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

Object #: 2011.7
Donor: Leo M. Bernstein Family Foundation
Description: Leo M. Bernstein Archival Collection, which includes biographical materials, correspondence, family history, professional & community recognition, photographs, scrapbooks, and other memorabilia about the life and work of Leo M. Bernstein, D.C. banker, real estate broker, Zionist, civil rights promoter, philanthropist, American history enthusiast and collector.

Professional Life
Born in Washington, D.C. in 1915, Leo Bernstein graduated from the city’s Central High School. He received an informal education in real estate while working with his father’s real estate investments. The 1906 deed for his grandfather’s kosher butcher shop and home at 816 Sixth Street, NW, is in the collection. He founded his own real estate company at age 18. Within a year, Bernstein challenged racial and religious covenants, which barred the sale of properties to persons of color or to Jews, selling a house in a “whites only” neighborhood near Howard University to an African-American professor.

While working in real estate, Bernstein went to night law school, graduating in 1936 from the Columbus Law School (now Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law). Over the next few decades, Bernstein owned and ran several D.C. banks. Seen here, Bernstein (right) and D.C. Commissioner Gilbert Hahn, Jr., raise the District of Columbia flag at the D.C. National Bank headquarters at 18th & K Streets, NW, in 1971.
 
History Enthusiast
Bernstein enjoyed collecting historic documents, especially those relating to American presidents; furniture; and other objects, exhibiting some of them in the lobbies of his banks. This interest led him to become involved in historic preservation in the Shenandoah Valley communities of Middletown and Strasburg, Virginia starting in 1960. There, Bernstein helped save and restore several buildings, including the 18th-century Wayside Inn. As documented by itineraries, correspondence, and photographs, Bernstein organized and hosted family reunions and getaway weekends for friends and colleagues there and at other hotels he owned in the region. Among the groups Bernstein welcomed was the Washington Board of Rabbis, which met at the Wayside Inn many times during the 1970s and 1980s.
 

Jewish Community Involvement
Bernstein’s involvement in Jewish causes and organizations was local, national, and international. These included Adas Israel Congregation, United Jewish Appeal, Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington, American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, Anti-Defamation League, and Yeshiva University. Bernstein served on the board of the Jewish Historical Society for nine years in the 1970s and ‘80s. This 1983 certificate of appreciation from the D.C. Section of the National Council of Jewish Women was awarded for his support on the occasion of NCJW’s 90th birthday in 1983.

As a young man, Bernstein was active locally in the cause of Zionism. In a 1999 oral history, Bernstein told of secret meetings attended by community leaders like Abraham Kay, Joe Cherner, and Morris Pollin: “Before Israel was a state, we had many Haganah meetings. We were getting ready to help Jews get into Palestine. They needed money for guns, ammunition and ships. We met at my office at 718 Fifth Street.” One highlight of the collection is a 1948 letter from Joseph Cherner, president of the Louis D. Brandeis District of the Zionist Organization of America, appointing Bernstein chair of the Embassy Building Committee, charged with finding a suitable building for the first Israeli Embassy.

Donation of Collection
Bernstein passed away 2008 at the age of 93. The following year, the Jewish Historical Society started a major archival project funded by the Leo M. Bernstein Family Foundation to organize and preserve this extensive collection of Bernstein’s business and personal papers. The Society completed the project in 2010 and was honored to accept the Leo M. Bernstein Archival Collection when the Foundation formally donated it last month.

Do you have material documenting local Jewish individual 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: April 2011 0 Comment(s)

Object #: 2006.2.23
Donor: Mitchell Slavitt
Description: Pair of shoulder marks worn by Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, c. 1945

Background: Shortly after World War II, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz sent his five-star shoulder boards, discolored from Pacific sea water, with an accompanying note (see below), to D.C. business owner Harry Slavitt.

Slavitt had opened a liquor store in 1932 at 509 Seventh Street, SW, close to the Army War College at the Washington Barracks (the post was later renamed Fort McNair). During the war years, customers patronized his store from the College, Pentagon and other local military institutions. The interior of the store was decorated with military memorabilia and the vast majority of liquor was sold under Slavitt’s private label, “GHQ” (General Headquarters). Slavitt's sons Mitchell and Robert remember making deliveries to the White House mess, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense mess.

Slavitt commissioned Gib Crockett, cartoonist for The Washington Post, to draw caricatures of many of his military customers. With these drawings, he created individualized labels for liquor bottles (such as the one seen here sent to General George Patton) and sent the bottles to these customers across the world. In appreciation, Slavitt received personal letters and autographed photographs. Over time, Slavitt amassed an impressive collection of letters, photographs, and other items such as these shoulder boards. Military customers brought friends and family to view the gallery room in the back of the store where much of this material was displayed. Among those customers represented in Slavitt’s collection are eight of the nine 5-star officers in U.S. military history: Henry “Hap” Arnold, Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, William Leahy, Ernest King, George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, and Chester Nimitz. Additionally, photographs of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson were sent by their military attachés.

Slavitt himself volunteered for the Navy in 1943 and served in the Supply Corps. His wife, Helen, ran the store while he was away. In the early 1960s , the store moved to Fourth & M Streets, SW, and Slavitt sold the business a few years later. The liquor store, still named Harry’s, remained at Fourth & M under its new owners for about 10 years before relocating to the Waterside Mall one block away. The business was sold once more before closing around 2004.

In 2006, Harry’s sons donated Nimitz’s shoulder boards as well as two albums containing a selection of Harry’s letters, photographs, and drafts of the custom cartoon bottle labels to the Jewish Historical Society.

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: March 2011 0 Comment(s)

Archives Record
Object #: 2001.21.13
Donor: Flora Atkin
Description: Birthday postcard addressed to Eleanor Blumenthal from Rich’s shoe store, postmarked January 23, 1935

Background: Bernard Rich opened a men’s clothing store at 1322-1324 Seventh Street, NW, in 1869. His sons Louis and Max soon joined the business. In 1894, B. Rich & Sons became a family shoe shop and, four years later, moved into the four-story building they had built at 10th & F Streets, NW.
 
Rich’s Shoes remained at 10th & F for more than half a century, becoming a downtown landmark. In addition to this main store, Rich’s opened a branch in Georgetown by 1954 and another in Chevy Chase Shopping Center two years later. In 1961, the downtown shop relocated a few blocks west to a modern, new store at 1319-21 F Street, NW. A final branch opened in Farragut Square in 1968.

Learn more about the business and Eleanor Blumenthal's family here!

Point of Interest: The Rich’s building at 10th & F Streets, NW, is now home to Madame Tussauds, which came to Washington, D.C., in 2007.

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

Brass eternal light, 1898Archives Record
Object #: 1975.01
Donor: Robert Reich
Description: Brass eternal light, 1898

Background: Caroline King donated the ner tamid (eternal light) to Washington Hebrew Congregation in memory of her late husband, Henry King, Jr. The inscription reads “In memory of H. King Jr. by his wife and children.” A ner tamid is an eternal light that hangs over a synagogue’s ark where the Torah is kept, and symbolizes God’s constant presence.

King's Palace, Washington, DC

Henry King, Jr., came to the United States in 1848 as a teenager. He and Caroline Straus married and opened a millinery business on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in 1861. The business expanded and relocated a number of times before finding its permanent home at 814 Seventh Street, NW, in 1877. In the meantime, the couple had welcomed seven children into their lives, three of whom would eventually take over the business. Over time, the millinery grew into a department store known as King’s Palace that occupied four adjacent addresses (seen at left). King died in 1897 and the business continued under the management of three of his sons and later a grandson.

In 1898, when Washington Hebrew dedicated a new synagogue on Eighth Street, NW, this ner tamid was donated in memory of Henry King, who had been largely responsible for campaigning and fundraising for the new synagogue in his role as congregational president.
About 75 years later, when Robert Reich, a local collector of architectural remnants, unearthed the light, he knew that Henry Brylawski, Chair of the Restoration Committee for the 1876 historic synagogue, was looking for a ner tamid to hang in synagogue. A new ner tamid had already been installed, however, so the blackened, brass light fixture was donated to the Society’s archival collection. To prepare it for display in 2005 in our exhibition, Jewish Washington: Scrapbook of an American Community, at the National Building Museum, the ner tamid was repaired, polished, and restored.

Do you have artifacts from a local synagogue that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society? Contact us at info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.

Photo: King’s Palace, early 1900s. The building's façade survives, now integrated into an office building at 810 Seventh Street, NW, which houses a local bar on the first floor. Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-npcc-32044. 

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

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Archives Record
Object #: 1998.54
Donor: Estate of Milton S. Kronheim, Sr.
Description: Photograph of Chief Justice Earl Warren’s birthday party in the dining room at Milton S. Kronheim’s warehouse, early 1970s. From left (sitting): Associate Justice William O. Douglas, Judge Simon Sobeloff, Milton S. Kronheim, Sr., Chief Justice Earl Warren, and Associate Justice Thurgood S. Marshall. Standing from left are Milton King, Judge David L. Bazelon, former Maryland Governor Theodore R. McKeldin, Stanley Rosenzweig, Judge J. Skelly Wright, and Associate Justice William E. Brennan, Jr.
 
Background: Milton S. Kronheim, Sr., owner of Milton S. Kronheim & Son, the area’s largest liquor distributor, presided over a modestly appointed lunchroom at his liquor warehouse in Northeast Washington. There, he attracted gathering of presidents, lawmakers, Supreme Court Justices, sports figures, religious leaders and representatives of numerous charities. Kronheim gave his first lunch in 1928. He continued informally hosting the city’s most influential persons until his death in 1986, at age 97.
 
Kronheim devoted himself to an array of political and charitable causes as well as national Jewish organizations. He was a major supporter of the Democratic Party and his fundraising for Israel Bonds was so successful that a town, Nachalat Kronheim, was named after him. Kronheim also found time to pitch for his baseball team, the Kronheim A.C. Bearcats, until his arm gave out when he was in his mid-eighties. D.C. delegate, Walter Fauntroy, often played for the team.
 
Kronheim’s treasured photographs lined the walls of his company’s lunchroom. In 1998, his family donated more than 400 photographs and other items to the Jewish Historical Society, and the Society produced an exhibition of a selection of them the following year. The photographs are both a pictorial biography and a who’s who of Washington throughout most of the 20th century.
 
Do you have material documenting a notable local Jewish community member that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society? Contact us at info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.
 
Check out our previous Objects of the Month!