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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A Synagogue’s Move to the Suburbs: The Beginning of the Future

Posted on May 14th, 2012 by

A blog post by Molly Martell, Johns HopkinsUniversity, Class of 2015

This semester I was able to take a course through Johns Hopkins and the Jewish Museum of Maryland called “Staging Suburbia” in which we, as students, helped the curatorial team at the JMM take a closer look at the move of Baltimore’s Jewish population from the city to the suburbs in the 1950’s and 60’s. At one point in the course, I was to interact with some of the museum’s collections. It was then that I found this “Beginning of the Future” pin in the JMM’s database.

 

2002.111.003

With the information on the pin as my starting point, I began trying to figure out what happened on May 3rd of an unknown year, hoping it would somehow fit into the story of the migration of Jewish families, businesses, and places of worship to the suburbs during the 1950’s and 60’s. After thoroughly searching the web and the museum’s archives, I was still no closer to finding out what event the pin was tied to. It wasn’t until I started reading through Jan Bernhardt’s On Three Pillars: The History of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, 1871-1996, that I was finally able to uncover the history of this little pin.

On January 20th, 1952, Chizuk Amuno began promoting theme of “Toward New Horizons for Chizuk Amuno” (Bernhardt 249). They enacted plans enacted to move the synagogue to suburbs. By October of that year, Chizuk Amuno was able to put down a deposit on a71-acre plot of land on Stevenson road.

Despite the progress that was made on the synagogue’s move to the suburbs, “Excitement surrounding the relocation plans was put aside in January 1953, as Milton Fleischer decided to step down from the presidency of the synagogue after serving as an officer for 55 years- 31 of them as president” (Bernhardt 252).

Plans for the synagogue’s move was overshadowed by the president’s retirement and for five months, the synagogue focused more heavily on welcoming the 8th president, Isaac Potts, to Chizuk Amuno’s congregation.

To re-engage interest and support in the relocation project, “a ‘Festival of Synagogue Music,’ coordinated by Bernice Kolodny, was held on May 3rd, 1953 and featured renownNew York cantor Arthur Wolfson as soloist. Dr. Hugo Wolfson conducted a choir of 75 voices and an orchestra of 40 musicians in 3 works by French-Jewish composer Darius Milhand. The concert attracted citywide attention as more that 1,200 listeners crowded into the sanctuary” (Bernhardt 253). The “Beginning of the Future” pin was most likely used as part of the festivities this day in 1953.

The little pin represents Chizuk Amuno’s goal to relocate to the suburbs, despite losing its president of 31 years. It conveys a message of hope and would have most likely been used in conjunction with the music festival to raise money for the new synagogue and spread the word of its new suburban branch. The move to the suburbs was cyclical in many instances- Jewish families and businesses would move to suburbs as synagogues began to move, and more synagogues began to move as families and businesses began to choose the suburbs over the city as well. 

Chizuk Amuno’s move from Lloyd Street to Stevenson Road mirrors not only the desires of Baltimore Jews of this time to become a part of suburban life but also the larger American ideal of the time- to embrace the future and strive for a life determined by oneself.

Ground was broken for the new synagogue three years later.

1991.007.022 Chizuk Amuno School groundbreaking, October 1956.

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