On July 9, Other Voices misidentified the purchaser of Trenton Democratic Club at auction in 1985. He was James Crockett. We regret the error.
ON THE afternoon of May 18, 1985, an auctioneer stood on the porch of a semi-detached house at 3701 Park Heights Ave. in Northwest Baltimore and sought to tease the bidding up. "Gentlemen, gentlemen, there's thousands of dollars of memories here." But the auctioneer knew his history better than his real estate. When the bidding got to a mere $10,000, it froze.
As real estate, the property would not appear to be worth much more; it had been vacant six months, it was boarded up and in a sad state of despair. But as history? The frustrated auctioneer had a point.
FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION qLB
This was the home of the famous (and infamous) Trenton Democratic Club, from the 1920s through the 1960s the power base of the famous (and infamous) Jack Pollack, kingmaker of kingmakers. Conventional wisdom of the b'hoys in those days was that the destiny of more careers (public and private) was decided in the back office of this unassuming structure than in any other political club in Baltimore.
The auctioneer's voice grew more pleading: Talking about Jack's son Morton (Jack had died in 1977), he said: "Mr. Pollack has decided to absolutely change ownership here today. Do I hear $11,000?"
The Trenton Democratic Club was once home away from home for such political luminaries as Gov. Marvin Mandel, Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., State's Attorney William A. Swisher, Gov. Millard Tawes and countless city councilmen, judges, court clerks and aspirants to all of those positions. One of the bidders was heard to say: "I remember that every Christmas they gave out baskets of food, right here on this same front porch. If you needed coal, they'd fill your coal bin. I tell you, if Jack Pollack were alive, this place would never be sold."
Pollack made of the Trenton Democratic Club a neighborhood institution that served its neighbors -- for a price. The price, of course, was a commitment to vote only for the king's men. For the working people in the 4th District, generally indifferent to the political process, that seemed little enough to pay for jobs, free coal, free food and fixed traffic tickets. Another in the small crowd, waiting for the gavel to fall, said: "They even had a softball team. A damn good one, too. It was one of the top-ranking softball teams in the city."
Another recalled: "I was here as a boy the night they repealed Prohibition in 1933. You talk about crowds -- it was curb to curb! I heard they drained eight barrels of beer that night. Pollack? He was king that night!"
The Trenton Democratic Club was (as was Jack Pollack) a victim of changing times. His largely Jewish base in Northwest Baltimore, from which he extended his power citywide, became largely black. Precinct politics, and the clubs' role in the life of politics, were dying. Back-office kingmaking was fast becoming a lost art.
And so on this sunlit afternoon in May, there was little left but memories of the old place and the old kingmaker.
"Gone! Gone to the gentleman for $10,000!" (He was James Rockett, a 60-year-old real estate man.)
Jack Pollack would have been mad as hell.