Arthur C. Pillsbury Foundation

Protecting and Preserving All Life -- By Extending Human Vision

Ansel Adams, Arsonist
by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

I learned it was an 'open secret' that Ansel had torched the Pillsbury Studio from Fred Smart, a fellow activist, who knew one of Adam's helpers.  Fred reported that the fellow said they made jokes about it.  To say this shocked, stunned, and outraged me understates the case.  See Truth & Reconciliation Letter

Dad had finally decided shortly before his death he had to let Virginia know he was no longer going to keep silent on what he had confronted her and Ansel with it 1928.  Adams was seen leaving the back of the Studio by Tommee Tompkins (same man, two reports of spelling), the caretaker, just before Tommy (aka Tommee) and another employee smelled smoke, and crying "Fire!," ran toward the front door.  Adams, Thompkins reported to Dad, was carrying what appeared to be a heavy box.  Instead of turning back Ansel Adams ran toward the trees, apparently unaware he had been seen.  The conflict between Pillsbury and Mather was clarified in 1922 when Mather, an abyss of ignorance on the principles of preservation, decided to allow trees to fill in the meadows in Yosemite.  Articles 1922

Dad took keeping his word seriously and believed, with all sincerity, the two of them had been truthful.  He did not realize they had lied until he realized he had been manipulated by Harrison.  To finally be forced to see the truth was a stunning, sickening,  experience for Dad.   

In Dad's correspondence, left for me with all the other remaining records and photos still in his possession, I found a copy of the 21 January 1985 letter Dad sent Steve Harrison.  The third paragraph read, "On our trip to Yosemite last November the first thing that I realized was that I had been blind to what had been obvious.  In the serious fire late in 1927 ‘Uncle’ had lost all of his negative (s).  To him this was irrepairable.  Included were the negatives of his trip to Alaska and the many pictures he had taken of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, the many pictures throughout Yosemite National Park, and other places in the West.  Replacing them must have seemed an impossible task.  “Tommy” Thompson phoned me about it at Stanford late in 1927, and told me had had already been in contact with Uncle, but he did not mention the loss of the negatives.  Uncle was on his winter lecture tour.  When he returned, he sold the studio and the Concession to the Yosemite Park & Curry Co.  When I saw him, he was bubbling over with plans to build a new studio in the Berkeley hills on Keith Avenue.  He would have a laboratory in the basement for creating the new movies for his winter lecture tour in the East and over in England." 
   
As you read the Adams TimeLine you see he was working part-time for Arthur C. Pillsbury and had few prospects for a career from 1917 - 1927.  He was not emotionally normal and neither was Stephen Mather, who appears to have been a life-long psychopath.  

None of the persuasions used on Dad were true.  Adams had no future as a concert pianist.  To maintain her concession, which she would inherit from her father, in  Virginia Best needed a photographer.  Adams wanted a career.  But for arson to work the action would have to be approved by the National Park Service.  Burning out Pillsbury accomplished their goals and carried out the first step of eliminating Pillsbury from the history of Yosemite.  Mather had realized how dangerous Pillsbury was to his ambitions and appears to have been outraged when Grandfather laughed at his pretensions about his family background, referring to himself as a 'patrician'.   Stephen Mather's family line was colonial but not otherwise particularly distinguished, depending on your values.  Our line of the Pillsbury Family have been active in social justice issues for a couple of hundred years.  That, we value.     

By 1926, Mather was confident he would be able to make the National Parks economically viable by extracting money from concessionaires, and using the profits from middle-class hospitality, to pay for the five-star destinations, such as the Ahwahnee Hotel, he would build for his fellow elites along with the amenities elites expect, for instance golf courses.  There were plenty of meadows available.  He knew Arthur C. Pillsbury, a Preservationist who dispised pretensions,  would not approve; also that he would take action to stop him as he had the mowing of the meadows ten years before and speak out publicly on the of the wildflowers.   Pillsbury knew exactly what was happening with all parts of Yosemite and other schemes or trades would also be exposed.  The legality and justice of Mather's actions display no shred of conscience.  

Mather had persuaded D. J. Desmond to become the president of the company in which he, Mather, held a hefty interest.  This was self-dealing, a felony. The cost of building multiple luxury destinations bankrupted the Desmond Company. Later, the newly named Desmond Company would merge with the Curry Company, wrested from the hands of Foster Curry after Mather caused the death of its founder, Foster's father, David Curry.  Don Tresidder married Mary Curry in 1920 to effect the theft of the company.  To this day, the heirs of David Curry do not know what happened.  ​​

Ansel Easton Adams - 1920, working for Arthur C. Pillsbury, who took the photo but already thinking about the future. 

Adams Time Line

Parmelian Prints

Albert Bender

Ansel Adams: 
Into Plain Sight

Ansel Adams & A. C. Pillsbury - Discovered Insights 

Truth and Reconciliation
Ansel & Virginia Adams 
& Family


Tresidder oversaw the merger and became the Baron of Yosemite, doing Mather's work, which Desmond.  In 1930 Horace Albright received stock in the YP&CC and took over for Mather.  

Setting the fire would set Adams up for life, with Horace Albright continuing the cover-up until his death in 1987; and others then taking up the work Albright had undertaken to satisfy his own lust for power and profits.   Benefits flowed to Adams like the waters of the Hetch-Hetchy flowed into the pockets of the power brokers in San Francisco.  Adams had found his spiritual home with them.  

 Adams betrayed the man who trained him in photography and developing when,  when no one else would.  And he and his students would laugh about his having done so, viewing this as just a smart move in business.  Fred learned this from Adam's assistant he had gotten to know. ​

Over the years photos which were supposed lost to the 1927 fire have popped up and the present generation of the family tried to obtain copies of AC Pillsbury's photos while claiming yet unseen 'early work' by their criminal father and grandfather had been discovered.  This claim was dropped when I let them know it would not work. 


The next generations of the Adams family continued the Cover-Up to protect the unearned reputation and stream of income and unearned social standing created for them. Ansel's theft of Pillsbury's life's work cleared the way for him to fill the yawning chasm of the missing work which was lighting the world.  This included 100,000 stills, hundreds of films, and lapse-time studies of flowers that Mather would condemn to extinction.  

Ansel, Mather, Albright, Tresidder and their other minions would remove Pillsbury from history, erasing his life. They had no environmental concerns but pretended to this to hold onto the unearned wealth stolen from Pillsbury.  It was a cover-up that generations of their families would continue for their own profit.    Their lives are lived today on a century of the same flow of stolen wealth.   


Ansel Adams and Virginia Best -
Lacking Talents, Industry, and Ethics they burned their way to fame and fortune