The photographic images of Ralph P. Stineman offer a five-year vignette of San Diego, from 1910 through 1915. In this period the region was trying to break free of the geographical restrictions imposed by surrounding mountains and ocean. A small population, barely 30,000, created the remarkable Panama California Exposition to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. A new rail link and auto highway to the East was underway as well as an expanded harbor to meet expected sea traffic. A new water supply fed further real estate development. In the midst of these ambitious changes Stineman earned his living roaming throughout the city and county in his small roadster, recording what he saw on 5 by 7 inch glass plate negatives.
A central theme to San Diego at this time, recorded among his images, were the immense changes occurring in all the methods of transportation: gasoline powered cars and trucks displacing horses, new extended roads and rail line, and airplanes–still delicate machines. As a commercial photographer employed largely by San Diego real estate developers, Stineman documented this transition as a way of promoting San Diego to the nation and the wider world. Stineman’s images also offer succeeding generations a quiet witness to a world radically changing.
Ralph P. Stineman’s life story makes for a very thin tale. He never married, nor served in the military, nor had a Social Security number. These present-day locators are all absent in his case. Stineman was born near Pittsburgh in 1871 then appeared about 1900 in San Diego. For a few years he operated a shooting gallery on Fifth Avenue. In 1910, he opened a photographer’s office in the Timken Building, now known as the Jewelers Exchange. Through the end of 1915 he busily recorded the progress of major real estate development throughout the city.
The largest part of his surviving negatives cover the construction phase in Balboa Park in preparation of the opening of the Panama California Exposition. For reasons unknown, Stineman left San Diego for Gulfport, Mississippi, following the Exposition opening. Research places him in Los Angeles in 1920. From a shop at Sunset Blvd. and Figueroa he sold his motion picture equipment known as the “Stineman System.”
Some time around 1940, Stineman returned to San Diego, sold his 3000 remaining glass negatives and moved to the Mission Beach area, remaining there until is death in 1955. The collection passed through many hands before the San Diego Historical Society acquired it in 1991.
On the pages that follow we present selected images from the Ralph P. Stineman Collection. Over seventy images from Stineman are on exhibit in the North Gallery of the Museum of San Diego History, from September 1997 through April 1998.
John Redfern has been volunteer for the Photograph Collection of the San Diego History Center since 1983. Born in Iowa, Mr. Redfern grew up in Los Angeles and studied physics at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles. He worked as physicist at the Naval laboratory on Point Loma from 1951 to 1982, where hespecialized in underwater acoustics. Mr. Redfern has spent over two years working on the Ralph Stineman Collection at the San Diego History Center.
Chuck Hill, formerly Curator of Photographs for the San Diego Historical Society, earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in history at the University of Illinois, Springfield. He has spent much of his career as a Project Archivist on grant funded efforts to establish archival programs in tribal and museum settings, and has taught history and multicultural studies. Mr. Hill currently serves as the Archivist for the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis, Missouri.