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Conversations with Ansel Adams : oral history transcript / 1972-1975 online

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the Carmel Highlands Association, which is to protect this area.
Then, of course, the Ventana chapter of the club. Well, I belong to
the club; also to the chapter. Then there's the Native Plants


Adams: Society. There's the Wilderness Society; there's the National Parks
Association; there's the Tule Elk Association; there's the Save-the-
Redwoods League; the Society for the Prevention of the Sonic Boom;
there's the Environmental Foundation of Saint Louis we've gotten
up to twelve, I think, and there's about twenty. I've been having
to turn some down lately; I just have to say I can't do it.

[End Tape 26, Side 2]

[Interview XXIII (Sierra Club Interview IV) 13 August 1972]
[Begin Tape 27, Side 1]

[At this interview, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall and Helen M. LeConte
were present part of the time.]

Teiser: When you were on the board in earlier years, was there ever such a
conflict as there developed in the sixties? Were there ever

Adams: Nothing like that, no. There was a great Southern California

faction, which wanted more development because they were so far
from recreation, and they were talking of seceding from the club
and forming their own club. But there was nothing that wasn't
controllable, if you know what I mean.

We got the Clair Tappaan Lodge [near Donner Summit]. That's
in memory of Judge Clair Tappaan, and that was built with club
funds. And I think some of the southern people resented all that
money going into a big place for skiing for Northern California
people. And then a lot of the Southern California people were all
for the Mineral King development because there just isn't any skiing
really closer than Mammoth, which must be three hundred and fifty,
four hundred miles away. And to a lot of these people, skiing is
very important. Of course, there's the Desert Peak section, and in
wintertime they climb the desert peaks. But I don't think it's too
thrilling, except when they get up into the Ruby Range. I think
the Southern California group are all for us now, and we have
several other chapters around there. I never can remember them.
There's the Los Padres chapter out of Santa Barbara, the Ventana
chapter here, the Desert something chapter, then one down in San
Diego. I never can remember them all. Really, I think there's
nearly fifty of them, all over the country.

Teiser: I think you once proposed ejecting the Los Angeles chapter.


Adams: Well, now you're bringing up an important point. I'd forgotten

about that. They wanted to publish books under their own imprint,
and the Sierra Club felt that the Sierra Club imprint should be on
all books put out by the Sierra Club. And the chapter could be a
secondary get full credit. But they didn't want to see a book
published by the "Southern California chapter of the Sierra Club,"
because that would open all kinds of uncontrollable situations,
where a book could be done by the "Bejeezus Chapter" in Nebraska,
and there's no way to control it. And the bylaws read that
publications and so on go through the central publications
committee. So they got very nasty and insisted, and I said, "Well,
if they insist on doing that, I propose that we rescind their
charter." I was persona non grata for several years down there.
But most of the stalwart members agreed; it was the hotheads which
put up the fight. They are now the staid establishment. [Laughing]
It's been thirty years, you see, at least.

Teiser: When you first went on the board, you were thirty-two years old
only. Do you have anyone that young on it now?

Adams: No, I don't think quite that young pretty close. I think some of

the women say they're that young. [Laughter] We're after intelligent
youth! But the trouble is, you see, that a board member now is in a
very difficult position, because it's no longer a small organization.
We have a budget of about $3 million, and the people on the board
have to be "in the know;" they have to have some experience. You
can't just have somebody come in with random ideas. In my case, I
know so little about finance, and law and lawsuits, that I was not
very effective. And I think that's why the chapters got together
and developed what is now the council, to which they send delegates.

When you join the club, the service charge to get your name on
the club is almost equivalent to an initiation fee. You know what
it means to get your name on all these lists. It goes to publication,
it goes to chapters, it goes to the groups you're interested in, it
has to go to the accounting office, and it all has to be referred
back and forth, you see. Once you're defunct, then it all has to be
changed, and that's why the computer techniques have been so helpful.

Teiser: Did you ever have any doubts about the value of having the club grow
so large?

Adams: As a club, yes. Farquhar and the others felt that was very bad. It
should be an elite club with a definite purpose. We should tend to
our knitting, stay with the Sierra Nevada, not get into things like
population control and political involvement in problems like


Adams: There are certain other organizations that are really tuned to do
certain things the Society for the Prevention of the Sonic Boom,
for instance (I forget the exact name), and other outfits. Our
relationship to them should be warm support and contributions, but
we shouldn't spend our time worrying about the sonic boom, because
other people are doing it. We should support the opposition, but
that is a different thing from opening an office for that purpose,
you see, putting major emphasis on it.

Estuary control there's several organizations that are very
potent, especially in the East, on estuary control. Well, I think
our function is to support them. But we don't have to get mixed up
in it, as long as it's being taken care of. And I think that was
the basis not so much of the growth but of the scatter. Any
individual and any organization can scatter just so much and
survive .

Teiser: What does the Wilderness Society do? Does it narrow its functions?

Adams: The Wilderness Society is a great enigma to me. They're a wonderful
bunch of people. It was established by Robert Marshall. You see,
Louis Marshall was a great New York lawyer civil liberties one of
the great characters. People equated him with Brandeis. He was
quite a man. He had three sons George, Robert,* and I forget the
name of the other one who is now keeping the firm going. George
Marshall dedicated himself to conservation and civil liberties.
The sons got about equal division of the estate, which was about
$15 million, so they were all perfectly happy and could do what
they wanted. They've made wonderful contributions.

Teiser: Do they have a large membership?

Adams: It's fairly large. It's fairly elitist. They just concentrate on
wilderness. They have representatives in Washington. I would say
that 90 percent is directed to wilderness protection programs.

Teiser: Do you feel it's done valuable work?

Adams: I think it's done probably very valuable work, but it has that

peculiar static quality which has no power at all to excite people
except those who are already in the know. And the same for the
National Parks Association. Its publication [National Parks and
Conservation] is about the dullest magazine that was ever put out.
The Wilderness Society's isn't much better. But all the experts can
read it, and it has wonderful text and articles. There's no "lift"
to these things. You look at that magazine and you really don't
want to join. You don't have any incentive as you do with the
Sierra Club. The Sierra Club has been flamboyant, and before it
was flamboyant it was very positive and scholarly.

*who died in 1939.


Teiser: But still understandable to most people?

Adams: Yes, and I think very inviting, where 1 frankly don't think the

others are. And yet in their way I guess they do marvelous work.
The National Parks Association is primarily out to help the parks
and criticize them. But the Sierra Club gets into everything,
almost everything.

Sierra Club Publications

Teiser: Was Brewer's concept that it should be a "people's" club?

Adams: Well, it was that to a certain extent, but Brower just decided that
we had to increase membership. So I guess then we became a people's
club on account of the appeals, which were very good. That's a
very interesting analysis. We were showing about a 14-percent-a-year
increase in membership, and Brower said, "This is entirely due to
the book program." Well, all the other organizations went up about
the same rate. Maybe the books stimulated it; we don't know. We
know that we got a lot of members through the books, and we sold a
great many books and we lost an awful lot of money. But I think
the books did a certain amount of good. I think the first book,
This is the American Earth, and the first Porter books really had
an impact. Again, they're elitist books, at $15 to $25 each. They
reach people who are usually already sympathetic. They offer
confirmation of ideas and ideals. Now, when the paperbacks came
out, the books reached another audience and much larger. I was
pleading for paperbacks for years. Finally they did it.

Teiser: Didn't they come out ahead financially on the paperbacks?

Adams: Paperbacks are a very simple thing: the club gets 6 percent royalty,
no costs of production whatsoever, and 3 percent of that goes to
the authors and 3 percent goes to the club. And I pleaded with them
when we started the American Earth. I said, "This is fine for us to
do it; we've got backing, we've got money." The McGraw Foundation
gave $15,000 and a $12,000 loan, and we put the book out, gave
copies to congressmen and the legislature, and people bought
thousands of dollars worth. That was fine. But I could see right
away that we had no machinery for publishing, and I tried to convince
Brower, who knew a little of publishing, that his projections were
quite unsound financially. You start out to do a book to sell for
$25. You only get $15 for it, so you have to keep your cost down to
$4 or $5, and you add 5 percent for publicity. Well, when it all
ended up, the costs went up to $7 or $8, and the publicity was 10 to
15 percent.





Adams :
B. Newhall:

In those books were the authors and photographers paid regular
commercial fees?

No, that was a very sad thing. Brower would not admit need for a
contract. There was a great struggle to get any kind of a royalty
at all. There's two bases for royalties. The ideal royalty is 10
percent of retail sales. In other words, if the book sells for $10,
the author gets a dollar. Well, at present, in many cases they pay
a royalty called 10 percent of invoice, which means the publisher
takes in so much, and you get 10 percent of that. Well, it usually
comes out to about 5 percent of the retail sale price. So there's
a big argument there. Certain books certainly should have 10
percent, low-cost books that have big sales. But when you get into
these very elaborate things like the Sierra Club books, the cost
already is so high that it would make the retail price excessive.

Ansel, for the record, you and Nancy are getting 10 percent list
price on This is the American Earth.

Well, are you sure of that?

Well, we held it on that, then,
and printed and printed.

But of course that's been printed

The cost of producing a book should include the cost to the
author or photographer. Now, for the Glacier Bay book, Dave Bohn
got a $7500 advance to go to Glacier Bay for several trips and do
the book. He spent about all of that, because it's pretty
expensive going out for a couple of summers, flying, etc. When the
book was out, he said, "Well, everybody's happy. It's one of our
most beautiful books, so I certainly would like to get some
royalties. I need it." Dave [Brower] said, "But you did have some.
You had $7500 advance royalty." It wasn't that at all. The $7500
should have gone into the cost of the book, and then partly
controlled the sales price of the book.

If Nancy goes around and researches on a trip and spends $1000
or $2000 out-of-pocket expense, that shouldn't come out of royalties;
that ought to be downright expense. Then a studious, scholarly
person working in a library or at home, he has much less expense.
But still, he has stenography and all of that, and I claim that
should go into the book production costs and be perfectly free of
royalties, which is what you get for your time. Does that make
sense to you?

B. Newhall: It makes sense, but you never get it never.


Adams: Well, it depends how you insist on it. The danger is if you

insist on these things, they say, "Well, we'll cancel the book."
This Authors Guild is a marvelous organization. They're something
like the ASMP in photography; they go to bat for you. But the
Sierra Club never had good contracts, and we had a lot of trouble
with that. The earlier books that were published were just for an
honorarium, you see. People would write for the Sierra Club Bulletin
and get ten copies of the Bulletin. It wasn't a commercial thing.
But when it got into doing books for public sale and getting
professional people, then you had a very different situation, and
one that's been fraught with all kinds of trouble.

Teiser: Your photographs and those of Cedric Wright had appeared in the
Bulletin. Were you paid at all for them?

Adams: Oh no. Those pictures in the Bulletin were all gifts. And pictures
in books and things were all part of the obligation, based on the
fact that it wasn't a commercial organization. It was private, and
it was small. It's like if the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences wanted a picture for an annual bulletin or some special
thing, I would give it to them. It would be a donation. I wouldn't
charge them $25. Although, if it was something I didn't belong to,
I'd say, "What's the budget?"

But for the Sierra Club people like Philip Hyde have just
worked like dogs and with great expense, and I'm sure he's never
gotten back what he deserves on it.

Teiser: You went on the editorial board of the Bulletin in 1928, I think it
was, under Francis Farquhar as editor.

Adams: Yes. Well, I was supposed to look after the picture end of it.

And of course we had terrible photographs to contend with you know,
snapshots. People would go on trips and make snapshots, and they
all might have historic interest. And they'll be "Stephen T. Mather
at Mather Pass" some lousy out-of-focus snapshot. Well, we had to
pick the best ones. But in those days, the club you have to make
this distinction it was in a sense an elite, private organization
that was composed of dedicated people, and those who ran the club
had adequate means.

We were talking about the number of young people that were in
the club in the twenties and thirties that dedicated themselves to
it. They didn't all have means. People like Lewis Clark, for
instance, worked eight hours a day for the Telephone Company and
spent their next eight or nine with the club. Nathan Clark, his
brother, was that way too; he was a scientist. And other people now,
like Will Siri, who's a professor of biological physics at the
Donner Laboratory. He works so hard for the club that the head of


Adams :


Adams :


his department just had to give him a little warning that he was
spending too much time and energy and mustn't forget that he's got
a professional job.

When David Brower came on the editorial board, and that was in the
thirties, I think, he was working at the University of California
Press, was he?

He was at the Press. He was absolutely dedicated to the whole idea
of the club, and he said he'd like to have a job in the club. Of
course, the idea of a $6000-a-year salary was an extravagance which
we never had even dreamed of. I remember urging it over and over:
"If we get this man, it'll pay for itself." Dick Leonard supported
me, and Dave gave up the position at the press, which had tenure,
and took a very considerable cut in salary, with a gentleman's
agreement that it would be raised if possible.

Well, as Dick Leonard would say, for the first several years
he was simply marvelous.

As editor of the Bulletin?

Oh, everything just sort of running the club. He was executive



Oh, this was in the fifties,
until then.

But he'd been editor of the Bulletin

Adams :



Oh, he'd been very important as the editor of the Bulletin. And he
knew enough about printing to be very, very valuable. And remember,
he was a very prominent mountaineer and climber, a very active

You'd known him since he was a youngster?

Yes. And he was a great climber, one of the really great rock
climbers. And he did skiing. A true extrovert, and had great
energy and everything that goes with it.

He was earlier a publicity man for Yosemite Park and Curry Company?

Well, he went up there for a year or so because he thought he could
get into Yosemite and do something, but with the perfectly ghastly
advertising and publicity setup they had there, he was thrown out
pretty quickly. They didn't care any more about conservation than
you do about the eradication of snails in the Gobi Desert. [Laughter]
The man that was appointed advertising man after him was the one who
was selling toilet tissue, napkins, and paper goods for Zellerbach.
The agency recommended him as a good salesmanl That's the way the


Adams : company thought . I took this man to lunch one time and talked a

little bit about our problems. He just frankly said, "This is all
beyond me. My job is to sell accommodations and make money for the
company. I don't know what you're talking about."

On the other hand, Dr. [Donald B.] Tressider would have a two-
faced put on you know, he'd be the patron and everything on one
side, and then turn around and be an extremely cold-blooded and
rational businessman on the other. That did a lot of damage to
Brower. I think that's one of the things that probably made him
lose faith in institutions. I thought of that several times. Of
course, they have to make money or they can't exist; you can't give
away rooms. But you're supposed to be controlled by the government,
and you're supposed to try to work with the Park Service idea and
make money within that framework. Well, they weren't, and I think
that was maybe a trigger. Those things happen, you know. I know I
had a terribly sour attitude towards Yosemite people for years.

[End Tape 27, Side 1]
[Begin Tape 27, Side 2]

Teiser: You were talking about Brower being disillusioned.

Adams: Yes, I think he was just like I was. But of course we were

disillusioned because of the troubles we had with them in Yosemite
with our concession, and also in their general attitude. But I
think Brower harbored an idea that nothing mattered except his
ideals. To be rational is more of an effort than some people can
take. You know what I mean by that. There are certain techniques
Carry Nation and the hatchet which undoubtedly get results, like
Ralph Nader. But in the long run I often wonder. Maybe they
stimulate action, but the action doesn't continue if it's not


Adams: I'm so scared of the backlash, which you see coming now, in many,
many ways. Zoning is being questioned, for instance. There's a
development in Southern California which is suing for millions of
dollars, for zoning decisions. That scares me, because zoning may
not be based on sound constitutional grounds. It's almost a
permissive thing, and it's always open to variants. If you can
plead hardship, you may get a variant. We see that here all the
time. The artichoke field here may be 160 housing units some day.

Teiser: This tract is between here and Carmel?


Adams: It's the tract that's on the east side of the road. (The west side
of the road is going to be in the state park area; it ought to be
the section near the hills.) But we think we can stop it because
of the sewerage situation alone, and the tax structure of the
schools. I mean, it may not be big enough to justify a school, but
too big for the existing schools.

Teiser: Has there been some zoning at Big Sur or has there been contemplation
of zoning down there ?

Adams: Oh yes, Nat Owings and others did a perfectly magnificent job in
what they call "The Big Sur Plan," and it did relate to land
preservation. In other words, if you have property on both sides
of the road, and you do not build on the one acre on the ocean side
of the road, you can have two or three dwellings per acre on the
other side of the road. They can't tell you not to build. A lot
of people have cooperated and some haven't; some have been very bad.
The Monterey County planning commission comes in and gives a ruling,
and the next thing, the local supervisor is besieged with letters
and threats from the opponents. The board of supervisors hearings
are always open, and people with rulings against them come in with
tearful pleas of hardship. So the board, which is usually one vote
over the edge toward business conservative, grants a variance. If
there were just one vote the other way, we could be assured of more

You see, south Monterey County (inland) is oil. Then there's

the Salinas area, which is largely agricultural, but some people

want to make it industrial. And the board is pretty smart there;
they don't like that.

Then there's this Monterey Peninsula side, which serious people
think should be a separate county. Our aesthetic and protection
efforts here shouldn't intrude into the sound business progress of

the larger area of the county,
checks and balances.

It gets very complex, with many

Well, the Sierra Club was always interested in this type of
legislation, but they never got into specific zoning problems until

The Sierra Club Decision-Making Structure

Teiser: I think at some point Walter Starr made a study of the organization
of the club.


Adams: Let me assure you, there have been many studies of the organization.
None of them have gotten anywhere. There was an organization
committee. As far as I'm concerned, it was a flop decision
nothing happened. One report was made by the man who was the
treasurer of Duke University; he's a nice man, smokes a pipe, and
he's very slow and doesn't have too much imagination. I guess Duke
University is all right, but I saw things go on that I couldn't
understand how our financial expert couldn't see himself. He just
didn't notice them. I hate to say this on the record, because he's
a nice man and absolutely honest. But Lewis Clark, Nathan Clark,
and a group made a scientific analysis of the club. I think Tom
Jukes helped in the analysis. One man who worked for the PG&E
or the Telephone Company statistical department, very prominent in
the chapter he made a mathematical analysis and a chart of what we
should do. There's nothing that's ever really come to pass about
it; the response has been, "Well, it'll be nice to do it, but..."

Teiser: How was the decision made, then, to have a full-time director?

Adams: Well, the fact that the club was growing and we just couldn't leave
it to voluntary help. Colby was getting out, and I and others had
no administrative ability. People like Lewis Clark would come in
and do something valid and would be joined by others. All would work
on a fragmented basis. Dick Leonard was tending to everything he
possibly could, but he realized we had to have one good man to be

The system is this: there's a board of directors, and they
appoint the executive committee. The executive committee can make
very important decisions, but they are all subject to review by the
board. Theoretically the executive committee actions could be
criticized by the board, but that has very rarely happened. There's
been a couple of times when the board questioned some actions.

Then, under the executive committee are the other committees
the publications committee and the outing committee and the
mountaineering committee. They are responsible to the executive
director who, in turn, submits their decisions to the executive
committee, who makes the final decisions, which are then subject to
the final approval of the board, which is given at an annual meeting.

Teiser: Was it the board who decided upon the fact that there should be an
executive director, or was it the president, who was then Leonard?

Adams: No, I think the executive committee agreed and the board supported

Online LibraryAnsel AdamsConversations with Ansel Adams : oral history transcript / 1972-1975 → online text (page 67 of 76)