Historic photograph collections have always been instrumental to the Mesker documentation project. The latest such archive that I’ve stumbled upon is the Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection, comprised of over 20,000 images chronicling the history of the Tampa Bay area from the 1890s to the 1960s. The photographs are the work of brothers Jean and Al Burgert whose firm, the Burgert Brothers Commercial Photography Studio, was firmly established in Tampa providing commercial photography services to the West Coast region of Florida. Their photographs, appearing in national and local publications, are of superb quality and document all facets of the region during said decades.
After the studio’s closure in 1963, their photographs and negatives were stored in a tin-roofed garage in South Tampa. In 1974, the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library acquired the collection and embarked on an ambitious and painstaking preservation, restoration and digitization process (visit the Collection’s History and Preservation page to learn more). Today, this extraordinary archive is available for both in person viewing and reproduction, at the John F. Germany Public Library, and as an online digital collection. I’m particularly thankful for the latter option, which allows remote access to distant researchers such as myself.
Not only is the collection itself an amazing resource, the staff of the Library ensure that its contents are easily accessible and in a variety of formats. After perusing the collection and identifying images with Mesker-yielding potential through the default lower-resolution files, I was able to obtain high resolution digital scans using a simple online order form. I’ve used it several times and each time had the high-quality images in hand within 24 hours. The Library also permits the commercial use of the images with a simple credit line, which I always provide anyway, as a matter of course. Utilizing this collection from image search to acquisition has been one of the best research experiences I’ve ever had and want to acknowledge the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System for their outstanding service.
As far as the Mesker-related content, I began by searching for two buildings—the Peninsular Telephone Company Building and the Tampa Free (Carnegie) Library—both of which were listed in a 1917 Sweet’s catalog as having been “equipped with Mesker Brothers Iron Company’s patent steel and concrete stairs.” I found both of them and more; see the results below. Sadly, all but the Library are gone. In a bit of irony, one of the photos is of a building being dismantled in 1935. Not dis-similarly to other communities, the historic fabric of Tampa’s commercial areas has changed dramatically since the middle of the 20th century. Too many wonderful historic buildings and places depicted in the Burgert Brothers archive endure only in their images, which is precisely why this collection and others like it are so important. I would of course prefer that the actual Mesker Brothers’ facades survive, but I’m nonetheless grateful for the beautiful Burgert Brothers’ photographs that show them.