Early Years of the Northwest Corner of Race & Elder
Built in 1857 by “an early builder of Cincinnati [who] laid the foundation of the Burnet House and the Jewish Temple [Plum Street Temple],” according to the Enquirer in 1922, 100-104 W. Elder—initially numbered 36-40 Elder—was three separate buildings and storefronts for most of its history. (The reference to the “early builder” of 100-104 W. Elder is hard to ascertain. If the Enquirer meant architect, then the two architects were Isaiah Rodgers who designed the Burnet House, and James Keys Wilson who was the architect for the Plum Street Temple. Both were very prominent architects, but it does not appear that either was involved in both projects.)
City directories listed commercial and residential occupants for 36-40 Elder beginning in 1858. It recorded them all at “the northwest corner of Elder and Race,” not specifically by address. We know, then, that Fred W. Heine had an apothecary or pharmacy in one of the storefronts. Valentine Bregaleus and Christian Vellener were listed as tailors there. Butcher Philip Freis, born around 1817 in Bavaria, was also one of the first occupants, along with carpenter Rudolph Portz and general laborer William Netracht. Their families would have resided with them, making even the first year of life at 36-40 Elder a crowded one. This residential pattern would stick: from the mid-1800s until the 1920s, around five or six families lived upstairs in each building, often in two-room apartments.
The following year, in 1859, city directories listed Andrew Wirz’ grocery at 36 Elder. That grocery remained there until 1862 at which point Andrew (also listed as Adolph and Andreas) moved to 33 Elder and then to 23 Elder (on the south side of the Market). Inside 38 Elder in 1859 was Fred Heine’s pharmacy. In the storefront of 40 Elder was Jacob Hamburger’s dry goods grocery. Jacob (1820-1897) was a German Jewish immigrant from Hanover, born in 1820; he and his wife Caroline (Block)—from Switzerland—had several children, including Barbara, Hannah, Esther, David, Rosette, John and Benjamin.
In the early 1860s, 38 Elder boasted coffee shops (which were more like saloons than coffee houses). Jacob Hamburger’s dry goods business remained inside 40 Elder. Sophia Brown also ran a millinery operation from that building. Henry Lachtrupp (1870-1905), from Schenectady County, New York, was listed as a merchant tailor living at 38 Elder in 1895, so perhaps he was running a tailor shop inside his apartment in addition to his larger factory at 575 Race Street.
In 1918, the Consumers’ League said of Cincinnati’s tailor shops, “The larger contract shops are regularly inspected by factory inspectors, but the smaller contract shops and the majority of tailor shops are under no supervision. Many of them are in private dwellings or tenements.” In 1862, Frederick A. Rasche had a flour store at 38 Elder, followed by flour dealer August Roesher in 1865. During this time, Joseph Guenther used 40 Elder for his cigar manufacture. Joseph’s business of cigar-making—which entailed curing and drying tobacco leaves, stripping tobacco from the stems, filling the cigar insides, wrapping and rolling the cigars and putting them in boxes—was performed at larger factories and small manufacture shops—but also at home, like garment work. It is possible that the entire Guenther family was employed in Joseph’s business, working from home together. In the 1870s, Jacob Hamburger continued his dry goods business in 36 Elder; city directories also listed him and a business partner, a Mr. S. Marx, as auctioneers at 36 Elder.
The Mundhenk Grocery at 100 W. Elder
From 1879 until the 1920s, the Mundhenk family maintained a grocery store at the corner of Race and Elder. The grocery store was initially at 40 Elder, but by 1885, it moved to the corner storefront at 36 Elder. 36-40 Elder were soon renumbered to 100-104 W. Elder when Cincinnati renumbered (and, in some areas, renamed) its streets in the 1890s.
The Turn of the 20th Century at 104 W. Elder
While the Mundhenk family used 100 W. Elder and Fred Hart used the storefront at 102 W. Elder, John Marcuse ran a notions shop at 104 W. Elder in the 1880s and early ‘90s. In addition to notions, he also sold “gents’ furnishing goods.” In 1894, his business failed, and his stock went up for sale. In his final years in the storefront, city directories also listed John Eger’s shoes business there, beginning in 1892. But by the end of 1894, his business failed too. Perhaps a contributing factor to his ill luck—while John Eger ran his store at 104 W. Elder, his wife was committed to Longview Insane Asylum in 1892 for “Base Dow’s disease … a disease of the eyes [that] manifests itself by an enlargement and protuberance of the eye ball, causing the patient to have the most distressing appearance,” as the Enquirer noted (it is actually just an immune system disorder).
City death records show a Fannie Eger—her name—died in 1893, only one year after her admission. Longview was notoriously underfunded and overcrowded, and many patients died from malnutrition there. After John Eger’s business, in 1895, Joseph F. Schmidt ran a clothing store from the storefront at 104 W. Elder. In the midst of these businesses, in 1878 and again in 1883, a horrible murder occurred at 104 Elder, committed by the same man.
On January 12, 1883, a twenty-two-year old who lived upstairs, Robert Hoffman, was shot by his father, John Hoffman, as Robert was exiting the building to go to work at John Moser’s grocery at Elder and Pleasant. John, a German immigrant, had been “lurking in the hall-way of the large brick tenement at No. 40 Elder street,” the Enquirer explained. John, an alcoholic with serious problems, had already killed one son, Edward, in 1878 inside their apartment on the third floor of 104 W. Elder. Edward—just before he succumbed to his wounds—exclaimed that his father should not be imprisoned since his father was drunk and had not meant to shoot him, that he had been merely showing off his gun when it went off. John’s wife Catherine also said that the gunshot was an accident. Beyond upset that he had accidentally killed his “favorite son,” John took to drink and stopped working. Previously, he had been one of the best cutters in the garment industry in Cincinnati.
In 1881, he deserted his family—he and Catherine had eight children in total—and began living on Twelfth Street between Elm and Plum. He left that apartment in 1883 after not being able to pay rent. After her husband left, Catherine worked to keep the family afloat by sewing. She and her children lived in two rooms together on the third floor. The Enquirer reported at the time of John’s second attack, “The wound of young Hoffman was somewhat similar to that of President Garfield. The ball entered at the right side, passing through the liver. It was never extracted, as it could not be located . . . The boy wasted away and died from sheer exhaustion.” The reporter also commented that John justified the crime because, in his mind, the young man was not his child. In fact, a few weeks before the crime, John had gone to the Bremen Street Police Station and told Lt. Westendorf that his wife had cheated on him years ago. The lieutenant did not buy it—he had been the same policeman to arrest John after Edward’s death—and John then went to a saloon at the southeast corner of Race and Liberty where he brandished a large revolver and said he was going to finish his unfaithful wife with it. This was one incident among many where John threatened the family. His daughter Theresa had previously gone to Lt. Westendorf, fearing for her safety. Through all the threats, Robert had been a dutiful son: when his father had previously tried to kill himself by hanging himself, Robert intervened, saved him and helped him recover. None of that registered with John. Robert passed away soon after his assault.
More tragedy struck the Hoffman family. Oscar, another one of John and Catherine’s sons, had a horrible, and fatal, accident at his place of work, the Cincinnati Ice Company, in 1888. He and a colleague fell sixty feet from the dark attic of the storehouse to its cellar. Oscar died immediately from impact. At the turn of the 20th century, Springman & Maas—a confectionary and notions shop—moved into 104 W. Elder’s storefront. It was run by two women, Bertha Springman and Barbara Maas. Tragedy surrounded these women.
In September 1903, Barbara received devastating news. Her companion had just killed herself at the Entemen Hotel in Toledo. Suffering from chronic anxiety, Bertha was of a nervous disposition, and the noise and chaos of the market caused her condition to worsen. To distance herself from the problem, she suddenly uprooted from Cincinnati and moved to Toledo. Her suicide greatly upset her business partner. In fact, it troubled Barbara to the point that she marched to the man who ran a fruit stand next to her store, and in the midst of shoppers and vendors, loudly threatened to shoot this Charles Krueck. For such a threat, she was summoned to court, and in her trial, she claimed that his "hollering" had killed "[p]oor Miss Springman." Barbara was irate. She continued, “Yes, I have threatened his life, and if he keeps on I will do what I say!” Refusing to pay a bond of three hundred dollars, she consented only after her attorney calmed her down and convinced her that it was wise to do so to avoid going to jail. Whatever ensued from this trial, we do not know, but soon after, she bought 1667 Hamer—a tailor shop with apartments above—and lived within its walls beginning in 1906. In 1928, Barbara died from a mitral insufficiency and other heart problems and was buried in the Walnut Hills Cemetery along with many other German Protestants.
In 1905, Jacob (1871-1940) and Abraham Effron (1877-1971) sold notions in the storefront of 104 W. Elder, following the footsteps of Springman & Maas. They were both Jewish immigrants, born in 1871 and 1877, respectively, who immigrated around 1891 like many other Russian and Eastern European Jews fleeing pogroms and other anti-Semitic persecutions that were common in that time in the Russian Empire. Jacob married a Russian Jewish woman named Anna Kohn in 1897 in Cincinnati; she gave birth to Herman, Robert and Morris. Abraham married an Ohio-born woman named Rose. Just before World War I, Isaac Licht (1869-1952) used the storefront space at 104 W. Elder for chinaware; he also rented the storefront at 105 W. Elder from 1914 to 1918.
Clarence Stegner’s Meats at 102 W. Elder
Beginning in 1920, Clarence Stegner (1907-1965) established Stegner Meats at 102 W. Elder’s storefront. It remained there until 1948. In 1922, Clarence and Alexander B. Heilemann, who would soon have a shoe store inside 100 W. Elder, purchased 100-104 W. Elder from Josephine (Attermeier) Witte (1853-1928) for $40,000. In addition to the new ownership of 100-104 W. Elder, the Enquirer reported that, “approximately $15,000 will be expended by the new owners in improving their purchase. New fronts will be placed on the three stores fronting Elder street and an entirely new store room will be built on the twenty-foot lot, fronting on Race street. Twenty-seven rooms are in the building, being divided into two and three room apartments, which also will be modernized.”
In 1928, the building changed hands again: Moses Wilchins (1895-1965)—a second-generation Russian Jewish immigrant (his father was from Russia) who grew up in Brooklyn, New York City—paid $60,000 for “the four-story brick; northwest corner of Race and Elder Streets,” as newspapers reported. Moses’ wife Sylvia (Frankel) (1895-1968) held onto it until 1947. Clarence Stegner, the proprietor of Stegner Meats at 102 W. Elder, was born in Cincinnati in 1907. By the late 1920s, Stegner Meats had grown into Stegner Products Company. To compensate for the company’s growth, Clarence expanded his business from just 102 W. Elder to 1816 Race Street. By this time, his mock turtle soup and chili con carne were becoming particularly famous. He soon grew that business into Stegner Food Distributing Company and moved over to encompass 1818-1824 Race. From there, Stegner’s products—some of them canned at that point—were put onto a fleet of delivery trucks to distribute to local restaurants. Stegner’s lasted at 102 W. Elder until the post-World War II era.
In the spring of 1948, the storefront was advertised for rent, and Augusta Steffler soon leased it for her husband’s butchering business. In 1950, William Finke had a grocery at 102 W. Elder, followed by another butcher shop—Elder Street Meat Market—in the 1950s and early ‘60s.
100 W. Elder After the Mundhenk Brothers
In 1923, after purchasing 100-104 W. Elder with Clarence Stegner, Alexander B. Heilemann (1887-1958) moved his shoes store from 112 W. Elder into the storefront of 100 W. Elder after the Mundhenk family vacated it. In 1930, after working for Alexander Heilemann, Bernard Oldegeering Jr. (1882-1945) started his own shoe store inside 100 W. Elder. Then, beginning in 1932, Abraham Cohen (1884-1951) moved his shoes store from 14 W. Elder to the corner storefront at 100 W. Elder. Alex and Eunice took over the family business after Abraham died in 1951, but in December 1964, they declared bankruptcy. The Enquirer reported at the time, “Total personal and business debts were listed at $526,219; total personal and business assets at $114,960. Broken down, the store's share, including the realty company, was $426,052 debts, $34,225 assets; individual debts $100,167, individual assets $80,735.” In the face of these serious debts, the couple financially managed to sustain the store until the turn of the 21st century.
104 W. Elder in the 20th Century
During Clarence Stegner’s tenure at 102 W. Elder, there were bakeries—Whitecap Baking Co. in the 1920s (which went out of business in 1927) and Fischer’s Bakery during World War II, for instance—next door at 104 W. Elder. In the early post-World War II era, Ben Malhorn’s dry goods shop moved in, followed by H. E. Sullivan’s restaurant (until it went out of business in 1947). Ben Horn’s Furniture Company was the next tenant at 104 W. Elder until its bankruptcy in 1956. Abraham Cohen briefly used 104 W. Elder, in addition to 100 W. Elder, in 1960, but by the mid-1960s, Ralph Cooper (1896-1969) ran Cooper’s Department Store at both 102 and 104 W. Elder. Ralph first worked from 120 W. Elder in the late 1950s, before moving his operation to 102-104 W. Elder. He and his wife Gertrude had two children, a daughter Eleanor (Blumenthal) and a son Josef. Ralph died in 1969 at Jewish Hospital; thereafter Gertrude took over the business and maintained it at Findlay Market until the mid-80s. In 1961, Harry Noiman (1909-1982) purchased 100-104 W. Elder. Harry had grown up at Findlay Market. In 1990, Terry Ockerman purchased the property and owned it until 2003. While trying to do renovations in February 2003, he took out a load-bearing wall and the back of 100 W. Elder collapsed. City building officials at first ordered the building torn down, but Councilman James Tarbell stepped in to stop the demolition. He then found a new developer—Greg Badger, who became the owner—and convinced the Cincinnati Preservation Association to put up $10,000 to preserve the building. CPA’s fundraising was soon joined by similar efforts from the Corporation of Findlay Market, the American Institute of Architects and private donors. Their donations came to another $30,000. City Council then gave $250,000 to cover the rest of the repairs, which primarily involved restoring the building's back wall. Since then, Greg Badger has been developing the building into first-floor commercial space and upstairs condominiums. The first floor is now home to Noli, a kitchen store run by Agostino Fede who helps customers design Italian-inspired kitchens.