Leo Hetzel Photograph Collection

Finding aid created by Imperial County Historical Society Pioneers Museum staff using RecordEXPRESS
Imperial County Historical Society Pioneers Museum
373 E. Aten Road
Imperial, California 92251
(760) 352-3211

Descriptive Summary

Title: Leo Hetzel Photograph Collection
Dates: 1913-1949
Collection Number: A2012.22
Creator/Collector: Leo Hetzel
Extent: 12.87 linear feet (11 boxes and 199 folders). Digital materials include 6,229 digitized photographs.
Online items available
Repository: Imperial County Historical Society Pioneers Museum
Imperial, California 92251
Abstract: This collection contains a total of 6,229 photographs that cover everyday life in the Imperial Valley from 1913 to 1949 by portrait photographer Leo Hetzel. Photographs in this collection show images including but not limited to: farmers at work in the fields, desert landscapes, group portraits, and the homes and businesses of those in the Imperial Valley. A substantial number of photographs also cover the creation of: the All American Canal, canals by the Imperial Irrigation District, and the creation of the Hoover Dam (not located in the Imperial Valley).
Language of Material: English


Positive prints in the collection are open to researchers who may request access by emailing Pioneers’ Museum Archivist at archivist@pioneersmuseum.net for further information. Access to negatives in the collection is restricted due to fragility of the materials.

Publication Rights

Copyrighted. Rights are owned by the Imperial County Historical Society. The Copyright Holder has given Institution permission to provide access to the digitized work online. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the Copyright Holder. In addition, the reproduction of some materials may be restricted by terms of gift or purchase agreements, donor restrictions, privacy and publicity rights, licensing and trademarks. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owner. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user. For permission to publish materials created by the donor, please email archivist at archivist@pioneersmuseum.net.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item]. Leo Hetzel Photograph Collection. Collection Number: A2012.22. Imperial County Historical Society Pioneers Museum

Acquisition Information

The Spencer Library at Imperial Valley College transferred ownership of the Hetzel collection to the Imperial County Historical Society in 1984 in order to better care for the deteriorating negatives.

Biography/Administrative History

Victor Leopold “Leo” Hetzel (1877-1949) was a photographer who was born to musician parents, George and Katherine Hetzel in 1877. Raised in Northern California, Hetzel began practicing photography when he was gifted with a box camera at 14 years old. Later after completing his secondary education, Hetzel spent time in the Pacific Northwest traveling and photographing everything that was in his eyesight--primarily loggers in their work environment. Hetzel then traveled back down to California where he settled in Los Angeles to work as a portrait photographer at Hartsook Studios. There he met his future wife, Stella Davis in 1907 when she decided to have her portrait taken. They were married in 1908 and proceeded to have a son, Victor, in 1910. After spending a few years living in Los Angeles, Hetzel--wanting a change of scenery--traveled to the Imperial Valley to see if it was the right fit for him and his family. Charmed by the desert landscape and its inhabitants, Hetzel and his family moved and set up shop in El Centro, California in 1913. From his arrival in 1913 in El Centro, Hetzel became the Imperial Valley’s most prolific photographer from the 1910s till his death in 1949. With the motto of “Anything in Photography,” Hetzel set out to capture everyone and everything in the Imperial Valley that had charmed him. These photos ranged from school and church group portraits, commissioned promotional photos of growing businesses, individuals in their work settings, and the homes and businesses of individuals in the Valley during his time. An enthusiast of automobiles, the outdoors, and of the rapid growth in infrastructure during the first half of the 20th century, Hetzel captured his interest with photographs of: people proudly showcasing their personal vehicles, car show celebrations, desert landscapes, the creation of the All American Canal, creation of the Imperial Airport, and even the creation of the Hoover Dam. After Hetzel’s death in 1949, his studio, Hetzel’s Photography, was sold to photographer Warren Rhodes in 1950 who came across thousands of Hetzel’s photograph collection in the form of glass plate negatives and acetate film negatives. Rhodes donated Hetzel’s collection to the Imperial County Courthouse which was overseen by Art Sinclair, a friend of Hetzel’s. Hetzel’s collection was then moved to storage overseen by the Imperial Valley Development Agency. Following the disbanding of the Agency years later, the collection was moved to the Spencer Library at Imperial Valley College. The Spencer Library then transferred ownership of the collection over the Imperial County Historical Society to better care for the negatives. The final resting place of the Hetzel Collection became the Pioneers’ Museum when it was created in 1992 by the Imperial County Historical Society.

Scope and Content of Collection

From the original donation to the Museum, the Hetzel collection contained only deteriorating negatives so the processing team at the Museum converted these materials into positive prints for future use. Available for the public are 6,229 positive prints that cover every aspect of life in the Imperial Valley from 1913 to 1949 by portrait photographer Leo Hetzel. Original negatives are still held in the Museum but are no longer available for public access. The majority of Hetzel’s photographs are focused on the people in the Imperial Valley. Covered by Hetzel are portraits of individuals, group photos of clubs, churches, and schools, and business owners standing proudly in front of their business. Notable individuals photographed in this collection are Ira D. Aten, Boyce Aten, Victor “Leo” Hetzel, Victor “Leo” Hetzel Jr., and Benjamin H. “Ben” Hulse. The Atens and Ben Hulse were active community members that shaped local and state legislation with their times on the Imperial Valley District Board (Aten), the Imperial County Board of Supervisors (Hulse), and later on the California Senate (Hulse). Hetzel’s photographs of the farming industry showcase the numerous crops that were grown during the 1930s and 1940s which included: alfalfa, asparagus, cantaloupes, carrots, dates, grapefruits, honeydew, lettuce, maize, strawberries, sugar beets, and watermelons. In addition to the fruits and vegetables grown in the Valley, photographs in the collection also show livestock that included: cattle, chicken, ducks, pigs, and turkeys. Farms covered in the collection are: Arden Farms, Dorman Farms Co., Farnsworth Dairy, Havekorst Dairy Farm, Hester Dairy, Johnson Dairy, Rohrer Dairy, Sinclair Dairy, and Sunland Dairy. During the 1930s and 1940s there was a major public works movement happening nationwide that trickled its way down to the Imperial Valley and the surrounding areas. New and important roadways that were captured by Hetzel’s photographs are: Highway 80, Highway 86, New River, and the Ocean to Ocean Highway. Imperial Valley dams and waterways captured by Hetzel are the Imperial Dam, Rositas Dam, and the All American Canal. Dams not in the Imperial Valley but included in the collection are the Hoover Dam (formerly called the Boulder Dam) and Parker Dam. There are also photographs of the Salton Sea and introduction of fish to the Salton Sea. Leo Hetzel was also known for taking promotional photographs for local businesses in the Imperial Valley. This collection has photographs of automobile dealerships/garages, bakeries, construction companies, department stores, gas companies, hotels and service stations. Regarding hotels, Hetzel took photographs of the initial construction and openings of both the Barbara Worth Hotel in Brawley, CA and the De Anza Hotel in Calexico, CA. The photos of the hotels covered the exteriors of the buildings, the lobbies, the rooms, and patrons who frequented these hotels. Note: all photographs can be accessed through the Museum’s online database at https://www.pioneersmuseum.net/ under the “searchable collections” section. Subject Terms: For a list of subject terms refer to subject terms pdf file. Contents Listing: For a list of contents refer to content listing pdf file.

Indexing Terms

Imperial County, California
Print, Photographic

Additional collection guides