Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Matchless city: In fashion

Michael's might have its own history a bit wrong, but it's clearly been doing something right for over a century.

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Another post in an ongoing series based on a collection of vintage matchbook covers, circa 1949. This grouping features establishments centered on clothing sales or manufacturing. They represent examples of the influence of Russian Jewish immigrants in the history of the garment industry here.

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Michael’s Fine Clothes for Men is the only business in this grouping still open today. The company history on its website doesn’t quite line up with facts presented over the years. But the place has been in continuous operation for more than a century, so who really cares?

According to various documents, Michael Novorsky was born in Russia in 1894, moved with his family to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1903, and came to Kansas City about 1914. He first worked as a clerk for Robinson’s Shoes, then in a pawn shop near 12thand Main. In 1915 he opened his own pawn and clothing shop near 14thand Main. Two years later the Starreported he was officially changing his name to Novorr. “I’m an American citizen,” he said. “And I desire to have an American name when I go to register tomorrow.”

A 1931 ad.
The 1920 City Directory is the first to show him at 1830 Main. The store has remained there ever since. Initially it was a pawn shop – selling sporting goods, luggage, musical instruments, typewriters, etc., in addition to clothing and jewelry. By the 1940s it was exclusively men’s clothing, and Novorr’s sons were working alongside him. 

The shop expanded next door in 1953. Michael Novorr died in 1964. His family continues in the business today.

A 1960 ad.

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Mindlin’s, a woman’s clothier, predated Michael’s by a decade, beginning as a hat shop in 1904 near 12th and Troost. Rose Mindlin, also born in Russia, later moved south on Troost near Linwood boulevard.

Mindlin's on the Plaza in 1940.
After expanding her line to include women’s ready-to-wear clothes and bringing her sons into the business, she moved the store back downtown, first to 1109 and eventually to 1014 Walnut. In 1933 a second Mindlin’s opened on the Country Club Plaza, at 47thand Wyandotte, beside the Plaza Theater. (This space still exists.)

In 1948 Mindlin’s bought out the oldest women’s wear store in Texas, the Gans Company in Fort Worth. Renamed Mindlin Gans, it lasted only until 1953, when another Texas clothing company purchased the store and inventory.

After Rose’s death in 1957, the downtown Mindlin’s closed in 1961. The Plaza store operated another eight years. In 1969 it became part of the local DuVall’s chain of women’s wear shops.

A 1949 ad.

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Another early retail clothing store was the Union Clothing Company, founded in 1906 by Herman Rothschild. The Union, then at 1229 Grand, offered credit sales on men’s, women’s and children’s clothes, as well as jewelry.

A 1909 ad.
Rothschild took on a boyhood friend, Jay Jacobstein, as partner. In 1929 the store moved across the street to the west side of Grand. (A building you won’t find today.) By 1949 several other “credit stores” selling clothing or furniture also occupied that block.

A 1949 ad.

Jacobstein died in 1950; Rothschild in 1958. The Union Clothing Company closed for good in 1961 (below).

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Alexander Meltzer, another Russian-born immigrant, arrived here in the late 1930s and went to work as a furrier at Rubin’s Furs downtown. By 1940 he had his own fur shop on the fourth floor of the Altman building at 11thand Walnut. Three years later he moved down the street to 933 Walnut. (The building, too, is long gone.)

A 1946 ad from a store in Albany, Mo.

Meltzer also sold his fur creations wholesale to small-town department stores in the region.

By January 1950 he had moved his shop to 12th street between Walnut and Grand. Later he closed it, returning to work for other furriers in town. Meltzer died in 1969.

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Not a retailer, the Bettilou Sportswear Company was part of the expansion during World War II of clothing makers in what we now call the Garment District, around Ninth and Broadway. Like Bettilou, many specialized in women’s sportswear.

Bettilou was launched in 1941 by Leon Czarlinsky, from a family of several Russian immigrants who entered the clothing industry here. Bettilou had 8500 square feet on the first floor of 905 Broadway (today a Subway sandwich shop). Bettilou’s products were sold in small-town department stores and exclusively in Kansas City at Kline’s. 

After closing the company in 1955, Czarlinsky remained active in the neighborhood trade. Eventually he moved to Los Angeles, where he was a regional sales manager for two other Kansas City clothing manufacturers. In January 1967 he died there of a heart attack while returning home from the first Super Bowl game, lost by his hometown Chiefs.

(Left: a 1944 ad from a store in Moberly, Mo. Right: a 1954 Kline's ad.)

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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Matchless city: Event planning

The former Rolland Studio at 1118 McGee, originally the Louis Curtiss studio. 
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Continuing the series of posts based on a collection of matchbook covers dating to the late 1940s. If you had been planning a wedding or graduation activities in late spring 70 years ago you might have picked up a book of matches from one or more of these three businesses …

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Perhaps you ordered invitations to your event from Wertgame Paper, a wholesale supplier of various paper products, including adding machine rolls, paper tape, drinking straws, and stationery. 

The company had been started in 1944 by Leo Wertgame, a veteran of the wholesale paper business with other companies. It occupied a two-story brick building near the northwest corner of 11thand  Broadway until the early summer of 1949, when it doubled its space with a move to 2015 Grand, a six-story structure that is now part of the Western Auto lofts. 

An ad from the 1950s.  
The wholesaler eventually opened a warehouse in Springfield, but in 1959 Leo Wertgame sold out to an Ohio company, continuing as president until retiring in 1961. He later was active in banking and commercial real estate, the March of Dimes and the Kansas City Athletic Club, and was a leader at his synagogue.

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For flowers you might head out to 31stand Troost, where Howard Bartlow had been in business since the early 1920s, selling, among other things, corsages made of sweet peas, roses, gardenias, carnations, orchids, and violets. Elaborate funeral sprays were becoming too expensive for most folks by the late 1940s, when the shop began supplementing flowers with house plants, goldfish, and ashtrays. 

An ad from 1937.
In 1932 Bartlow’s son, Charles, joined him in the business, and four years later the shop moved from 3111 to 3113 Troost. (The building remains.) 

In 1970 the shop was moved to 63rdand Troost. The family retired and closed for good in 1975. 

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Finally, you could have wandered back downtown to sit for a portrait by a photographer in the Rolland Studio, established in 1933. Since 1944 it had occupied the former architectural studio and home of Louis Curtiss near 11thand McGee. (Sometimes called “the Frank Lloyd Wright of Kansas City,” Curtiss had designed several residences as well as downtown buildings, including the Hotel Baltimore, Boley Building, and Century Theater, now known as the Folly. He died in 1924.)

The Rolland Studio – studio and office on the second floor; darkroom on three – sometimes ran ads in conjunction with local movie theaters (or matchbook companies) that offered free portraits to patrons. But the specialty was school-yearbook portraiture, and its photographers traveled the region to that purpose. 

Rolland Studio eventually expanded to other locations. The company still operates in Raytown, having moved in the 1970s. The studio building on McGee, today known as Prohibition Hall, retains the Louis Curtiss monogram logo under the third-story roofline.

An ad from 1961.

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Monday, April 29, 2019

Matchless city: Roadside dining

The former Hillside Tavern in a screenshot from Google street view in 2017. It has since been torn down.

Another post in an ongoing series based on a collection of vintage matchbook covers, circa 1949. This trio focuses on dining establishments situated on U.S. highways that threaded through the city in the years before the interstate system …

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This matchbook was a remnant of wartime.

The Hillside Tavern, then just east of the city limits on what today is called Blue Parkway, dated to the late 1930s. First known as Nightingale’s and later Half-A-Hill Tavern, it became the Hillside in 1943 when Celestine “Bud” Tralle took over. Tralle had been a boxer in a former life, a bootlegger during Prohibition, and an infamous figure in the local gambling scene. He later added El Cabana Cabins, tourist accommodations next door to the tavern. In 1949, Tralle died at age 59. “For many years,” said his obituary in the Star, “Tralle had headed the ‘policy game’ operations in Kansas City.”

An ad from 1948 (with incorrect phone number).

After Tralle’s death, the Hillside Tavern was reacquired by Todd Hunter, another well-known tavern owner in town. Hunter had been owner of the earlier incarnation called Half-A-Hill Tavern, a name he had kept for another joint he owned in town. In the 1950s, Hunter’s Hillside sometimes ran afoul of liquor laws. The Hillside had several other names over the ensuing decades, and before being demolished in recent years was known as Lafferty’s Lounge.

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The Hi-Way Buffet was one of a small cluster of joints near the intersection of 31stand Van Brunt, which happened to be the end of the 31ststreet carline, near the eastern gateway to the city along U.S. Highway 40. As a restaurant it dated to the 1920s, but became the Hi-Way by the late 1930s. In 1946 it was a cafĂ©/tavern run by the sons of D.M. Carey, another notorious Prohibition-era bootlegger who had shot himself dead in in a hotel room in 1929. 

The place changed hands again several times before 1955. The Hi-Way featured dancing to musical entertainment provided by Lila Logan on piano and a synthesizer-like instrument called a Solovox.  The tavern lasted into the 1970s but was destroyed by fire in 1979.

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Duncan Hines was a celebrity chef of his day.

Linked to the Hillside Tavern by little else than U.S. Highway 50 and fried-chicken dinners, the Green Parrot Inn was a Kansas restaurant in a rambling house at the corner of State Line and what today is Shawnee Mission Parkway. Opened in 1929 by Tena May Dowd, it remains one of the more revered restaurants in Kansas City history. It was family-oriented and served no alcohol during its entire 26-year existence. Many civic-group meetings and private celebrations took place there.

An ad from 1933.
Mrs. Dowd had opened her first Green Parrot in Wichita when she lived there; later she opened another in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, Mo. In the early 1940s she served as president of the Kansas City Restaurant Association. Her husband, J.B. Dowd, joined her in the restaurant's operation after retiring from the farm-implement business.

The Green Parrot Inn celebrated its 20thyear in 1949, the same year J.B. Dowd died. Mrs. Dowd kept the place running until 1955, and the house was torn down for future redevelopment in 1958. Tena May Dowd died in 1973 at age 91.

An ad from 1955.

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