Historic photos ‘pinned’ to digital map tell stories of Jewish life in the Bay Areaby lyn davidson, j. correspondent
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Remember Waxman’s Bakery in San Francisco’s Fillmore District? Probably not, since it hasn’t been around for nearly 100 years. But now anyone can go back in time on Sourdough & Rye, a new online collection of historic photographs, videos and film clips, and see images of Jewish life in the Bay Area over the last 150 years.
But Sourdough & Rye is more than a repository for pictures and archival material. It seeks to create a sense of community, connect people to history and invite them to share stories that bring it to life.
A visitor to Sourdough & Rye can take a virtual tour of local Jewish politics, culture, religion and, of course, food. Along with photos of Waxman’s are images of two San Francisco institutions, Bernstein’s Fish Grotto on Powell Street in the ’50s and Eda Coleman’s Candy Store and Ice Cream Parlor on Church Street at the turn of the 20th century. A 1932 promotional film for the Petaluma chicken industry is pinned on the map, as is a photo of Rabbi Mayer Hirsch of Congregation Anshe Sfard standing beside barrels of kosher wine during Prohibition.
“We’re trying to preserve and save cultural assets that are on the verge of extinction,” explains Max Baumgarten, who helped to curate much of the material on Sourdough & Rye. About 500 photos and 40 videos are uploaded to the site.
Baumgarten has worked with the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life in Berkeley, the San Francisco Public Library History Center, S.F. congregations Adath Israel and Beth Sholom, and other Jewish institutions with archival material, such as the Haas-Lilienthal House. He also has met with prominent individuals and families in the Bay Area with interesting stories to tell.
Baumgarten says he often ends up sitting in people’s living rooms, helping to select and organize family photographs and memorabilia before they are uploaded and pinned to the site.
Morris, author of several books on pioneer cemeteries and other aspects of local Jewish life, did just that. She and her late husband, Mark Morris, descended on both sides of their families from Gold Rush pioneers, so in her case the challenge became one of editing a vast personal collection.
Among the items Morris chose were photographs of her feminist great-grandmother, Emma Greenberg Hilp; Emma’s husband, Henry Hilp, who had a tailor shop on Sansome Street; and their son and her grandfather, contractor Harry Hilp, who worked on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Sourdough & Rye “is the story of a community,” Morris says. “And any community is about daily life.” While the project features well-known individuals and institutions, it also offers a window into a Bay Area “grounded in family life” and local activities — synagogue celebrations, family vacations, sporting events and the like.
Photographs show Purim parties at Congregation Beth Sholom in the 1950s and a family enjoying a Giants game last year. There’s an image of a 1960 dinner honoring Golda Meir, and one of Cary Grant turning out to support Israel Bonds, both in San Francisco.
One of Baumgarten’s favorites photos is of Joe Choynski, a boxer from 1888 to 1904 who was related to the philanthropic Fleishhacker family. Baumgarten, a Ph.D. candidate in history at UCLA, also familiarized himself with the Bay Area community by working with the collection of Seymour Fromer, the late founder of the Judah L. Magnes Museum.
Other notable contributions came from San Francisco’s Lynn Bunim of the Burrows family, descendants of the Haas family, including distilled spirits merchant William Haas. Bunim opened her extensive family archives to Baumgarten.
Bunim’s contribution also includes a photo of her mother, Jane, as a teenager with Triest on horseback in Baden-Baden, Germany in 1938. They came from San Francisco to visit Triest’s relatives, and Bunim believes her prescient grandmother, Irma, arranged for everyone to meet in the resort town because of its relative safety in those uncertain times. She also believes that is when plans were laid to get Triest’s family out of Germany before catastrophe struck.
“That picture is an amazing one because behind it is a Jewish family in San Francisco enough aware of what was happening in Europe” to take such precautions, said Bunim, whose mother, 92, is “the last living person who really understands and lived in and experienced” the historic Haas-Lilienthal House.
Anyone can contribute material to Sourdough & Rye, and Baumgarten is also interested in hearing from young people who want to serve as interns. The goal of Historypin, developed by the nonprofit We Are What We Do in collaboration with Google, isn’t “just putting stuff online,” says Baumgarten. “It’s about how you create communities through historical connections.”
Sourdough & Rye is supported by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and the Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund. A launch party will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20 at the Haas-Lilienthal House, 2007 Franklin St., S.F. The community is invited for an evening of storytelling, house tours, food and a taste of the Haas Brothers’ Cyrus Noble bourbon.
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