Marilyn Janeck Blaisdell (1928-2016) was a historian of San Francisco photography. She authored and published several books about the city's landmarks, most notably those on the Pacific's northwest corner, the Sutro Baths, Cliff House and Playland-at-the-Beach.
Her biggest professional pride and joy was her one-of-a-kind shop at the Cliff House, San Francisciana, where she sold photographic images, old and new, and various series of historical postcards, prints and posters. Among the favorite postcard series she published were those of black and white, turn-of-the-20th-century bathing beauties, Victorian houses, the 1906 earthquake and fire, and the glossy color California fruit and vegetable crate labels. Her most popular poster was a half-sized reproduction of the 78" by 80" Sutro Baths billboard poster, an original of which she displayed on the back wall of her shop.
Born in Yakima, Washington, she grew up in Spokane and Portland. Her childhood passions for collecting, tennis and bike-riding lasted her lifetime. She first visited San Francisco as a schoolgirl with her family to attend the 1939 World's Fair. That was the start of her love affair with the City. She earned her B.A. and M.A. from Stanford, and taught school in South San Francisco before marrying F. William (Bill) Blaisdell, her college boyfriend, in December of 1950.
After she and her husband and growing family moved around the country for Bill's medical training, they moved back to San Francisco in 1960. The family of six children lived in Veterans Hospital housing at Lands End, from where she enjoyed visiting the dilapidated but still open Sutro Baths building. After she and her family moved across town in 1966, Marilyn began her education in the area's history by helping to organize the mountains of photographs, advertising and publicity materials and papers of the owner of the Cliff House and Playland, George Whitney, Jr. Thus began her passionate collecting of paper goods related to San Francisco and California history.
She was never a photographer but was a keen and ever-appreciative scholar of images. She had a sharp eye for details and perspectives and was most happy in detecting patterns and new beauties in San Francisco scenes. Students, historians and collectors sought out her expert knowledge of and opinions on dates and locales of historic events, buildings and geography. She was an ever-eager student herself, never tiring of learning and uncovering new information.
From 1980 to 2001, she maintained a residence near Ocean Beach and commuted to San Francisco from Sacramento. Upon her husband's semi-retirement from U. C. Davis in 2001, they resettled permanently in San Francisco. In the meantime, she was the primary Bay Area distributor of her prints, postcards and posters as well as her unique San Francisciana books of photographs of Sutro Baths, the Cliff House, Playland-at-the-Beach and her final work, on the Mission district's Woodward's Gardens, San Francisco's first family resort. She was pleased as well with her book for children and crate-label collectors, Alphabetical Label Book.
She was featured in and interviewed for a number of articles and documentaries on San Francisco history, most recently in the film Sutro's: The Palace at Lands End. In her last several years she delighted in organizing her immense collections of postcards, maps and photographs into gifts to the San Francisco Public Library, where they are now maintained. Her son Richard deals in some of her remaining collections at Blaisdellcollectibles.
Marilyn Blaisdell is remembered with love and admiration not only as a San Francisco history enthusiast but as a generous and vibrant wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
About The Marilyn Blaisdell Collection
Many images on the OpenSFHistory site originated in the collection of Marilyn Blaisdell. Our Private Collector had a long and complimentary relationship with Mrs. Blaisdell for many years and copied much of her collection. The OpenSFHistory/OutsideLands catalog numbers starting with wnp37 come from copy negatives made by our Private Collector.
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