Philip Kahn Jr., 80, clothing executive, author, historian

May 04, 1998|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Philip Kahn Jr. wove the threads of family, Baltimore's Jewish community and the city's once-flourishing garment industry into the tapestry of his life.

An author, historian, painter, collector and retired men's clothing company executive, Mr. Kahn died of cancer Friday at Sinai Hospital. He was 80.

"He had one of the most meaningful retirements of anyone I know," said William T. Conklin III, a friend for 25 years. "He was so fulfilled, so interested. He was a quintessential Baltimorean."

A scholarly man so interested in the city and its history that he would rather drive through its streets than circle Baltimore on the Beltway, Mr. Kahn stitched his interests in the clothing industry and the city's Jewish community into two books.

The Maryland Historical Society published Mr. Kahn's book "A Stitch In Time: The Four Seasons of Baltimore's Needle Trades" in 1989. He published the other, "Uncommon Threads: The Fabric of Baltimore Jewish Life," himself in 1997.

He was working on a third book, a biography of Uriah Phillips Levy, the first Jewish graduate of the Naval Academy, when he died.

Born in Baltimore, a descendant of German Jews who emigrated from Bavaria in the early 1800s, Mr. Kahn was the son of a manufacturer of men's overcoat linings who was prosperous until 1929, when the Depression wiped out the business.

Mr. Kahn graduated from Polytechnic Institute in 1935. As he explained in a 1984 interview with The Evening Sun, he abandoned his dream of becoming an architect to begin earning money. He joined Moses Kahn and Sons, a men's clothing manufacturing company owned by cousins.

In 1939, Mr. Kahn joined J. Schoeneman Co., one of the largest and most successful men's clothing manufacturers in Baltimore's old loft district. After four years in the Army during World War II, serving in Europe and attaining the rank of first lieutenant, he returned to Schoeneman.

He was vice president of the company when a heart attack and bypass surgery prompted him to retire in 1979.

He and his wife of 51 years, the former Elizabeth "Betsey" Rosenfeld, furnished their North Baltimore home with artifacts of their family histories -- portraits from members of her family, the Wiesenfelds, who also helped to build the Baltimore garment industry, needlepoints made by 19th century ancestors, photographs of their granddaughter, school medals, commercial mementos and the watercolors Mr. Kahn painted.

In retirement, Mr. Kahn pursued his interest in Baltimore history. He began conducting city tours in the early 1980s under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution, the Society for Industrial Archaeology and the Johns Hopkins University, a practice he continued until about two years ago.

He served for nine years on the Baltimore Museum of Industry board of directors and was a director emeritus at his death.

In 1984, he began to research the old loft district. Materials he collected are on loan to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He was also an adviser to the Threads of Life exhibit mounted by the Jewish Museum of Maryland in the early 1990s.

Mr. Kahn's collection of 18th and 19th century Chinese porcelains was featured in an exhibit at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown 12 years ago.

He was also an accomplished cook. A dinner invitation to the Kahn residence meant "gourmet food prepared by Phil and Betsey jointly," Mr. Conklin said. "His creativity extended to cooking."

In addition to his wife, survivors include two daughters, Beth Kahn Leaman of Northbrook, Ill., and Lina Lee Kahn Liebhold of Columbia; a sister, Leonore Newman of Paradise Valley, Ariz.; and a granddaughter.

Services were held yesterday. The family suggested donations to the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 15 Lloyd St., Baltimore 21202.

Pub Date: 5/04/98

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