1920 1

Eston Saxe Cheney (September 21, 1869 – April 30, 1941) was a commercial photographer, noted for images showing development in Oakland in the 1910s through 1930s.

Cheney was born in Boone County, Iowa in 1869 to Orin Arden Cheney and Nellie Saxe Cheney, near the middle of 8 children. His father was in the newspaper business, and his uncle, Lathrop Cheney, was in the printing business. The family moved several times, but c.1891 ended up in Oregon, eventually settling in Oregon City, Oregon. The 1900 census lists Nellie as an artist, and two of Eston's sisters, Bessie and Ethel, as photographers, who are also listed in the 1910 census. Two of Eston's brothers went into the newspaper business. Eston did some photography there before moving to the Bay Area.

Eston married Elsie Lamb (Cheney) (1873 – 1952) in 1901 in Oakland, and they had two sons, William Owen Cheney (1903 – 1986), and Eston Saxe Cheney, Jr. (1907 – 1992). In 1904, the Cheneys had a house built at 1444 - 4th Avenue (now 1838 Park Blvd.) where the Parkway Theater was later built. William became a civil engineer, and Eston, Jr. worked for an insurance company. (NB: one source says he became a commercial photographer and worked with his parents, but no documentation has been found for that yet.)


1916 ad

Elsie's father, William P. Lamb, had a business c.1900 making photo mounts, W.P. Lamb & Co. In 1903, he incorporated the company, and E.S. Cheney was one of the directors. 2 Eston worked as a designer, presumably for his father-in-law, and between 1904 and 1907 filed five patents for designs for mounts and mats for photos. 3,7 Interesting side note: a witness for some of the patent filings was S.H. Nourse, probably Stephen Henry Nourse, father of accomplished amateur photographer Henry Nourse. The Nourse family lived 7-8 blocks from the Cheneys. Also interesting is that a 1907 patent says Eston was "residing at Haywards." 7

The first reference found to Cheney taking commercial photos in California is from 1909, noting that E.S. Cheney of Mercantile Advertising Company was filming the "Rush of '49" celebrations in Stockton. It also says the company was headquartered in San Francisco. 8 No references in the directories have been found yet, but one of Cheney's brothers, Grafton Brete Cheney, had an advertising business in San Francisco c.1909-1910.

By the 1910 census, Eston is listed as the proprietor and William Lamb as a bookkeeper for an advertising company, with the Cheneys and the Lambs living in the home on 4th Avenue. 1910 is about when the first photos around Oakland attributed to Cheney begin to appear. The 1911 directory hadn't quite caught up, as it still lists Eston as a designer, though Grafton had moved to Oakland and was in the real estate business.

By the 1912 directory, they had changed the company to Cheney Photo Advertising Company.

1912 directory1912 directory

A 1916 ad for Cheney Photo Advertising lists E.S. Cheney, president and manager; W.P. Lamb, vice-president; and E.L. Cheney (Elsie) as secretary.  It's said that by 1917, he had taken over 10,000 images in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. 3

Although he became known for photos of commercial buildings and real estate developments, Cheney also took scenic photos, and photos and films for the California Fish and Game Commission. 5

c.1913 photo of Lakeside Park 4

Cheney also owned some real estate, and perhaps became over-extended. In 1918, he declared bankruptcy, listing liabilities totaling $60,546.40 and assets of $955. Almost $6,000 of the liabilities were on real estate holdings, but the rest was owed to merchants, photo supply companies, and others. 6

(R.B. Bird is mentioned as a photographer with Cheney on some of these photos from 1923 or later: Photos from Survey HABS CA-2272; possibly Ralph B. Bird)


Cheney used different logos to mark some of his photos, but most notable was a stylized 'CPA Co' for Cheney Photo Advertising Company, which first appear in 1911. Later he used a simple written Cheney Photo or Cheney logo. Some photos attributed to him have just a catalog number, and others have no visible mark.

detail of 1912 photodetail of 1927 photo

There is a third logo that appears on some early photos attributed to Cheney for the Mercantile Advertising Company. It often appears as stylized A + M or triangles, with 2 dots beneath it. But it appears more clearly on a few photos, and the left dot appears to be a C; in some the right dot appears to be an O.

detail of 1910 photodetail of 1911 photodetail of c.1912 photo

Pages with Cheney photos

Links and References

  1. Taking Census of the Farallones Oakland Tribune October 3, 1920
  2. To Make Photo Mounts Oakland Enquirer June 18, 1903
  3. Eston Cheney HistoryOfPiedmont.com
  4. Views of Alameda County, California, ca. 1913 BANC PIC 19xx.069--ffALB, collection UC Berkeley Bancroft Library
  5. California Fish and Game January 1931
  6. Photographer Lists Liabilities of $60,546 Oakland Tribune September 21, 1918
  7. Eston S. Cheney Google Patent search
  8. Moving Pictures Stockton Daily Evening Record October 26, 1909