Arthur C. Pillsbury Foundation

Protecting and Preserving All Life -- By Extending Human Vision

Ansel Adams

Motives & Opportunity

More on Adams

            In 1927 Adams had a life's work of 17 photos good enough for the portfolio Albert Bender had obligingly offered to fund for Adams.  Adams was clumsy and without social skills.  

           I learned it was an 'open secret' that Ansel had torched the Pillsbury Studio from Fred Smart, a fellow activist, who knew one of Adam's helpers.  Fred reported that the fellow said they made jokes about it.  

           Dad had finally decided shortly before his death he had to let Virginia know he was no longer going to keep silent on what he had confronted her and Ansel within 1928.  Dad took keeping his word seriously and believed, with all sincerity, the two of them had been truthful.  He did not realize they had lied until close to the end of his life.  In 1987 Dad had turned over to me, his youngest daughter, the job of discovering why Arthur C. Pillsbury was disappearing from history and to restore his work to its rightful place.  I began work on a biography, which was what Dad thought would be needed.  This was slow doing.  As Dad had told me, Grandfather had disappeared.   The Internet would change that. 
             In November of 1990, Dad called me and said, "Don't say anything.  Just listen."  I did.  That story begins  HERE  and continues through the next,  PAGE 3 of the Century Story

          As you read the Adams TimeLine you see he was working part-time for Arthur C. Pillsbury and had few prospects for a career from 1917 - 1927.  He was not emotionally normal.  It has been suggested he suffered from Asberger's Syndrome.   

          His motive for setting the fire in the Pillsbury Studio was the opportunity this opened to him for a career for which he was otherwise unprepared.  His marriage to Virginia Rose Best came about because she needed an in-house photographer to enable her to keep the studio that she would inherit from her father, Harry Best.  

        By 1926 Mather was confident he would be able to make the National Parks economically viable by extracting money from concessionaires and using the profits from middle-class hospitality to pay for the five-star destinations, such as the Ahwahnee, he would build for his fellow elites. 

        Mather had persuaded J. Desmond to be the president of the company.  Mather invested heavily in the Desmond-lead business. This was self-dealing, a felony. The cost of building multiple luxury destinations bankrupted the Desmond Company.  The struggle did not end until Mather had managed to get rid of Foster Curry, who would have refused to merge the two companies.  It is likely this was so because the financial insolvency of the Yosemite Park Company was known. Don Tresidder married Mary Curry in 1920 becoming the agent of this effective theft of the company which, per Mather's wishes, eliminated the Curry's from Yosemite.   Tresidder oversaw the merger and became the Baron of Yosemite, doing Mather's will. 
       It is hard to imagine any member of the Curry family actually consenting to the merger. Even though they were not aware of the self-dealing fraud being perpetrated by Mather they knew and saw the impact on their husband and father.  David Curry did not approve of Don Tresidder.  His reasons could have been more substantial than we have supposed.  This was so despite Tresidder's charm and resulted in Tresidder being fired from his job at Camp Curry.    

      Mary Curry was shy and did not get along with her brother, Foster, according to family sources.  Marjory was two years younger than Mary and had married.  Her husband,  Marjory's husband partnered with Tresidder for about a year and was then dumped, along with Marjory, causing a permanent rupture in the family, continuing to this day. ​​

     Don Tresidder married Mary Curry in 1920 becoming the agent of this effective theft of the company which, per Mather's wishes, eliminated the Curry's from Yosemite.  

      Tresidder oversaw the merger, ending up in complete control, becoming the Baron of Yosemite.  Curry was gone, exactly what Mather wanted.  ​The rupture in the Curry family continues to this day.​​
Ansel Easton Adams Family Background
 William James Adams (paternal grandfather), whose ancestors had emigrated from Northern Ireland to New England in the early 1700s, born on August 11, 1829, in Thomaston, Maine.  William Adams traveled to California in the decade before the Civil War, the early 1850s, and starting grocery stores in Sacramento and San Francisco.  The migration to California was, at the time, still heavy with gold-seekers in need of foodstuffs, so this was a promising venture.  But fires destroyed both stores and 1856 saw Adams to Thomaston, Maine where he married Cassandra Hills McIntyre, widow, later that year. Cassandra would be Ansel Adams' grandmother.
Cassandra’s family was from Cushing, Maine, where she was born on January 13, 1836.
 They move to California where they build a very successful lumber business in San Francisco.   They have five children, the last of which is Charles Hitchcock Adams.
 Charles E. Bray (maternal grandfather) born on April 10, 1835, in   Baltimore, Maryland. Bray moved to Keokuk, Iowa in 1857 when he was 22 and there met Nan Hiler, who would be Ansel’s maternal grandmother.  Nan was born on December 31, 1844in Georgetown, Ohio.
 Charles Bray and Nan Hiler married in Charleston, Iowa in 1861.  Their daughter, Olive Bray born the next year on December 21, 1862, in Charleston, Iowa. The family joined the exodus west, venturing by wagon train to California where their second daughter, Mary, was born in Sacramento in 1964.  They remained in Sacramento for several years in Sacramento.  The Bray family then relocated to Carson City, Nevada.  Bray started a freight-hauling business, which prospered but the family finances suffered under his repeated bad investments. 
But Nan and her daughters made their home welcome to social activities, including the local Browning Society.  Evenings were spent in the gentile pastime of reciting Browning poems along with the less well-known efforts of local poets.  Painting china was included in these pursuits.  Ansel would recall some of these pieces in his parent’s home in San Francisco. 
The cultural divide of the genders, men in business and respected in proportion to their financial success, and women at home occupied with improving social activities were Ansel’s experience with the culture.  When his grandmother, Nan Bray, died in 1908 his Grandfather Charles Bray and his Aunt Mary came to live with them. Grandfather Bray died in 1919; Aunt Mary in 1944. 
Charles Hitchcock Adams, Ansel’s father, was born May 25, 1868, in San Francisco to Cassandra and William Adams.  William James Adams had prospered in life, beginning a lumber business first known as Adams & Blinn and later as Washington Mill Company.  The company grew mightily, cutting the forests now available for use and transport both in California and elsewhere.  In the expanding market created by the demand from San Francisco and the discovery of silver the company, Adams & Blinn, built a mill and established a port in Seabeck, Washington State. But the market was changing.  When the mill burned in 1886 it would not be rebuilt.

The lumber industry was now growing more competitive.
Charles Hitchcock was the last of their five children.  Unscaling in the manner common to the newly wealthy,  William Adams built "Unadilla," the Adams' twenty-three room family home, is constructed on fifty-four acres in what is now Atherton, California.  The home burned, the family fortune was lost and the family worked to restore what had been lost within a single generation.  
Charles Adams and Olive Bray met while the two Bray daughters, Olive and Mary, were visiting San Francisco.  Strongly attracted, Charles began traveling to Carson City to continue their acquaintance.  The couple would marry in Carson City, Nevada 1896.
Their only child, Ansel Easton Adams is born on February 20, 1902, at 114 Maple Street, San Francisco and was named for his father’s brother-in-law, Ansel Easton, who had married his Aunt Louise.  The older Ansel, Ansel Mills Easton, was reported to be a gentleman of independent means.  He was, in fact, a member of the very new elite springing up in the San Francisco area who had changed the face of California. The book, Imperial San Francisco
Their only child, Ansel Easton Adams is born on February 20, 1902, at 114 Maple Street, San Francisco.   

Ansel's parents persevered over the years in their attempts to get Ansel through school.  Due to the problems he caused in school they allowed him to visit the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition every day instead of attending school.   The next summer, 1916, Ansel went to Yosemite for the first time.  He had grown up on stories of privilege and assumed he was entitled to this, himself.  

The Adams  Co-Conspirators

Virginia Best Adams 
           Virginia experienced the early excitement of sitting on the lap of Teddy Roosevelt and visiting Paris and with her father, Harry Cassie Best, an artist.  The Best Studio in Yosemite was small and its profits limited.  Virginia grew up with the Pillsbury children, especially Grace, two years older than herself,  and Arthur, who was nine months younger than herself.  Narrative

            Virginia's mother died in 1920 when she was 16.  She immediately began working to keep the Best Studio working and also worked, when she could, at the Pillsbury Studio a few steps down the road.  Knowing that her prospects for retaining the Best  Studio in Yosemite were low unless she found a photographer she began paying more attention to Arthur F. Pillsbury, then running the post-card machine and expected by those in Yosemite Village to inherit the operation in Yosemite.   But this did not happen.  Arthur F. went off to Stanford and began studies for a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering. In 1933 he would marry a young woman majoring in Theoretical Math at UC Berkeley. 
             Virginia Best was neither an artist or a photographer. She would continue to run the Best Studio, marry Ansel Adams while ensuring he had no ownership in the operation.  It was a marriage of mutual need and greed, not desire or love, which is clear from the way Ansel lived his life without comment or complaint from Virginia.  Ansel, by reports of his children, was also a failure as a father.  It is likely he did not think this role was part of the deal he had cut.  

Steve Douglas Harrison 
      More of the story is here, along with his work history and associations.  His motivations included obtaining a full-time permanent job with the NPS without fulfilling any of the educational requirements.  His special relationship with the Adams family ade any real requirements unnecessary.  Lying, enticing, and taking advantage of a man who trusted him paid off in spades