bathers dipping into the surf at Ocean Beach, with the iconic Cliff House in the background.

While the Cliff House survived the 1906 earthquake and fire that devastated the city, it unfortunately burned to the ground in September 1907, as seen in this image.

The Victorian style building, completed in 1896, was the third wood-frame structure built on the site. Built in 1863, the original Cliff House was destroyed by fire on Christmas Day in 1894.

After the 1907 fire, a fourth Cliff House was built on the site, opening in 1909. Like many others built in San Francisco after the great fire of 1906, the new, Neoclassical style Cliff House was built with steel-reinforced concrete, and survives to this day.

In the 1910 image on the left, the new Cliff House can be seen beyond the bathers and others enjoying the sands of Ocean Beach.

On the right, this 1934 image reveals a remarkable growth of automobile traffic as well as new businesses to attract a growing tourism industry. The Cliff House can be seen in the far distance.

McCarthy captured horrific scenes of destruction throughout San Francisco after the April 18, 1906 earthquake. Considered one of the worst natural disasters in the country's history, the earthquake and resulting fires killed an estimated 3,000 people and destroyed over 500 city blocks, leaving approximately 200,000 residents homeless.

A horse and rider are silhouetted by smoke in the foreground of this image of Market Street burning. The following pages are a sampling of similar scenes found in the collection.

These images reveal the City Hall tower before and after the earthquake. In the after shot, on the right, the salvaged bricks piled up high in the foreground were most likely used for rebuilding.

The image on the left shows extensive damage to the parish church next to the barely scathed Mission Dolores, the oldest intact structure in San Francisco, still standing today. The rebuilding of the church, Mission Dolores Basilica, was completed in 1918. On the right, a "few buildings stand as monuments" among the ruins.

By 1934, San Franciscans had rebuilt much of the city, as seen in this image of lower Market Street.

Perhaps San Francisco's most famous landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge was a tremendous feat of modern engineering. To this day, it remains one of the most photographed bridges in the world. McCarthy was there to shoot images of the bridge's construction, begun in 1933, and completed in 1937.

On May 27, 1937, the day before the Golden Gate Bridge was opened to automobile traffic, McCarthy joined hundreds of others for the "Official Pedestrian Day."

McCarthy's 25 cent souvenir is shown here, along with his photograph of celebrants enjoying the first walk across the bridge's 4,200 foot span, at that time, the longest in the world.

The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt announced that the bridge was officially open to automobiles and the rest of the world.

The McCarthys vacationed at Yosemite National Park on several occasions, documenting the park's spectacular views, campsites, and their interactions with wildlife.  In this 1935 photograph, the opening of the Wawona highway tunnel frames the Yosemite Valley with El Capitan on the left, Bridalveil Falls on the right, and Half Dome in the distance. The following images are a sampling of the wondrous sites William and Grace enjoyed in Yosemite.

Here is a photograph of Vernal Falls, one of the many magnificent waterfalls found at Yosemite National Park. The souvenir labels to the left of the photograph are from visits the McCarthys took between 1920 and 1937.

William and Grace are seen relaxing outside their tent cabin at 415 Mirror Lane, located in Camp Curry near Yosemite's iconic Half Dome and Glacier Point. Camp Curry was founded in 1899 and was renamed Half Dome Village in 2016.

Stunning views of Yosemite's granite cliffs and waterfalls are seen in these two images shot from Inspiration Point on the left, and Glacier Point on the right.

William, Grace, and friend stand alongside their automobile at the tunneled "Dead Giant" in Tuolumne Grove, and the "Arched Rock" of Merced River Drive.

California's Central Coast
The images on the following pages highlight scenery from various locations the McCarthys visited along California's Central Coast, from Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara.  As supervisor of Pacific Coast armaments for the U.S. War Department, William's travels along the state's coastline are well documented in the collection. Sunbathers enjoy the surf in this 1910 photograph of the Casino at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, opened in 1907.

The Monterey peninsula's rugged coastline is captured in this 1920 photograph of the sea cliffs of Midway Point at Carmel-by-the-Sea.

One of the McCarthys' favorite spots to enjoy rustic luxury was the Highlands Inn at Carmel-by- the-Sea. The hotel, on the cliffs overlooking Carmel Bay in Monterey County, was built in 1916 and opened the following year.

Mission Santa Barbara is one of several California missions photographed by McCarthy. Established in 1786, Mission Santa Barbara was the tenth of twenty-one missions founded by Spanish Franciscans in Alta California, as it was known during the era of Spanish rule. McCarthy captured this image on a 1920 trip to the surrounding area.

In the bottom photograph, Grace is seen seated at the entrance to the Hotel Potter. Opened in 1903 by Milo M. Potter, it sold in 1919 to the Santa Barbara Hotel Company, controlled by D.M. Linnard. The famous luxury resort burned down in 1921.

California Deserts
Southern California's desert locales are represented in these images, from El Mirado Hotel in Palm Springs, to the Shields Date Gardens in the Lower Colorado River Valley region at Blythe. In this 1935 image, Grace stands before a date palm at Shields Date Gardens.

This collage of 1935 photographs represents a sampling of the landscapes the McCarthys saw while traveling through the desert areas of southern California.

The top left image shows a grove of mature orange trees behind a row of palms on Foothill Blvd in San Bernardino. The top right displays the date palms of Shields Date Gardens in the Coachella Valley, near Blythe.

At bottom left is an empty road traversing the Orocopia Mountains near Mecca, in Riverside County. And on the right is an image of a bridge spanning the Colorado River at Blythe.

The Spanish Colonial-Revival style El Mirado Hotel at Palm Springs opened in 1927. It soon became one of the most fashionable resort destinations for powerful Hollywood studio heads and celebrities. Here, Grace is seen posing at the edge of the hotel's famous "plunge," on May 30, 1935.

Featured in this image is a mature Joshua Tree growing in the Mojave Desert at Cajon Pass near Victorville.

Los Angeles
The variety of architectural styles, landmarks, and street scenes in the following images illustrate the diversity of the Los Angeles area. McCarthy captured not only the iconic landmarks of places, but often the faces and lifestyles that give a region its particular flavor. Located in the oldest part of the city and part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic District, the Mexican marketplace on Olvera Street, seen in this image, was created in 1930 to preserve and present the customs of early California. 

The iconic Los Angeles City Hall building, seen in this 1934 photograph, was completed in 1928 and still houses the offices of the mayor and city council. Defined as "Modern American" by one of the architects who worked on the original building, the landmark was restored to its original grandeur and seismically stabilized in 2001.

Broadway is a major thoroughfare of Los Angeles and one of the oldest in the city, laid out in 1849 as Fort Street, and renamed Broadway in 1890. In this 1934 image, construction can be seen at the top of the street between the two buildings of the Alhambra Hotel and Alhambra Apartments.

Crowning a hill off Hollywood Blvd is the estate of the late Bernheimer brothers, completed in 1914. From a wealthy family of dry good importers based in New York, Adolph and Eugene Bernheimer relocated to Los Angeles, where they purchased twelve acres in 1912 on which they built their Asian–style home and gardens.

Santa Monica's Ocean Park is featured in this 1935 photograph. Grace McCarthy can be seen sitting on a bench on the right, lower side of the image. The development of Ocean Park began in the 1890s and continued into the 1920s when piers, shops, and other attractions were built to welcome a growing tourism industry.

San Diego
San Diego is often described as the birthplace of California, as it was the first area settled by Europeans in the late eighteenth century. That settlement occurred over two hundred years after the Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first came upon the San Diego Bay in 1542, the ancestral lands of the Kumeyaay people who still remain in the region today. The 1935 image shown here is of Broadway, one of San Diego's main thoroughfares.

The first of the twenty-one California missions built by the Spanish Franciscans, San Diego de Alcala was founded in 1769 by Father Junípero Serra.

In the 1905 image at left, William McCarthy can be seen standing before the dilapidated mission. The 1935 image on the right shows the considerable rehabilitation done to the mission complex, including the replacing of missing walls and an added bell tower.

In 1868, San Diego's civic leaders set aside 1,400 acres of land for a city park. Efforts to beautify the area began at the end of the nineteenth century, and just after the turn of the century a master plan for park improvements was formally implemented. Set to host the Panama-California Exposition in 1915, Park Commissioners declared the need to rename the park for the prestigious event.

After much public interest, the commissioners decided on Balboa Park, in honor of the Spanish explorer, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, who first spotted the Pacific Ocean in 1513 while exploring the Isthmus of Panama.

These photographs were taken during the McCarthys' visit to the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935 – 1936, which was held in San Diego's Balboa Park (in the same location that had held the earlier Panama-California Exposition of 1915).

One of several great expositions built across the country in the midst of the Great Depression, the exposition was held to promote the city and boost its economy.

Friends and Family
During their travels across California and beyond, the McCarthys encountered and photographed countless people along the way.  Highlighted in the following images are various family members and friends, old and new. In this 1905 photograph, members of the McCarthy family pose under  a massive oak tree in Watsonville, California.

In the photograph on the right, taken around 1905 in San Diego near the Old Mission, McCarthy identified this man as an "Indian over 100 years old." If accurate, this person was born while California was under Spanish rule. Possibly of the Kumeyaay tribe, whose members had lived in the area long before the Spanish arrived, he may have lived and worked at the mission or at a nearby Indian village.

In the photograph to the left, on the same trip, William stands before "Ancient Mission Bells" at the Old Mission in San Diego. Dated 1802, the bells were forged by order of the Spanish King. During the mission days, the bells were extremely important for signifying when it was time to eat, pray, work, or rest.

On the left, in this 1915 image, two members of the McCarthy family smile for the camera while enjoying the outdoors.

On the right, an unidentified woman and young girl strike a pose for McCarthy during a 1910 visit to Washington State.

One of the McCarthys' favorite vacation spots was the Riverside Villa, along the Russian River at Healdsburg. In the top image, William and Grace stand in the doorway of their cabin, called "Angels Retreat." In the bottom image, posing with a large group of friends and family are William, seated at center, and Grace, standing eighth from the right.

William captured this image of master basket weaver, Lucy Parker Telles, while in Yosemite National Park. A Mono Lake Paiute, Telles was one of a group of Mono-Paiute women renowned for the artistry of their stunning baskets, many of which they sold to Yosemite visitors. Here, Telles poses with her beautiful 36" basket, which took her four years to complete, and which captured first prize at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago.

Members of the Port Townsend Bicycle Club, in Washington State, pose with their rides in this 1910 image on the top left. On the right, a group of women enjoy the surf at Seaside Beach in Oregon, 1910.

In the bottom left photograph, William and Grace, along with family members, enjoy a swim in the Russian River, c. 1915. And in the bottom right image, William McCarthy, second from left, is pictured with his mandolin along with other members of the Crockett Mandolin Club, 1906.

The McCarthys and friends pose for the camera at Tijuana, Mexico, in this 1920 photograph. The McCarthys traveled to Mexico on at least two occasions in the 1930s. Photographs from their 1938 trip are featured prominently in the collection.

Children and pets are the focus of these images. On the left, three children pose on the stoop of their home in Chino, California, in 1915. Taken on a trip to New York in 1923, the top right photograph features two boys and their dog getting ready for a spin in the "Red Bug." And on the bottom right is a photograph of a young girl with her pet lamb, taken in 1910, on a trip to Washington State.

William, standing in the second row on the far left, poses with several friends and family members at Torrey Pines in San Diego in this c. 1905 photograph.

The photographs featured in this exhibition are but a small sampling of the almost 3,000 images that make up the William M. McCarthy Photograph Collection, one of the few private donations housed at the California State Archives.

Dating from 1905 to 1938, this remarkable collection (now available in its entirety online) offers the viewer a rare glimpse into the private lives and travels of two Californians during the early decades of the twentieth century, a pivotal period in the growth and development of the state and nation.

Credits: Story

All images from records held by the California State Archives.

We want to thank Audrey Fullerton-Samora for her generous donation of the William M. McCarthy Photograph Collection in 1996. Ms. Fullerton-Samora was the great-niece of William and Grace McCarthy.

Digital exhibit by Lisa C. Prince (2017), based on physical exhibit by Lisa C. Prince (2016). Imaging by Thaddeus McCurry and Lisa C. Prince (2016).

California State Archives
A Division of the California Secretary of State's Office
1020 O Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Reference Telephone: (916) 653-2246
General Information: (916) 653-7715
Fax: (916) 653-7363

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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