Then and Now: George Eastman House
The George Eastman House in Rochester was built between 1903 and 1905 by George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak. Eastman is considered to be the father of popular photography and motion picture film.
Located on 12 acres of gardens, this 35,000-square-foot, 50-room Colonial Revival mansion was one of the last farms created in the city of Rochester; cows and chicken were actually raised on the grounds.
Back then it cost $335,000 to build the house, which in today’s dollars translates to $6.7 million. However, this was a drop in the bucket to the wealthy Mr. Eastman. “The house was very modest considering his wealth,” said Dresden Engle, public relations manager for the George Eastman House. “He was actually very generous and gave millions to charity.”
Eastman, a life-long bachelor, built such a mammoth dwelling for two reasons: He did a lot of entertaining, so his home was an extension of his business. He also built the house for his mother, Maria, who sadly only lived in the home two years before her passing. When Eastman himself died in 1932, the estate was bequeathed to the University of Rochester to be used as the residence of the university president. Two presidents lived in the home between 1932 and 1947.
In 1947, in a joint effort between the community, the University of Rochester, and Kodak, it was decided that the George Eastman House should be a museum of photography. The George Eastman House International Museum of Photography & Film, as it’s officially known, opened to the public in 1949.
It is the world’s oldest photography museum, as well as the world’s largest museum of photography and film, with the third largest film archive in the country.
Being the first museum of its kind, people donated items to the museum, to have their collections preserved and celebrated. Today, the museum has more than 400,000 photographs, from daguerreotypes to digital, 20,000 items of camera technology, 30,000 motion picture titles and 3.5 million publicity shots and posters. Film critic Roger Ebert once said, “The George Eastman House is among the holy places of cinema where films are loved and preserved.”
A state-of-the-art archives building was added to the site in the mid-1980s, and the museum continues to update and add to its collections. Most recently, the museum’s 500-seat Dryden Theater was refurbished, along with the restoration of Maria Eastman’s bedroom, which features the original furnishings and artifacts.
George Eastman House International Museum of Photography & Film, 900 East Ave., Rochester, NY 14607, 585-271-3361 www.eastmanhouse.org