Lawrence R. Katz, 87, president of Polan Katz & Co., umbrella business his father founded

November 15, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

As president of Polan Katz & Co., once one of the nation's largest manufacturers of umbrellas, Lawrence R. Katz cheerfully looked forward to rainy days.

Mr. Katz, whose company once produced more than 1.5 million umbrellas a year, died Wednesday of complications from emphysema at his Stevenson residence.

He was 87.

"When we got up in the morning and I'd look out and say, Oh God, it's raining, Larry would perk up and say, 'Oh no, it's a lovely day,' " said his wife of 55 years, the former Nancy Brager.

Mr. Katz became president in 1946 of a business that was founded in 1906 by Charles Katz, his father, Jesse N. Polan and William Fox in a South Hanover Street building.

Though "Born in Baltimore -- Raised Everywhere," was the popular slogan of rival umbrella maker Gans Brothers, the same could have been said of Polan Katz, which was known for its slogan "Reigning Beauty."

RTC Baltimore once was known for its umbrella makers.

In the 1920s, seven Baltimore companies manufactured umbrellas that were shipped all over the world.

At the turn of the century, all umbrellas were black.

It wasn't until after World War I that Mr. Katz's father introduced the first umbrella with color that was safe. Before that, dyes would bleed and stain the clothes of the carrier.

Mr. Katz' factory faced Riverside Park in South Baltimore, where the company also manufactured parasols, which for many years were in great demand.

"The colorful items manufactured and sold with umbrellas were known as parasols. They were made for use in the sun and not the rain and were not water repelled," wrote Mr. Katz some years ago in a memoir.

For women's umbrella handles, Polan Katz turned to such famous silversmiths as Samuel Kirk & Co., Stieff & Co., Tiffany & Co. and Bailey, Banks & Biddle. Handles for male models were less glamorous and were known as the "Prince of Wales" or the crook, which was shaped to fit over an arm or wrist.

"He was very proud of the standards his father had established and he maintained," said Mrs. Katz.

He donated umbrella samples, factory photographs showing workers fashioning umbrellas and patterns and other company memorabilia to the Baltimore Museum of Industry on Key Highway.

When Mr. Katz closed the business in 1981, it ended the city's distinction of being known as the umbrella capital of the United States.

He said cheaper umbrellas and foreign competition forced him to end the business.

Born and raised on Park Heights Avenue, Mr. Katz was a 1929 graduate of City College and attended the University of Maryland where he was a co-founder of Sigma Alpha Nu Fraternity.

In the late 1930s, he worked for the Joseph Katz Advertising Agency until the outbreak of World War II, when he enlisted in the Army. As a second lieutenant, he was in charge of service clubs at an Army base in Texas.

He was a member of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation for 55 years and had been active with Associated Jewish Charities.

Services were held yesterday.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, David L. Katz of San Diego; two daughters, Ellen K. Moore of Phoenix, Ariz., and Deborah H. Rabin of Baltimore; and a granddaughter.

Pub Date: 11/15/97

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