126 W Elder St.
Queensware at 126 W. Elder
From 1863 to 1866, Gustav Woelfer (or Woelper)—who was a tinner by trade—ran a tin shop and queensware store at 126 W. Elder, then numbered 62 Elder. From 1867 to 1887, Henry E. Juegling then operated his queensware store in the first floor. Prior to working at 62 Elder, he had used the storefront at 52 Elder for his business. Queensware is a particular type of cream-colored pottery invented by Josiah Wedgewood (1730-1795). It got its name after Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), queen of England, commissioned Josiah to make her a tea collection in 1765.
Thereafter, Henry as a widower continued his business at 62 Elder; his daughter Bertha and his son Henry remained living with him and assisting him before they left to marry and start their own families. After the Juegling store, Josephine and Harry Letzler continued the queensware tradition at 62 Elder. The building was renumbered to its current address of 126 W. Elder in the 1890s.
Harry and Josephine eventually parted ways. He initiated divorce proceedings against her in 1918 for “willful absence.” At that point, their Findlay Market store had long ended; he lived in Norwood and she at 819 Vine Street (and later Northside).
By 1920, she moved to 1215 Clay Street in Over-the-Rhine. There, she met another lodger—William C. Witz (1864-1939)—and in the fall of 1930, he and Josephine married. William was also connected to Findlay Market: he ran an oyster and fish store out of 107 W. Elder and 125 W. Elder, now Luken Warehouse, in the early 1900s.
The Midwives at 62 Elder
In the late 1800s, midwives Barbara Schuster and Leopoldina Federle both lived at 62 Elder. Barbara Schuster, an immigrant from Bavaria, lived at 62 Elder with her husband George, also from Bavaria, and their children, John, Carrie, Frank, Mary and Billie, all born in Ohio.
She immigrated in 1869 and worked as a midwife for Over-the-Rhine and later Clifton. Midwives, until the 1920s and ‘30s, were the primary health practitioners who delivered babies in Over-the-Rhine. Until these years, the vast majority of infants were delivered at home.
Ladies’ Garment Work at 126 W. Elder
After the Letzler store, from 1897 to 1898, Louise Hoefle (1838-1921) ran a millinery operation at 126 W. Elder. She had previously worked out of what is now Harvest Pizza at the southwest corner of Elm and Elder. Louisa was a German immigrant, born in Baden in 1838. From 1899 to 1911, Katherine Menges then used 126 W. Elder for her millinery shop.
Dressmaker Emma Bauerle (1858-1937), who lived at the building, also worked there, doing outwork in her apartment. She and her daughter lived at 2609 Vine Street where she also did millinery work (most likely at home) in addition to the shop at 126 W. Elder.
As more and more women worked throughout the 1800s, a major employer of women in Cincinnati was the garment industry (by the mid-1800s, clothing—especially ready-made—employed more people in Cincinnati than any other industry). Labor in this time was sex-segregated and beginning in the early 19th century, garment work—in the form of textile mills—offered women some of the first paid industrialized labor in the U.S., extending the feminine tradition of home-based cloth manufacturing into the factory, and throughout the century, more and more women worked in all the various stages of clothing production.
Indeed, shops like the one at 126 W. Elder are not to be romanticized. The Consumers’ League in 1918 wrote of Cincinnati’s tailoring and millinery 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. Ventilation is poor in nearly all the shops inspected, especially in the larger shops, where gas irons are used for pressing. Many of the workrooms connected with living rooms are used for both cooking and sleeping purposes. Frequently the family washing is hung in the workroom.
Children, too young to go to school, are usually kept there so that the mother, who assists with the sewing, may take care of them.
The John Breiner Dry Goods Store
From 1913 until his death in 1941, John Breiner (1880-1941) ran a dry goods store at 126 W. Elder that sold small furniture, household items like record players, clothing and other goods. John died in 1941 at home and thereafter his widow Anna and his daughter Gladys ran the family business until Anna’s death in 1956.
The shop continued for one more year, to 1957. After their marriage in 1941, Gladys and her husband Steve Deak (1918-1974) lived at 126 W. Elder; he ran his roofing company from there as well.
Sadly, their one-day-old infant died there in the spring of 1946. One of the things that made the Breiners stand apart from other families in Over-the-Rhine was their generosity. As immigrants themselves, they went out of their way to welcome other newcomers to the neighborhood. John, according to his descendants, spoke seven languages which helped non-English-speaking immigrants feel welcome at Findlay Market.
John, as a business owner, was involved with the Deutsch Ung Gewerbe Trade Society; as a German-Hungarian, he was involved with various German and German-Hungarian ethnic activities. He helped to coordinate German Day at Coney Island and worked with the United Banater Societies (which organized people from the Banat region in central Europe, where present-day Romania, Serbia and Hungary meet); they held meetings at the Banater Halle (Banater Hall) on Logan Street in Over-the-Rhine.
Anna Breiner was similarly involved with the German Hungarian Ladies’ Sick Benefit Association. After John’s death, Anna and her children assisted many immigrants and refugees in the post-World War II era—people primarily from central and eastern Europe, from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire that collapsed with World War I.
For those who needed a sponsor in America in order to immigrate into the country, the Breiners provided a temporary home and financial assistance. Two of these people were Jakob and Katharine Dortovic, Germans born in Yugoslavia. Like many others that were uprooted along the eastern front during World War II, they fled their home during the war and lived in a refugee camp in Austria from 1946 to 1956, waiting to emigrate to America.
The Refugee Relief Act of 1953 made it possible for them and other immigrants fleeing communist countries to find a permanent home in the U.S. after necessary assurances of housing and employment were given by an American sponsor. In the Dortovics’ case, that sponsor was Anna Breiner.
They came to Cincinnati in 1956. Jakob’s brother Johann Dorth lived at 126 W. Elder and worked with Anna to help Jakob and Katharine. The Dortovics remained at 126 W. Elder for only a bit—time enough to get settled—and then they rented their own apartment at 2007 W. McMicken. Jakob already had employment lined up at Parkway Café at 223 Findlay Street.
The Dortovic couple were two among 1,215 refugees admitted to the country in late 1955/early 1956 under the legislation. All were sponsored by someone like Anna Breiner—Mrs. Charles P. Taft, for instance, sponsored an Estonian woman, Reet Kasemets. The refugees traveled on the U.S. Navy transport General Langfitt from Bremerhaven to New York City. In addition to the Dortovics, Anna Breiner also sponsored Alexander Fordor, a twenty-eight-year-old mechanic from Yugoslavia.
The Tolstoy Foundation assisted Anna with Alexander’s resettlement. The foundation was set up by the daughter of Leo Tolstoy, Alexandra Tolstaya, to help refugees leave the Soviet Union and communist East Bloc countries. While the U.S. had drastically cut off immigration for much of central, southern and eastern Europe in 1924, the 1953 refugee act temporarily opened the borders—but only to people fleeing communism. This speaks to the important backdrop of the early Cold War during the Breiner family’s final years at Findlay Market.
More Recently at 126 W. Elder
After the Breiner store, Manuel (1904-1995) and Emma Cohen (1914-1986) purchased the building in 1958. The Cohens were Jewish immigrants. Manuel was born in Poland in 1904 in what was then tsarist Russia. He immigrated in 1921 with his mother Hannah and his siblings Harold, Louis and Roslyn. His father Abraham had immigrated prior to the rest of the family, in 1907.
All spoke Yiddish upon arrival in the U.S. Manuel became an insurance agent; he and his wife Emma (Hertzman), born in 1914 in Ohio to Russian Jewish parents, had a daughter named Edith (Shapiro), born in 1939. The Cohens sold 126 W. Elder in 1973 to Mary Ann “Mamie” Catanzaro (1919-2017). Mary Ann was born in Ohio in 1919 to Sam and Lena Catanzaro, both Italian immigrants who came to the U.S. in 1885.
She grew up in the West End and after her father died, she and her brothers Frank and Anthony lived with their widowed mother. Never married, she supported herself as a seamstress and later as a receptionist for a doctor’s office.
The Catanzaros were a large Italian (records suggest Sicilian) family in Cincinnati who, across several marriages and multiple generations, were involved with Findlay Market and in selling fruit produce in downtown Cincinnati. Joseph and Josephine Catanzaro were Italian immigrants who ran a fruit stand and whose daughter Anna (Re) (1894-1963) wed Ignazio “Frank” Re (1890-1954) and owned property with him at Findlay Market.
There was also Olivia Catanzaro (1911-1993), who was the second wife of Francesco Joseph “Frank” Catanzaro (1899-1968); Frank’s father Pedro was another fruit dealer. Olivia and Frank had three children, Rosemary (Retzler) (1925-1973), Frank (1933-2004) and Peter (1940-2008), who helped her run a Catanzaro fruit stand at Findlay Market.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, Manny's Family Store sold women's clothing from the storefront of 126 W. Elder. Steve and Gladys Deak continued to live at the building, along with a few other renters, including George Dipong (1896-1978), a baker from the same area as the Breiners (Hungary/Romania); Relda Egnor (1876-1964) from Kentucky; Anna Wagner; and Irene Newman.
The commercial space and upstairs apartments then sat vacant throughout the late 1970s and ‘80s. In 1978, the Catanzaro family tried to sell the building. They advertised the storefront as “Combination pizza, deli and butcher shop.” They ended up holding the building until 2002.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ladies Choice Fashions then leased the storefront. In 2008, Christopher Murphy purchased the building, but it was transferred—in a sheriff’s sale—to Bank of America in 2013.
Lucca Workshop is now the building’s new occupant. Specializing in custom laser-cut artwork, Lucca—owned by Lindsey Estes—previously operated from a storefront at 1342 Main Street which had been its home since 2015. It opened its doors at Findlay Market in the spring of 2019.