Helen Christopher, 85, owned Fells Point bar

September 20, 1994|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Sun Staff Writer

Helen Christopher liked to sit in her apartment above the Fells Point saloon her parents bought in 1916 and watch the world go by. From one room, she could see the bustle of Broadway. From another, ships and tugs in the harbor.

Mrs. Christopher's view of her neighborhood ended Friday when she died of a heart attack at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She was 85.

"She used to laugh about all the changes she'd seen on Broadway," said Joan "Patsy" Schroeder, Mrs. Christopher's only child. "What was nice when she was a girl became run down and then got built up into something most people couldn't afford. She saw all of it out that front window."

Said her friend Anna Fleig: "Helen could go from room to room on that second floor, look out and see anybody. That's a beautiful view she had. She loved it."

The daughter of Jacob and Mary Bochenski, Polish immigrants, young Helen grew up working in the family bar. "Jake & Mary's" saloon did business at 1647 Thames St., on the southwest corner of Broadway. Now the Admiral's Cup, the front step still bears the mark of Mrs. Christopher's father: "J. B. Bochenski -- 1916" in mosaic tile.

Mrs. Christopher attended Holy Rosary grade school and in 1927 graduated from the Institute of Notre Dame on Aisquith Street.

"She was happy in the bar. There were a lot of seamen, they boarded upstairs, but it was neighborhood, it was family," remembered Mrs. Schroeder. "My mother and my grandmother kept that place clean and decent."

Mrs. Christopher worked as a department store sales clerk on Howard Street for about a year after high school, when she met Howard C. Christopher, a male model. The couple married and lived quietly on Shannon Drive in Northeast Baltimore until the Depression changed their lives forever.

In a single year -- 1932 -- Helen gave birth to her daughter; moved back to the family bar to save money; and lost her husband, who became a merchant seaman because jobs were scarce, only to be washed overboard and drowned off South America.

When her parents died, Mrs. Christopher took over the business, calling it Helen's Corner.

She continued to sell beer and liquor and rent rooms. Although the boarding house faded over the years, one seaman stayed long after the others were gone: a special friend and retired captain named Bill Campbell. Mr. Campbell mopped the joint down and helped keep the business going, but Mrs. Christopher remained a widow for 62 years. The couple ate out often -- particularly at Haussner's and the Horn & Horn at Eastpoint Mall -- and from time to time could be seen at local racetracks. Mr. Campbell died about two years ago.

In 1982, Mrs. Christopher sold the bar for more money than the daughter of immigrants could have dreamed. And the sale came with a stipulation -- that Helen could live upstairs for free for as long as she lived. "Miss Helen could be crusty," said Bruce Baldwin, manager of the Admiral's Cup. "But she was a decent lady."

In addition to her daughter, who lives in Finksburg, Mrs. Christopher is survived by six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Services were set for 9 a.m. today at the Weber Funeral Home, 705 S. Ann St. in Fells Point.

Memorial donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.

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