Palo Alto, Calif.
Best remembered for his photographs documenting the fiery aftermath of San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake and his images of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE), Willard E. Worden also created picturesque views of San Francisco ranging from Ocean Beach seascapes to urban scenes of Chinatown and Union Square. Born in 1868 in Smyrna, Delaware, his father was an inventor of washing machines. The family had moved to Philadelphia by 1881, by which time he had probably completed eighth grade. While there is no record of Worden attending any of Philadelphia’s art schools, by the early 1890s Worden was working in the art department of the “Philadelphia Inquirer” along with John Sloan (1871-1951). Both young men were members of the Unity Art Club, which offered life-drawing sessions. Sloan later recalled that the two of them with other friends would go to the suburbs on Sundays to draw and paint in the open air. Worden was a member of Philadelphia’s short-lived Charcoal Club in 1893, which had been created by Robert Henri (1865-1929), Sloan and others to hold modeling sessions. The membership included William James Glackens (1870-1938). By 1895 Glackens and Henri were on a long trip to Europe and Sloan went to work for another newspaper. Worden joined the Pennsylvania National Guard and was mobilized in 1898 for training in Alabama, Florida and Georgia during the Spanish-American War. He later recalled that part of his kit was a small camera, and he returned a first lieutenant and an enthusiastic photographer. He re-enlisted in 1899 with the Eleventh Volunteer Cavalry, which was deployed to quell the Philippine Insurrection. He returned to America in 1901, landing in San Francisco, where he stayed after being mustered out of service. He quickly established himself as a professional photographer, and was listed as such in a May 1901 San Francisco city directory. The earliest surviving photographs by Worden date from 1902. He published a catalogue of “San Francisco Views” in 1904 that documents the pre-earthquake city, with views of Ocean Beach, Seal Rocks, the Sutro Baths and the Golden Gate. Following the 1906 earthquake, Worden acted as a photojournalist recording the fire and the results of the destruction. Probably his best-known earthquake photograph is of the six columns and a lintel that remained from the Alban N. Towne mansion on Nob Hill, also photographed by Arnold Genthe (1869-1942), known as the “Portals of the Past.” Worden photographed the Portals on Nob Hill, framing the ruins of the old City Hall, and in Golden Gate Park, where the ruin was placed in 1909. Another of his well-known photographs shows the burning of the Cliff House in 1907. After the earthquake and fire Worden rented an apartment with an outbuilding on Turk Street near Jefferson Square. He hired Teresa Beatrice Glenn (1861-1955) as his bookkeeper and secretary, who lived with him and worked for him until his death. The relationship appears to have been strictly professional. He had a busy practice as a commercial photographer, recording housing subdivisions and new buildings. He also created art photographs in the pictorialist style showing marine views, coastal sand dunes and seagulls in flight, often sold as hand-colored prints. He produced hundreds of views of San Francisco’s shoreline. The Yosemite Valley was another photographic subject. As the PPIE buildings were being constructed, Warden joined other photographers working on contract for the Cardinell-Vincent publishing company, which had the exclusive photographic commission for the Exposition. As an “official photographer” Worden recorded the architecture and sculptures of the fair, including night scenes. He was one of the local photographers who had an exhibit booth in the Palace of Liberal Arts, where he advertised himself as an art photographer. He won a medal of honor, the second-highest class of award, for his “Exhibit of Pictorial Photography, Including Colored Photographs,” which were hand-colored prints. Worden opened a gallery on Stockton Street near Union Square in 1916, exhibiting “art photographs.” He apparently sold from his stock of negatives, taking few new photographs. At age fifty-five he applied for a veteran’s pension from the Federal Government, claiming invalid status. By early 1946 at age seventy-six Worden’s health was deteriorating. He had sold his business and his secretary Teresa Glenn arranged for hundreds of Worden’s negatives to be given to Wells Fargo Bank. She had him moved to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Palo Alto, where he died on September 6, 1946. He was buried in the military cemetery in the Presidio of San Francisco. (JAG, TNB 8/2015) Selected bibliography: Ganz, James A. Portals of the Past: The Photographs of Willard Worden. Exhibition catalog. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2015.