Days Of Burgers, 'Towerettes'

July 20, 1994|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Sun Staff Writer Staff writer Shirley Leung contributed to this article.

Rose Suit looked at the 1940s juicer with tears streaming down her cheeks.

It was just an old-fashioned juicer, the manual type with a handle you yank down hard.

But to Rose Suit, it is a touchstone from the best years of her life.

"Many a time I squeezed that durn orange juice out at Park Circle," said Mrs. Suit, 71. "You squeezed them oranges, you didn't get them out of a can. People wouldn't drink juice out of a can."

Park Circle was home to Baltimore's first White Tower restaurant and the juicer is now behind glass at the Peale Museum downtown, where Rose Suit and about a dozen of her retired "Towerette" colleagues gathered last night for a reunion.

The women brought their families, their cameras, their youth, and their memories.

"Hi hon," said Velma Bosley, laying eyes on Rose Suit for the first time in many a year. "I've been wanting to see you for a long time. We was working in Randallstown, remember?"

Rose remembered.

And it is the hope of the Baltimore City Life Museums that everyone who ate a White Tower hamburger in this town or cast a shadow against one of the restaurants' gleaming white facades will remember.

For those born too late -- only one of the original nine Towers still exists, surviving on Erdman Avenue -- curators will reassemble a 1948 Tower inside a new museum building next year.

At the Blaustein City Life Exhibition Center, now under construction near the Shot Tower, a visitor will be able to sit down at the counter of old White Tower No. 8 from Howard Street and listen to waitresses tell their stories on tape. Last night, you could watch them hug, laugh and cry with one another, and remember the good old days in person.

"I got divorced in the 1950s and I needed a job," said Mrs. Bosley, 72. "I made out like I had experience, but I didn't. They put me to work in No. 5 on Pulaski Highway and I wound up working in every one. You had to go fast. You wouldn't believe how fast I could go taking orders, making the food, and serving it, all by myself."

Under a glass cabinet lay a pay stub from 1959: $39.55, including $1.20 overtime, for a week's work.

When Bob Donnells started working part time as a "Towerman" while a high school student in 1960, he made 45 cents an hour. He kept his Dundalk Senior High School homework under the counter and kept up with his studies between customers.

After two years, he saved enough money to buy his first car -- a gray, 1955 Chevrolet for $200. He also found time to fall in love with Rose Suit's daughter, Betty Jane.

"Right in the back room of No. 8 he said he was going to marry my daughter," said Rose Suit, who in turn urged her daughter "to go out with that nice Bob Donnells."

She did, and has been married to him for 26 years.

Looking at the 51-year-old Mr. Donnells today, said some of the ladies who remembered a fresh-faced high school kid, made them feel old.

To remember when she was young -- and as a memorial to her late husband -- Cora Hegege keeps Baltimore's last White Tower open on Erdman Avenue. Joe and Cora Hegege met on the job at a Washington Boulevard White Tower in the 1960s. Mr. Hegege died in January.

"Joe worked for them for something like 35 years and he couldn't see them closing the last one down," said Mrs. Hegege. "It was Joe's dream to keep it going and when he passed away I decided to keep his dream going. It's holding its own with minor changes."

Most everyone got along swell, the workers said, and no one was more loved than Betty Ackerman-Donaldson, one of the White Tower's first female supervisors.

Mrs. Donaldson's first husband, Bruce Ackerman, was a supervisor.

Her current husband, Melvin Donaldson, was the one-time national chain's first customer in Baltimore when he ate a burger in 1936 at Park Circle.

And her daughter, Shirl Ross, remembers traveling to Atlantic City as an adolescent to help her mother polish up a new White Tower.

"You had to scrub those white tiles inside and out," said Ms. Ross. "I did my share, maybe mom gave me a milk shake or something, but you didn't get paid. You did it because you were White Tower people, you were White Tower family."

Betty Donaldson, remembered by one and all last night as the prettiest of all the Towerettes, joined that family at age 16 and in time became supervisor of all nine of the Baltimore stores.

Her first $10.50 pay check for 48 hours persuaded her not to return to Western High School in 1940.

"I wish we could relive some of those days," Mrs. Donaldson said. "I could check out of the old No. 8 on Howard Street and walk down to No. 2 on Liberty Street at 11 o'clock at night and not be afraid."

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