‘Fotografer’ Frank Dean preserved images of early Grand Junction life
When Frank Dean opened his photography shop at the corner of Fifth Street and Rood Avenue in 1900, the sign on his building read “Fotografer Dean.”
Soon after his doors opened, Dean had a visit from a farmer who was there to correct Dean’s spelling.
Dean was amused and told the farmer the unique spelling was meant to attract attention and bring people into his shop. It was an intentional error.
Dean kept that spelling on his storefront for nearly 45 years.
Every Saturday Dean put a new display of portraits in his windows. According to an article in The Daily Sentinel’s 1957 Diamond Jubilee edition, the new faces each week once caused the editor of the Mesa County Mail in Fruita to comment: “There’s one place in Grand Junction where we can spend a most pleasurable half hour without the least cost or obligation. That’s Dean’s.”
Dean’s career in photography started in Sedalia, Mo., when he was 10 years old. He began working in the local photography shop washing the glass plates used for images.
In 1882 when Dean was 18, he moved to Gunnison and started his first photographic studio. He married Lucy Buckey in Gunnison on July 2, 1884.
He first came to Grand Junction in 1887 and set up a tent at Fifth and Main streets to take portraits. However, when a snowstorm caved in his tent, he moved his new family back to Gunnison.
Dean also had studios in Crested Butte and Lake City in the 1890s.
He moved back to Grand Junction in 1900 and built his studio on the northwest corner of Fifth Street and Rood Avenue. He later sold that location, and the YMCA was built there. Alpine Bank is now at the location.
After he sold the property to the YMCA, he built a new studio near the southwest corner of Fifth Street and White Avenue.
Dean and his camera were always ready to advertise Grand Junction. Without Dean’s interest in Grand Junction and his ability to portray the life and times of his era, a great deal of the record of people long dead and historic buildings that have been torn down would be lost.
Dean died in February 1947 and his studio had several uses after his death.
According to a news story on Oct. 1, 1964, Dean’s studio was being demolished to make room for a parking lot. When the heavy clamshell shovel plunged through the basement, long-forgotten faces and scenes from the Western Slope were scattered as the glass plate negatives shattered.
As soon as the workmen realized what they had unearthed, work stopped and the workmen carefully stacked the remaining boxes on the sidewalk.
In all, more than 2,400 glass plate negatives of portraits of early settlers, buildings and landscapes of the Western Slope were rescued.
At first it was reported that “the glass plate portraits, for all of their historical interest, probably will end up at the dump.”
Had it not been for a young man named Terry Mangan, a student at Mesa College and a member of the Colorado State Historical Society, these photos would have been lost forever.
He obtained the glass plates from the workmen and then contacted the Colorado Historical Society to see if they wanted these priceless pieces of history.
The society said it wanted them, and on Dec. 11, 1964, three officials with CHS came to Grand Junction and took more than 2,400 glass plates to Denver.
In an interview with Merle M. McClintock, an early-day Daily Sentinel reporter, Dean had expressed a concern for what might become of his priceless photographs. He said “There must be someone who would like to make a permanent place for them in some community project.”
Today the Loyd Files Research Library Museum of Western Colorado has some of Dean’s photos.
Judy Steiner, interim curator of photography at the History Colorado Center (formerly the Colorado Historical Society), said that the collection of glass plate negatives Mangan collected are at the center. However, the collection is currently packed and in storage until the new History Colorado Center is completed and opened in Denver in April of this year.
Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel. She is involved in many local preservation efforts, including the North Seventh Street Historic Residential District. To read past columns, go to http://www.historic7thstreet.org/.