Moving Out

Posted on October 18th, 2012 by

A blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin.

On October 17, 2012, the JMM opened our newest original exhibition, Jews on the Move: Baltimore and the Suburban Exodus, 1945 – 1968. Exploring a seminal period in American Jewish history – the exodus of Jews from urban centers to newly established suburbs – Jews on the Move interprets the motivations and factors that led to Jewish settlement in the Northwest suburbs of Baltimore County in the post-war years.

 

Irene Siegel with children, 1959

In the years following WWII, Baltimore Jews, like so many other Americans, left behind close-knit urban neighborhoods in pursuit of the “American dream.” Within the span of a single generation, the Jewish community swiftly reconfigured itself and experienced a fascinating social, economic and cultural transformation. Jews on the Move explores the local angle of a national story of suburbanization through the eyes of developers, real estate agents, community institutions and organizations, synagogues, and of course the families who helped establish the suburbs of Northwest Baltimore.

Gilbert and Leslie Polt, c.1960

Louise’s Pizza, Liberty Road, 1963

Park Heights JCC, Jewish institutions followed the exodus out of the city. The opening of a suburban JCC on Park Heights Avenue in 1960 – in addition to the move of synagogues – helped families recreate Jewish enclaves in the suburbs.

What makes this exhibit project especially exciting is an innovative collaboration that resulted in its creation.  Jews On The Move was developed through a partnership between the JMM and The Johns Hopkins University (JHU). With generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The JHU Program in Museums and Society partners with local museums to take undergraduate students out of the classroom and give them hands-on museum experience. The JMM was delighted to be invited to participate in this program, and in the spring of 2012, staff and consultants from the JMM taught a course at JHU that involved students in the creation of “Jews on the Move.”

Because of our partnership with JHU, the exhibit opened on its Homewood Campus. In order to prepare for the opening, on Wednesday morning, several JMM staff members in addition to exhibit designer, Ken Falk, installed the panel exhibition in Hodson Hall. The exhibit consists of vinyl banners that are attached to collapsing metal poles that connect to one another making it easy to transport and install.

Exhibit designer Ken Falk unrolling the exhibit banners

JHU faculty member Elizabeth Rodini watches as Karen Falk and student Molly Martell raise the exhibit panels

At the exhibit opening on Wednesday pm, Katherine S. Newman, James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, welcomed guests. JHU students who participated in the course talked about their experience in researching and designing the exhibit. Guests mingled, enjoying refreshments and an opportunity to view the exhibit and share their own reminiscences of their family’s move to the suburbs.

Jews on the Move has been designed as a traveling exhibit and is available at no charge to hosting institutions. If you are interested in hosting this exhibit, contact Rachel Cylus at (410) 732-6400 x215 / rcylus@jewishmuseummmd.org. Also, be sure to check out the exhibit website www.jewsonthemove.org where you can send in your own suburban stories and photos.

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Becoming Pikesville

Posted on October 12th, 2012 by

By Research Historian Deb Weiner

Last weekend I volunteered on a political campaign in the swing state to the north. As I was sitting in the campaign office in Harrisburg, another group of Baltimore volunteers walked in. One of the women looked at me and said, “You look familiar.” She looked vaguely familiar to me as well. Neither of us could figure out how we knew each other until she offered, “I’m from Pikesville.” I responded, “Oh, I work at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Have you been there?” Turns out she used to work at the Associated Jewish Federation, and we probably met at some kind of Associated-related event.

To anyone from Baltimore, my response would not seem to be a non sequitur. That’s because saying “I’m from Pikesville” is virtually a substitute for saying “I’m Jewish,” but without the awkwardness of announcing your religious identity to a (near) total stranger. The fact is, Pikesville is home to 30 percent of Baltimore-area Jews, according to the most recent Associated Population Study. Even more pertinent, around four out of five Jews live in the northwest portion of the Baltimore metro area, from Upper Park Heights to Owings Mills and beyond, in an area that might realistically be termed “Greater Pikesville.”

Which brings me to the subject of this blog post. Next Wednesday, October 17, we are opening the traveling exhibition “Jews on the Move: Baltimore and the Suburban Exodus, 1945 to 1968.” The exhibition reveals how and why Jews became concentrated in the metro area’s northwest suburbs in the decades after World War II. It was a process that took only a single generation to complete, but remains a powerful fact of Baltimore Jewish life today, several decades later.

It’s a national story, but with a local twist—Baltimore Jews joined the rush to suburbia that occurred across America after World War II, but why they ended up in one particular section of the metro area is a complex tale with a lot of local nuances. Ironically, the exhibition does not really focus on Pikesville, because it wasn’t until the early 1980s that Pikesville beat out Randallstown as the suburb of choice for Jews within northwest Baltimore. What the exhibition does do is show how the “northwest exodus” became firmly established in those early years of suburbanization, leading to the settlement patterns we see today.

By the way, I should mention that the exhibition is opening not here at the JMM, but at Hodson Hall on the Johns Hopkins University campus, where it will be on view until December 17. We created the exhibition in partnership with students in JHU’s Museums and Society program, through a class that JMM staff taught last spring.  The students were from all over (California, New York, D.C. suburbs) but by the time the semester ended they could throw around terms like “Baltimore Beltway” and “Mandell-Ballow” with ease.

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Unwrapping the enigmatic: Louise’s Italian Restaurant

Posted on May 23rd, 2012 by

A blog post by JHU student Evan Fowler.

A 1963 photograph (viewable at the Baltimore Museum of Industry’s website) showcases an unidentified waitress throwing pizza dough in the air at Louise’s Italian Restaurant at their 8126 Liberty Road location. The picture, with its flying dough, picturesque low price menu and stainless-steel oven, immediately captivated me. It became a part of my research portfolio for one of my spring semester classes, Staging Suburbia with the Jewish Museum of Maryland. As an outgoing undergraduate finishing his Jewish Studies minor and with a penchant towards 1950s nostalgia, I could not resist investigating this scene.

After a little digging, I discovered a 1964 advertisement from The Baltimore Sun, which mentioned additional franchise locations for Louise’s on Park Heights, Reisterstown Road, West Cold Spring, Liberty Heights and the Alameda. These locations beget a new question: why was there a chain of Italian restaurants sprouting up across Baltimore, especially in predominately Jewish neighborhoods? What was so attractive about these locations that made the owners want to place their businesses there?

This investigation evolved with a new revelation: that Jews owned the restaurants themselves. A Baltimore County Liquor Board record from 1963, in deciding whether or not to grant a liquor license to Louise’s Rockdale location (the one pictured), noted the owners of the shop as “John Gould; his wife, Mrs. Sydell Gould, and Arnold M. Snyder.” Cross-referencing these names with one of the city directories from the period, I was able to find three potential matches for John Gould, and one match for Arnold M. Synder. Using a city map, it was possible to see out of the three possible John Goulds, one lived in Pikesville, one in Towson and one in East Baltimore, while the only Arnold M. Snyder that was listed lived in Randallstown. While it is guesswork to assume their neighborhood meant they were Jewish, it was certain that they could have lived in predominately Jewish areas.

The advertisements for the stores in The Baltimore Sun, imitated the English of an Italian immigrant. For example, in the April 19, 1964 paper, the headline for the Louise’s advertisement reads: “That’s for me- a pizza! That’s for me- a sub!” There is also a smaller text beneath it that reads, “Thatsa delish!” Two months later, in the July 21, 1964 paper, the advertisement asks the reader, “Could it be you’ve never tasted real pizza?” It goes on to describe the uniqueness of a Louise’s pizza and of the inadequacy of “store-bought frozen concoctions.” The tagline from the first advertisement is repeated: “thatsa delish!”

What then, is the answer to this riddle? What motivated these owners to open an Italian restaurant in these neighborhoods? Was there some familial connection to Italian cooking, or was it a profit-maximizing endeavor, capitalizing on Old World authenticity? Were the owners trying to appeal to a broader audience, including gentiles? Why choose pizzas and grinders instead of pastrami and matzah ball soup?

The story of Louise’s, like many during my experience with the Jewish Museum of Maryland, remains hazy. My father, who has been a police officer for over forty years, would surely understand the detective-like work that has gone into this research, and other projects undertaken by my classmates. The story of suburban migration is clouded and murky. There is no one explanation for it, in the same way that there cannot be a simplification about Louise’s. That is what I have taken away from this semester. Being a historian is about unwrapping the enigmatic, trying to comprehend the inscrutable. It may not always be possible to find explanations. But sometimes the questions can be just as interesting without answers.

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