Rile was a professional photographer from Philadelphia who moved to Southern California during the mid to late 1880s. The
P-029 collection comprises photographic prints and negatives depicting a variety of subjects set in and around Southern California,
including buildings, landscapes, ocean views, and people at work and at leisure. Some of the images in the collection were
likely to have been produced for sale at Rile’s gallery, or, in the case of the portraits, directly to the subject(s). However,
many of the images are of a personal nature, and provide a candid and detailed glimpse into the worlds of H.F. Rile, his family,
and friends. There is evidence (see biographical note) that his wife Georgetta was also a skilled photographer, and a young
woman likely to have been one of Rile’s daughters is depicted holding a camera in a photo featured in this collection. In
light of this, and the fact that some of the images in the collection are distinct from those attributable by signature to
H.F. Rile in terms of technique and quality, it is possible that some of the unsigned photos were taken by members of the
Rile family other than H.F. Rile.
Harry Frantz “H.F.” Rile was born in Philadelphia on December 1st, 1860. He learned photography in his late teens and made
his way west earning a living as a commercial photographer, taking jobs in Chicago, Kansas City, Portland, San Francisco,
then Santa Monica (1). Biographical sources conflict as to the exact year when he arrived in Santa Monica, suggesting a range
of dates between 1885 and 1888. Voter registration records list his place of residence as Santa Monica as of September 27th,
1888 (2). After settling in Santa Monica, he set up his “Pacific Photograph Gallery” in a tent on the beach, just north of
where the Santa Monica Pier stands today (1). Among other services, he offered “photos taken on the beach and in the surf,”
as well as “views of picturesque Santa Monica, the Mammoth Wharf, the Old California Missions, Soldiers’ Home, Uncle Sam’s
Navy, and Southern California…” (Series 1).
In 1889 Rile married Georgetta May Heimer of Galesburg, Illinois and the couple had two daughters: Maud Frances and Caroline
Inez (4). It is possible that Rile’s wife Georgetta shared his interest in photography, as an issue of Pacific Coast Photographer
published in February of 1893 states that a Mrs. H.F. Rile, “one of the most expert of amateur photographers, has lately procured
a number of beautiful views with her camera along the line of the Santa Fe Railroad near Needles” (3). At least one image
of a rail line and railroad bridge in that same area was produced that bears the statement of responsibility “H.F. Rile, Photo,”
(Series 4) though its date of creation is unknown.
During his time in Santa Monica, Rile was a member of the Royal Arcanum and the Woodmen of the World (4). His status as a
citizen of Santa Monica, and that of his family, was prominent enough that The Los Angeles Times and The Los Angeles Herald
often mentioned the Riles in its society pages. Brief updates detailing Rile’s photography projects and accomplishments, the
travels of his family, and visits from out-of-town guests were among the activities reported by the papers between 1890 and
1902 (5, 6, 7, 8).
Rile moved his business to 4 Ocean Front Walk in Ocean Park, a neighborhood close to the beach just south of the present location
of the Santa Monica Pier (1). In 1899 the family bought a home near the corner of Oregon Avenue (which would eventually become
Santa Monica Blvd.) and 8th St. where the family lived until 1912 (1). Though it is not known why the family vacated the house
in 1912, the Los Angeles Times reported that Rile’s business sustained damage from the Ocean Park fire of early September
of that same year (9).
In 1916, Rile left Santa Monica to reside in Los Angeles, where it is known through census records that he owned a home at
1841 West Jefferson Avenue where he and Georgetta lived for many years (1, 10, 11). At least one image (Series 4) that Rile
produced bears the stamp “H.F. Rile Photographer 1893 W. Jefferson, Los Angeles, Cal.,” and the 1916 Los Angeles City Directory
lists the 1893 W. Jefferson Address after his occupation as photographer along with his home address, so for a time he may
have had a studio close to his residence (12). Though few details are known about his life during the period after he moved
to Los Angeles, biographer Barbara Dye Callarman states that later in life, he was “increasingly afflicted with blindness”
(1). Census records and the Los Angeles City Directory report him as having taken a variety of jobs in addition to photographer
during the years he lived in Los Angeles including porter and night watchman at a department store (13, 14). However, it is
unknown whether he took jobs unrelated to photography for economic reasons or due to the fact that his deteriorating vision
may have interfered with his ability to work as a photographer. As late as 1942, at which time he was in his early 80s, his
occupation is listed as photographer in the Los Angeles City Directory as it was sporadically throughout his Los Angeles years
(15). The 1930 census indicates his status as a veteran, though little, if any, information about his possible military service
is known (13). Though some biographical sources report his date of death as October 26th, the California Death Index indicates
that he died on October 28th, 1949 (16). His remains were interred in a tomb at the mausoleum at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery
Early in his career, Rile produced albumin prints from glass plate negatives, some of which were mounted on cards bearing
elaborate advertisements for his gallery on the backs that include images and poems (Series 1). Sometime during the 1890s,
when the process was gaining popularity, he began working with silver prints.1 Though he documented the ways of life and
the landscape of much of Southern California, the detailed body of work related to Santa Monica that he produced chronicles
the growth of the city from “seaside resort to port city” (18).
1. Callarman, B. D. (1993). Photographers of nineteenth century Los Angeles County: A directory. Los Angeles (p. 81): Hacienda
2. Ancestry.com. (2011). California,Voter Registers,1866-1898 (p. 346). Retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com
3. Backus, M. (1893, February). News of the studios. Pacific Coast photographer: Devoted to photography as an art, (2)1, 288.
4. Ingersoll, L. A. (1908). Harry Frantz Rile. In Ingersoll's century history, Santa Monica Bay cities: Prefaced with a brief
history of the state of California, a condensed history of Los Angeles County, 1542 to 1908: Supplemented with an encyclopedia
of local biography and embellished with views of historic landmarks and portraits of representative people (p. 443). Ingersoll's
Century Series of California Local History Annals (Vol. 2). Los Angeles: Luther A. Ingersoll. Retrieved from http://books.google.com
5. Santa Monica. (1894, December 2). Los Angeles Times, p. 11. Retrieved from Proquest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles
Text referring to Rile reads: “H.F. Rile is in Mojave, taking snap-shots at government wards in the Indian school there.”
6. Santa Monica. (1894, April 12). Los Angeles Times, p. 9. Retrieved from Proquest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times
Text referring to the Riles reads: “H.F. Rile and wife are in San Francisco.”
7. Santa Monica. (1890, July 16). Los Angeles Times, p. 3. Retrieved from Proquest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times
Text referring to Rile reads: “H.F. Rile, who photographed our fire laddies on the Fourth, has them finished and on exhibition
at his gallery. They make a fine group.”
8. Santa Monica. (1902, January 6). Los Angeles Times, p. 11. Retrieved from Proquest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times
Text referring to Georgetta Rile reads: “Mrs. George Barney of Williams, Ariz. was entertained Saturday by Mrs. H.F. Rile.”
9. Latest estimates of chief fire losses: Counting the cost. (1912, September 5). Los Angeles Times, pp. 1,11. Retrieved from
Proquest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times database
Text referring to Rile reads: "The following sustained losses ranging from $50 to $1500...H.F. Rile, photographer..."
10. Ancestry.com. (2010). 1920 United States Federal Census (p. 9451). Retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com
11. Ancestry.com. (2012). 1940 United States Federal Census (p. 11B). Retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com
12. Los Angeles City Directory Company. (1916). Los Angeles City Directory: 1916 (p. 1668). Los Angeles Directory Company
Directory Publishers: Los Angeles.
13. Ancestry.com. (2002). 1930 United States Federal Census (p. 31B). Retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com
14. Los Angeles City Directory Company. (1918). Los Angeles City Directory: 1918 (p. 1659). Los Angeles Directory Company
Directory Publishers: Los Angeles.
15. Los Angeles City Directory Company. (1942). Los Angeles City Directory: 1942 (p. 2018). Los Angeles Directory Company
Directory Publishers: Los Angeles.
16. Ancestry.com. (2000) California Death Index, 1940-1997. Retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com
17. Ancestry.com. (2012). U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current. Retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com
18. Murphy, C. (1984, August). Souvenirs of Early Santa Monica. Westways, 76, 40-42.