Early Years of 59-63 W. Elder
Originally listed as 59-63 Elder, before Cincinnati renumbered its streets in the 1890s, what is now the Luken Warehouse was originally three separate one-story structures with four storefronts. Built by 1860, these were most likely wood-frame buildings as was common in Over-the-Rhine in the mid-1800s. In 59 Elder (what is now 123 W. Elder, the eastern side of the Luken Warehouse), the first listed commercial use was Valentine Kahn’s (1823-1900) coffee house in 1860.
Inside 61 Elder (what is now 125 W. Elder, the middle portion of the Luken Warehouse), Charles Leopold Fettweis (1826-1887) used the building in the early 1860s as a part of his larger stone works operation; mid-decade, Michael Thiery (1823-1884) manufactured tin, cooper and sheet ironware inside its walls.
In 63 Elder (what is now 127 W. Elder, the western side of the Luken Warehouse), several tailors worked there initially. By 1865, huckster George Metzel (1810-1886) was listed as its inhabitant. Unlike other early Market structures, the one-story nature of 59-63 Elder precluded a tenement use (wherein many families would rent space). Instead, the residents of 59-63 Elder—if any—were typically the family members of the person operating the storefront business. Valentine Kahn—the first occupant of 59 Elder—was born in 1823 in Bavaria.
At the time of his coffee house on Findlay Market, he lived with his wife Ann, born around 1830 in Bavaria, and their children Peter, Alexander and Clara. Valentine’s neighbor at 61 Elder was C. L. Fettweis.
Born in 1826, Charles (or Karl) Leopold Fettweis, an early and prominent Over-the-Rhine German immigrant, was from Ludwigsburg. By the mid-1860s, as Charles Fettweis invested more in his stone works at 167 Hamilton (now W. McMicken), Michael Thiery utilized 61 Elder for his tinware business. Born in 1810, George Metzel was another early occupant at Findlay Market, using 63 Elder for his daily market after the Civil War’s end. From Bavaria, like his neighbors, he sold butter, eggs and meat from 63 Elder. His wife Catherine (Huber) (ca. 1816-1873)—also a German immigrant from Bavaria—raised a large family in Over-the-Rhine; her eldest son George, born in 1849, helped his father with their grocery business at the Market.
In the late 1860s and early 1870s, Nicholas Rein’s saloon occupied 59 Elder. City directories listed his prior address at the southwest corner of Elder and Pleasant, just next to 59 Elder. A German immigrant and husband to Mary Gebel (they wed in 1856), Nicholas was also a Civil War veteran. After enlisting in 1862, he served in the rank of Private in Company F of the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry—the exact same unit as Valentine Kahn. At the same time as Nicholas’ saloon at 59 Elder, one could find Moses Goldsmith’s notions shop at 61 Elder.
Notions—cloths, pins, thread and other various sewing paraphernalia—were in high demand in late-19th-century Cincinnati due to the plethora of tailors and seamstresses working around town. Specifically at and near Findlay Market, many of its early buildings housed millinery and tailoring operations, making Moses’ notions shop well-frequented. Moses (1848-1912) was a German Jewish immigrant from Prussia. He and his wife Lena (Black) (1849-1932) raised a large family; their children included Leon, Jacob, Ernestine (or Jennie), Morris and Sydney. His sons Leon (1866-1923) and Jacob (1868-1919) eventually took over the family business, having their own shop at 117 W. Elder around the turn of the 20th century.
In 1876, Aaron Welty Goldsmith (1851-1921)—a different Goldsmith, and the owner of 61 Elder—sold 61 Elder, along with its supply stock, to Solomon Mork (1810-1889) who then ran a boots and shoes store at 61 Elder until the early 1880s. Born in Bavaria in 1810, Solomon Mork—the next owner of 61 Elder—married a woman from Prussia, Rosalie (Jacobs), and had several children with her, including Sarah, Lillie, Rose and Allyn. The Morks lived at 61 Elder when Solomon sold shoes and boots from Findlay Market.
Throughout the 1870s, 63 Elder housed Joseph Conrad’s grocery, Leopold Brady’s notions business and then John Hoffman’s fruit store. Joseph Conrad (1832-1883) (sometimes listed as Conrath), born in Bavaria in 1832, was married to Margaretha (Hammer), born around 1842. The couple had at least three children, Joseph Jr., (1865-1937), Julia (1868-1900) and Rosina (Kingston) (1874-1945). Joseph struggled with health issues, specifically rheumatic arthritis, which put him out of work at times. Perhaps his wartime experiences contributed to these bodily ailments.
From 1861 to 1864, he served as a Private in a German regiment, the 9th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, in the Union Army during the Civil War. (Upon his return from service, he wed his wife in the fall of 1864). Joseph ran a grocery at 63 Elder in the early 1870s and then, after his death in 1883 due to tuberculosis, his widow “Maggie” and son Joseph Jr. operated a confectionary and fruits store out of the space in the mid-1880s.
Leopold Brady (1854-1880)—another tenant of 63 Elder in the 1870s—was born in Cincinnati to Solomon and Bertha Brady, German immigrants from Hannover and Hesse-Darmstadt, respectively. Beginning in his teenage years, he worked in a dry goods store, readying himself to run his own notions shop at 63 Elder with his younger brother Bernard. They called the venture L. Brady & Brothers.
The Late 19th Century at 59-63 Elder
In the late 1870s and early 1880s, Peter Reuhl (1844-1901)—a "manufacturer of moldings, frames and dealer in looking glasses, chromos, engravings,” as city directories advertised—used 59 Elder for his business. Born in 1844 in Prussia, he immigrated in 1869 and was married to Margaretha, a woman from Bavaria. He and his wife were parents to Peter Jr. and Katarina, both born in Ohio; the family lived on Vine Street as Peter ran his company. Initially a stone mason, Peter’s framing and moldings business was no small endeavor.
By 1880, Peter had invested $25,000 into his business (around half a million dollars in today’s money) and, when he used 59 Elder for it, he had eighty employees to which he paid between $1 and $2 per day depending on skill level. Next door at 61 Elder, Mary “Maggie” (unknown-1900) and Emil Letzler (1860-1930) ran a “fancy goods” shop containing men and women’s clothing as well as notions, cookware, shoes and boots. The space also served as Maggie’s millinery operation. Woman-owned or -managed businesses in the 1800s were rare, but the garment industry was one trade in which more women, especially immigrant women, than men worked.
The Letzler shop lasted at 61 Elder from the late 1870s until 1894 at which point Maggie sold the business’s stock of goods. After Peter Reuhl’s business, from the mid-1880s until the late 1890s, Frank E. Schulze (1863-1927) operated his picture frames business from 59 Elder. Born in Ohio in 1863 to German immigrant parents from Hannover and Berlin, Frank married Eva Siegmann (1865-1920) in late 1884. In the midst of Frank’s business, the building’s ownership became a subject of debate.
According to the local papers, owner Benjamin Rosenberg sold it to John W. Wolfe, much to the chagrin of Benjamin’s wife Lillie who alleged that he had not run the idea by her prior to selling. This accusation was coupled with another—that her husband was abusive. Regardless of the lawsuit that came from this dispute, Frank sold his business in 1897.
At the same time as Frank Schulze’s business at 59 Elder, John Adam Burkhardt (1848-1902) and his family ran a dairy and fruits operation out of 63 Elder’s storefront. Family members also lived there. As city directories indicated, all hands were on deck with the Burkhardt business, in that most family members worked for the grocery.
In 1899, Marguerite had a stroke at home in 63 Elder, and then in 1902, John passed away from typhoid and pneumonia. Their deaths signaled the end of the Burkhardt grocery at Findlay Market. Neighbors to the Schulze and Burkhardt businesses, Louis Karp (1874-1925) and Jacob Isaac Korsnitzke (1859-1939) teamed up for a second-hand store at 61 Elder in the years just before the turn of the 20th century.
Louis Karp, a Russian Jewish man born in 1874 in tsarist Russia, immigrated to the U.S. around 1890. His brothers Bernard and Moritz had a number of furniture businesses around town; they also partnered with Isaac Korsnitzke on some of these ventures. Louis Karp was married to Pearl and had with her several children, including Harry, Joseph, Ida, Gilbert and Ethel. His business partner Isaac was also a Russian Jewish immigrant, married to a woman named Rebecca and father to several children, including Belle, Samuel, David, Louis and Annette.
Isaac immigrated to the U.S. in 1894. After this business, William C. Witz (1864-1939)—the son of German immigrants—worked out of 61 Elder, selling oysters and fish there. His brother, Michael Witz, was also in the oyster trade. Frank Bernard Funke (1865-1945), born in Ohio to German Catholic immigrants, also maintained a butcher shop at 59 Elder—then listed as 123 W. Elder—around 1900. Indeed, in the mid-1890s, Cincinnati renumbered its streets. 59-63 Elder became 123-127 W. Elder.
Edward Romer’s Dry Goods and Carpet House
In the first years of the 20th century, Edward Romer (1858-1927) moved his business—a dry goods store that also sold carpets and home furnishings—from 135 W. Elder (where he had operated from 1885 until 1900) to 123-127 W. Elder, occupying the entire building. These were transformative years for 123-127 W. Elder. Right around 1900, the earlier structures that had been numbered 59-63 Elder were demolished and on top of them was erected the modern-day two-story brick building that is now the Luken Warehouse.
Inside the building, there were frame-wall divisions that enabled multiple storefronts. Edward opened his dry goods store in the mid-1880s at Findlay Market (at 135 W. Elder) and, after transferring locations to 123-127 W. Elder, stayed at the Market until 1911. In the fall of that year, he placed ads in local papers publicizing that 123-127 W. Elder was for sale, which he advertised as the “best retail location in the city.” Yet, soon enough, the building and its stock, including dress goods, notions, men’s and women’s furnishings and jewelry, went to auction as Edward declared bankruptcy. The building, appraised at over $13,000, sold for around $10,000.
The People’s Packing House
In 1919, there was a Willenborg’s Grocery at 123 W. Elder and then in the early 1920s, there was a Wallingford’s Coffee Shop in that storefront. Then, from the early 1920s through the early 1950s, the People’s Packing House—a daily meat market and grocery run by Martin Andreas (1880-1956)—occupied 123-127 W. Elder. Married to Lenore (Lingrell) (ca. 1890-1956), a woman from Michigan, he had Gloria (Griffin) (1919-2006) and Peter (1925-1987) with her.
During his tenure at Findlay Market, Martin was involved in the Findlay Market Association. Outside of this, he also served on the Greater Cincinnati Meat Campaign in the early 1920s which was an effort to reduce the price of meat for average customers. Martin expanded his company to include twenty-six locations across town. 123-127 W. Elder remained his “headquarters.” Yet by 1945, as he reached an older age, he began to liquidate his business.
Both he and his wife both passed away in 1956. Their children Andrew and Gloria continued to own the building at 123-127 W. Elder until 1963 at which point they sold it to Harry A. Geiger.
Marion’s Fine Foods
From the mid-1950s until the mid-1960s, Marion Stout (1899-1981) operated a grocery from 123 W. Elder. (Briefly, before Marion’s grocery, that storefront also housed Gordon’s Supply Company which sold butcher and grocery supplies.) Marion Stout, born in 1899, was the son of Benjamin Franklin Stout and Emma (Elliott). Marion got his start in the meat business by working as an auditor for a meat company during the Great Depression, and by World War II, he owned his own business. Like others who ran a business nearby, Marion was involved in the Market, including the Findlay Market Association, and in local civic and religious activities.
From 1963 until the mid-1980s, Harry’s Meats, owned and operated by Harry A. Geiger (1916-1985), supplied Market patrons with fresh butcher cuts at 127 W. Elder. Harry purchased the entire building (123 through 127 W. Elder) from Martin Andreas’ children in 1963. (At 123 W. Elder, briefly in the early 1970s was a carpet store and briefly in the late 1970s and early 1980s, James E. Gibbs—of Gibbs’ Cheese—sold dairy products from there or used it for his business in some capacity.) Born in 1916 in northern Kentucky, Harry Geiger was raised by his widowed mother Teresa who owned and operated a grocery store; his grandparents were German immigrants.
During World War II, when he was in his mid-twenties, he enlisted in the Army as a Private, serving from 1942 to 1945, including at the Battle of the Bulge. After his return from the war, Harry set up his retail butcher shop at 235 W. 6th Street where he remained for the next sixteen years. In the early 1960s, anticipated construction on the new Convention Hall displaced Harry from his W. 6th Street location. He then purchased 123-127 W. Elder and shared the building with Marion Stout.
As he ran his store from Elder Street, he lived in Mt. Airy. Upon his death in 1985, he had spent forty-five years in the meat business, worked at Findlay Market until his retirement in 1977 and had been a twenty-three-year member of the Findlay Market Association.
In 1987, Michael J. Luken purchased 123-127 W. Elder. The Luken family still possesses the building which it uses as a warehouse for their fish, poultry and seafood shop on the other side of the Market.