Steele Photograph Collection

The History:

Walter Henry Clarence Steele was born in North Dakota in 1897. Initially he learned photography from his father but in later years he was trained by the major camera manufacturers of his time: Eastman and Ansco. In 1920, after serving in the military, he came to San Bernardino and worked in his father's photo studio in Urbita Springs Park, where the Inland Center Mall now stands.

There he met his wife, Beatrice Preston. She worked at a soda fountain in the park. Together they developed their own photography business in San Bernardino.


1903 Urbita Springs

1911: San Bernardino's First National Orange Show (Corner of 4th and E st.). Held March 6-11, 1911.
For decades Walter Steele was considered the pre-eminent photographer in San Bernardino. He was the first official photographer of the National Orange Show and served as the Orange Show photographer for 30 years. He was the first photographer for San Bernardino's Sun newspaper.

Walter Steele understood the importance of documenting the present. He was determined to preserve the history of the Inland Empire. When he heard that businesses were going to close or buildings were slated for demolition he took care to create a permanent record by photographing them. He also purchased historic photographs from other photographers and collectors. In time he established an extensive collection of local history photographs. He kept the photographs in binders in his photo studio so that customers could order copies to capture cherished memories or to begin their own collections. Today researchers who use historic photographs of the area will usually see "Steele's Photo Service" stamped on the backs of those photographs. Without Walter Steele many of those images would never have been captured or preserved.

1899: Men returning from the Spanish American War.

1940: Santa Fe locomotive #3762 at the Cajon Pass.

1955: San Bernardino's Public Library

The Collection:

In 1974 professor Bruce Golden sent Pfau Library Director Art Nelson information on Walter Steele's collection of historical photographs. Over the years Director Nelson purchased over 600 of the photographs for Pfau Library Special Collections.

The Finding Aid:

Access is through the Steele photo numbers in the Finding Aid. (The Finding Aid requires Microsoft Excel or download the free Excel viewer)