Wrecking ball can't remove memories of E. Lombard St.

June 16, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

As Baltimore's Jewish community celebrated its legacy in a climate-controlled museum, the very past being remembered tumbled in dust around the corner.

Bulldozers demolished five derelict rowhouses that had stood witness to life both robust and rogue on East Lombard Street for more than 100 years.

The buildings were razed starting May 30, the same weekend the Jewish Historical Society opened its exhibit, "Fertile Ground: 200 Years of Jewish Life in Maryland."

For some, bygone years came to life outside the museum as the end came for 1010 through 1018 East Lombard Street.

"A lot of people showed up with their memories," said George Dausch, who owns the property and had the buildings torn down.

"A lot of Jewish people came down and stood around to watch."

Because the buildings had so deteriorated, Mr. Dausch said, many of the observers said the demolition "should have been done years ago."

He said city inspectors refused to enter to verify that the sewer and gas lines had been capped, fearing disease from used hypodermic needles.

Said Sid Traub, who intends to buy the land from Mr. Dausch to expand his nearby warehouse of novelties: "There is no historical significance to those buildings."

Perhaps not the way they were at the end: vacant, collapsing and carpeted with trash, empty booze bottles and dope needles.

But if history is measured in racks of meat butchered to order, bushels of fish beheaded and cleaned, and coops of chickens sold live and slaughtered, then something more than bricks came down when the rowhouses were razed.

"To understand Lombard Street," said Irving Spivack, whose family owned a poultry store there, "you have to understand that mostly it was all Jewish."

The five buildings housed Brotman's for kosher meats, Lesinsky's for fresh fish. and Cohen's and Yankelov's for chicken.

The block had stores one after the other -- with an Italian deli or fruit stand here and there, and a bazaar where fat women sat on wooden crates plucking chickens by hand.

Just after the start of World War II, Harry Tulkoff began buying up most of the block to make his "Flaming Hot" horseradish.

The Tulkoffs sold out in 1979 to the Traub family, known for its line of Baltimore postcards, and the Traubs sold to Mr. Dausch's Durable Steel Products Co.

Durable Steel expects to sell the lots back to Sid Traub when the rubble is cleared.

Although the pungent and lusty bustle began fading in the 1950s, old-timers regarded the demolition with sadness.

"There must have been a half-dozen places to get chickens," recalled Sam Rubin, 81, who grew up a few blocks away on East Baltimore Street.

"My mother would ask me to help her take chickens back home on holidays."

One Polish woman who traveled from Canton with her mother, one of thousands of gentiles who also went to market on Lombard Street, remembered the warmth of the just-slaughtered chicken against her body as she carried it home.

Even some of the laborers who helped topple the structures felt bad.

"I knew when we started that we were tearing down the chicken place," said Thonnie Smith, 45. "I used to come over from the West Side to get a live chicken and have him killed, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, for a couple bucks. When you got a chicken killed on Lombard Street you knew you were getting a fresh chicken."

Michael Meyer Yankelov, 87, said his cousin David Yankelov was the last man to sell live chickens on Lombard Street, continuing on through the 1970s after the others were long gone.

A few businesses, such as Attman's Delicatessen, thrived as part of a group widely known as Corned Beef Row.

But most of the neighborhood has given way to blight and vacant lots.

"It's sad," said Moe Gordon, who grew up on Lombard Street in the 1920s.

"But let's be pragmatic, no one cares. Even if you saved the buildings, you can't bring it back, you can't put the pickles back in the barrels and the olives on the sidewalk and the storekeeper who would come out and stick his hand down in a barrel of herring, pull out a fat one, wrap it in old newspaper and give it to the customer for a quarter.

"You can't bring those people back. Lifestyles have changed. When I tell my own children about the old days they say: 'So what?' "

So what?

So some of the best years of Paul Wartzman's life were spent there, running the streets and hanging in his family's bakery in "good old days that sometimes weren't the good old days."

"There's never been anything like Lombard street, I used to fight one of my best friends on the chicken coops. We'd roll around on the coops, and flail our arms; the chickens would be screaming. It was fun," said Mr. Wartzman, 65.

"They had the ritual schochet who killed the chickens. My memories would be to carry the chickens over and watch him kill the chickens.

"It was frightening, the razor would always be on his lips and he'd take it out and cut the throat of the chicken and let them hang there. The blood had to come out ritually.

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