Special Collections of the ODU Libraries

Norfolk 1919 Photograph Collection, 1919 | Special Collections and University Archives

By Peter Stewart & Janice Halecki

Collection Overview

Title: Norfolk 1919 Photograph Collection, 1919

ID: 00/MG 69

Extent: 0.4 Linear Feet

Date Acquired: 11/21/1988

Subjects: Businesses--Virginia--Norfolk, Norfolk (Va.)--History--20th century

Languages: English


A portfolio of 46 prints that depict small shop owners and employees of businesses in Norfolk, Virginia in 1919. Also, includes a study written by Dr. Peter Stewart, an Old Dominion University History Professor and local historian, that examines what Norfolk was like in 1919. This study is located in the collection’s control folder.

Scope and Contents of the Materials

This collection is a portfolio of 46 prints, each were contact printed from the original 6.5" X 8.5" glass plate negative. These photographs were taken in November, 1919 by an anonymous photographer. Most of the businesses depicted in the photographs appear to have been located in the area of East Main Street between Commercial Place and Union Station in Norfolk.

Material from theNorfolk 1919 Photographic Collection have been digitized and are available in the Old Dominion University Libraries Digital Collections.

Collection Historical Note

(Written by Peter Stewart, 1988)

The photographs presented here show some of the people and businesses of Norfolk, Virginia about one year after war ended on the western front in 1918. The anonymous photographer was clearly interested in certain kinds of businesses as the pictures feature scenes that other observers tended to miss. Rather than portraying the political leaders and the finest homes in Norfolk, the unknown photographer depicted small shop owners and employees, along with a few of their customers. The folks portrayed in this fashion look reasonably normal, but neither the nation nor Norfolk were experiencing normal times when the pictures were taken.

The Norfolk of 1919 differed considerably from the city of the 1980s. Then, as now, there were distinct districts within the city, but these varied drastically from any current configuration. Between Water Street (now Waterside Drive) and the river were warehouses amid steamship and railroad terminals. Main Street presented an appearance entirely different from that of today. East Main Street, which commenced at Granby and ended at the large Union Station featured dozens of small shops, many of which appear in the collection of photographs. The eleven or twelve blocks contained some brothels for which this part of the city became notorious, but in 1919 it also held at least twelve lunch counters or restaurants, an equal number of tailor shops or garment makers, several groceries, shoe stores, and emporiums of various descriptions.

Of the handful of photographs that have been identified, all were taken of the small businesses on East Main or nearby streets. The Boston Cafe, managed by Hop Sing and Joe Eng, stood at 711 East Main while the New York Lunch Room was located just a few doors down across the street, at 728. Demetrious Feleros, the proprietor of the latter establishment, may be the fellow standing behind the lunch counter at the New York Lunch Room. The address on one of the menus, 1115 East Main, confirms the presence of the Olympic Restaurant in the collection while the Maryland Fruit Store and Cleopatra's can be identified by the signs on their store fronts. The local directory fails to confirm the existence of these places in Norfolk or Portsmouth, but Cleopatra's neighbor, Brown's which sold breakfasts, stood near the ferry slip. Many of these establishments appear quite tiny and of questionable longevity.

The fruit store that also sold candles and cigars, with an address of 908 and a half, is listed in the directory on East Main. The two gentlemen in the picture are probably Antonio and Philip Tagliaveria, the owner and clerk in the store, respectively. They both lived on Bermuda Street, a short distance to the east of the East Main Street location.

While few other sites can be definitely identified, almost all of the photographs were taken in the East Main Street area, especially between Commercial Place and the Union Station. The area contained all of the different types of businesses portrayed in the collection. One of the other restaurants, for example, could be the Savoy. The barber shop might be the U.S. Barbershop at 709 East Main and/or the Victoria Hotel Barber Shop at 523 East Main. One of the three barber shops looks elegant enough to qualify as the Monticello Hotel shop on City Hall Avenue, outside the East Main Street district. Hofheimer's Shoe Store found at 444 East Main could well be one of the shoe stores pictured in the collection. W.B. Shafer, Jr., a long time resident of Norfolk, thinks that the rather stylish women's dress shop belonged to one Peter Smith and stood at the corner of Bank and Main streets. He also recognized the Norfolk Harness Shop on Union Street among the photographs and believes the bicycle repair shop belonged to a gentleman named Councilman, who later made his fortune in Detroit.

At the 400 block East Main passed through Commercial Place with its statue of Johnny Reb. Here passengers from the ferry from Portsmouth passed on their way to Norfolk's commercial center. Some potential customers doubtless went to one of the city's well known stores such as Miller, Rhodes and Swartz on Commercial Place that advertised as the "largest department store" in the city. Or they may have headed to Smith and Welton's on Granby, which in 1919 rearranged its interior after the Red Cross vacated its 5th floor. Or they may have gone to Ames and Brownley, which moved into the Fergus Reid building that year.

One block west of Commercial Place was Roanoke Avenue, the location of almost all of Norfolk's produce wholesalers just as Church Street contained many of the city's produce solicitors. One of the photographs shows such an establishment.

It is hard to visualize now, but grocery stores were all over downtown Norfolk in 1919. Pender, the most successful of the 400 or so grocers who operated in Norfolk, advertised heavily and ran two stores. In the era before chain stores became commonplace, every neighborhood in Norfolk, including its downtown, possessed individually owned grocery stores, which were usually quite small and offered only a comparative handful of items for sale. The one chain store in the city, Piggly-Wiggly, stood on the corner of Granby and 27th Street, well uptown, and quite a novelty in 1919.

The city market off City Hall Avenue contained several stalls where meat, fresh vegetables, and fish could be found. In 1919 the local government also managed a municipal grocery store at first on Monticello Avenue in back of the public market and later at the Red Circle Club on Atlantic Street. This outlet handled government surpluses at special prices during limited hours.

Subject/Index Terms

Norfolk (Va.)--History--20th century

Administrative Information

Repository: Special Collections and University Archives

Access Restrictions: The collection is open to researchers without restrictions.

Use Restrictions: Before publishing quotations or excerpts from any materials, permission must be obtained from Special Collections and University Archives, and the holder of the copyright, if not Old Dominion University Libraries.

Acquisition Source: David E. Johnson, Associate Professor of History

Acquisition Method: Gift. Accession #A88-5

Related Materials: Old Dominion University Libraries Digital Collections: Norfolk 1919 Photograph Collection

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], Box [insert number], Folder [insert number and title], Norfolk 1919 Photograph Collection, Special Collections and University Archives, Patricia W. and J. Douglas Perry Library, Old Dominion University Libraries, Norfolk, VA 23529.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Box:

[Box 1],

Box 1
Item 1: Workers and customers in a lunch room
Item 2: Workers and customers in a lunch room
Item 3: Workers behind the counter in a lunch room
Item 4: Workers in a shoe repair shop
Item 5: Workers in a shoe store
Item 6: Owner in front of Cleopatra Fruit Store
Item 7: Men in a pool room
Item 8: Workers and customer in front of Tagliavia Grocery store
Item 9: Workers and customers in an apothecary store
Item 10: Workers in a bicycle repair shop
Item 11: Workers and customers in a cigar shop/soda fountain
Item 12: Workers behind the counter in a lunch room
Item 13: Workers in a hosiery/shoe store
Item 14: Workers and customer in a lunch room
Item 15: Workers in a grocery store
Item 16: Workers in a grocery store
Item 17: Workers and customers in a lunch room
Item 18: Workers and customers in a women's clothing store
Item 19: Workers and customers in a men's clothing store
Item 20: Worker in a shop
Item 21: Workers in a harness repair shop
Item 22: Workers and customers in a lunch room
Item 23: Workers in a grocery store
Item 24: Workers in a shoe store
Item 25: Worker and customer in a lunch room
Item 26: Workers in a lunch room
Item 27: Worker and customer in a lunch room
Item 28: Workers in a kitchen
Item 29: Workers in a barber shop
Item 30: Worker in front of the Maryland Fruit Store
Item 31: Workers and customer in a grocery store
Item 32: Workers in a grocery store
Item 33: Worker in front of fruit stand
Item 34: Men in a pool hall
Item 35: Worker and customers in the New York Lunch Room
Item 36: Men in a cigar store with pool hall and shoeshine stand
Item 37: Workers in a kitchen
Item 38: Worker and customer in a pastry/candy shop and soda fountain
Item 39: Worker and customers in a lunch room
Item 40: Workers and customers in a large barber shop
Item 41: Worker and customer in a grocery store
Item 42: Workers and customer in a lunch room
Item 43: Workers and customers in a barber shop
Item 44: Workers in a women's clothing store
Item 45: Workers in a tailor shop
Item 46: Workers in a lunch room

Browse by Box:

[Box 1],

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