More than 3,000 negatives documenting Houston life in the 1920s and 1930s were nearly consumed by the floods of Hurricane Harvey.
The collection contains stunningly-detailed photos of Houston after the oil boom of the early 20th century. The negatives themselves measure 8x10 inches, offering resolutions higher than many of the most modern digital cameras today. In a wide shot of Main Street and Rusk from 1932, you can read each and every license plate down to Capitol Ave.
Story Sloane III moved the collection of photos and negatives to his home in Briar Forest because the roof on his gallery off Dairy Ashford had sprung a leak. Fearing the water would damage the already deteriorating negatives, he took the chance of storing them on the first floor of his house.
Sloane had already digitized 85 percent of the negatives, and backed up those digital images on back-up drives – but he stored all the negatives and hard drives together in his home.
He lives just below the Barker Reservoir.
Last week he was given just a few hours warning, along with his neighbors, that releases from the reservoirs would likely flood their neighborhood. Sloane moved the collection to a higher shelf as the water filled the street in front of his home.
Then the water came inside.
As neighbors franticly gathered up pets and a few items of clothing, Sloane carried the 20 boxes of negatives and four hard drives into his attic. They were safe, for now.
This was the second time the collection had to be rescued from the cusp of destruction.
That’s another Story. Story Sloane, Jr. In the late 20th century, Sloane’s father had learned that the widow of a photographer was burning her husband collection of 30,000 negatives to reclaim a small amount of silver oxide used in the developing process. By the time Sloane’s father got to the widow, 27,000 negatives had been destroyed. He offered about a dollar per negative to rescue the remaining 3,000 photos from the flames.
The photos show Union Station long before it became Minute Maid Park, Babe Ruth during his visit to Houston, and even images of the 1929 and 1935 floods. Just imagine what was in the 27,000 negatives that were lost before Sloane’s father could get to them.
Now time is doing what the flames could not. The celluloid acetate negatives naturally decompose after about 75 years. The faces of Houstonians long since gone literally disappear forever. Water and moisture only accelerate that natural process.
Flash forward to last week, when the water kept rising in Sloane’s home. He knew he had to get them out.
He called a friend with a boat. They went out into the flood waters, bringing to dry land three boat loads of priceless Houston history.
Now the photos are drying out in Sloane’s gallery. Fans and dehumidifiers are running around the clock to pull the moisture from the decaying negatives. The back-up drives are sensitive to any water intrusion, so Sloane is hoping his efforts to remediate the moisture will save the collection that his father already saved from fire.
Sloane is taking donation to anyone who wants to help him conserve the collection here.
© 2018 KHOU-TV