Laurence Morgan and Leo’s Studio

“Smile on the Count of 4 … One, Two, Four!”

    It is hard to imagine that anyone in the Valley’s history could have been more of a common childhood memory than Laurence Morgan. Nearly, everyone who attended grade school between 1938 and 1992 ( ages 78 to 21) has got to smile when they think back to picture days when the funny little man from Leo’s Studio came to school, but then causing smiles was always his specialty.  

    Laurence performance went beyond animated. He was a cross between Roger Rabbit and Jimminy Cricket with a bag full of
tricks. ” Watch my ears wiggle,” he’d tell the class to get them looking right where he wanted with a smile on their face.
   “Here, let me measure your nose,” he’d say as he drew a string from the camera to the nose of the kid posing for the portrait shot. Actually, the camera was pre-focused to length of the string.
   Laurence had the know-how to get a class of seniors who could have cared less about a group shot to all look at him at the exact right moment. These were kids who had experience his entire repertoire for years and yet they all fell for his seemingly spontaneous call to attention as he pressed the shutter button and got the shot they would all remember and cherish in their yearbook. Laurence truly knew what he was doing, even if they were unaware of it.
   The irony of Laurence Morgan is that while thousands viewed him as this goofy school photographer, the privileged people that knew the whole story saw a man they loved, admired and could only hope to emulate.
   “I can not imagine a better man to work for,” Bill Robertson told me recently. ” He was so great at what he did, I’ve just tried copy his style.” Bill went to work at Leo’s Studio in 1979 as a photographer . 
   Shaun Hawley who joined Leo’s 6 months before Bill said, ” He hired me right out of high school and he taught me how to run an ethical business, really he taught me how to live an ethical life.”
   Laurence imbued ethical from the day he was born in 1919 at 3.5 lbs. in Oregon to the day he recently died at his Valley home on June 8th. His father had brought the family to the Spokane Valley in 1926 to study for the ministry at Spokane University. While the college lost out to the Great Depression, it remains the namesake to University High School, University City, University Road  and University Elementary.
   Had Laurence not taken a custodian job at Leo’s Studio when his father passed away in 1936, he would have followed his father’s calling and become a minister.While he faithfully taught Sunday School and served God through the Gideons and other organizations all his life, Laurence’s true calling was to build and guide the Valley’s most amazing studio. 
   Laurence bought the business in 1951 from Leo Ostreicher who had started out while attending Spokane University. When the men’s dorm burned down Leo purchased the property and built his studio at 920 N. Walnut.
   The original studio  is now a one-man portrait studio run by Andy MCalpin, who bought the building and the portrait portion of Leo’s business from Laurence in 1994.
    “This place heaved with activity when I came to work here in 1991,” Andy said as he gave us a tour of the vast underground basement that stretches far beyond the modest two-story main building. All together there were 57 rooms including numerous darkrooms and offices and workshops.
   Each day throughout the shooting season as many as 6 photographers would bring in hundreds of negatives from schools within a vast territory that went from Missoula to Ellensburg in one direction and Oregon to the Canadian border the other. The negatives were developed the same night  and soon they were rolling through two full-size one-hour photo machines.
   Meanwhile, on the main floor several employees ran a full service camera shop while others worked in the portrait studio. It took a staff of 65 to get all the work done that the funny little school photographer had going on behind the camera.
    Today, the business Laurence built and the high standards he set are carried out at Leo’s Portraits, which Andy operates and Leo’s Photography run by Jim and Cathy Nelson at Appleway and Farr in the Valley.
A Humorous Side Story 

Back in the forties Jack Cunningham of Cunningham Studios worked as a photographer for Leo Ostreicher along with Laurence Morgan. One day on the way to an outlying school they were run off the road and rolled their car several times.
   Jack broke both his arms and Laurence had a broken leg,
but  being die hard shutterbugs, they photographed themselves in front of the wrecked car. Leo made it into a postcard and sent it out to the local schools to explain why they would be running behind schedule.

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