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Object of the Month: November 2011 0 Comment(s)

Object #: 2001.16.6
Donor: Brenda Pascal
Description: Photograph of Fred Kolker holding knife over turkey’s neck, 1948.  Paper label reads "President Truman's Turkey/French World's Champion Bicycle Riders/Washington, D.C.”

Background: Established in 1930 by Fred Kolker, Kolker Poultry became one of the largest wholesale poultry distributors in the region. In fact, during World War II, Kolker sold all his poultry to the U.S. Army.  As Kolker said in an oral history, “My chicken went to our soldiers who were located all over the world… My name, Kolker Poultry Co., was stenciled on each box and the boys from Washington, D.C., wrote me letters, thanking me for the good poultry they received.”

Fred Kolker (wearing hat) and Mayor Marion Barry (right) at the renaming of the market, 1984

The business was located in the Florida Avenue Market, now called the Capital City Market (just east of the intersection of Florida & New York Avenues, NE). At 81 years old, Fred Kolker was called “the self-styled dean of the market” in The Washington Post.  He retired four years later, but remained chairman and president of the company.

The context of the photograph featured here is unknown: Who were these champion cyclists? What was their business with Kolker? What did they have to do with Truman’s turkey? Nonetheless, it is timely for the season.

Do you have material documenting a local Jewish-owned business that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection? Please contact us at info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.

Object of the Month: October 2011 0 Comment(s)

Archives Record

Object #: NNCF48
Description: Photograph of the exterior an early Giant supermarket, 1940s. Courtesy of Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation.
Background: Nehemiah Cohen, a grocery store owner, and Samuel Lehrman, a food distributor, met in Pennsylvania, at Lehrman’s Harrisburg Wholesale Grocery Co. warehouse. Eventually, they partnered to start a supermarket business and chose Washington for their new business venture. They hoped federal workers would provide a strong market even during the Depression.

Samuel Lehrman and Nehemiah Cohen shake hands.

Courtesy of Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation.

Their first Giant supermarket opened at Georgia Avenue & Park Road, NW, in February 1936. Giant Food soon became one of the leading businesses in the Washington region as well a leader in corporate philanthropy. By the 1950s, Giant Food had grown into a regional chain with more than 50 stores in the city and suburbs. Giant remained a locally owned family business until 1998 when it was sold to Royal Ahold, Inc.

Society archivists recently completed a five-year project funded by the Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation to preserve the history of Giant Food through oral histories and archival cataloging. The Giant Food Archival Collection includes corporate records, correspondence, marketing and publicity files, and an extensive set of photographs and negatives. The project also includes 17 oral history interviews. A selection of the photographs may be seen on the Jewish Historical Society’s online catalog here.

Birthday cake from Giant’s Heidi Bakery made in celebration of Israel’s bar-mitzvah birthday, 1961

Nehemiah Cohen’s granddaughter Nina Cohen, added Giant material to the Society’s archives earlier this year. Her donation includes papers and photographs (such as the one seen here) documenting the activities and philanthropy of her grandfather as well as her father, Emanuel Cohen.

Join the Society at Adas Israel Congregation on Sunday, November 6, 2011, from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., when we will celebrate the Giant Food Archival Project at our annual meeting. 

Object of the Month: August 2011 0 Comment(s)

Archives Record
Object #: 2010.25.4
Donor: Steven Blacher
Description: Photograph of Jake Flax holding a lasso while seated on a horse on location at Republic Pictures during a Variety Club convention in Hollywood. His sister Gertrude (woman on the right) watches in the background. c. 1950

Background: By 1913, brothers Sam (aged 26) and Jake Flax (aged 19) were both working as film distributors. Distributors, who found potential movie exhibitors in their local market, generally worked from buildings called film exchanges, which were owned by studios. Film exchanges stored films and often contained screening rooms.
 
In 1920, the Flax brothers joined together to own and operate Liberty Film Exchange. When Liberty’s parent company unified its distributors, the Flaxes’ office became Republic Pictures Corporation of Washington, D.C. Republic Pictures was one of the first major independent movie studios. It was known for Westerns, launching the careers of cowboy icons John Wayne, Gene Autry, and Roy Rodgers. The Flaxes’ office was the first of 39 Republic exchanges to operate under the new company.
 
The Washington Post reported that a crowd in excess of 600 including “practically all of the ‘show people’ in the Washington territory” attended the seven-hour housewarming at Republic Pictures’ new building at 925 New Jersey Avenue, NW, on May 20, 1935. Congratulatory telegrams, letters, and flowers arrived from across the country. When Sam died five years later, Jake continued with the business. Jake was also very active in the Variety Club, an organization of people in the entertainment industry that raised money for charities. Around the time of this photo, Jake was president of the local chapter, Tent No. 11. In 1947, he sold his Republic Pictures franchise but served as a branch manager until retiring in 1958. He passed away about a year later.
 
The Flax brothers were far from the only Washington-area Jews in the movie business. Because Jews were often shut out of traditional white-collar jobs, they were drawn to the opportunities offered by a new, high-risk enterprise in which they could be independent decision-makers. Aaron and Julius Brylawski, Max Burka, Fred Kogod, and Sidney Lust were among the local Jewish theater owners of the era.

Do you have material documenting local Jewish-owned entertainment industry that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection? Please contact us at info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.

Learning the Trade 0 Comment(s)

Working with the
Jewish Community Center records
Cataloging the Rosenfeld Collection also afforded an opportunity to experiment with JHSGW’s database software to express more nuanced relationships between items within larger collections, which could eventually benefit online searchers. I look forward to continuing the arrangement of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington Collection as I volunteer in the coming weeks.

Working as archival intern at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington this summer proved both great fun and valuable professional experience. I very much enjoyed pouring over photographs, papers, and scrapbooks in the collections I helped process. Along the way, I learned much about the development of businesses, community institutions, and even families I know today, with walks around my adopted city enriched by the many images of Washington’s past I’ve seen in JHSGW’s collection. Considering that there have always been integral ties between the Jewish and larger communities in the District and beyond, JHSGW’s archival collection reveals much about the broader history of greater Washington as it addresses its core narrative of local Jewish history.

In addition to participation in a range of public and behind-the-scenes activities at JHSGW, my primary responsibilities involved the “processing”, or preparing for accessibility to researchers, of several archival collections. Although I’ve benefitted from some relevant coursework and contributed to a manuscript conservation project in the past, my previous experience with the (I think) fascinating business of arranging and describing archival collections was mostly limited to hypotheticals. This internship offered more active participation, with much of my summer devoted to scanning and cataloging photographs comprising the Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation collection; arranging and rehousing the Tifereth Israel collection; and arranging, cataloging, rehousing, and drafting both a finding aid and an Object of the Month entry for the Robert Rosenfeld Collection.

Shelly Buring is a second-year Master’s student at the George Washington University, where she studies museum collections management and history.

Object of the Month: July 2011 0 Comment(s)

Archives Record
Object #: 2011.15.1
Donor: Robert Rosenfeld
Description: Pair of First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson’s brown leather gloves, c. 1967
 
Background: In 1967, Mrs. Johnson’s secretary sent these gloves to Parkway Cleaners, owned by Robert Rosenfeld, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, for cleaning. Although it proved impossible to clean these gloves without compromising their decorative condition, Parkway Cleaners enjoyed the continued patronage of the Johnsons as well as numerous other White House and Congressional clients.
 

The Rosenfeld family’s roots as Washington, D.C. cleaners reached back two generations earlier, to a business started in 1906 at 14th Street and New York Avenue, NW. Established by Bob Rosenfeld’s father, Moses C. Rosenfeld, in 1926, Parkway Cleaners and Dyers moved from Washington to Chevy Chase in 1930. By the 1960s, Parkway Cleaners boasted numerous federal officials and other prominent Washingtonians as clients, including President Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, Muriel Humphrey (wife of Hubert Humphrey, seen here in center with an unidentified woman and Mr. Rosenfeld), and Ann Buchwald (wife of Art Buchwald). Recognized for excellent service by the National Institute of Dry Cleaners, Parkway Cleaners was also asked to clean and reinstall draperies in both the Capitol and Blair House. Although ownership passed from the Rosenfeld family in 1980, Parkway Cleaners (seen below about a year earlier) still operates today at the same Connecticut Avenue location it has occupied since 1930.
 

Earlier this year, Robert Rosenfeld donated a collection of materials documenting the business. Notable items in the Parkway Cleaners Collection include a fabric sample taken from the drapery at Blair House with a request for cleaning, a receipt for the cleaning or installation of drapes in “Mrs. Kennedy’s Bath Room” at the White House, numerous photographs of Robert Rosenfeld with his high profile clientele, personal notes from President and Mrs. Johnson, and other correspondence from well-known customers.
 
With its service to government agencies and prominent federal officials, Parkway Cleaners followed a long tradition of local Jewish-owned businesses providing service for clients of national importance. In addition to the Parkway Cleaners Collection, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington holds other material demonstrating this relationship, including a shoemaker’s bench and leather punch once belonging to “shoemaker to the presidents” Nathan Ring (ca. 1920) and a cake box designed by party planner Fae Brodie for the 1966 wedding of Luci Baines Johnson at the White House.
 
Do you have material documenting a relationship between the federal government and local Jewish-owned businesses that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection? Please contact us at info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.