TAMPA — Chip Weiner admits that he is obsessed with the Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection owned by the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative.
The photographer has pored over the more than 20,000 publicly available images chronicling Tampa’s history from the late-1800s through mid-1900s.
He is on a mission to revisit the locations captured in photographs and document how they have changed — or not.
He also wants to know more about the history of the Burgert family.
“It is the crown jewel of photo collections,” Weiner said. “It’s become my obsession.”
On Saturday, Oct. 23 at 3 p.m., Weiner will share his obsession when he hosts The Burgert Brothers: Celebration and Inspiration, a virtual event that is part of the county library system’s Family Heritage Festival. To register, visit HCPLC.org/FamilyHeritage.
The library describes the Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection as “the history of the Tampa Bay area as it faced wars, natural disasters, economic booms and busts. The images offer a view of a community at work, from cigar factories, sponge docks and strawberry fields, to grocery stores, service stations and bank lobbies. Many of the photographs also depict a community at leisure, enjoying a day at the beach, participating in local celebrations, attending the Florida State Fair or playing favorite games such as golf, tennis, shuffleboard or checkers.”
Weiner’s obsession was forged during the early lockdown days of the pandemic, when he passed time by scrolling through the collection that can be viewed through the library’s website.
“I became curious, wondering what those scenes look like now,” he said.
He grabbed his digital camera, jumped in his car, and sought to find out and document his discoveries.
“It all came together into a book” titled Burgert Brothers: Another Look that he published last year, Weiner said. “It is 160 photos, 80 from then and 80 from now.”
He snapped photographs from the same angles and in the same light that the Burgert Brothers did.
“I wanted everything to match perfectly,” Weiner said.
Asked for his favorite, Weiner laughed. “That’s like trying to pick your favorite child.”
But he was willing to highlight two from his book.
What was the Seaboard Oil Company in 1935 is now Avelar’s Paint and Body Shop at 201 W. Columbus Dr.
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“It was originally a pristine gas station,” Weiner said. “Now it’s just this beat up place.”
But Davis Island’s Palace of Florence Luxury Apartments remains as “pristine” as when the Burgert Brothers photographed it in 1926, when it was known as Palace of Florence Apartment Hotel, he said. “It has been kept up and remains this beautiful building.”
He has continued the project since the book published and might release another someday. In the meantime, Weiner has sought to learn everything about the collection’s history.
According to news archives, family patriarch Samuel Burgert moved from Ohio to Tampa in 1899 and, along with son Willard, opened B. Burgert & Son, specializing in portraits. Four years later, Willard Burgert founded Tampa Photo Supply, later renamed Tampa Photo and Art Supply Company.
In 1917, two other Burgert sons — Al and Jean — purchased Fishbaugh Photography, Weiner said. Most of the collection’s earliest photos are from Fishbaugh’s archives, which the Burgerts also bought.
They renamed the company Burgert Brothers and “focused on commercial photography,” Weiner said.
News archives say it was the first such business in Tampa.
In the 1940s, according to Weiner’s research, the Burgerts sold the company to their business partner, Al Severson. Severson later sold it to his nephews, who then sold the collection to photo dealer Carlton Trimble.
In 1972, for an undisclosed amount, Trimble sold the collection to Henry Cox, who owned the Tampa Photo Supply company founded by Willard Burgert.
If “Henry Cox had a master plan for their use when he bought them, it was never realized ... The negatives moldered in file cabinets,” the Tampa Tribune wrote in 1974 when he sold the collection to the library for $2,000.
In all, according to news archives, the library purchased 65,000 negatives.
“The collection is now stored in refrigerators and conditioned cabinets,” Weiner said, “where the library continues to submit negatives to a conservation company for preservation and print.”