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Arts and Entertainment

Disney Engineer's Photos Show Working Class Los Angeles In The 1930s And 1940s

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Herman Schultheis was a Renaissance man of his time. The German immigrant lived in New York before heading to Los Angeles in 1937, where he served as an effects engineer for Walt Disney Studios. He was a man of many talents: an engineer, a pianist, archaeologist, and photographer. One of the biggest treasures he left behind were over 6,000 black-and-white snapshots he took of Los Angeles, especially during the 1930s and 1940s, that preserve the memory of our city.

The Los Angeles Public Library, which owns a major collection of his photographs, is celebrating his work with the event, "L.A. in Focus: Lost & Found—The Los Angeles Photographs of Herman Schultheis," today from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Central Library. The authors of The Lost Notebook: Herman Schultheis and the Secrets of Walt Disney’s Movie Magic and How We Worked, How We Played—Herman Schultheis and Los Angeles in the 1930s will be reading excerpts from their books and holding a Q&A discussion.

Christina Rice, senior librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library penned an article for the Huffington Post about Schultheis. She wrote that the way he photographed Los Angeles painted a different picture that we would not have normally been able to see:

Herman Schultheis' Los Angeles isn't always the same one seen in so many picture-perfect postcards of the era with squeaky-clean streets, pristine beaches, movie star homes, and endless fields of orange groves. His Los Angeles tends to be a working class city, beginning to show the signs of urban decay, but forging ahead with progress. A land where beachcombers picnic in the shadows of oil derricks, vaudeville theaters have become homes to burlesque shows, and minority populations are displaced for the advancement of others.
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Schultheis, who was an avid traveler, disappeared mysteriously in 1955 at age 55 during his travels. It was believed that he vanished in a Guatemalan jungle. According to an Associated Press article from Nov. 25, 1956:

A photographer and amateur archaeologist, Schultheis, had a plane take him to the Mayan ruins of Tikal in May, 1955. He arranged for the plane to return in a few hours to pick him up. But the plane's crew never found him and later searches of the jungle were in vain.

According to Rice, his wife, Ethel Wisloh, had kept all of her husband's photographs, and it wasn't until she died in 1990 that the photos were released. The Los Angeles Public Library would later own 1,500 of his photos of Southern California, digitize them and put them up on their photo collection website, which you can view here by searching for his name.

"L.A. in Focus: Lost & Found—The Los Angeles Photographs of Herman Schultheis" will be held on Sept. 11 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Central Library located at 630 W 5th Street, downtown. More information can be found here.