History of Olson Visual
Bob and Jeannette Olson moved to Los Angeles in the late 1940’s. After working at a photo store and a short-run partnership, Bob Olson founded the Photo Blow-Up Lab on April 1, 1954. They specialized in black and white enlargements in the professional photography industry. They gained wide success by installing photographs for well-known hotels and commercial buildings in Hawaii. The lab became nationally known with orders from Alaska to Arizona.
During this time, printing was done completely by hand, making the process quite slow and tedious. Prints were developed using chemical baths that had to be closely watched with specific temperature and time. The images were later, soaked in deep water tanks and mounted on masonite or plywood using glue and paste.
In 1960, Bob Olson was diagnosed with colon cancer but this would not stop him from his passion of printing. He was so devoted to his work that he actually delivered a project on the way to the hospital before his operation. Fortunately, Bob survived and Jeannette Olson began to work for the firm. Their partnership launched a very prosperous business that reached a wider audience including: interior decorators, advertising agencies, trade show exhibit builders, and Hollywood celebrities. Dennis Hopper was an early customer asking Bob to enlarge his work.
Bob and Jeannette Olson retired in 1984 and passed on the business to their sons: Rick, Dan, and Tom. The brothers changed the name to Olson Color Expansions and expanded the business to museums, events, and trade shows. They continued to work with well-known celebrities including: Arnold Swartzenegger, Barbara Streisand, John Baldessari, Helmut Newton and Michael Jackson.
In the 1990’s Olson Color Expansions stopped providing fiber-based paper and relayed fully on machine-processed (with a resin coating). Their clientele changed from walk-ins to larger businesses in museum, retail, and entertainment sectors. The company also purchased a crane and pick-ups with racks, giving them the ability to hang off buildings and install large graphics outdoors. So, they began to offer installation on a whole new level by producing and installing marquees at various theatres in Hollywood and Santa Monica. This division was called Olson Studio Graphics which began in Culver City and then moved to Inglewood.
Next, the company was propelled into the digital era and they acquired new state-of-the-art machines. The first digital printer purchased was a 36-inch wide ink jet. Their next printer allowed them to print sixteen feet wide with unlimited length. Then the equipment exceeded the space and a secondary property in Inglewood began to house part of the Olson business. Eventually they needed more room.
In 2006, the company made two drastic changes. The Olson brothers sold the long time building on Beverly Blvd. and purchased the current property on Weber Way in Hawthorne. This offered the space that was needed for the growth of the business with 25,000 sq. ft. The other transformation was their name. With the constant change in graphics and displays, their name became Olson Visual.
New technologies have pushed Olson Visual into different areas and the development of the business is now far from the humble beginnings of handmade photo enlargements. Instead, they are now a full-service digital printing and installation firm encompassing all forms of visuals. Jeannette and Bob Olson have both passed on but their spirit is still present with the third generation family members working alongside loyal and longtime employees of 15-20 years. Olson Visual may have expanded to a larger company but it still remains a family-run business with the same personable touch of Bob Olson’s Photo Blow-up lab.
“It took three of my boys to take my place.” – Bob Olson