Prolific Photographer Edgar Cohen Lived on Site of Today's Edison Elementary

Edgar Cohen

Pat Hathaway in Monterey, Calif. holds a treasure that had its roots in Alameda: the works of Edgar A. Cohen that include more than 2,140 images on 5"x7" glass negatives, original prints, and some hand colored prints.

Cohen was a prominent local photographer. His father, Alfred A. Cohen, sowed the seeds that became the terminus of the Central Pacific Railroad’s transcontinental line: the San Francisco and Alameda Railroad. His mother, Emilie, was the daughter of a renowned San Francisco physician, Henry Gibbons.

Edgar grew up on his father’s estate, Fernside, with his brothers William, Alfred Henry and Donald and his sisters Mabel Emilie, Ethel and Edith.

Edgar and his wife Jesse lived just across Versailles Avenue from Fernside. The couple had two children, Beatrice, known affectionately as "Bessie," and Alfred who was named for his famous grandfather.

According to Hathaway, Edgar began to take pictures in 1898. "Some of his earliest views are of Fernside," Hathaway writes. Edgar traveled, camera in hand, all over California from Fort Ross in the north, to San Diego in the south.

He photogaphed Mt. Tamalpais, Yosemite and most of the California Missions. He was in San Francisco for the 1906 earthquake and documented the ruins of the city.

Edgar’s favorite place to take pictures was Hathaway’s home-base, Monterey County. Edgar called Monterey County "the best place to photograph over any place I know." Whereever he went he kept his favorite camera, a 7"x7" Pony Premo No. 6, handy. He took black-and-white photographs with this folding field camera. Hathaway says that Edgar often hand colored his prints.

In fact, the picture just above is a detail of Edgar sitting on his porch. According to the caption in Jesse’s photo album, Edgar is "waiting for a blue print to tone."

Edgar lived in Alameda until his death in 1939. When he and his brothers and sisters subdivided Fernside after their mother’s death in 1924. Edgar and Jesse moved to one of the new homes in the neighborhood that bears the name of his parents’ estate.