To the trained eye of a modern graphics designer, the masthead of the Jewish Bulletin’s 100-year-old ancestor, Emanu-El, looks something like a quaint, overgrown cemetery where the grass needs mowing.
With its words all centered on the page, it resembles a tombstone. Plus, the lettering is an assortment of type sizes and fonts.
“It’s really a garden with many weeds and few flowers,” said Henry Wachs of Mill Valley, who redesigned the masthead for the Jewish Community Bulletin when it consolidated with Emanu-El in 1946.
“In its own way, it has charm,” he said, as he scanned a copy of the front page of a 1901 issue of Emanu-El. “The word `Emanu-El’ is hand-drawn in a kind of curious, Spanish art nouveau [style] that rather has character.”
It’s followed by the line “A Weekly Paper Devoted to Jews and Judaism on the Pacific Coast.” That, to Wachs, “is pure Gutenberg, going back to…the first type that was used.”
The third sentence stating the office address at 509 Montgomery St. in San Francisco is scripted in a 19th-century “practical-looking” font, and the fourth line, “Published every Friday,” employs what Wachs called “a widened, extended typeface” with spaces between the letters.
“It’s a marvelous little picture of the taste of the time,” he said.
Fifty years ago, Wachs, an accomplished Berlin-trained graphics designer, brought modern design concepts to the masthead assignment. At the time, he was an employee of the advertising firm of Leon Livingston.
When he was an art student in the 1930s, the confusion of mixing typefaces at the turn of the century had begun to change.
One movement was led by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, who had been enamored with Picasso’s cubism and used it to build a geometric style called neoplasticism. It, in turn, helped shaped the controversial Bauhaus movement of stark, functional forms.
Mondrian created a series of paintings incorporating linear lines and primary colors. His purism “influenced the freeing of type in space,” explained Wachs.
One of the typographic trends of the `30s was to “depart from the classic kind of `tombstone’ or monument-centered symmetry, to arranging type more dynamically.”
Nobody, he explained, reads words at dead center. Instead, eyes dart back and forth across the page.
Movement is what he wanted to express on the Jewish Community Bulletin’s front page.
Using a classic type face — Bodoni italic — he situated the words “The Jewish” flush against the left margin on the top line, with “Community Bulletin” indented slightly on the line underneath.
On the third line in smaller letters of a plainer font and pushed against the right margin were the words “consolidated with Emanu-El.”
“It has a cleaner look,” said the designer, “which I think is helpful in giving it prestige and position to be taken seriously. It kind of begins to look more like a newspaper.”
Wachs began his profession as a journeyman typographer and graphic designer “with one of the last Jewish printing firms in Berlin,”– his hometown — before moving to Oakland in 1938 and rebuilding his career in the Bay Area.
Before joining Leon Livingston, he worked as a designer for Schwabacher-Frey in the 700 block of Market Street in San Francisco, and as art director for the Crocker Printing Firm at Third Street and Bryant, where he designed guide books for the Golden Gate Exposition in 1939.
During a career focused on typographic design, one of his many clients was Mount Zion Hospital. In the 1960s, he created the “MZ” logo used on all its stationery, envelopes, patient brochures and Passover menus.
He also designed logos for a number of major publications, including UCSF Magazine, at which he was design and art director for 14 years before retiring in early 1993.
Now the father of former Jewish Bulletin photographer Tom Wachs (plus three other children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild) faces the daunting task of organizing what he has collected during a lifetime of work: lots of type and printing presses — one is as old as the Bulletin — plus an assortment of South and Central American fuchsia species.
“Basically I’m still overwhelmed with what I have wrought…I’m still gazing and also savoring what I have gathered,” he said.