Earlier this week, our friends at The Forward published a list of 10 facts about Jewish Washington, D.C. called "Of Goldie Hawn, Theater J and 8 Other Things About (Jewish) Washington D.C." We’re adding our hometown voice with ten things you might not know about Washington’s Jewish history.
1. Home to the Only Congressionally-Chartered Shul
1856: Washington Hebrew—the city’s first Jewish congregation—successfully petitioned Congress (then constitutionally responsible for D.C. law) for legislation ensuring its right to purchase property.
2. The Civil War Couldn’t Keep the Jewish Community Apart
1862: Because Civil War travel restrictions prevented Washingtonian Henry Baum from traveling to his bride, Virginian Bettie Dreifus’s home in Alexandria, the marriage took place in D.C.
20th Century: From hundreds of Jewish immigrant-owned "mom and pop" liquor stores to producer-distributor-powerbroker Milton Kronheim, Jewish Washingtonians have helped quench the thirsts of Washington’s denizens for over a century.
6. First Israeli Flag-Raising on Embassy Row
1948: President Harry Truman’s recognition of Israel’s independence on May 14, 1948, spurred hundreds to stream to Embassy Row to cheer and dance as the new state’s flag was first raised.
7. Ferris Bueller Actor Bar-Mitzvahed in Maryland Suburbs
1957: Years before Ben Stein became a speechwriter for President Nixon, an actor, and game show host, his family sent this invitation to celebrate his bar mitzvah at the Montgomery County Jewish Community Center (today’s Ohr Kodesh Congregation) in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
8. The Beatles’ First U.S. Concert
1964: Washington Coliseum owner Harry Lynn hosted the "Fab Four" for their first U.S. concert on February 11, 1964, the day after the band's roaring introduction on the Ed Sullivan Show.
9. Eruv Encloses All Three Branches of the Federal Government
Today: Built in 1876, the historic Adas Israel synagogue was saved from demolition in 1969 by moving it three city blocks, where it now stands as the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum. The synagogue will move again: once to a temporary location, and finally to the corner of 3rd and F Streets, NW, where it will be the focal point for the Society’s new Jewish museum;
Braving a freezing snowstorm the night of February 11, 1964, thousands of fans streamed to the Washington Coliseum to see the Beatles perform their first concert in the United States. The venue's owner, Harry Lynn (1916-2006), kept a promotional photo of the "Fab Four," which he included in voluminous scrapbooks, added just this week to the Society's collection.
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the concert, JHSGW archivists have discovered a personal note on the back of this photo, written to Lynn and signed by the band.
Sometime along the way, however, this photo, along with dozens of other photos and notes given to Lynn over the years, was glued on to rigid board. The note and signatures are visible as mirrored indentations made by the pen.
Removing the board and the glue adhering it poses a difficult preservation and conservation problem. However, picking out the note will be possible with specialized imaging equipment, which the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute will provide to assist JHSGW next week.
As the city and country gear up to celebrate 50 years of Beatlemania in the U.S., JHSGW is adding to that story. The recent donation of Harry Lynn's Washington Coliseum scrapbooks, contributed by his son John and facilitated by JHSGW president Sam Brylawski, will be our February Object of the Month. They will reveal even more of our city's fascinating part in one of the last century's most important cultural movements.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 789-0900.
Fans of Broadway and musical theater gathered in the warm and inviting living room of members Arlene & David Epstein yesterday to hear Murray Horwitz, actor, entertainer, and playwright recount how his hit Broadway show, Ain't Misbehavin' became a Broadway standard.
The salon was a hit itself-- completely sold out and with a waiting list that would have filled another living room!
Here's a photo of me at the far left standing next to Murray and our hosts the Epsteins.
Murray held our rapt attention as he recalled listening to records borrowed from the Dayton Public Library as a kid and discovering Fats Waller's music. He began a personal quest to learn everything he could about Waller and his unique style of playing swing music.
We listened to a bit of Waller music and heard about Murray's experience writing a show that was first performed in a small cabaret and then moved to Broadway where it won a Tony-- all in four months.
Special thanks to our hosts and guest speaker for setting such a high bar with our new series of monthly salons in celebration of our 50th Anniversary.