top of page

Eston Saxe Cheney

Piedmont Historical Society, Fall 2011:

Eston Saxe Cheney was born on September Zl , 1869, in lowa into a newspaper family. His father, Orrin A. Cheney, was the editor of the local paper, and his uncle was the printer. ln his early years, Cheney's family moved around quite a bit. Eston attended grammar school and high school in South Dakota. By 1896, his family was living in Oregon City, just outside Portland, Oregon. His father was retired, but his two brothers, Arden and Grafton, continued in the newspaper business and published the Oregon City Courier. Eston was a photographer by then, most likely for the Courier. He was also the proprietor of Cheney's Art Gallery, advertising "First Class Work Only." In addition to his photos for the newspaper,

Cheney took formal studio portraits, and he photographed the land around Oregon City, showing its beauty and its development. His sisters, Ethel and Edith, also worked  with him in the studio as professional photographers.

At the turn of the century, Cheney moved to California, married Elsie Lamb in 1902 and settled in Oakland. They had two sons, William O. born in 1904, and Eston S. Jr. born in 1907. William became a civil engineer, and Eston Jr.  was a commercial photographer who worked with his parents.

During his first years in Oakland, Cheney worked for two companies that designed and manufactured card mounts for photographs. He was a very successful designer, and from 1904 to 1906, Cheney filed three patents with the U.S. Patent Office for original designs for card mounts, mounting and mats for photographs.


By 1913, Cheney had his own business, the Cheney Photo Advertising Company. His wife Elsie worked with him as secretary of the business, and business was booming. By I9I7, Cheney was reported to have taken  over 10,000 photographs in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. His specialty was residen- tial photography for real estate developers promoting the tracts they were selling. Many of his photos illustrated sales brochures that advertised the advantages of building or buying in those tracts. 


Cheney was highly praised for his artistic skill in photography. ln 1915, he received several  awards for his photographs of the Panama-Pacific international Exposition in San Francisco and the Panama- California Exposition in San Diego. Cheney was the official photographer of the Western Pacific Railroad. He took over 500 photos of the Feather River Canyon which were used by the railroad for advertising and reprinted as works of art. Cheney also documented the Northwestern Pacific Railroad line to Eureka, parts of the Southern Pacific Railroad line, and the Oakland Antioch and Eastern Railway that ran from Oakland to Antioch and
on to Sacramento.

Although his specialty was photographing residential tracts, Cheney also took pictures of commercial buildings and manufacturing plants in the Bay Area, and buildings in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Locally, Cheney's residential photos were published in the real estate sections of the Oakland Tribune, advertising the "high standards of architectural beauty" and publicizing the rapid growth of a certain tract or neighborhood. Cheney also produced photo albums for real estate developers illustrating the construction boom in the East Bay hills with "before" and "after" photos. Today, they also document mansions that have been demolished and gardens that have since been subdivided for more houses.

Over the years, Cheney developed two distinct trade- marks that he used on his photographs. , His first trademark was a large "C" with

I an 'A' within, followed by "Co.", the Cheney Advertising Company. When his son, Eston Jr., began working as  a commercial photographer with him, the trademark  changed to a straightforward "CHENEY''.

Towards the end of his career, Eston and Elsie Cheney spent time in Boulder Creek where Eston worked as a contractor and real estate agent. Eston S. Cheney died on April 30, 1941, leaving a priceless legacy of photographs.  Like the family photographer, Cheney was always behind the camera.


A photograph of him is yet to be discovered. [I found one]

es chaney - Oakland_Tribune_Sun__Oct_3__1920_.jpeg

 Oakland Tribune - Sun - Oct. 3, 1920


Santa Cruz Evening News - Wed - Jun. 26, 1929

1905 cheney 2.jpg
1905 cheney.jpg

San Francisco Chronicle - Fri - Nov. 17, 1916 

At least three siblings in the Cheney family worked as professional photographers, in Oregon City and McMinnville. Brother Eston and his sister Edith both had studios in Oregon City, while Ethel partnered with Bessie Krumm in McMinnville.

Eston, the oldest of the three, was the operator of Cheney's Art Gallery in Oregon City from 1895 to 1901. Shortly after he sold his business to William Snodgrass in 1902, the youngest, Edith, opened her own Oregon City gallery.

Ethel, who was already listed as a photographer in the 1900 Oregon City census, became a partner with photographer Bessie Krumm in McMinnville in 1905. She may have worked earlier in Portland at the Imperial Gallery and at Lewis and Krumm. Krumm was rooming with the Cheney family in Oregon City in 1900.

obituary - Oakland_Tribune_Wed__Apr_30__1941_.jpeg

Oakland Tribune - Wed - Apr. 30, 1941

bottom of page