Lost and Found in Tampa

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.

500 block of North Franklin Street. At the left edge of the image are discernible galvanized sheet-metal window hood and cornice by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. Image date: September 15, 1927. Print Number PA 17808, Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
Jackson Block, NW corner of Franklin and Twiggs. Galvanized sheet-metal upper story is by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. Image date: July 11, 1946. Print Number PA 10148, Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
Morales Building, on Tampa Street, in the process of being dismantled. The cornice is by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. Image date: November 28, 1935. Print Number PA 9152, Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
SE corner of Franklin and Jackson Streets. Weedon Building on N. Franklin Street, visible at right, has a Mesker Bros. cornice. Image date: March 29, 1923. Print Number PA 2935, Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
500 block of North Franklin Street. From left to right: 513 N. Franklin Street and Dana Bros./Glenn’s Show & Toggery Co., both with Mesker Bros. cornices, and the W.F.S. Building, at 501 N. Franklin Street, with a full sheet-metal front by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. Image date: July 16, 1921. Print Number PA 245, Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
W.F.S. Building, 501 Franklin Street. Franklin Street elevation features Mesker’s full iron front (notable for its use of two different pilaster designs between the 2nd and 3rd floors), while the Madison Street side has a cornice and patented adjustable window caps. Image date: October 11, 1921. Print Number PA 2620, Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
Exchange National Bank of Tampa, NE corner Franklin and Twiggs Streets, with a sheet-metal cornice by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. Image date: 1895. Print Number PA 508, Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
On Franklin Street, looking south towards intersection of Franklin and Tyler. At the right side of the photo are discernible three Mesker fronts, flanking Alambra Cafe.Image date: May 26, 1923. Print Number PA 1750, Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
On Franklin Street, north of Tyler Street. J.T Burtch Building (at left) and Harry Cohen & Co. (at right), the former with a Mesker Brothers’ facade and both with Mesker canopies. Image date: May 26, 1923. Print Number PA 1751, Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
600 block of Florida Avenue. Visible at the right edge of the image is the Florida Street facade—by Mesker Brothers Iron Works—of the Peninsular Telephone Company Building at the SW corner of Zack and Florida Streets. Image date: October 8, 1931. Print Number PA 8335, Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
Peninsular Telephone Company Building, storefront along Zack Street. Image date: October 7, 1911. Print Number PA 1419, Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
Peninsular Telephone Company Building, SW corner of Zack and Florida Streets. This is the Zack Street elevation, but both were clad with facades by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. Image date: 1915. Print Number PA 530, Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
Maas Clothier & Haberdasher, SE corner Franklin and Zack, with a cornice by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. Peninsular Telephone Company Building at Zack and Florida Streets visible at far left. Image date: June 1, 1925. Print Number PA 2651, Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
Peninsular Telephone Company Building (1914), SW corner Zack and Morgan Streets. The company was a faithful Mesker customer—the original four-story building was constructed with Mesker’s steel and concrete stairs. The tall addition was completed in 1926-27. Image date: March 14, 1927. Print Number 2413, Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
Tampa Free Library (1917), 102 E. 7th Avenue, with patented steel and concrete stairs by Mesker Brothers Iron Company. This is the only building with Mesker elements that survives today. Image date: April 18, 1919. Print Number PA 118, Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.

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