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Milwaukee Avenue Merchant Family Focus of New Jewish-American Exhibit

Milwaukee Avenue Merchant Family Focus of New Jewish-American Exhibit

Milwaukee Avenue Merchant Family
The Focus of New Jewish-American Exhibit

It is our pleasure to share this article by Alisa Hauser for DNAinfo Chicago.

DOWNTOWN — The son of a third-generation merchant has put his family's experiences into a personal history show that documents the Jewish-American clan, from peddling shoes on Maxwell Street to operating stores along Wicker Park's Milwaukee Avenue.

"I go to Wicker Park and it feels like it's my home: I grew up there, worked there while growing up and even after being a full-time teacher, I would go back, take walks up and down. I would love if there is another me out there who also has artifacts," said Howard Schwartz, an artist and family historian who lives in the Northwest suburbs.

Schwartz's exhibit, Maxwell Street to Milwaukee Avenue; Painted Portraits of a Chicago Family in the Shoe Business opened on Aug. 30 and will end on Jan. 17 at Downtown's Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, 610 S. Michigan Ave.

At 12 p.m. on Oct. 27 and 1 p.m. on Jan. 17, Schwartz, a retired art instructor who spent 33 years documenting his father and uncle's shoe stores, will answer questions about the show at free artist talks.

"My paintings are influenced by the history of my family. Back then we didn't run around with cameras," the 63-year-old Schwartz said of the years he spent at his father and uncle's shoe stores from 1964 to 1997, including working full-time there for four years.

Some 15 pieces of Schwartz's work — combing paintings with family photos, found objects such as snippets of Yiddish newspapers and vintage signs — are on display at Spertus in a collection that Curator of Collections Ilana Segal says is "telling of a bygone era and of the pursuit of the American dream.”

The show also features a video interview from 1991 that Howard Schwartz conducted with his father, David Schwartz, who ran two stores, Harry's Shoes and Lou Ann's, with his brother, Meyer Schwartz.

Harry's Shoes started in 1903 on Maxwell Street but closed in 1943 during a leather shortage, Schwartz said. Harry's Shoes then moved to three spots along Milwaukee Avenue in the mid 1940s.

In 1957, the Schwartz brothers opened up a ladies shoe store, Lou Ann shoes at 1255 N. Milwaukee Ave. that closed in 1984.

Schwartz said that in the 1950s, Milwaukee Avenue between Division and Paulina Streets was "fairly stable with mostly independent store owners," many Jewish-American World War II veterans.

Harry's shoes was initially at 1252 N. Milwaukee Ave. in the mid-1940s before relocating to 1256 N. Milwaukee Ave.

The storefront at 1255 N. Milwaukee Ave. where Lou Ann's shoe was currently is still a shoe store today, while 1256 N. Milwaukee Ave., where Harry Shoe's was until 1997, has been demolished and replaced by condos.

Next store to 1255 N. Milwaukee Ave., a new seven-story, 60-unit glass and metal apartment building is under construction and expected to be completed next summer or fall, according to the project's developer Brian Goldberg.

"Milwaukee [Avenue] is experiencing a spike in energy," Goldberg said.

Reached last week, Schwartz said that seeing the exhibit on display at Spertus has given him "goosebumps."

"It looked better than I could have hoped for; I was excited that the people who organized the show made it just beautiful," Schwartz said.

Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning, 610 S. Michigan Ave. The Maxwell Street to Milwaukee Avenue show ends on Jan. 17. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday - Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Image at left

Howard Schwartz and father David Schwartz at the family's store for women, Lou-Ann Shoes at 1255 N. Milwaukee Ave. in 1981
Photo credit: Howard Schwartz