THIS spring, the San Diego History Center became the recipient of a priceless gift of local history—the magnificent San Diego Title Insurance and Trust Company Historical Photographs Collection. Numbering in excess of 140,000 images these important visual documents of the city’s past will be used, studied and treasured by scholars, writers and countless other individuals for years to come.
The following pages illustrate just some of the vast richness of the Collection which was begun in 1946 by Union Title Insurance and Trust Company under the direction of Frank G. Forward, with the enthusiastic support of the company’s founder John F. Forward Sr. A primary aim of any title business is to compile and maintain records of land and property. Therefore accumulating photographs and historical memorabilia of San Diego City and County was only a logical extension of that aim. In addition, the Forward’s realized that the visual history of San Diego was in danger of destruction and in need of preservation.
The nucleus of the Collection represents the life’s work of photographer Herbert Fitch (below) who was in business in San Diego for some fifty years. Previous to selling his negatives to Union Title, Fitch had tried unsuccessfully for several years to make his material available to other institutions, at one point even offering it to his personal physician.
During the 1950s Union Title increased the size and range of the Collection with further acquisitions of photographs and books. In 1955 a large group of negatives from the files of the San Diego Union and Evening Tribune newspapers were added.
Many of the Union Title photographs were used in the company’s advertising as well as its magazine Title Trust Topics. Some of the modern photographs taken for this publication were the work of photographer Larry Booth, who came to work with the Collection in 1951 and stayed on to become its Curator for over twenty-five years.
In 1957, when Title Insurance and Trust Company of Los Angeles bought Union Title and its Historical Collection, the photograph archives had grown to an impressive size. As people learned of the Collection they donated their photographs and other San Diego artifacts (as they still do) understanding that their gifts to this growing storehouse of San Diego history would be preserved and used with care.
Now in 1979, the Collection has become especially important as one of the nation’s few such large bodies of visual history on a particular city and county, in this case San Diego. The reason for the Collection’s scope and quality is that it contains primarily the working negative files of San Diego’s early professional photographers who captured images of every sort on film. Even the briefest look at this almost limitless chronicle of people, places and events confirms that these photographers were historians in the truest sense of the word.