WALKING TOUR OF OLD SOUTHWEST, D.C., MAY 21, 2006
Sometime ago, I was asked by Rabbis Herzfeld and Pollak of my synagogue, Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue to lead a walking tour in portions of Southwest D.C. The Rabbis knew that I had grown up in SW and attended Congregation Talmud Torah, our original place of worship that later merged with another synagogue, and finally after some moves built the present synagogue at 16th and Jonquil Street, N.W.
With help from the Jewish Historical Society, Martin Luther King Library, DC Historical Society, DC Historians Jane Levey, and Carol Kolker, SW Neighborhood Assembly representatives Perry Klein and Ron McBee, Minister Brian Hamilton, Carolyn Crouch of Washington Walks, I was able to assemble data and photographs that enabled me to relate my memories of people and places who lived and worked in SW during the 30’s and parts of the 40’s.
I am happy to report that our tour was a success with approximately 50 to 75 people joining our walk.
Rabbi Pollak Larry Rosen
Welcome to our SW DC tour. I thank past and present SW residents and everyone for joining us.
I’m Larry Rosen who, together with my family arrived here in 1927 from Cheyenne, Wyoming, moving into 713 4½ Street, SW, the home previously occupied by Rabbi Yoelson, father of the famous entertainer, Al Jolson.
Originally, this SW section was called “the Island” because it was isolated from the rest of Washington by a canal that was later filled.
Around 1850, a handful of Jews who recently arrived from Germany opened a few little stores in Southwest, and settled there. Then around 1900 an influx of Russian and Polish Jews arrived in the area, growing to about 190 families in 1920.
Because little capital was required to open a grocery, most of the immigrants entered this business, borrowing money from relatives or from anywhere else.
Many newcomers also opened dry goods stores (variety of clothing), as well as tailor, shoe repair, and variety shops with the majority of the proprietors sleeping either behind or above their stores. To make a living, store-owners had to keep their businesses open 12 or more hours a day.
Many neighborhood Afro-Americans patronized the many mom and pop stores, and I
recall that there existed little crime in SW and that black, white and other ethnic residents all got along.
Around 1954, massive redevelopment began in SW, with all the dwellings and businesses disappearing by 1961.
The construction of this Waterfront Mall, the Metrorail and Southwest Freeway, triggered many changes on SW blocks.
While most tours consist of visiting modern office buildings, luxury homes, universities etc., our tour will focus on the approximate 5 busiest 4½ Street blocks, recalling the life-styles and my memories of some former residents and landmarks.
We are now standing on what was part of 4½ Street with M on our left and the next street being I. Fourth and L, K, H and F Streets have vanished.
900 BLOCK BETWEEN I AND K STREET
I attended Bowen Elementary School on K Street between 3rd and 4th Street. I recall lots of activities every May Day.
921 LEWIS SHOE REPAIR
The entire family was active in community affairs. Mel Lewis served many terms as
president of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue, now resides in Israel. Rose Glazer Lewis was a neighborhood Sunday school teacher.
When the Lewis family moved out, the Friedman family moved in, also operating a shoe repair shop. Ben and Eddie Friedman have been long-life friends of mine, and Eddie and I were once partners in two small businesses.
911 MARKOWITZ HARDWARE
I attended Junior High with Irving Markowitz, who became a great trumpet player and joined the well known big bands of Harry James, Glen Miller and others, and was known in the industry as “Marky”.
908 TED’S PAWNBROKERS
Ted operated his business next to his father’s used furniture store. I met Ted when he first arrived from Iowa, and we became good friends. In 1946, I occasionally helped him out in his business. I recall that at this time, the numbers game was popular, similar to today’s lottery, betting on the outcome of three numbers. The difference was that at this time the pastime was “technically” illegal, results being obtained from horse race results. I don’t recall the police authorities arresting many participants. NO Mega Million Games back in those days.
907 SNIDER MEATS
Operated by Louis Snider, father of Jerry Snider, proprietor of the well known “Snider’s Super Market”, 1936 Seminary Road, Silver Spring, Maryland.
903 MISS MINNIE’S VARIETY
Popular selection of penny candy and snacks.
901 BASS DRUGS, THEN PAUL’S DRUG & LIQUOR
901 DRUG STORE LOCATION EVEN AROUND 1900
After Paul’s Drug Store had to move, he moved his liquor license to 5205 Wisconsin Avenue, D.C. and opened exclusive “PAUL’S LIQUOR.” Store sold to Bellman family, my former DC neighbors.
BOY’S CLUB # 4
Located on I Street, between 4th and 6th, I played many games of ping pong. Once a losing opponent threw his paddle at me, but fortunately he missed. He apologized.
800 BLOCK BETWEEN H & I
825 ATKIN GROCERY
More life-long friends, Joe Sherr, Sid and Harry Atkin. I once worked part-time with Harry Atkin in Business Sales.
818 JEWELL THEATER
Movie house—Segregated policy during 30’s and 40’s. Open to Afro-American public who were not admitted to movie houses attended by white public.
812 YUTER TAILOR SHOP
Ann Yuter is a long-time member of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue. Her
brother Morris lives in Annapolis.
807 GREENBAUM’S BAKERY LATER RUBINSTEIN BAKERY
Great Jelly donuts, and 11-cent delicious rye bread. Donuts, in my opinion were tastier than “Dunkin Donuts” and less expensive.
801 HYATT CLOTHING
During World WAR II, my brother Sam, while in the Army and stationed in Richmond, Virginia, needed an apartment. By chance he met Sid and Lou Hyatt who were in the real estate business, and they came to the rescue.
700 BLOCK BETWEEN H & G
CORNER 4th AND G AMERICAN FILLING STATION
$3.00 could possibly fill most of the gas tank. During World War II, ration tickets needed to purchase gas. No self-service or credit cards. Oil and other fluids checked without request.
723 VORONOFF HARDWARE
Rolls of oil cloth, popular floor covering, always displayed outside on the street.
721 ROSENBERG CLOTHING
Mr. Rosenberg, one of the founders of Talmud Torah Congregation and very active. One of his daughters worked in the White House.
716 SCHNEIDER HARDWARE
Always well-displayed window, with running electric trains available during Xmas season.
During SW redevelopment, when asked to vacate premises, she and fellow store-owner Max Morris sued with the case going all the way to Supreme Court. They lost their case in 1954 when the Court ruled the Redevelopment Land Agency could destroy private buildings in order to improve the overall neighborhood.
722 RUBINSTEIN VARIETY
Headquarters for candy, snow balls, ice cream, snacks. Lou Rubinstein and I both members of the same Jewish War Veterans post.
715 MILLER TINNER
Similar to sheet metal shop. Family arrived from Lithuania and spoke only Yiddish. Fortunately I could speak that language. Later when they learned the language, I would visit the family and join them when they listened to a daily radio program, called “Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy”, sponsored by Wheaties, “Breakfast of Champions.”
When the Millers moved out, the Friedmans moved in, operating a shoe repair. I remember their son Albert always wore a white shirt.
713 ROSEN SHOCHET AND MOHEL
My father’s profession was a “Shochet and Mohel” – As a Shochet, he slaughtered poultry in a prescribed manner according to Jewish law, and as a mohel, he performed circumcisions. The going price to kill and pluck the feathers of a chicken was 15 cents. At first, my Dad worked in the back yard, but later he worked in a corner section of Paul Clarke’s live poultry store at 1105 Maine Avenue.
This is me walking down 4th Street, carrying a chicken to deliver to a customer.
When we first moved into 713 4½ Street, lighting was provided by gas jets protruding from the wall that did not produce good lighting—later we got regular electricity.
We had no oil or gas heat—just coal, and my job was to occasionally bring coal from our garage into a separate small structure in the yard called a “summer kitchen” where the furnace and another stove were located. To get hot water it was necessary to light a hot water heater.
When we first moved into the house, we had no refrigerator. Like many folks, we had an ice box and had to wait for the ice man to bring in blocks of ice. Also, no washing machine—clothes were washed in tubs and later placed on clothes line to dry.
Back in those days, we had no TV, VCR, DVD, PALM-PILOT, BLACKBERRIES, BLUEBERRIES etc. We did have a radio and an upright “Victrola” record player, the top of
which could be locked and used as a “mini-safe.”. We had a telephone. I still remember the number, Franklin 4209. No area code, and no zip code necessary when mailing a letter with a 3 cent stamp.
Rent was $40.00 a month. Better deal than some folks nowadays having to pay $20,000 or more for permanent parking spots in high-rise buildings.
Here is a photo with my father.
711 SAM THE BARBER
Hair cuts were 25 cents. One of Sam’s barbers would sleep in one of the barber chairs at night and often would play solitaire at the store-front counter.
700 SHERMAN’S LIQUOR
Mr. Sherman provided a neighborhood service when he would install loud-speakers on the outside of his store so that many SW residents who had no radio could listen to the broadcasting of champion Joe Louis’s prize fights. Huge crowds would gather every time Joe Louis had a match.
In front of the store was a police call box, used when a police officer could summon a police car to send a vehicle to pick up a violator. (Cell phones were not yet on the scene).
701 SANITARY GROCERY
Later became Safeway. No self-service or check out counters. Each item to be purchased had to be called out to the clerk who would add up the total by adding machine or by hand.
600 BLOCK BETWEEN G & F
630-32 SPERLING’s MINI DEPARTMENT STORE
Paul Sperling, active synagogue member, both at Talmud Torah and Ohev Shalom – The National Synagogue for many years. He now lives in Baltimore.
Carol Kolker, who published an interesting dissertation on SW, interviewed Paul
Sperling for her work. Quoting from her dissertation, “Paul Sperling’s father Sam Sperling began work in America as a greenhorn peddler, on NY’s lower East Side. Later, he came to DC and rented a house at the corner of 4½ G St., opened small store. We worked as much as 20 hours a day. Within 10 years, Sperling bought the building next door, tore everything down and built big home. When kids came home from school, they did their homework, then helped their parents in the business. His mother did all the cooking and then she took care of the books and then she waited on customers. One day when he left for school, his mother was arranging a window display and when he returned home for lunch, “she had a baby.”
618 HORNSTEIN BUTCHER SHOP, later WEBBER’S BUTCHER SHOP – where we
bought our meat products.
609 MORGENSTEIN BAKERY – later sold to Rosenblum family.
607 VOLNER ANSHI SVART SYNAGOGUE
Founded in 1908. Name eventually changed to Beth Shalom after moving to different locations. Now at 11825 Seven Locks Road, Potomac, MD. Prayers slightly different from Talmud Torah.
601 LIFSHITZ SHOCHET AND BUTCHER
I was a frequent visitor to the family. I recall a tasty snack prepared by Mrs. Lifshitz. She would heat some butter in a frying pan. Everybody got a slice of bread and was invited to dip their bread in the melted butter – delicious.
622-624 SCHOOLER’S DRY GOODS, then liquor store at 624
Purchased by Bernie Green. I worked part-time for Bernie.
476 F St. between 4th and 6th – Former home of Rabbi Joshua Klavan and family.
500 BLOCK BETWEEN F & E
523 JACK KLAVAN, PAWNBROKER
Brother of Rabbi Joshua Klavan. Jack Klavan’s son Stanley became a judge.
516 CHERNIKOFF CLEANER
Son Harry and I, as kids, rode three-wheel tricycles. Harry became first president of Share Tefilah Synagogue and when he worked for the VA, he assisted many World War II veterans in obtaining entitled benefits.
512 KEISER RESTAURANT
Operated by Hymie Keiser, long-time acquaintance. Hymie had along career in the insurance industry.
CONGREGATION TALMUD TORAH 467 E St. SW
Began in home of Isaac Levy on 4½ St. in 1880. Met in member’s homes until the synagogue was completed in 1903.
Remained in E St. Building for almost 50 years until redevelopment, and then was razed. Moved to different locations, then merged with Ohev Shalom 5th and Eye St., finally moving into the present building in 1960 on 16th and Jonquil St. NW.
Rabbi Moshe Horwitz served Talmud Torah from 1912 to 1935, then Rabbi Joshua Klavan became Rabbi in 1936 until his death in 1953 at which time, his son, Rabbi Hillel Klavan was appointed Rabbi and served for 48 years.
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, our current Rabbi, is doing a great job in bringing in many new members and providing interesting programs.
Rabbi Yossi Pollak has, likewise, performed a great job as Assistant Rabbi.
My father was the recording secretary of Talmud Torah Congregation from 1933 to 1944. His recorded minutes written in Yiddish are located in the Ohev Sholom – The National
Synagogue’s memorabilia room.
Here’s a translation of a small portion of a meeting dated December 28, 1941, by Doctor Chana Benjamin, daughter of Barbara and Leonard Goodman:
A regular meeting was held today in the shul with the President, Brother Rosenberg conducting the meeting.
The minutes of the previous meeting were read and approved as read.
It was reported unfortunately that we lost four members almost in one week: Kessler,Tolstoy, Yeger and Sister Wolf. The President asked for an expression of sadness by calling for three minutes of silence to commemorate their memories.
A motion by Brother Golubetsky seconded by Brother Bellin, that the shul buy three bonds for $75 each was made counted, passed and registered. The President declared the meeting adjourned.
A. Rosen, Secretary
413 HARRY GOLDBERG
A long-Time Synagogue member, he was an attorney.
SIXTH AND SEVENTH STREET, ETC.
POLICE STATION # 4 – across from Talmud Torah between 4th and 6th on E Street.
ST DOMINIC’S CHURCH 6th and E Street, SW.
The whole neighborhood would attend the church’s annual carnival.
JUANITA KAUFMAN NYE HOUSE 6th Street between F & G
Community neighborhood facility for ping pong, pool, Sunday School and other programs.
OLD JEFFERSON JUNIOR HIGH at 6th and School Street
Our principal, Mr. Hugh Smith, showed a personal interest in every student, with this interest becoming a memory to every graduate of Jefferson Junior High. Jefferson Junior High was still segregated when I attended.
400-10 COCA COLA BOTTLING COMPANY between D & E
Pedestrians could view bottling of Coke bottles through open window.
505 ASHLEY MOVIE HOUSE
Open to white population–sometimes called “the dump.” I don’t recall popcorn sales but remember that customers could bring their own sandwiches. In order to entice customers to return to the “Ashcan,” a weekly serial would be added, always ending in a danger scene – example, a person being tied to the railroad tracks and a train approaching, – to be continued the following week.
507 PEOPLES DRUG STORE
Active Soda Fountain. Peoples Drug Stores is now the CVS chain.
JUDD’s PHARMACY between E & F – Soda fountain with tables.
RABBI HORWITZ lived at 484 Maryland Avenue, SW
1121 Robinson Street SW – Home of Lou Gevinson, popular DC prize-fighter.
My brother Sam, when going to high school, recalled that he used to work part-time at Mandel’s watermelon store on Maine Ave. Mandel and his neighbor, Mr. Lipsholtz, who also sold watermelons, got into an argument, and both proceeded to throw watermelons at each other. The police came and warned them that if this fight occurred again, they would go to jail.
I hope everyone enjoyed our BACK TO SOUTHWEST WALKING TOUR.