Found Film from the 1940s: Prudential!

Some of you who have looked at my blog once or twice are aware that I used to develop “found film” that was found undeveloped inside cameras, either that I had bought or that someone else had found inside a camera and didn’t know what to do with. Occasionally it would be a trove of “lost” negatives I would come across. Anyway, I stopped doing that, mostly because it became trendy and the prices of found rolls of film started to go up beyond what I was willing to pay (for a gamble).

I have a collection of about 100 film cameras I carry around as I move around the world and I spent the better part of the weekend building shelves to put them on display. Along with the cameras is a fair amount of photography paraphernalia that has showed up with the occasional purchase, including these metal Kodak canisters that were produced until the early 1970s.

I’m not sure why I never opened them all, but I decided to look inside a few and to my surprise I found film inside them – tightly rolled up and smelling of vinegar (not a good sign, I’m told). But I could tell the images were quite sharp and I couldn’t wait to scan them and see what had been stored inside those little metal cans all those years.

Found Film Prudential

I found pictures of a young family. A young man and a young woman, with two young daughters. Although the film was mainly Super XX and Plus X “safety film,” which was manufactured until the 1980s or later, the hairstyles and clothing suggested older.

Found Film Prudential
Found Film Prudential
Found Film Prudential

What I found interesting about the photos, however – apart from the many posed family photos – was that about half the shots were of a building under construction:

Found Film Prudential
Found Film Prudential

I was able to determine from some of the photos that this was, in fact, the construction of the **stern home office of Prudential Insurance (with the first three letters unreadable).

Found Film Prudential

I’m guessing the photographer’s father, or father-in-law, was a key figure in the construction of this building because there are several portraits of him. I began searching for Prudential insurance buildings from the 1940s. Why that time frame? Because of this single photo:

Found Film Prudential

I initially thought the building was Prudential’s Jacksonville headquarters, seen here in 1955. But the building wasn’t quite right, and it didn’t explain the sign in front of the construction site, which clearly said “**stern” and not “southern.” Prudential is headquartered in Newark, NJ, so odds were this was the company’s Western headquarters.

Found Film Prudential
Found Film Prudential

So I decided to look further west. And I found the company’s Los Angeles “western” headquarters, which, when it was built in 1948 by Wurdeman and Becket was, at the time of its construction, the tallest and largest privately owned structure in the city, spanning two city blocks and holding 517,000 square feet of office space on Los Angeles’s “Miracle Mile.” According to this post, the building “altered the character of the Miracle Mile from a shopping destination to a white-collar office district. Its International Style design also marked a stylistic change for its architects.” 

But I wasn’t fully convinced. One side of the building wasn’t quite right.

Found Film Prudential
Found Film Prudential

I consulted Google Maps and decided that either I had the wrong building, or else they must have added another wing onto the flat side shown two photos up. It was the signs on the photo below, “Steel Work Bethlehem Pacific,” but more importantly, the sign announcing the future home of “Ohrbach’s” that convinced me this was the old Prudential Western Headquarters at 5757 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, under construction in 1947/48.

Found Film Prudential

Per the aforementioned article, Ohrbach’s, a New-York-based store, occupied this building until 1965. And Pacific is, well, Pacific.In 1982, Prudential moved to a larger building, leaving behind a piece of the rock of Gibraltar, its iconic trademark image, in the lobby. The building was renamed Museum Square. In 1993, the Screen Actors’ Guild moved its national headquarters into the building and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists followed in 1997. And as a part of the lease agreement, which expires in 2026, the building was renamed the SAG-AFTRA Plaza in 2014.

So the older child in these photos was likely born in 1945 or so. And her younger sister, shown below, I’m guessing, in 1947 or 1948. I wonder if they are still around and if they wonder where their photos ended up?

Found Film Prudential

My favorite photo of the entire 96-photo collection, however, is the one below. This lady appears in two of the photos in the entire collection, and I’m guessing she was an auntie of the little girl. But all we can say for sure is that she had an ice cream cone in the hospital in the late 1940s, and was filmed on 8mm enjoying it.

Found Film Prudential

I’ve uploaded my favorite 36 photos of the collection here, in case you want to see more, or prove that my sleuthing was incorrect.

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5 Responses to Found Film from the 1940s: Prudential!

  1. Lynn Daniels-Anderson says:

    Fabulous find!

  2. Chris casey says:

    Tom, nice work. Super interesting story too. I like reading about your efforts to figure it all out and the clues that allowed you to figure it out. Reminds me of the missing ww2 bomber I figured out in Albania which I may have told you about (https://www.google.com/amp/s/mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUSKBN0M51P120150309 ). Stay well. Chris

  3. Fascinating post, Tom! I enjoyed the sleuthing. Adding to the interest for me was that my dad worked at Prudential (in Newark) in the 1960s.

  4. Tom (Admin) says:

    Wow! Of course WWII planes are a dime a dozen in Albania but hey…

  5. Pingback: Recommended reading : Down the Road

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