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For Good

City of Tampa digitizes old photo collections, now available to public

Local dignitaries gathered at the Crown Colony House restaurant (now the Serengeti Overlook Restaurant) soon after its opening at Busch Gardens in 1990

Former Tampa City Clerk Frances Henriquez with current City Clerk Shirley Foxx-Knowles

The Honorable E.J. Salcines

Historian Fred Hearns

For years, the Burgert Brothers photography collection has provided Tampa historians and history buffs an incomparable look back at the community’s history. The 15,000 photographs taken by the local photography firm between the late 1800s and early 1960s, available for online viewing on the Hillsborough County Public Library website, is now being joined by two more extensive collections of photographs chronicling life in the Tampa Bay Area from the 1940s through the 1990s. 

The announcement comes in commemoration of Tampa’s 130th birthday and also coincides with the city’s Archives Awareness Week, an annual event that was founded by the City of Tampa Archives Advisory Committee in 1992. These photographs, ranging from 1950 until 1990, feature local landmarks, events, local elected officials and dignitaries, street scenes and other topics of interest to Tampa Bay Area historians and history buffs. 

The newly released archival images include 30,000 photographs from the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Collection, which was donated by the Tampa Historical Society to the City of Tampa in 1994. The Tampa Photo Supply Collection was donated to the city in 2016 and includes 50,000 images taken by local photographers Rose Rutigliano Weekley and Joseph Scolaro between 1940 and 1990; they focus mainly on subjects from West Tampa, Ybor City, and South Tampa and include images of graduations, weddings and scenes from daily life. 

All told, these 80,000 newly available historic Tampa photographs represent quintuple the number of images in the existing archive of 15,000 Burgert Brothers images presently available to the public. 

“Digitization of the Tampa Photo Supply Collection should be done within a year,” says City of Tampa Archives and Records Manager Jennifer Dietz. Presently, about 50 percent of that collection has been digitized. “The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Collection may take a bit longer to complete.” 

Dietz says negatives of the images from the Greater Chamber of Commerce Collection have been available to the public for years. 

“This is how it was accessed for many years prior to our digitization efforts and collaboration with the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library.” She explains that handling the negatives has become a challenging task due to natural deterioration. “Due to vinegar syndrome [a type of acetate film breakdown common with aging negatives], the negatives from the Tampa Photo Supply Collection are frail and in quarantine at our offsite archives vault.”

The 35-millimeter negatives from the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Collection are being scanned in at 1,200 dots per inch (dpi). Meanwhile, negatives from the Tampa Photo Supply Collection measure four inches by five inches and are being scanned at 600 dpi. 

In other words, photographs from both collections will be available in a high-resolution format that is perfect for both viewing and publication. Dietz says these images will be available for use in nonprofit and commercial books, scholarly materials and other media works, provided that credit is given to the City of Tampa Archives and Records Division. 

“We are hoping to get everything from these two collections uploaded within the next five years,” she remarks. “We are very excited about releasing these two historic photo collections and feel they will be valuable resources for researchers and the citizens of Tampa.” 

To search Tampa’s photographic archives online and for more information, please visit the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative Digital Collections website.

Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

 Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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