Westley B. Johnson, 69, officer, owner of popular Five Mile House

June 10, 2005|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Westley B. Johnson, a former city police officer who owned and operated Northwest Baltimore's Five Mile House lounge for 25 years, died of pancreatic cancer Sunday at his Owings Mills home. He was 69.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Calhoun Street, he was a 1955 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School and served in the Navy.

Mr. Johnson joined the city police force in September 1964. "He was one of the pioneers in a newly established recruitment section of the Police Department," said Detective Oscar L. Requer. "It was the first time we went out of town to recruit at military bases. He was extremely friendly, and he was an asset to us in recruiting minorities."

Mr. Johnson opened Westley's Lounge on Vine Street about 1970, and soon after resigned from the police force to devote himself to his business. In 1973, he bought the Five Mile House, a Reisterstown Road bar and restaurant that in 1961 - before widespread racial change along the northwest corridor - had been a white-only establishment and the scene of civil rights-related arrests.

In 1983, he rebuilt the bar and restaurant, which occasionally featured jazz performers. A 1987 Sun review called it a "mainstay of the black urban professional crowd." Dining reviews praised its soul food entrees.

"He ran a productive business and contributed to the growth of the Reisterstown Road business district," said Ted Laster, a real estate supervisor for the city government. "The Five Mile House was known for its food."

Mr. Johnson had pictures on the walls of political, entertainment and sports figures who posed with him, including President Bill Clinton, Stevie Wonder, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and one-time heavyweight boxing champion Michael Spinks.

"He was the kind of guy you wanted to be part of your community," said Richard A. Berman, vice president of Berman's Automotive and president of the Reisterstown Road Merchants Coalition. "He took the bar over and invested a fair amount of money in it."

Stories in The Sun said the Five Mile House was popular with city officials in the administration of former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Mr. Johnson sold the lounge in 1999.

He also owned a contracting company, J&J Management, which did work for the city housing authority. That business ran into trouble a decade ago with federal auditors, who sought a refund of $50,000 after finding it had inflated costs and billed for unperformed work under a contract of more than $1 million to repair 31 houses.

He was not accused of criminal wrongdoing, but because of the controversy then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening withdrew his nomination of Mr. Johnson to the Maryland Port Commission.

Mr. Johnson served two terms as president of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association. He also was chairman for four years in the 1990s of the AFRAM Expo festival held in downtown Baltimore, and a former board member of The Chimes.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Macedonia Baptist Church, 718 W. Lafayette Ave., where he was a member for 40 years.

Survivors include his wife of 45 years, the former Dolores F. Banks, who assisted her husband in running the lounge; two sons, Sharif Johnson and Kevin Johnson, both of Baltimore; a brother, Louis Johnson of Baltimore; a sister, Clara Howard of Catonsville; seven grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

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