Tucson Lifestyle August 2012 : Page 116
rs e e n o i P s s e r g of Pro immigrant Starting in the mid-1800s, to make to Tucson merchants flocked are still names their , Today their fortunes. consciousness. collective our of part a BY P AUL L. ALLEN PHOTOS COUR TESY OF THE ARIZON A HIS TORICAL SOCIET Y/TUCSON 116 hat appeal could there have been in the dusty, sun-baked Old Pueblo that attracted the attention of educated and sophisticated immigrant Jewish business-men after the mid-1800s? How about a mercantile vacuum — a sure-fire “seller’s market?” Tucsonans were hungry for goods, but had no reasonable way to get them. They had little knowledge of the sources of manufactured goods, but were very aware of the distances involved and the potential for sudden violence. They “made do” with what they could grow or produce, or trade from wayfarers passing through. The businessmen — and there were many, some of whose family names still are familiar here — almost certainly had not set out from the Old Country with Tucson as their intended destination. The Old Pueblo was far from a metrop-olis, with a population of just over 600 inhabitants in 1860 and, 40 years later, barely more than 7,000. ABOVE Among the highest profile business-men in Tucson in the mid-1800s were broth-ers William (left) and Louis Zeckendorf. www.tucsonlifestyle.com W TUCSON LIFESTYLE
Pioneers Of Progress
Paul L. Allen
Starting in the mid-1800s, immigrant merchants flocked to Tucson to make their fortunes. Today, their names are still a part of our collective consciousness.<br /> <br /> What appeal could there have been in the dusty, sun-baked Old Pueblo that attracted the attention of educated and sophisticated immigrant Jewish businessmen after the mid-1800s?<br /> <br /> How about a mercantile vacuum — a sure-fire “seller’s market?” <br /> <br /> Tucsonans were hungry for goods, but had no reasonable way to get them. They had little knowledge of the sources of manufactured goods, but were very aware of the distances involved and the potential for sudden violence.<br /> <br /> They “made do” with what they could grow or produce, or trade from wayfarers passing through.<br /> <br /> The businessmen — and there were many, some of whose family names still are familiar here — almost certainly had not set out from the Old Country with Tucson as their intended destination.<br /> <br /> The Old Pueblo was far from a metropolis, with a population of just over 600 inhabitants in 1860 and, 40 years later, barely more than 7,000.<br /> <br /> ABOVE Among the highest profile businessmen in Tucson in the mid-1800s were brothers William (left) and Louis Zeckendorf.<br /> <br /> J. Ross Browne, who visited here in 1864, described it as “a city of mud boxes, dingy and dilapidated, cracked and baked into a composite of dust and filth; littered about with broken corrals, sheds, and broken pottery; barren of verdure, parched, naked and grimly desolate in the glare of a southern sun.” <br /> <br /> Paved streets were unheard of, sanitary facilities were of the “outhouse” persuasion, and refrigeration was still decades away. Even the prosperous merchants couldn’t be said to be living in luxury’s lap — other than in comparison with their hardscrabble neighbors.<br /> <br /> Several factors prompted the immigrants to seek new horizons in America, including a major upheaval in the banking industry in Germany and throughout Europe in the late 1850s, and the lure of precious metals highlighted by the California gold rush.<br /> <br /> In the wake of that discovery, Arizona mining proponents such as Charles Poston and Sylvester Mowry, hoping to generate investment dollars for mineral ventures, repeatedly touted (and grossly exaggerated) the attributes of Arizona in Eastern newspapers.<br /> <br /> The immigrant businessmen had several advantages over most of their prospective customers. Many were from wealthy families, well educated and comfortable with bookkeeping and numbers.<br /> <br /> The Old Pueblo was far from a metropolis, with a population of just over 600 inhabitants in 1860 and, 40 years later, barely more than 7,000.<br /> <br /> With knowledge of the international scheme of things, they were aware of sources of goods that were desired by Tucsonans and other isolated communities in the Southwest, and had the vision to bring them to the desert via shipboard into Mexican ports and the chutzpah to bring freight wagons through contested territory during the so-called Apache wars from as far away as St. Louis, Missouri.<br /> <br /> Among the highest profile businessmen here were the Zeckendorf brothers — William, Louis and Aaron. Born in Germany, they discerned early on that although the East and California were already oversupplied with merchants, interior frontier communities were not.<br /> <br /> William, 14, arrived in New York in 1856 to join his brothers, who already had established a thriving mercantile business in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Fluent in German, French and Hebrew, he was, by age 27, named manager of the Zeckendorfs’ newly opened Tucson business in 1869.<br /> <br /> The family connections among merchants served as a “pipeline” for new arrivals. Albert Steinfeld, a nephew of the Zeckendorfs and a native of Hamburg, Germany, joined the company in Tucson. When William had a parting of the ways with brother Louis and left the family business to open his own store here, Steinfeld became a partner with his Uncle Louis in the Zeckendorf firm.<br /> <br /> Eventually, Albert bought out the Zeckendorf Tucson store and changed its name to Steinfeld’s. It endured as a mainstay of the Old Pueblo for nearly a century. He later would build the city’s first skyscraper, the Pioneer Hotel.<br /> <br /> Philip Drachman, a progenitor of the late legendary real estate broker Roy P. Drachman, came to Tucson from Poland in 1854 and worked for a time for the Zeckendorfs before opening a successful shoe store.<br /> <br /> Another member of the “pipeline” was Leo Goldschmidt. His father, a wealthy Hamburg banker, urged his children to go to America when the financial crisis in Europe worsened. Young Leo did so at age 18.<br /> <br /> He worked in Santa Fe and renewed his acquaintance with boyhood friend Albert Steinfeld. When the latter came to Tucson, Goldschmidt soon followed and worked for a time for the Zeckendorfs before securing a $15,000 loan from Louis Zeckendorf to open a furniture store.<br /> <br /> He was, after all, practically a member of the family, his sister Matilda having married Aaron Zeckendorf. Another sister Eva was the wife of German Jewish immigrant Jacob S. Mansfeld, for whom Mansfeld School was named. An ardent supporter of education, he arrived here in 1870 and established the Pioneer News Depot and Bookstore.<br /> <br /> Alexander Levin played host to his Tucson neighbors for a number of years, as co-founder and owner of Pioneer Brewery, Park Brewery, Wheat’s Saloon and Hodges Hotel.<br /> <br /> Jacob S. Mansfeld (for whom Mansfeld School was named) was an ardent supporter of education and established the Pioneer News Depot and Bookstore.<br /> <br /> In 1888, Goldschmidt sold his successful furniture business and entered a partnership with Edward N. Fish (a Jewish merchant whose family had emigrated from England) to found Eagle Milling Co. Although not particularly religious himself, Fish donated a lot on South Stone Avenue where the city’s first synagogue, Stone Avenue Temple, was established. (It still stands today as The Jewish History Museum.)<br /> <br /> Alexander Levin played host to his Tucson neighbors for a number of years, as co-founder and owner of Pioneer Brewery, Park Brewery, Wheat’s Saloon and Hodges Hotel.<br /> <br /> He was best known as proprietor of the three-acre Levin’s Park on Pennington Street. It featured a dance hall, restaurant, 2,000-seat opera house, shooting gallery, archery range, icehouse, bathhouse, riding stables and bowling alley.<br /> <br /> Born in Bahn, Prussia, he was a city councilman and was married to Zenona Molina. Through her influence, he converted from the Jewish faith to Catholicism.<br /> <br /> Their son Henry later was city and county assessor, and daughter Sara married Frederick Ronstadt, a prominent wagonmaker and hardware proprietor. The Ronstadts were the parents of internationally known singer and entertainer Luisa Espinel (the aunt of acclaimed singer Linda Ronstadt).<br /> <br /> Another German immigrant, whose business, David Bloom & Sons, lasted well into this century, was from the Frankfurt area. In 1890, his wife, Clara Ferrin Bloom, founded the Tucson chapter of the Hebrew Benevolent Society. The Bloom clothing store operated until 1968.<br /> <br /> Brothers Lionel and Barron Jacobs came to the Old Pueblo in 1869, packing a wagonload of canned goods and a great deal of business sense. The canned goods sold for $1 a can, bankrolling the brothers’ store. That, in turn, provided funding for the bank they soon opened.<br /> <br /> Virtually all the merchants here served in various civic capacities — as city and county officials, active proponents of education, street repair, the betterment of the community.<br /> <br /> Charles Strauss, though not an immigrant himself, was the son of German immigrants. He was the city’s first Jewish mayor, serving a partial term from January 1883 to August 1884, finally resigning in disgust when fellow Tucsonans seemed indifferent to lawlessness in the community.<br /> <br /> He made a substantial investment in a fledgling company, the Winchester Repeating Arms Co., founded in 1866.<br /> <br /> Other Jewish immigrants contributed indirectly to the Old Pueblo’s merchant corps. The late Cele Peterson, who opened women’s clothing stores in Tucson in the 1930s, was the daughter of German Jewish immigrants who operated a business in Bisbee after the turn of the century.<br /> <br /> The Levy family, which started a tiny Red Star Store in Douglas in 1903, and a Tucson store in 1931, were forebears of Leon Levy, whose Levy’s Department Store was a Tucson landmark downtown as well as at El Con Mall.<br /> <br /> But Levy’s, like most of the prominent independent stores of the past century, fell victim to the buying power (and therefore, lower costs) of national chain department stores. One by one, they closed their doors — and their individual pages in Tucson’s history.<br /> <br /> Their descendants still live among us, as do the fond memories of many of us — recollections of another time.
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