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Studio, Robinson and Roe

Time Period: 
Chicago and Manhattan

Robinson & Roe Studio  (fl. 1877-1898)

Founded in 1877 in Chicago by William A. Robinson and Alfred J. Roe, Robinson & Roe Studio designed from the first to be a high volume portrait gallery.  William A. Robinson, prior to the partnership, had operated a successful portrait studio at 622 W. Lake Street for some years.  Roe also had an independent studio located at 47 Milwaukee. 

Located at 77 Clark Street, it had two reception parlors outfitted in luxe style, several lady attendants, and six camera operators.  A top floor posing room was reckoned the most spacious located outside of Manhattan.  This permitted theatrical companies to do cast photographs in the studio.  “It is the only gallery in the West prepared for and having facilities for work of this nature.” Not every show business shoot proved easy.  When vaudevillian Charlie Foster brought his three bulldogs—Tip, Bob, and Nell—to the studio for a portrait, Alfred Roe made the mistake of shouting “Rats” at the dogs to make them look up.  They exploded off the posing stand and ran the upper floor in a frenzy seeking foes.  Roe went into hiding. 

The success of the business prompted the partners to open a New York Branch at 227 Fulton Street in Brooklyn early in the 1880s.  Both Robinson and Roe spent portions of the year in New York.  In 1887 Alfred Roe relocated to Manhattan, and opened a studio at 279 Sixth Avenue.  In the following year William A. Robinson relocated as well and the partners fixed upon 54 West 14th Street as the site of their principle gallery. Robinson’s wife, an artistic photographer of some note, opened an independent studio in 1889 at 174 East 126th Street in Manhattan and later 2320 Third Avenue. Her gallery was known simply as “Robinson Studio” and regularly exhibited at the American Institute, earning medals in 1892. 

Robinson & Roe remained a dual city partnership for much of the 1890s, with their trained operators running the Chicago branch.  But by 1898 the two photographers determined to go their own ways.  William worked with his wife.  Alfred J. Roe maintained an independent studio in New York City until 1906.  In 1907 he moved to Rochester, New York, and worked on technical issues of photography with Eastman Kodak. 

Sources:  “Robinson & Roe,”  Origin, Growth, and Usefulness of the Chicago Board of Trade (New York:  Historical Publishing Company, 1885-86), 405.  William T. “Biff” Hall, The Turnover Club; Tale Told at Meetings of the Turnover Club, about Actors and Actresses (Chicago and New York:  Rand, McNally & Co., 1890),  183.