Interview with William Wasserstrom on September 6, 1984 by Marjorie Gross. This interview is taking place as part of the Oral History program of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
Interviewer: Bill, would you like to state your name?
Wasserstrom: My name is William Wasserstrom. I was born September
30, 1906 in Columbus, Ohio. I recall, not too distinctly, that we
lived on Cherry Alley which is the alley between Rich and Main
Streets, near Parsons Avenue. At a very early age, we moved to Will
Alley. I remember that very vividly because we were in back of Jacob
Stern’s delivery warehouse and he had horses and wagons in which
he hauled his freight. I remember the pungent odor of manure that
surrounded our house and we played in Will Alley.
I recall very vividly another condition because our neighbors
were a family by the name of Houlk and they were very kind to us but
they had a wild donkey that they used for circus purposes. I was
helping feed him in an open loft on Donaldson Street and I remember
he turned on my brother, Boots and grabbed him by the back and
carried him up the alley and all the way back, probably half a
block. Finally, he dropped him and Boots landed in the hospital for
quite some time. They thought he’d lose the use of his right arm
Interviewer: Bill, before we get into any more of your childhood
memories – and we will because that’s very important – I wonder if
you could fill us in on some of the early history of your family.
When they came to Columbus, if you know where they initially settled
and how the family progressed as they grew. Your parents came to
Wasserstrom: My parents came to Columbus in 1898, with my older
sister, Doris, my brother, Sam, and my brother, Hyman. They were all
born, I believe, in ______________, Pennsylvania. The remainder of
us – I think I was the sixth child in a family of 12 children – I
always said I was caught in the middle. The rest of them were all
born in Columbus.
Interviewer: That was starting with Emil. He was born in Columbus
and the rest of the children . . .
Wasserstrom: Emil was born in Columbus, followed by Boots. I was
born in 1906, then my sister, Janet was next in line. Then the twin
brothers, Stanley and Leonard Myer were born in 1912. I remember
that better than any of them because they were born on the day
Columbus was 100 years old. I’d gone to the Centenial Parade and
when I got home, they told me I had twin brothers. In those days, my
mother was a stout and stocky woman. I didn’t know anything about
pregnancy and I didn’t even know I was going to have brothers and
sisters. Later, along came Sidney, then Albert, then Margie. She was
born in 1921.
Interviewer: 1921. Now everybody knows how old I am. Bill, do you
have any idea why our mother and father came to Columbus to settle?
Wasserstrom: I always tell this story and I think it was true. My
father developed a bronchial condition and the doctors in _________
told him he had to go west for his health. His idea of west to
improve his health was in this city. He was really talking about
Circleville where we already had relatives for a good many years. So
he thought Columbus was pretty close to Circleville and he settled
in Columbus. It later developed that my father did not have a lung
condition, he had a bronchial condition which he never completely
got rid of but he lived to be 84 years old and he still had that
Interviewer: What kind of work did your father do when he first
came to Columbus?
Wasserstrom: When my father first came to Columbus, he made
contact with a man by the name of Emil Cohen and he gave my father a
job as a bartender. But in those days, he had a number of saloons,
Emil Cohen did, and the law provided that you could only have one
place. So what he did was, he took these foreigners and gave them a
title, theoretically, to these places and they operated in the names
of these owners. Some of the other ones were Billy Roth who ran a
saloon for Emil Cohen, Morris _____________ was also one.
Interviewer: He was quite a benefactor, Emil Cohen, wasn’t he?
Wasserstrom: He certainly was. Emil Cohen was later the first
president of the Temple. I remember him very well. He met a tragic
death. He owned the property at Broad and High Street where
___________ Dress later was. On a given day, in the wintertime, he
wanted to examine the roof – it was leaking. So he went up to look
at the roof and he fell through the skylight and was killed. I think
it was 1919 or 1920. I remember how upset and distraught we all
Interviewer: I often heard of Emil Cohen and I’m sure he was
very well known in the community. Were there other members of the
family here prior to the __________?
Wasserstrom: I don’t recall whether we were the first ones here
or not, but I remember later, Aunt Molly being here, I remember my
grandmother and grandfather Wasserstrom. I distinctly remember them
being here in those early days but I don’t remember whether our
family was the first one to arrive in Columbus or whether some other
Interviewer: What kinds of recollections do you have of your
Wasserstrom: I remember very well that my grandfather was quite a
scholar, religiouswise. He was a big rotund fellow who did a lot of
praying. He married my grandmother who was a very frail, flaxen
haired lady. She probably didn’t weigh over 100 pounds. I remember
he was a great, big husky fellow. They lived on Elmwood Avenue,
directly across the street from my Aunt Molly Brandt. I went there
very often. I’d go to grandma and grandpa’s home and visit with
them. They loved to have their grandchildren there. I remember they
had a little bakery two doors down, called Schwine’s Bakery and I
was always going in there to get cookies and sweets or to buy a loaf
of bread. Aunt Molly always made nice cookies and she was a very
lovely and kind lady. They lived in half a double, next door to Sara
Then next door down lived Sam Sherman’s parents who were in the
chicken business. I remember taking chickens there to be killed and
dressed and Mrs. Sherman was picking the chickens. A few doors down,
lived Greta Polster. I felt it was the nicest home on the street and
it really was. It was a big home with a big front porch and I was so
impressed with the porch. I remember her father was a bearded
gentleman, soft-spoken and kind and I’d go there to visit.
Interviewer: You must have had a lot of Jewish people in your
neighborhood. Was that the Jewish area of the city?
Wasserstrom: Yes. It was probably the center of the Jewish
population. We lived only a few doors from the Orthodox synagogue.
It wasn’t too far from our synagogue which was then on Parsons and
McAllister Avenue. So Donaldson Street and Washington Avenue were
really the center of Jewish population. These were pretty well
ghettoized Jewish streets.
Interviewer: Were there a lot of Jewish markets? Jewish
Wasserstrom: There was the bakery which was run by the Luper
family. I remember Abe Luper had a bakery on Mound Street near
Washington which later became Schwartz Bakery and then later went
out of business completely. I remember the meat market was run by a
man by the name of Rosenthal. I remember it because he didn’t keep
a very clean shop and he always had sawdust on the floor and I’d
go with my mother and she would do her shopping there.
Across the street on Donaldson Street, lived the Schottensteins.
The grandfather and his family. He made a livelihood by buying
oddlot shoes from the shoe companies. In those days, Columbus was a
shoe center and a lot of leather duds were made here. I’d go there
with my mother and buy mis-matched button shoes and there were
always too many button mechanisms to button the shoes with. He was a
very kind man. I always remember him because he had a cow in the
backyard and he was very strict Orthodox. He milked this one cow for
their own use.
In that neighborhood, the Matlands came later and they lived on
Donaldson Street and he had his __________ yard right in back of us,
next door to Jake Stern’s storage place. The Ziskinds lived on
Donaldson Street. A family by the name of Rosenblum – there were
three, a mother and two old maid daughters. We always bought our
fish there because my mother felt it would help those people. I
think we needed help, too but she was very much interested in
helping others that were worse off than we were. I remember one of
these daughters had very black hair and when the scaled the fish,
thought, “My G-d, they don’t protect their hair.” I didn’t like
Interviewer: We were talking about the neighborhood in which you
lived as a young child. Do you have any other recollections you
would like to share?
Wasserstrom: Well, as far as the merchants, there was a Mrs. Loeb.
She was a widow and she had several children – one of them was Roy
Wolf, another was Sam, who had the Oldsmobile agency. We’d go in
there and buy our penny candies and she was quite a lady. She was an
elderly lady then but she lived with her mother who was quite
elderly. I think they lived there until they passed away, at least
We lived in a single home, next to a family by the name of Young.
He had a son who was approximately my age and we called him
“Punk Young” and I always played with Punky. They were a
nice and agreeable family and we had a nice relationship.
Out on Livingston Avenue, was Jacob Schottenstein’s soda water
factory. They also had horses that pulled the wagons and delivered
the soda water. One of their drivers was Morris Farley who drove a
horse and wagon and delivered the soda pop. I would go to Jacob
Schottenstein’s and help him bottle the pop and put the caps on.
We had to do it by hand and foot, one bottle cap at a time. I
remember when I had done so much work, he gave me a free bottle of
pop and I thought that was the greatest thing that ever happened to
I remember Harold Schottenstein, his older brother, Herman and
his sister, Irene. There were two other brothers but I don’t know
whether they lived on Livingston or not. I remember that experience
so well because I was playing with Herman one day in Will Alley and
he picked up a flattened tin can and threw it at me. It caught me in
the lobe of my ear and to this day, I can feel that scar where that
can hit me.
Jacob Schottenstein was a kindly man and I remember Mrs.
Schottenstein and they were very fine neighbors. Among the others
was a fellow by the name of Adam Morro – he was Boots’ age. Their
father had the grocery store a few doors from Schottenstein. He made
his own mustard. We’d go in there with containers and out of
larger container, he’d give us whatever we wanted in terms of a
pint or a quart. It was hot mustard and I was so fond of that
mustard. I played with him. He was an only child and was well
dressed and his father was rather affluent for those days. He later
became a vice president for the Market Exchange Bank and spent his
entire career with the bank.
We lived on Will Alley until maybe 1909 or 1910 when we moved
into half of a new double which had been built on Lathrup Street
across from Jackson Street. One of our neighbors was a family by the
name of Feltsheim and they had a number of children who we played
Interviewer: Bill, maybe we can go back now and sort of recap the
areas in which the family lived. You were born on Cherry Alley. Then
you moved to Will Alley where Janet was born. Then you moved to
Lathrup Street where Leonard and Stanley were born..
Wasserstrom: Yes, Lathrup was a little alley between Livingston
and Beck Streets, between 7th and 9th Street.
I remember it was so much better a house than when we lived on
Cherry Avenue. That wasn’t to be for very long because in 1912,
Sam and Leonard were born and I remember so well that I’d been
downtown to see the Centenial Day Parade. I stood at Broad and High
and it was quite a parade. When I got home, they told me I had twin
brothers. My mother said I had to sleep on the floor because they
had to make room for my twin brothers. Sometime immediately after
that, our landlord, whose name was Smith – I can picture him today,
a big, fat, red headed, old bearded fellow – said we had to move. I
overheard him say to my mother, “You’ve got too many
children.” My mother was crushed to think anybody would think
you could have too many children. I couldn’t understand why we had
to move because I never heard of such a thing as having too many
Anyhow, my father looked around for a place to move and, of
course, we were already a sizeable family and we couldn’t get
anybody to rent us a house. Finally, my father located a place at
3_1 East Livingston Avenue near Grant Avenue. The property was owned
by Louis Mellman who later was one of the organizers of the old
folks home. He was a generous man and he agreed to rent this vacant
house to us. It had been vacant for a good many years and all the
children in the neighborhood called it haunted. There were ghosts in
I remember I had a couple of very sad experiences there. I
remember the toilet was located out in the back yard and somebody
came along and pulled a prank and locked me into that toilet. I was
probably 7 or 8 years old and I screamed and hollered and couldn’t
get anybody to let me out. My God, I thought it was the end of the
Interviewer: You thought the ghosts came back, huh?
Wasserstrom: Yes. When we moved into that house, there was no
central heating system. We had a big coal stove in the livingroom
and we all huddled around that stove. I remember we had a grand
piano there and I don’t know whether my folks bought that or if it
came with the house. I can’t envision my father having enough
money to buy a piano. I slept with my oldest sister – there was a
lot of bundling up. Every night I would see that ghost coming
through that opening in our bedroom. There were no doors, just a
curved opening into our bedroom. I slept for years underneath that
cover so I wouldn’t see that ghost. If I was a nervous child, I
had good reason to be.
Lo and behold, along came 1919 and through a stroke of good
fortune, my father located this house on Ohio Avenue and he worked
out some fancy financing with a minimum down payment and we were
finally able to move into that home. I have, to this day, the
original deed for that property and for the first and second
mortgage that were canceled – I have it as a keepsake.
I think Sidney and Albert were born on Livingston Avenue. To go
back for a moment, there was a grocery on the corner of Lathrup and
Livingston, owned by a man by the name of Vogel. I delivered papers
to him and he would occasionally give me a raw weiner. I would eat
it raw because it wasn’t kosher and I couldn’t take it home so I’d
eat the thing, raw, as I walked around the neighborhood delivering
papers. Billy Vogel was his name. I delivered papers until he moved
and I remember the papers being dropped from a streetcar in front of
our house at 3_1 East Livingston. I’d go out with my older brother
and pick up the papers and in the winter, put them on the sled. I
think I delivered 40 or 50 Sunday papers around on Grant Avenue and
Beck Street and all the intervening streets. I made a lot of friends
and it was quite an experience for me.
Interviewer: Was that a pretty good neighborhood around Grant
Wasserstrom: It was a reasonably middle class neighborhood. There
were a lot of nice homes in there. The houses were well-maintained
and I went to Beck Street School with a lot of the kids whose folks
bought my Columbus Dispatch.
Interviewer: You started school at Beck Street School. When you
moved to Ohio Avenue, did you go to Livingston Avenue School?
Wasserstrom: Yes. We moved to Ohio Avenue in 1919 and I finished
my grammar school education at Livingston Avenue School. I remember
that so well because we were playing baseball in the yard and we
were told never to go out onto Ohio Avenue in the street. Well, Lo
and Behold, I was pitching and the ball went out on Ohio Avenue and
contrary to the rules of the school, I went in the street and picked
up the baseball. Well, the supervisor noticed that and reported me
to the principal. I had to go to the principal’s office and he
made me lie down with my buttocks exposed and whipped me with a
switch because I disobeyed the rules. And that really hurt me to the
core because it was the only reprimand experience I had in all my
From there, Maggie came along and sort of brought up the whole
family. We all later went to Roosevelt. While we were there in 1920,
I have a very close relationship with my brother, Hyman. He was
quite an athlete. He lettered in basketball and football and to this
day, I have pictures of the team he was on. He was a handsome brute
and very popular with the ladies. He had a motorcycle and took me
for rides in the side car. His big joy was to go out in the Driving
Park where the track was and race around that track at 50 or 60
miles an hour. I thought that was quite an experience but that was
the ______ tragedy. He worked for the United States Postal Service
delivering special delivery mail and he worked at odd hours in the
evening for which he got 12 cents a letter. I remember on Sundays I’d
go with him and he’d go from downtown State Street to the post
office to perhaps Clintonville.
Then one day in 1920, my brother
Hymie was proceeding north on High Street and he came to the
intersection of Livingston and High and a streetcar going south on
High Street made a turn onto Livingston Avenue, struck my brother
and his motorcycle and shoved him up into a Kroger grocery store on
the corner of Livingston and High Street, directly across from Irvin
Bush’s ice cream shop. He was taken to St. Frances Hospital and he
was attended by Dr. Morris Goldberg who was an attendant at that
time. He was a very kind person and was very good to my family.
Every afternoon, I’d get on the streetcar, at Whittier and Studer
Avenue where I went to school at Roosevelt. I’d spend the
afternoon with my brother, Hymie. It was rather tragic. He developed
some sort of an infection in his knee and the doctor recommended
that he have his leg amputated but Hymie would have no part of that.
Finally, it cost him his life. I remember he was treated so well, it
was a ____________ solution, trying to get the infection out of his
knee but it was unsuccessful.
Interviewer: He did expire from that accident which was a
crushing blow to the family.
Interviewer: This is September 19 and this is the second night of
taping of William Wasserstrom. Bill, you can just start to talk and
if you recall, the last time that we recorded, you were talking
about Hymie’s illness and the attending doctor, Dr. Goldberg.
Wasserstrom: I would like to go back to Beck Street School and my
teacher was Miss Galena. I don’t think she was ever married. Her
father was a dealer in broken glass. He called it _______ and he had
a big yard over on 18th and Fulton Street. They had a row
of houses there and the name Galena on top of them. I remember her
so well because she was such a nice person.
Another experience I had down at Beck Street School – there was
an elderly widow whose name was Mendel – I think part of the family
still exists here. In fact, Hilda Mendel’s mother had a little
grocery store directly across the street from Beck Street School.
She would ask me to come in during recess time or after school and I
would sell the penny candies that the kids came in and bought. I
always went home by an alley that was right next to Mrs. Mendel’s
grocery store. On a given day, a fellow by the name of John McPheron,
called me a dirty “sheeny” and I didn’t like that but I
was so small, I couldn’t’ defend myself. He was a great, big
guy. So I told my brothers about it when I got home and they didn’t
like it either so they said, “The next day, when you go home
that way, and this fellow, John McPherson (who later was our Clerk
of Courts here) – we’ll all jump on him and give him a good
beating.” And that’s the way it turned out. We all jumped on
John and beat him to a pulp and he never bothered me again. You
know, when he went into public life and even in his old age, he
still remembered that incident and never spoke to me after that.
Interviewer: I can’t imagine why.
Wasserstrom: When we moved to Ohio Avenue – that was a beautiful
home, I remember it so well – we had a neighbor on one side who was
an old maid school teacher. Her name was ________ and she lived
there with an elderly sister and her husband. They had no children.
It was a house comparable to ours – the same builder. The fact of
the matter was this man, Hettrick, had built those houses – three of
them that looked alike or were very similar – was the same man who
later built the Huntington National Bank building.
I remember our neighbors were terribly concerned whether we would
stay in our yard or get into theirs. They weren’t accustomed to
having children there. But through the years, we behaved and the
_____ and Clarks became great friends of ours to the extent that
Miss ___________, who taught at Fulton Street School, knew all the
Jewish boys. She grew quite fond of me and I remember taking care of
her legal affairs for her. When she wanted to sell the house, I
represented her. I saw that she moved out of the house – she was
quite elderly and a bit feeble – and she moved to St. Reyefield up
in Marblecliff. I remember going to see her very often. She always
called me William and she brought a lot of joy into my life. I
thought I repaid her for being such a lovely neighbor.
Interviewer: Then you went from Livingston Avenue School to
Wasserstrom: Then I went to Roosevelt School. In those days, I
always packed a lunch. I didn’t go home so I remember taking
peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. To this day, I still love peanut
butter and jelly in spite of it all. One of my best friends was
Norman Huber whose father had a florist place directly across from
the school. Each morning I would go over and pick up Norman for
school. He always had a carnation for me and I wore a carnation in
my lapel and all the girls were after us to get those flowers.
Interviewer: Do you have any special recollections of teachers
who were outstanding?
Wasserstrom: Well, I had a teacher by the name of Miss Newbrun.
She had gone to some sort of normal school that era and was a friend
of my sister, Doris. She was lame and she taught mathematics. I was
very nice to her because she was disabled. In later years, she told
a story that I always wanted to go out and get a drink of water. She
would excuse me but then she warned me on one particular day, so the
story goes, “Now you cannot be excused anymore. If you’re
thirsty, you get all the water you want before you come to
class.” She says – and this is hard for me to believe – that I
brought a small canteen and I carried the water with me and I drank
water in the classroom. I had other friends. John Pixley, Morrison
Barnes. As I recall, I don’t remember many Jewish children of that
age that were at Roosevelt.
Interviewer: You don’t remember many Jewish classmates?
Wasserstrom: I think one of the Berliner girls was a classmate.
Interviewer: Then you moved on from Roosevelt to South High
Wasserstrom: After I finished the ninth grade, then you went into
tenth grade. I had to go tosenior high school. So I went to South
High, the old South High, which was on Deschler Avenue. It was quite
a hassle for me to walk all that distance from Livingston and Ohio
Avenue to South High, particularly in the winter time. We were only
there for about a year and after my first year, they built a new
South High which is the one there presently which is East of Parsons
Avenue. I was in the first graduating class of the new South High
School. That was 1925.
Interviewer: Didn’t the old South High School become Barrett
Junior High? And that was west of Parsons Avenue.
Wasserstrom: To go back for a moment, at Roosevelt. I remember
there was a lady called Ma Laker and she had a little confectionary
store around on the next street from where I went to school. When I
had a little extra money, I would go over there and get sandwiches
from Ma Laker. She and a disabled daughter rand that confectionary
for many, many years.
Interviewer: Bill, were you active in any extra-curricular
activities in high school? What kind of social life did you have?
Did school offer much?
Wasserstrom: As I recall, I was quite active in the school. I
remember being on the advertising committee for the newspaper,
Optic. I went around to the merchants on Parsons and Whittier and
got their $5.00 and $10.00 ads. My primary interest was in dramatics
but as I recall, I had an idea that I wanted to be a rabbi. But my
oldest sister, Doris, had quite an influence on me and she didn’t
think that was the career that I should pursue. So I took this
dramatics because I was interested in that art. I remember being the
lead in the senior play. It was called “The Twelfth
Night,” Shakespeare. That was quite an experience. In the
course of that production, I was supposed to kiss a young lady by
the name of Frank. Her father was later the Franklin County
Treasurer. She always said, “Why don’t you kiss me because my
boyfriend is out in the audience and he wouldn’t like that.”
I only played that part one night. On the other nights, a fellow by
the name of Herb Lyle, who later became a Lutheran minister, played
the second night. So we got together with our pranks and we said,
” When we play that part, when it is time for Carol to come
onto the stage, we’re going to kiss her anyhow.” Lo and
behold, we thought that was a great thing and we kissed her and the
audience went wild. They thought that was “way-out.” I had
a relationship with Herb Lyle. He called me for many years. To this
day, I represent his sister who lives in the community.
There was a Kohe family who taught school there. I think Mr.
Cohen taught history and later, he was succeeded by his son. I think
his name was Victor Cohen. Later, when we had a reunion, he called
on me and he said, “I’ll bet you don’t remember your lines
from “The Twelfth Night.” I proceeded to recite the lines.
“If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of
it.” He was sort of flabbergasted that after all these years .
. To this day, I remember all my lines from that play. I can’t
remember what I had for dinner yesterday but I can remember that.
Interviewer: Something like your Bar Mitzvah speech.
Wasserstrom: Yes, my Bar Mitzvah speech was a story, too. When I
was Bar Mitzvah, the synagogue was on Parsons Avenue and the rabbi
was Klein. I was Bar Mitzvah on the same day with Martin Ornstein.
Martin recited half the Haf-Torah and I recited the other half. We
both made short speeches. It was something to be Bar Mitzvah on the
same day with somebody else. We didn’t have big Bar Mitzvah
parties in those days. I think my father and mother bought a sponge
cake and a bit of wine and everybody came down to the reception
area. It wasn’t very elaborate. They ate the cake and drank the
Interviewer: Do you remember anything else about your religious
Wasserstrom: I pursued it rather vigorously, everything they had
to offer in the Temple. But we didn’t have an educational director
and I didn’t get too much encouragement, as I look back at it now.
I just did what I had to do to get Bar Mitzvah and then it sort of
came to an end because the Temple did not offer anything more than
Interviewer: Did you go to the Schonthal Center for any
Wasserstrom: Not so much for the activities but later, when I was
a young lawyer, I was on the board of the Schonthal Center. We used
to go there quite often for meetings.
Wasserstrom: I was at the age when my sister, Janet, taught the
new refugees how to speak English so they could qualify to become
American citizens. I remember all those meetings that we had then.
Miss Sugarman was the director and I was on the committee in which
we met at the Jewish Community Center and worked out all the plans
and specifications to build the new Jewish Community Center which
existed until it was remodeled. I was the secretary to Sam Summer
who was head of the campaign to raise the money. I didn’t partake
in the athletic program they offered.
Interviewer: After you became a lawyer, you became quite active
in the community.
Wasserstrom: Yes, I was, for a young fellow. As I look back at it
now, those were the best years of my life. While other kids were out
dating and having fun, I was particularly interested in my first
activity which was at the Temple. I think I was secretary in 1932 or
1933 and served with men like Harry Masser and Henry Winter, I.H.
Schlezinger, Morris Polster. Finally, I became president. It was an
odd thing about that. I.H. Schlezinger was president at that time
and I was elected Vice President. I thought I’d have an easy time
and I.H. Schlezinger was a strong character in the Temple business.
But within several months, I.H. Schlezinger, my cousin, passed away
and I became president. I wasn’t prepared for that. I was quite a
young man and I had other things in mind but it settled me down. I
had to go to synagogue on the Sabbath, I was there on Friday nights
and I had to go to all the funerals. I took the obligation rather
seriously and perhaps it aged me much beyond my years. I served as
president of the Temple during World War II for a period of about
four or five years. I was succeeded by Lili Schlezinger.
served with Sam Melton who thought we should have a new school
building. I was his vice-chairman. I helped to raise the money to
build the school. I still have, to this day, a record of all the
contributors to the fund that made possible the erection of the
education building which presently exists. To give you an idea of
the giving of that age, the largest contributor gave $2,500. I
remember my family closely approached that and thought, my God, we
were giving a lot of money. I don’t remember how much we raised
but I don’t think it was very much. Sam Melton was a great friend
of Leo Yassenoff and Leo was supposed to build that without any
profit to him. We always said that Leo had enough bricks left over
after building the Jewish Community Center to build our building
without any charge, which was really unfair to Leo Yassenoff’s
memory but that was the joke of the day.
Interviewer: When was that? In the 40’s?
Wasserstrom: That was in the early 40’s. I remember the
dedication and to this day, my name is on the plaque in the area
leading into the education building. I served actively as a member
of the board for many years and in my declining health, I sort of
gave that up. Younger people came along and I was willing to step
aside and let them have their day, too. As I look back at my whole
life, the memory I cherish most of all, is my activity in the
Temple. I thought that was a real contribution that I had made to
the community and to my own development.
Interviewer: It was a time of great growth in the Jewish
community and in the congregation.
Wasserstrom: When I was a secretary of the Temple in the early
1930s, we had a mortgage on the Temple which was probably in favor
of the Bellefontaine Building & Loan Company. As I recall, there
was a balance of $90,000 and those farmers from the Building &
Loan Company, came and I remember they harassed about 13 people and
they signed that note to repay that debt. They all ran for cover
because Bellefontaine was threatening to foreclose on the mortgage
and take a personal judgement against all of the leaders of that
day. I remember heading a campaign with Lili Schlezinger and Sam
Melton to raise the money to pay it out with 50 cents on the dollar.
I think we raised $40,000 or $50,000 and paid the mortgage in full.
Interviewer: Bill, you were also active in other things in the
community. B’nai Brith was a very strong organization at the time.
Wasserstrom: Yes, it was the largest and biggest organization at
the time. I became interested in B’nai Brith at the beginning of
my legal career. Sometime in my middle 30’s, I was a candidate to be
the chaplain. You had to start and go through the chairs and that
was the first office. My opponents in the election were Alan
Tarshish and Frank B. Bayer. On a given night, we met at the
downtown Winding Hollow Country Club which was on Parsons Avenue
near Bryden. I think that building still exists. When I came to the
end of our campaign, I remember I had special literature printed up
and the names of all my friends on my committee and we had some
parties and I really had a lot of fun. These older men had been in
the lodge for so many years and they ridiculed me for being such a
young upstart and wanting to be president. So on the night of the
campaign address, Alan Tarshish had been working for the Eagle’s
Lodge and he had been making all kinds of speeches in terms of
Brother Eagles. When he got up to address the Lodge, instead of
calling them members of B’nai Brith, he called them Brother
Eagles. The audience roared and I overwhelmingly defeated my two
opponents and served in all the offices. Sometime in the late 30s, I
It was during my regime (and I have pictures), we initiated
Charles and Ralph Lazarus. They were in the same class and our
pictures were taken. I preserved that picture and still have it.
Sometime much later, I sent it to Chuck Lazarus and he enjoyed it so
much, he had copies made of the news item and picture and mailed it
to his cousin, Ralph who was in Cincinnati. I got the nicest letters
back from both of them, thanking me for what I had done. I became
interested in the Jewish Family Service and I served as one of the
officers. I don’t believe I was ever president. I was the first
president of the Council of Organizations in which all of the
organizations would send representatives to a particular meeting. It
was my pleasure to serve in the capacity of president of the
I was president of the then existing Excelsior Club which had a
little house on Rich Street and Parsons Avenue. In the declining
years of the club, I joined the Winding Hollow Country Club with my
brothers. I think that was, maybe, in the late 40s. It’s been a
source of great joy and comfort to me and my family.
Interviewer: Bill, do you have anything you would like to talk
about either with the Bar or your experiences in law school? Your
education or how you happened to go to law school?
Wasserstrom: I really don’t recall specifically what encouraged
me to study the law. I had done some thinking about the rabbinic and
I think it carried over into the law. I remember organizing the
first Jewish Law Fraternity. Tau Epsilon Ro which to this day, is
the only Jewish law fraternity. I am a chartered member and was the
first president. That was a coincidence, too, because a cousin of
mine from Cleveland was the national president and, of course, he
selected his cousin in Columbus to organize the local chapter. My
cousin in Cleveland was Bert Feldman, who was an outstanding lawyer
of that age and he had written many opinions that appeared in the
law books. Cases he had taken to the Supreme Court. I was always
happy to say that was my cousin.
After I finished my education, I was admitted to the Bar in 1931.
I do take pride that I am a chartered member of a group of young
lawyers who called themselves the “The Junior Bar.” In
those days, we didn’t know how much to charge so they had to find
a chairman of a fee scheduled committee and determine what fair
charges would be. I remember riding all over the country and getting
copies of those schedules and comparing them to my schedule. With my
committee – I remember the fees were $3.00 and $5.00 – I look back
now and wonder what the devil we prepared that schedule for because
we didn’t charge anything. A big case was $50. It’s an odd thing
but two or three years ago, I had since lost my copy of the fee
schedule and Paul McNamara, who is, to this day, a prominent lawyer
and a member of Board of Trustees of Miami University, sent me a
copy of the fee schedule indicating my name as chairman and I have
obtained that copy to this day.
Interviewer: You made some life long friends in college.
Wasserstrom: I made life long friends in college. In Florida I
arranged, with some help from others, a gathering of about twelve of
our fraternity brothers and their wives. We had a dinner together
and reminisced about old times.
Interviewer: Do you have anything that stands out in your mind as
being the most exciting experience or the most monumental experience
of your law career?
Wasserstrom: I was associated with Harry Cohen who was already an
old time lawyer but he was from my father’s time. He was a brother
of Emil Cohen who I referred to before. My father thought that that’s
what I ought to be. I knew other lawyers had written letters
suggesting that I come in and be interviewd and join up with them.
But my dad thought that Harry Cohen was the greatest guy in the
world and I ought to be with him. Well, Harry had a good practice
but he’d gotten into some business ventures that didn’t work out
well and his practice slowly diminished. While I was in his office,
he married Rosina Weiler, Bob Weiler’s sister and he represented
an insurance company.
Interviewer: Bill, how many years have you been in the practice
Wasserstrom: I was admitted to the Bar in 1931 so this is my 53rd
year in practice. I’m still active to a limited degree. I still go
to the office everyday and just the day before yesterday, I
celebrated my 78th birthday. The law was good to me. I
made a very slow start in 1931 amidst the Depression. The banks were
closed and it was difficult to make a livelihood. But I wasn’t
married and I lived at home. I came from good parents, they didn’t
charge me anything to live at home and I think my records show that
my first year in practice, I took in about $2,500 gross.
There is an interesting incident about my second year in
practice. The Internal Revenue Agent again came to examine my
records. So I pulled out a sheet of paper with all my receipts and
all my expenses and he took one look at it and said, “Is this
all you did? Forget it.” So I folded up my paper and the
Internal Revenue Service man was satisfied and left. I think he was
more embarrassed about it than I was.
But for my time, I did as well as my contemporaries and
classmates did. Most of them didn’t even do that. But I had some
nice connections with the Real Estate field. I put out tenants
everyday and I got $3.00 a piece for evicting tenants. My other
chief client was Leo Marks who had a chain of furniture stores
called May and Home and I did all the repossessing of furniture from
people who didn’t pay their indebtness for which I got $5.00 a
piece. Maybe I filed three or four of those a week. I had a
reputation for being an expert in repossessions. I recall I always
handled those matters. A few years later, Leo Marks was quite a
contributor to the Children’s Hospital and I think made possible
the original building. He spent a lot of money helping poor people
in Lexington, Kentucky. I distinctly remember going to him after I’d
had this account for several years. I said, “Mr. Marks, I
thought I should have a little more money, for handling these
cases.” He was an abrupt, shrewd businessman and he told me in
no uncertain terms if I was unhappy, they’d get someone else to
handle it. That was one of the better things that happened – my
practice was increasing and I was glad to get rid of the burden of
I devoted a lot of time, effort and energy to the development of
the family business. I incorporated Wasserstrom & Sons in 1931.
I think it was the first corporate work I’d done. I was only out
of school for a short period. We were in a transition period between
a repeal and the malt and hop days. We were changing our business.
After the incorporation, we proceeded to handle merchandise that was
to be sold to restaurants. That kind of trade was different than the
malt and hop trade. We did very well in that. Everybody helped. I
remember staying up until all hours of the night, waiting for our
last restaurant to come to 285 North High Street to buy the
merchandise. But we were young kids and it didn’t hurt us any.
Then along came an opportunity to develop a fixture business. We
proceeded to buy what was then known as the Buttles Avenue Lumber
Company. It was an old organization and probably at that time, it
was 80 or 90 years old in terms of its history. It was in the hands
of a receiver and I remember the lawyer’s name was Ralph Lucas who
represented the receiver and I went to see him and finally completed
the deal whereby we bought the entire factory for $800 which
included all kinds of woodwork and machines and equipment. Later, I
added several additions to the plant. We got more into the metal end
of it and working with stainless steel. That’s really where the
development took place. We were on Buttles until about 1960 when the
Metro Housing Authority decided they would like to do all of that
whole area so we were compelled to sell out. After some negotiation,
we were finally able to get enough money in _______ appropriation
proceeding to build our factory on Lockbourne Road which still
exists to this day. The factory originally consisted of 90,000
square feet and we thought we’d never get it occupied. I remember
we had 12,000 square feet of offices and my brother Emil, was quite
an optimist and I said, “Emil, what are we going to do with all
this space?” We only had about three feet of work in the
office. He said, “Don’t worry about it.” The next thing
I knew, he had ordered desks and chairs and filled up that entire
area. It looked like we were really in business but we were just
starting out. The plant now consists of several additions and it’s
probably 250,000 square feet now on about ten acres of land.
Going back a bit, my brother, Sam, had a knack for real estate.
He didn’t like the day to day operation of a business. He liked to
make deals, as he called it. He set up a corporation called the
Columbia Realty Company. I think that was about 1933. One of the
first pieces we bought was a double storeroom on South Parsons
Avenue, right next to Schottenstein’s Department Store. It was
such a good investment. I think we paid maybe $4,000 for it. It had
two storerooms and two apartments up above. Then along came the
Schottenstein ___________ of several years and they decided they
needed that space and wanted to buy it. We wouldn’t sell but we
finally traded and we acquired property on North High Street and
traded them for the Parsons Avenue property. That led to many things
in the real estate investment field. At times we had some rather
vast holdings in different areas of the city.
All of this reference is to the manufacturing side of our
business. Since then, it has developed into a nice, strong and
almost international company. We have a plant in London, Ohio,
another plant in Columbus on South High Street and the ________
plant on Lockbourne Road. We have other facilities. I want to pause
at this time to pay tribute to my brother, Emil, who was a hard
worker and was serious-minded, far-sighted and had a good mind. He
inspired all of us to almost try to conquer the world.
The company has expanded. We now have offices in Oakland,
California, Houston, Texas, Atlanta, Georgia and just this past
year, we opened a new factory in Charlotte, South Carolina. Some of
our major accounts are fast food operations – I am talking about
Raks and Wendy’s and companies of that type. Emil was so far
sighted that he saw the envision of that company. To that degree, he
worked on our son, Allan and gave him summer employment. Allan
became interested in the family business. He went to Northwestern
University, got an engineering degree and then he went to Columbia
University and got a degree in business administration. As the years
went on, he came into the business. Sidney and Emil were running the
business at that time. He learned the business from the bottom up. I
remember Emil and Sidney putting Allan in the plant as a blue collar
worker and I thought, all the money I spent on his education and
they’re putting him back in the factory as a worker? But after
awhile, I could see the wisdom of it. He came to know all the
machines and what they could do and what they couldn’t do and what
they expected of them. He learned the business and to this day, he
knows the business from the bottom up. I remember when he worked in
the factory, he modernized some of the equipment, produced some
efficiency which meant a good deal to the progress of the company.
Today he is the president of that division of the business and is
doing an excellent job.
The other side of our business is, after the mom and pop days
were over, we had a supply division. In 1937, we moved from High
Street to 32 Chestnut Street. It was a five story building about
60,000 square feet and I remember Sam Weinfeld was the broker and we
paid $40,000 for that building. But we had a lot of mouths to feed
so cash was a big item for us so we had a first and second mortgage.
We put very little cash in the thing but one of the nice things that
happened was the WPA leased some of the extra floors that we didn’t
have any use for at that time and they helped us make our mortgage
payments. I distinctly remember that one of our loans was with the
Ohio National Bank Trust Department. I think the loan was only two
or three years old when we wanted to pay them off. At that time,
everybody wanted to be free from debt. That’s not the current way
to do business but that was the way it was done in those days. I
remember going to see Mr. Bob Crew, who I knew because of my law
practice. I told him why I was there and that I wanted to pay it
off. He said, “I’m sorry. We can’t accept your money. You
can’t make any prepayments on it.” I think the interest was
only about 5%. The net result was that we paid a penalty for paying
off the mortgage.
The other mortgage was held by the Stanley Sells Company. The
building on Chestnut Street was owned by Sells Hardware. They had a
wholesale hardware and harness business in that location. I think
within a few years, we were entirely free from debt. Then we
proceeded to buy the building next door which was then occupied by a
lighting and fixture company. I think they since have gone out of
Then we bought another building. To the east where the mission
was. At night people came and carried on and left all sorts of
bottles on the walk. I remember Abe Weinfeld, across the street, who
had an electric power & equipment company, called and said,
“Can’t we do something about getting rid of those people?
They’re ruining the whole neighborhood.” The result was, we
finally did tear down that building, not because of Weinfeld but
because it was the economically prudent thing to do. We had a
parking lot there.
Later, we acquired property at 31 East Naughten Street which was
occupied by Big Load Transfer Company. That was quite an experience
because we all got in our working clothes and we had to get that
thing empty so we could get rent rolling. There were cartons that
had been in that warehouse for many years. It didn’t occur to us
that those cartons might contain valuable merchandise. As it
developed, the truck drivers were smarter than we were. When they
got to the dump, they opened the cartons and they found items like
fine china, glassware, silverware. We finally got it rented and
occupied and then later knocked it down and made a parking lot for
additional parking in connection with the business.
Along came the early 60s, just about the same time we bought
Lockbourne Road. I had been working on acquiring the property at 470
South Front Street which is at Livingston and Front Street. It was
formerly the Hoster Brewery which was the largest brewery in town.
It had been bought by a paper box company, Frankenberg Paper Box. I
remember dealing with Mr. Frankenberg and I remember they asked
$450,000 for the property. We knew we couldn’t handle that. It
took a couple of years negotiating back and forth and finally we
bought four acres of land and several hundred thousand square feet
of space for $150,000. Then we demolished part of the building that
was on Front Street and we built a whole new building in front of
it. I remember the contract to build it was around $200,000. We had
all this space and never could envision that we’d ever get it
filled up but as the years rolled by, it’s all occupied.
Since then, in recent years, we acquired an additional 200,000
square feet on Marion Road, owned by the Federal Glass Company. We’ve
outgrown that and they’re presently looking for additional space
for the expansion. Emil, at that time, decided he would go down to
the factory on Lockbourne Road and work at that, so Albert took over
and developed that location on Front Street. It grew and Emil would
come down, periodically and help Albert.
I want to pay tribute to the next generation in the family which
consists of Rodney, who is now president of the company on Front
Street and is doing an excellent job; Reed, who is doing a wonderful
job; we also have Richard, who is in the office division; we have
Jim, who is at the factory and in charge of a certain aspect of the
business; Bruce, who is in another aspect of the business. They’re
all making a fine contribution. The company is now recognized as one
of the top three largest companies in the entire United States. That
appeared in a periodical which came out during this current year of
1984. Another person who is making a fine contribution to the
company is John, who is Sally and
Stanley’s son. He is managing the operation in South Carolina
and although it is in its infancy, he has already demonstrated his
ability to do as an outstanding job. He just bought a home there and
he, along with his wife, Janey, are happy in that location.
Interviewer: I think you pretty well covered your family’s
development in Columbus and your personal life in Columbus. Thank
you, Bill, for sharing your personal life experiences with the
Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
End of interview