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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Field Trip to Pikesville

Posted on February 15th, 2012 by

A blog post by Program Manager Rachel Cylus.

Like all school students, as a child I looked forward to field trips – a break from the usual routine, and an opportunity to see something, new, different, exotic.  Growing up in Baltimore’s Jewish suburbs in the 1990s, Pikesville was just about the last place on my mind that would have qualified as a field trip.

But yesterday, as part of the third class of “Staging the Suburbs” at JHU, that is exactly what we did.

As eight students, Hopkins Professor Jennifer Kingsley, Museum director Avi Decter, class instructor Laura Tomes and I arrived at Hopkins’ Mason Hall, we found instructor Dean Krimmel already in conversation with our van driver, Joel.  Joel, as it turned out, was a local Jewish guy who had grown up in precisely the neighborhoods we planned on visiting – how perfect!

Dean, as it turned out, envisioned more than just a trip along the Jewish northwest trajectory out of the city, he had arranged for a bit of time travel.  Each student and Professor Kingsley was assigned the identity of an actual Jewish Baltimorean who decided to move to the suburbs in the 1950s.  Each was given an index card with their new name and a short biography detailing their current living situation, profession, family status, and reasons for moving.  Laura, Dean and Avi played housing developers prepared to “sell the suburbs”, and I was given the role of housing realtor, Helen Goldberg (yup, my grandma!! See February 6th blog posting).

From the moment we began, it was clear that the students had really taken their 1950s identities seriously, pairing up with their “spouses”, and discussing their housing priorities.  Ryan (Freshman) portrayed a 45 year old wife and mother, and dedicated himself to finding a neighborhood with good schools for his middle school age children.  Amanda (Sophomore) and Evan (Junior) took on their role as “newlyweds” earnestly, worrying about whether their meager incomes would ever allow them to move their young and growing family out of their parents’ home.

Our adventure to the suburbs began as we headed towards Druid Hill Park.  Driving along lower Park Heights Avenue, students were challenged to see the neighborhood as they would have in the 1950s, when the World War I era homes and synagogues were part of a predominantly Jewish neighborhood.  Today this part of Baltimore City is mostly an African American neighborhood, and although many of the synagogues retain architectural elements related to their past use (star of David windows, engraved ten commandments), they are now churches.

When we reached the 3700 block of Park Heights, we passed one of the childhood homes of my grandmother at 3701.  Now a Baptist Church, my grandmother lived in this house until it was sold to the Trenton Democratic Club, an important political organization in Baltimore for many years.  She remembers it as a wonderful house to throw parties in.

The first suburban neighborhoods that we visited were near Cross Country Elementary school.  The wooded hills were speckled with red brick bungalows, split levels and cottages.

These modest homes on little plots were a stark comparison to the row homes and front porch culture of the city.  As we continued further along Park Heights Avenue the synagogues grew larger and the separation between residential and commercial districting became more apparent.  From Sugarville to Ranchleigh to Smith Avenue, the housing diversity of the suburbs was clear.

I was amazed by how different these oh-so familiar streets and places seemed to me.  A field trip to Pikesville suddenly seemed far more interesting that I expected.  The houses and synagogues and schools became more dynamic as Dean explained how and when they were developed and I allowed myself to imagine moving to Pikesville before the ease of the Expressway, the Beltway and even Northern Parkway, when the suburbs may have seemed more like the boonies.

The field trip ended with a stop at Miller’s Delicatessen for a snack and discussion (potato knish and Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda).

Was the move to the suburbs the the beginning of the breakdown of the Jewish community?  Or just an opportunity to reimagine it?

As the grandchild of the generation who moved to the suburbs, it is hard for me to imagine Jewish Baltimore without Pikesville, or for that matter, Pikesville without Baltimore Jews.

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