Leo A. Hoshal, locksmith

Owner of Bel Air Locksmiths was also a longtime manager of Bel Air movie theater and a Main Street fixture for decades

January 25, 2009|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

Leo A. Hoshal, a retired locksmith who once made news by banning long-haired male patrons from the Bel Air movie theater he managed, died of cancer and pulmonary disease complications Wednesday at his caregiver's home in Delta, Pa. He was 86.

Born in Marble, Minn., he served in the Army during World War II, as did his father and three brothers. Throughout his life he kept a service flag with five stars on it, one for each family member in the service. He remained in the military through the 1950s and attained the rank of sergeant.

More than 45 years ago he moved to Harford County, where his brother Quentin, who was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, got him a job at the old Bel Air theater in Bel Air. Friends said the theater's owners, the Reckord family, gave him the assignment of cleaning up the place, which was attracting a rowdy clientele - and losing money.

"He ran the place with an iron fist," said a friend, Todd Holden. "He could have the personality of a snapping turtle, but everyone knew him, and he became one of Bel Air's great characters. There was no gray with Mr. Leo. Things were white or black."

Despite his reputation as a strict disciplinarian, Mr. Hoshal went on to be named a "Harford County Living Treasure" by the Harford County Council in 2005.

When young men began wearing their hair longer in the 1960s, Mr. Hoshal established a policy that they would not be admitted to his theater. He put up signs saying he would not seat a hippie clientele.

When a parent verbally battled Mr. Hoshal about the hair-length policy - arguing that he admitted women with long hair - the theater manager refused to compromise.

He survived protests, newspaper stories and letters to the editor. His mother, with whom he lived until her death, kept a scrapbook of articles and letters detailing his tenure at the theater.

When he took over the theater, it was racially segregated. African-Americans used a separate door and sat in the balcony.

He abolished segregation - but also told black patrons they would obey the same rules of law and order as other moviegoers.

"He broke the race barrier, and was proud of that," said Keith Holbrook, who befriended Mr. Hoshal and worked alongside him. "The theater started making money. He brought in Disney films. The owners put in a new screen and improved the place."

Friends said competition from malls contributed to the closing of the theater.

Friends described him as a hard-working and energetic man. He ran the candy and popcorn counter and the projector. They said he tried to hire extra help, but employees often quit.

In 1969, a local appliance store owner offered Mr. Hoshal, who was a self-taught locksmith and once took a correspondence course, space to open a business, Bel Air Locksmiths. He also operated a Charles Chip snack foods route - and worked the three jobs simultaneously. He drove throughout Harford County fixing and installing locks and dropping off cream-colored chip canisters.

"The hair issue was a huge controversy for a short period of time," said John D. Worthington, publisher of Harford County's Aegis. "When he believed in something, he would not change. But as a locksmith, he was extremely helpful and had a loyal customer base all over the county."

Mr. Hoshal continued to work into his 80s, when he developed macular degeneration and was troubled by diabetes. He worked until a year ago.

"His last day at the shop was April 29, 2008," said Mr. Holbrook, who runs ABC Safe and Lock. "He was a fixture on Main Street for over 40 years. "

Mr. Hoshal was a member and usher at St. Margaret Roman Catholic Church.

Services were held yesterday in Bel Air.

Survivors include a brother, Charles Hoshal of Fairfield, Calif.

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