"The Milton S. Kronheim, Sr. Collection: Celebrity and Friendship"
By Margery Elsberg
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in JHSGW's journal, The Record, in 1999 in celebration of the donation of more than 400 photographs from Milton S. Kronheim, Sr.’s famed lunchroom walls to our archival collections, through the generosity of the Kronheim Family. We are sharing it today on the occassion of the anniversary of the end of Prohibition.
For more than a half-century, Milton S. Kronheim’s treasured photographs lined the walls of his company lunchroom, a testimony to his longevity and success. Row after row of famous likenesses ensured an air of celebrity and friendship, power and triumph. They made the room inviting and exciting, easy to fill with laughter and conversation.
And filled it was, day after day, week after week, decade after decade. From around 1928, when Mr. Kronheim was about 40, until a few years before he died in 1986 at the age of 97, this Washington legend hosted lunches for an extraordinary array of friends: presidents and diplomats, justices and judges, senators and congressmen, lawyers, doctors, businessmen and boxers—surrounded always by those fabulous photos.
President Harry Truman was there, on the wall and in the flesh. So was Chief Justice Earl Warren and Associate Justices Thurgood Marshall, William J. Brennan, Jr., William O. Douglas and Sandra Day O’Connor. U.S. District Court Judge John J. Sirica, who presided over the Watergate trials, was one of Mr. Kronheim’s oldest cronies. The two men had met during Prohibition, when Mr. Kronheim was a bail bondsman and John Sirica was a young lawyer. That was before Mr. Kronheim returned to his first career, selling wine and spirits to a capital city where social calendars are filled with diplomatic and lobbyists’ receptions.
Mr. Kronheim was born in his parents’ home at K and 4½ Streets, SW, in the midst of Washington’s Jewish community. Arena Stage and Waterside Mall help fill that neighborhood now. In 1903, when he was just 14, young Milton dropped out of Business High and opened his first liquor store at 3218 M Street, NW. Married to the former Meryl Goldsmith (the marriage ended in divorce), Mr. Kronheim had two children, Judge Milton Kronheim, Jr. and Judith Stahl. For the last third of his life, he lived at the Mayflower Hotel.
Except for the Prohibition years, Mr. Kronheim stayed in the liquor business—and remained a teetotaler—building the largest wholesale distributorship in the Washington-Baltimore area and amassing a fortune in money, friendships and influence.
Every Sunday, Milton Kronheim pitched for his baseball team, the Kronheim A.C. Bearcats, until his arm gave out when he was in his mid-eighties. He played handball well after that. He loved his city, was loyal to his friends, fought against racial and religious prejudice and shared his wealth with the poor.
Mr. Kronheim was a major supporter of the Democratic Party (he gave more than $100,000 to the Democrats the year Truman won the White House) as well as to the State of Israel, Georgetown University, St. John’s College High School and the Little Sisters of the Poor. As his photographs document, he was honored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews (now the National Conference for Community and Justice), Washington Hebrew Congregation, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Washington Knights of Columbus. For years, he served on the advisory council of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
The Kronheim photographs are both a pictorial biography and a who’s who of Washington throughout most of the 20th century. The following pages contain a few of the thousands of photographs that lined the walls of the Milton S. Kronheim Company dining room on V Street in Northeast for so many years. That’s where the plastic chairs were stackable, the food was delicious but plain, and the host was Washington’s best.