Stacked in the lower level of the Reach center are 370 boxes crammed with negatives that chronicle the lives of Tri-City residents over more than a half-century.
The negatives are free to those who want to claim their bit of family history. But Nov. 28 will be last call.
The Reach center inherited the negatives from the former CREHST museum in Richland. Local professional photographers would donate their outdated negatives to the museum, which would sell them to raise money.
But hundreds of thousands of unsold negatives remain, and the Reach has plans for the lower level where they are temporarily stored. It wants to open the space for public use, including a market, commercial kitchen and exhibits.
The oldest negatives are from about 1950, when boys dressed up in suits, ties and ducktail haircuts for senior photos. Babies in fluffy dresses sat for black and white portraits. In the ’60s, girls wore pearls and bouffant hairdos for black and white yearbook photos.
“Total ’80s,” said Claire Dann, a Reach employee, holding one negative up to the light and finding a portrait of a subject wearing a sweater with snowflakes. Wedding negatives from that era show brides in billowy wedding gowns standing with their new husbands and attendants.
By the mid-’90s outdoor photos were the trend, and curly-haired children posed with flowers in a park. The most recent negatives were shot in 2007.
The Herald reported 14 years ago that CREHST had sold 200 packets of the negatives at $10 each in the three years it had been running the fundraiser.
The new owner of Marlin’s Columbia Photography donated almost a million negatives from Marlin and Kennel-Ellis studios. “I didn’t want to throw them away, because there’s so much history in them,” Hal Fleener said.
Phone calls came from as far away as West Virginia to retrieve the negatives. One woman, who could only afford two of her wedding pictures when she was younger, bought all of her wedding negatives and proofs from CREHST.
In addition to the Marlin photo negatives, the Reach also has negatives from Wendland and Northlight Studio.
The Reach wants to get as many of the negatives as possible into the hands of families rather than destroy them, said Laurie Church, center volunteer and training coordinator.
The Tri-City Genealogical Society several years ago indexed the negatives available then and posted the database on its website at tricitygenealogicalsociety.org so families could see what negatives were stored.
Those requesting photos should provide as much information as possible, including dates, names and the studio that took the portraits. If negatives are found, the center will call with the news and the negatives may be picked up at 1943 Columbia Park Trail, Richland.
Send requests, and be sure to include a telephone number, to firstname.lastname@example.org or Reach Center, Attn: Photo Negatives, P.O. Box 1160, Richland, WA 99352. The deadline for requests is Nov. 28, and volunteers and staff may be processing requests into the new year.