An eye for the details of East Baltimore

Baltimore Glimpses

August 10, 1993|By GILBERT SANDLER

THE Jewish Historical Society of Maryland (15 Lloyd St.) is presenting the collected paintings and drawings of renowned Baltimore artist Jacob Glushakow, "An Eye for East Baltimore." As some of my readers know, some years back I wrote a book, "The Neighborhood: The History of Little Italy." Mr. Glushakow provided the illustrations for that book.

While working with him on the project I came to understand that East Baltimore, at least the East Baltimore to the east of the harbor and including the area known today as "Little Italy," was, in the decades between 1850 and 1940, a unique community marked by a felicitous mix of Italian and Jewish cultures. Mr. Glushakow grew up in that odd ethnic sociology and understood it well. He came to love it and has been saying so for years through his work. Much of that work, happily, is in this show.

Jacob Glushakow's depiction of his East Baltimore world included the neighborhood's Catholic church (St. Leo's at Exeter and Stiles) and down the block, its Jewish shul (Beth Hamidrash Hagadol at High and Stiles streets, which had become a warehouse and only this year was torn down to become a parking lot).

Scattered throughout the same area were Italian tailor shops and Jewish tailor shops, Italian bakeries (Vacarro's) and Jewish bakeries (Stone's, Wartzman's), kosher chicken stalls (Spivak's Poultry House) right in there with Italian grocery stores (Apicella's, Lopresti's). There were Nador's Fresh Fish, Tony's Produce -- and so it went, a delicious serving up of pasta-and-lox.

Mr. Glushakow's genius is in recognizing the phenomenon and then capturing on paper and on canvas the dynamic at work.

To convey the flavor of this circumstance with such sensitivity and fidelity, you had to have been there. Mr. Glushakow obviously was.

Maybe you were, too. If so, you will connect to these stories.

Maria Allori (of famed Maria's Restaurant) recalled that growing up in the neighborhood Italian children used to join Jewish children in following the hearse in Jewish funerals.

Tommy D'Alesandro, Jr. recalled getting paid by religious Jewish neighbors to perform their household chores (turning on lights, stoking a fire -- considered "work" and not permissible) on the sabbath in homes on his street.

Stella Petti, a longtime resident of Little Italy, recalls that when her father came to the area in 1882 it was Italian and Jewish. "When the Italians rented rooms down here they roomed with families with names like Levinson."

Of his painting "Granby and Lloyd Streets, 1953" Mr. Glushakow writes:

"Right across from us on Pratt Street was Little Italy. In my earliest memories [was] the Italian man -- he must have been a Sicilian -- with a little cart pulled by goats, which sold water ice, which I enjoyed for 2 cents a cup. There were Italians living all through there, along with their businesses. I explored all this area."

It's a good thing he did. Otherwise, I might never have been able to get from him for my own history of Little Italy the special flavor of that Italian-Jewish neighborhood experience, and there would be no showing in 1993 of the many paintings and drawings of Mr. Glushakow that celebrate this long ago and dimly remembered time and place in Baltimore history.

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