Smith & Lang Fire, JFC, July 1958

There’s a lot written about the Smith & Lang Fire in Stockton, July 22, 1958 already.

Scanning 4 x 5 negatives from Jessica Fong’s Collection, I came across these 3 larger negatives.

Smith & Lang Fire, early morning July 22, 1958, Stockton

It puzzled me at first, as one wouldn’t necessarily take a 4 x 5 view camera to a fire to report on, but rather a more manageable press camera.

Then it dawned on me that in addition to the date of the fire, there was a second date and some more scribbles and initials.

All three negatives were sent to AP (Associated Press) on August 2nd, 1958. All three were sent to Modesto Bee on July 23, 1958. It is not clear if any were published by these news agencies.

So Joel was submitting his images to publications as well as photographic contests. He wanted to be seen ! (Don’t we all ?)

This also implies that the 4×5 negatives were enlargements of the press format negatives he photographed. One and other explains the lack of a border around the 4×5 negatives. Joel would crop the good parts for presentation, very well knowing that any quality loss would be offset by the inability of the newspapers of the day (and even today) to publish high quality images on paper.

Smith & Lang Fire, July 22, 1958, Stockton (Published in Modesto Bee)

From the Digital Library at University of Pacific, the Holt-Atherton Collection, we learn following about Smith & Lang’s history:

“Smith & Lang was Stockton, Calif.’s oldest department store, established in 1899 by Alfred B. Lang and John H. Smith. Alfred B. Lang (b.1874), a founding partner, first worked at the Alexander Chalmers Dry Goods Store where he met another clerk, John H. Smith, with whom he opened a store at 124 E. Main.

The company was incorporated in 1910 and six years later John Smith died leaving Alfred Lang President for over thiry-five years. The partners took over the Hale Brothers building at Main and San Joaquin Street (1915) and, in 1939, expanded this structure by an additional 7,700 feet.

In July 1945 Smith & Lang was sold to J. Wesley Hearne, a veteran buyer and merchandise manager in California and New York, and Alfred Lang retired, but Walter Sampson continued as manager and the name “Smith and Lang” was retained by the new owner.

In February 1946 C. M. Dicker of Redding bought J W Hearne’s interest in Smith & Lang and Dicker became the general manager. By 1950 the company employed 125.

On July 22, 1958 Smith & Lang burned to the ground in a fire called the “worst national mercantile fire of 1958.”

Insurance claims totalled $3,000,000. Plans were soon made to rebuild the store and, on August 25, 1959, it reopened in a building designed by Welton, Beckett and Associates of Los Angeles. In February 1963 Weinstock-Lubin purchased Smith & Lang and the company ceased business.”

Smith & Lang Fire, July 22, 1958, Stockton

Three negatives is not much of a haul, I assume Joel took many more that day and these are only the ones he sent to newspaper publications for consideration to publish.


Shortly after posting this, Jessica Fong sent me the proof that the Modesto Bee did publish one of Joel’s images on July 23, 1958.

Modesto Bee, July 23, 1958 article on the Smith & Lang losses.
Joel’s image submitted through APWire to Modesto Bee, see second negative in this blog

Joel must have been proud that one of his images made it into the local newspaper. It’s not often that we get this type of confirmation.

I believe there are still other negatives out there in someone’s collection, or maybe waiting to be rediscovered.

Cheers !

One response to “Smith & Lang Fire, JFC, July 1958”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: