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A Slice of Old Ann Arbor – In Full Color!

January 22, 2012

As you might remember, a few months ago, ran an article about Priceless Photo Preservation, including a sidebar on the digitization of what may be some of the earliest game footage of a University of Michigan football game.

Among the many who contacted us in the wake of the story was Larry Goetz.

Goetz is a true Ann Arbor townie. In fact, he still owns the printing company founded by his great-grandfather Adam in 1900, Goetzcraft Printers, which is located at 975 Phoenix Drive.

Goetz had some unique artifacts. So unique, in fact, that he didn’t want to let them out of his hands. That is, until we came along.

These were five 16mm film reels. But not just any film reels. They may have been the only evidence of a unique project launched by the Ann Arbor Jaycees in 1939.  Which is why  Goetz turned to us: Because we were a  local company who could do the job without shipping the reels off to a lab or otherwise keeping him out of his hands for too long.

First, a little backstory: Emerging out of the country’s depression, several local business owners were seeking a new way to promote the city and increase commerce. Along came John B. Rogers Productions, a Fostoria, Ohio operation founded by a U-M grad that was known for staging town pageants and carnivals. (One bit of trivia: There is at least one Internet site that claims the phrase “Don’t take any wooden nickels” comes from the currency used at Rogers carnivals)  The company had just branched out into making movies and was going around the Midwest, apparently offering to make films about small to mid-sized towns. Among the communities to commission Rogers productions were Marshall, Michigan and Batavia, Illinois.

Ann Arbor was also among the towns to accept the Rogers offer. And We’re In The Movies was born.

Lasting about an hour, We’re In the Movies is a fully realized dramatic production that features the Hollywood cliches of the time. You have a  lovestruck couple, Joe and Mary, who are about to marry. And the imminent arrival of a movie producer, Garry Owens (a fictional character, not the “Laugh-In” announcer)  looking to cast one Ann Arbor resident as the next big Hollywood star. And of course, there are the inevitable complications. Owens, by the way,  is played by Herb Goetz, Larry’s grandfather.

The entire production is silent. But while Rogers might have scrimped and saved on the audio, his company didn’t go the cheap route when it came to appearances. Ultimately released in 1940, one year after audiences were still “oohing” and “ahhhing” over the vibrant colors of  films such as Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, We’re In the Movies makes use of the same Technicolor process that was still relatively new at the time.

Which means we get to see what Ann Arbor looked like 72 years ago.


The happy couple being helped Larry Goetz's grandmother Ila

The plot has the couple visit several Ann Arbor businesses as they plan their wedding. When Joe and Mary go to North Main Street to visit Athens Press  (the original name of Goetzcraft Printers), they are helped by Larry Goetz’s grandmother, Ila. There is a visit to the Schlanderer and Sons  jewelry store on South Main. You see workers sewing together burlap and cloth at recently closed Fox Tent & Awning.

Then there are the glimpses of the city’s past. A wonderful sequence at Ann Arbor Dairy that shows the milk-bottling assembly line. Appliance shopping at the old Detroit Edison store on South Main. And even a steam train that pulls into town at the old railroad station, which is at the current location of the Gandy Dancer.

Nagler’s Furs. Huron Motor Sales. Capitol Market. Wilkinson Luggage Shop. Fiegel’s. The movie features glimpses at all kinds of businesses that will elicit smiles of recognition among Ann Arbor townies. Even the simple scenes where characters are walking on sidewalks or crossing Ann Arbor streets provide their share of thrills.

Yes, the plot is kind of hokey. And there is at least one scene that plays on the era’s ugly racial stereotypes. But don’t let it dissuade you from watching this wonderful slice of local history. We at Priceless Photo Preservation are proud to have played a role in bringing it back to life.

“We’re In the Movies” (Part 1)

“We’re In the Movies” (Part 2)

“We’re In the Movies” (Part 3)

“We’re In the Movies” (Part 4)

“We’re In the Movies” (Part 5)

One Comment leave one →
  1. Colleen permalink
    January 22, 2012 11:20 pm

    What a historical gem!

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