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About... Personius-Warne Studio

1893 - 2018


This year starts our 125th year of creating fine images for our customers!

4016 CHEMUNG HISTORICAL JOURNAL
269 Baldwin St. Brownstone

The Baldwin St. brownstone south of Church St. is architecturally unique in Elmira. It's the only one in town, and became more noticeable with the razing of the Carroll Motors and Commie Tires buildings on Baldwin St. three months ago. Here is the story of the brownstone, as written by Mrs. Lewis Rodabaugh, whose husband operated the Personius- Warne Studio for more than 40 years. By Jean A. Rodabaugh

In 1872, Jabin A. and Oscar F.Bundy built adjacent brick with brownstone facade houses on Baldwin St., later numbered 267 and 269. The Bundys, who owned a grocery store and also a dance hall, designed their homes like the New York City brownstones, with a lower level partially underground and the main floor 13 steps from the ground. The present Personius-Warne Studio was originated by George A. Personius who began his career in the 1890s as an itinerant, going house to house around the country side with his red wagon (including darkroom), taking children and family portraits. He later had a studio on E. Water St. and in the early 1900s (circa 1914) bought the Bundy home at 269 Baldwin St. from Lottie Bundy Baxter and Julia Bundy Tompkins to use as a studio. Mr. Personius added a camera room with skylight and fireplace on the rear of the main floor and a central heating system beneath. His friend, artist Lars Hoftrup, painted many of the studio walls, including an unusual shaped powder room which remains to this day. When Lewis F. Rodabaugh bought the business and building in 1947, there was a fireplace in each of the main floor rooms, as well as two in the lower level (one having been used for cooking), a dumb waiter from lower level to the third floor, and gas light fixtures on walls of most rooms. There were beautiful mahogany stairways and railing from lower level to second floor, a floor-to-ceiling mahogany framed mirror in the front parlor, a back porch on both second and third floors, and the bedrooms on the third floor all opened into the hall as they were servants' quarters. The business was owned by Randall Warne in 1945-47. Lewis Rodabaugh sold the photography business and the building to Linda and Craig Hutchings in December, 1985. The Hutchings still own the building today. The southern part of the double brownstone was razed a half century ago and replaced by the building known as Commie's (Comereski) tire store.

Bob Warne, son of Randall Warne, as he remembers!

Long gone from Elmira now and with nostalgic feelings of holidays past, I decided to Goggle around my boyhood hometown only to come across your website (www.pws1893.com) and the 2003 Star Gazette article on the Studio. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it still carries the family name, in still the same brownstone. The history page of your site was most interesting, more than I think I ever knew, being just 10 to12 when Dad owned the Studio. But it started to bring back memories of the good times I had there helping Dad and learning a lifetime photography hobby.

I remember ...

The Flood of 1946, helping to move everything from the lower level to the first floor ahead of the rising waters. Dad had left me safe at home up on First Street, and was mad when I showed up at the Studio, having walked a circuitous route to avoid the flood waters, but also happy to have my help. As I recall the lower level was the "processing" level with all the associated equipment and files. By the time we were done, we were trapped, the water too high to return home, but obviously in no danger in a tri-level brownstone.

One of Dad's specialties was candid weddings, a relatively new concept at the time I think. I remember long, tiring days, early morning until late at night, helping to lug the cameras, tripods, film packs, etc., as we followed the wedding party from place to place. Then back to the studio to start processing dozens of shots because everyone wanted to see proofs the next day.

Another specialty was babies. I remember a small, relatively narrow room, I believe on the first floor, set with all the background, lights and associated equipment of those days,stuffed toys, etc. for baby at one end, the camera at the other end. Place the baby at the one end, attracting its' attention and encouraging expressions any way its family and Dad could, and shoot away. Lots of cute pictures! I seem to remember Dad put book together of baby shots with humorous baby remarks in cartoon-like balloons.

And, dogs. Dad did advertising photography for a dog food company not too far from Elmira, as I remember, the name Casco sticks in my mind. One of those now famous shots of several bowls of different dog food, but some how the dogs always raced to eat the Casco, or whatever. Young as I was, I didn't understand how they could make the dogs do that, until Dad explained they didn't feed the dogs for awhile so they were very hungry and just went to the food they had been raised on.

Dad was an artist in everything he touched - by education at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in wood working - I never had a store bought Christmas toy until I was 12, in photography, of course, and eventually as Art Director for the Howell Advertising Agency, the Agency for which he did the dog shots. He did so much in and for Elmira in all too short a time, dying in 1953 of heart disease at age 48.

And, I'm sure there are many other memories hidden somewhere in the recesses of my mind, for they were good times. It was also nice to see that the Studio is still a family business, as it was with us. Mom was the homemaker, my sister too young to help, but a frequent target of Dad's camera, as were we all, leaving the "work" to Dad with a bit of help from me, but it was our family livelihood.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane,

Bob Warne
Palmetto, FL

Interested and wanting more information I contacted Bob to see if he could tell me more.

Craig,

Dad sold the studio to move the family to Youngstown, Ohio, where he was born and raised, at his father's request, to join his father's business. My Grandfather Warne was owner of the Niles Boiler Factory in Niles, Ohio and was in failing health. I believe it was a reluctant decision borne of family loyalty,one that ultimately proved to be a mistake. So, within a year or so we were back "home" in Elmira and Dad joined the Howell Advertising Agency.

The Southern Tier was by then "home" to the Warnes, Dad having gone to college in Rochester, as I said, met and married my mother who was born and raised in Canton, PA, and where they first lived during the early years of the Depression, Dad earning money by touring the rural countryside using his artistic talent to decorate rural mail boxes, Mom a school teacher. By the time I came along in 1935 they were living in Syracuse, NY where he was working, I believe in a advertising agency. But within year, we moved to Elmira and Dad went to work for the Howell Box Company.

That was one of my earliest recollections of his photographic skills, courtesy of a photo scrap book my sister now has in Mesa, AZ. Dad's job took him through the New England states a couple of times a year, and one such trip was a week or so following the great 1938 Hurricane. Dad took literally hundreds of pictures of the devastating aftermath with his small fold up Kodak candid camera.

Another photographic memory was during World War II when Dad was a photographer in the Elmira civil defense organization. When the civil defense sirens went off, his responsibility was to go into one of the tallest church spires - I forget which church - prepared to take pictures of any action taking place. As a youngster, it was a big deal because the family car had one of those black gas rationing stickers entitling us to more gas than the normal family!

Dad was an artist on canvas as well as with a camera and Lars Hoftrup was a family friend as I remember. I think he was associated with the Art Museum where some of Dad's, work was on display from time to time, mostly his photographic work. I remember the Director of the Museum, whether Lars or the name Anderson comes to mind as well. What impressed me was this person had a house along side the Chemung River, up river towards Corning, a house with 6 or so step up levels with concrete floors, and as the river flooded, as it did regularly in those days before flood control, he would just move the furnishings up level to level to avoid the water, flush it out and move the furnishings back down when the flood subsided.

If you know anyone belonging to the First Baptist Church, another legacy of Dad's artistry, if any other than mine still exist, is a 12' dinner plate with a detailed line drawing of the church on its face. I remember that the lines on his first drawing were too close together, so that when reduced to fit the plate, they merged together, so he had to do the drawing from scratch again to get it right!

I'm not the family historian I should be, as memories of him fleeted with his early death, and shortly I was off to Cornell University, never to return to Elmira except for short visits to Mom and sister Sue from time to time. But the memories do start to bubble up with something like the Studio to focus on! I'll be happy to dredge up more if I can be of any further historical help.

Yes, we have enjoyed Florida winters for 25 years now, and the only time we miss the snow is in fact Christmas Day, can't beat a white Christmas! So, if it's white, think Warne !

All the very best of this holiday season,

Bob

Today, while doing limited studio portraiture, Personius Warne Studio, is out on location, being the areas leading sports photographer specializing in team and individual photography along with photographing numerous pre schools in the area.