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Object of the Month: August 2015 0 Comment(s)

Accession No.: 2011.22
Donor: Frank H. Rich, Sr.
Description: In 1974, Frank H. Rich (1921–2015) ran for D.C. City Council. His involvement in politics began after the 1968 riots following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

Rich’s Shoes newly-opened store at 10th and F Streets, NW, 1919.

A Washington Institution

Frank Rich’s family had deep roots in Washington. His maternal great grandfather, Abraham Hart, was a volunteer in the Union Army in the Civil War and was on the Board of Education in Washington, D.C. Frank’s paternal ancestors belonged to Washington Hebrew Congregation in the 19th century, and his great-grandfather Bernard Rich, was a founder of Adas Israel Congregation in 1869. That same year, Bernard founded a men's clothing store, B. Rich & Sons, at 7th and O Streets, NW. Bernard’s sons, Max and Louis, later took over the store and decided to specialize in shoes. In 1919, they moved the business into a four-story building at 10th and F Streets, NW.

Max had three sons, Edwin, Herbert, and Melvin, and two daughters, Ernestine and Fanny.[1] Herbert took over the family business and married Rosa Hart Frank, the granddaughter of Abraham Hart. (A scrapbook in JHSGW’s collection chronicles the Hart and Rich families from the 1860s-1960s).

Frank Hart Rich

Herbert and Rosa’s son, Frank, grew up on Buchanan Street, off 16th Street, NW. In 1942, after earning a degree in business administration at Lehigh University, he enlisted in the army and worked in administration for the Army Air Corps (precursor to the Air Force) in Assam, India. He supported flights over “The Hump,” the dangerous air crossing over the Himalayas to resupply U.S. air bases and aid the Chinese war effort against Japan. He distinguished himself and quickly rose to become a major.

Flooring advertisement featuring renovated 10th and F Streets, NW, location, 1950s.

JHSGW Collection.

Frank returned to the U.S. in 1946. In a 2011 interview, he told the Society that he was desperate for a new pair of shoes: “My shoes were in such terrible shape from the monsoons and everything. They were terrible.” But he could not simply pick up a new pair from his family’s business. Because of wartime rationing of materials like rubber and leather, Frank had to first go to Wilmington, Delaware, to get a document from the army allowing him to obtain the shoes.

After his return to Washington, Frank found a job as an assistant buyer at the Hecht Company’s shoe department. Soon thereafter, Frank’s father Herbert invited him to work for Rich’s Shoes. Frank agreed.

Frank set to work expanding the business to serve postwar Washington’s growing population in the 1940s and 1950s. He renovated Rich’s Shoes’ iconic 10th and F Street, NW, location. He also focused on cutting-edge trends that appealed to young shoppers and opened a new store at 1516 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, in Georgetown in 1953, followed more than a decade later by the Gaminerie, a boutique modeled after a shop with the same name he had visited in Paris. In 1955, he opened a spacious location in a new shopping center in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The business continued to expand. In 1961, Frank sold the family’s building on 10th and F and moved the business to 1319-21 F Street, NW. Every new location was a hit.

Washington Daily News story on opening of the new store in Georgetown, 1953.

JHSGW Collection.

Civic Activism

Frank translated his business success into a variety of civic activities. As president of the National Shoe Retailers Association, he testified and wrote op-eds for The Washington Post against low-cost and low-quality shoe imports from abroad. He was a board member of several local organizations, including the Washington Performing Arts Society and a founding board member of Temple Sinai.

Perhaps his greatest civic activism came in the aftermath of the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968. Looting caused $50,000 (in 1960s dollars) in damage to Rich’s Shoes downtown location. In his interview with the Society, Frank recalled, “I came downtown and, of course, all of the windows were out. The store was full of tear-gas [canisters]. Everything was upside down.” Within a few days, the business was up and running, but Frank felt the need to help the greater downtown business community. He started Project Progress, an employment organization focused on helping unemployed African-American residents of D.C.

He soon joined the Metropolitan Washington Urban Coalition, a group of business owners and city officials who sought to rebuild D.C.’s decimated downtown. He was the organization’s president from 1969-1971. John W. Hechinger, a former City Council Chairman and owner of a regional chain of hardware stores, said that Frank used his relationship with business leaders across the city “to get to know the leaders of the black community, as well as the frustrations of the rank and file of the black community. His earnestness advanced interracial harmony.”

Frank Rich campaign advertisement, 1974.

JHSGW Collection.

Frank saw home rule as the key to improving the city, particularly for African Americans, which represented the majority of D.C.’s residents. In 1970, he testified before the Senate District Committee in favor of home rule for the nation’s capital. He later noted that the committee was hostile and “generally [was] against what I was there for.” In 1974, Frank ran as an at-large candidate for the D.C. City Council. He ran, he said at the time, because “this is the first city government and, if home rule is to survive, we need responsible people [who can manage].” He narrowly lost the election.

Frank Rich’s dedication to revitalizing D.C. led to his involvement in a range of civic activities. He was an outspoken advocate for redevelopment of F Street, NW (where his store was located), preservation of the Willard Hotel, and expansion of the Metro system – the construction of which paradoxically hurt his business, turning F Street into a perennial construction site that deterred most shoppers.

Rich’s Shoes was the longest-operating family business in D.C. when Frank and his youngest son Ned closed it in 1987. The course toward the 1990s revitalization of downtown Washington came too late to save Rich’s Shoes.

Frank remained a steadfast and outspoken advocate for his hometown, and especially for home rule. In 2012, a D.C. City Council proclamation recognizing Frank’s contributions as a business and civic leader quoted him: “I always tried, wherever I was or whatever I was doing, to give my empathy to people who deserve more out of life than what they are getting – whether voting rights or job opportunities.” When he passed away earlier this year, DC Vote, an organization for which Frank volunteered weekly for more than a decade, described him as “a symbol of what D.C. had contributed to the nation.”

[1] Melvin Rich was a civil engineer who worked on numerous D.C.-area structures, including the British Embassy, the Kennedy-Warren apartments, and the refurbishment of the Washington Monument in 1934.

Relections on a Summer Spent as an Intern 0 Comment(s)

Prior to my internship at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, I had little experience in behind-the-scenes museum work.  What experience I did have came largely from volunteering, which in my experience meant working with visitor services. As a graduate student in Museum Studies at The George Washington University, I have taken many classes designed to prepare me to work in a museum environment. When I started at GWU, I thought I knew exactly what kind of work I wanted to do in museums and where I wanted to go. 

But while working at the JHSGW, I saw the variety of opportunities open to me in museum work.  I have seen the possibilities of what I can do with my degree and it validates my decision to pursue an M.A. I am reconfirmed in my love of museums and the important role they play in society and culture. The most beneficial aspect of this experience has been in the small size of the organization. I have become familiar with six people, gotten to know each of their jobs and responsibilities, and have had the privilege of helping each of them with varying tasks. 

I have called other museums for research, helped edit a program video, written program fliers, invitations, program summaries, been on a walking tour of downtown Jewish DC, organized and communicated with program partners, looked online for possible acquisitions, set up for special events, given tours of the historic 1876 synagogue, attended a talk at the Library of Congress, written the Executive Director’s opening remarks for an event, performed audience evaluations, researched Yiddish history in DC, handled archived materials, attended the 139th dedication anniversary of the synagogue, and went on a staff field trip to the Anacostia Community Museum and The Frederick Douglass House.  And this is all without mentioning the letter-folding, envelope-stuffing, and challah-delivering.

As a non-Jew who has always been interested in Judaism and Jewish culture, I have become used to the often puzzled looks I receive when explaining what kind of museums I want to work in.  But I have always felt strongly that cultural history should be available to everyone, regardless of whether or not you identify with that group.  This is what the JHSGW is doing for their community, and I appreciated being welcomed by the staff.  I cannot say enough positive things about my time here.  Not once have I felt like “the intern”: the staff gives me meaningful projects, welcomes my opinions, and values my work.  The most validating thing of all is being able to immediately apply things I have learned in a classroom in a real world setting.  I see tangible evidence that what I am learning will be helpful in any future museum I work in.  And isn’t that the ideal of what can be gained by having students complete internships as part of their degrees?

Jaclyn Kimball is a second-year Master’s student in Museum Studies at The George Washington University, where she studies collections management, museum administration, and history.

A Peek Inside the Office 0 Comment(s)

When I was internship-shopping this past spring, I was mainly looking for two attributes: a place where I could get a good grasp of how a non-profit organization functions while also satisfying my interest in history.  At the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) I got both. The tasks I handled stretched across multiple aspects of the organization – from developing a new tour of the Jewish side of H Street, NE, to compiling a report of potential architect firms to build a new museum. 

My first project at the JHSGW was cataloging photographs into the database, a task much more exciting than what one might presume. Not only did I learn a great deal about Washingtonians’ roles in fighting for Soviet Jews’ rights, but I learned how to find background information and articulate the photographs’ context into the descriptions so that the photos could be more fully interpreted and understood.  And that was just day 1. 

By my third day, I was attending a conference with the executive director, Laura Apelbaum, who spoke on what it takes to build a museum in the 21st century; she even asked for my help on how to improve the lecture for the next occasion.

Perhaps my favorite project was developing the new walking tour on H Street, NE. The project consisted of heavily researching the history of the neighborhood, with a particular focus on the many Jewish-owned family businesses that were located there.  I was tasked with the responsibilities of organizing this information and creating a draft outline of the tour itself. I worked alongside the curator, taking a field trip out to the street to examine the area and conducting an oral history interview to learn more about the street’s Jewish history.

In most of the projects that I was assigned I was treated more as a coworker than as an intern. This allowed me to get a more personal experience out of internship and gave me a clearer idea of how the JHSGW functions. My boss, Wendy Turman, the Director of Collections, was constantly checking in with me to make sure that the work I was doing was in line with my interests, which made me take away more from the experience. Furthermore, Claire Uziel, Special Programs Manager and my neighbor in the office, was always there to point me in the right direction whenever I got stuck (side note – Claire knows everything there is to know about everything). But, most importantly, everyone in the office was constantly giving me feedback on my work. This helped me keep improving throughout my time here, thus making this experience educational, but it also allowed me to have a greater contribution and impact throughout my internship. 

Whether you are reading this because you are trying to decide if you want to intern here (or know someone who might), or you just want to get a little inside scoop of what goes on inside the office, the most important thing to realize is that there are always a lot of projects that need to get done. So, your contributions – whether it is in the form of an internship, volunteer work, or a donation – goes a long way and makes a real difference.  

Ilan Levine is a rising senior at Union College (Schenectady, NY), working on a B.A. in History.