Journal-News, Wednesday, July 5, 1995
Frechtling store operated 78 years at Second and High streets location
By Jim Blount
The only thing certain about Hamilton retailing is change. This year Meijers, Lowe's and Wal-Mart join Hills, Kmart and smaller stores in the expanding West Main Street trading center. Meanwhile, business continues at the northeast corner of Second and High streets, the core of downtown retailing for more than 140 years.
Robert Beckett built a three-story brick building there in 1854. By the end of the year, occupants included a bank and a dry goods store on the first floor, and a piano dealer and a newspaper on the second floor.
The third floor housed an auditorium, Beckett's Hall, complete with a stage and dressing rooms. A Presbyterian congregation met there in 1854 while building a new church. The first of many community events was a Christmas Eve firemen's ball, which attracted about 300 people. Horace Greeley, a New York newspaper editor, lectured March 9, 1855, the first of many national personalities to appear in Beckett's Hall.
But the Second and High location has been best known as the site of the Frechtling store for 78 years, Wilmurs for 32 years and a part of the Elder-Beerman complex for 28 years.
Two German-born brothers -- Henry and William C. Frechtling -- started the succession with their popular "double store." The term indicated they sold both groceries and dry goods, a rarity in the 1850s.
Henry Frechtling -- born Dec. 2, 1823, in the former German state of Hanover -- went to work full time at age 15 and learned stonemasonry by 17. He migrated to the U. S. in 1845, working briefly as a lamplighter in New Orleans before moving to Cincinnati and Liberty, Ind. He came to Hamilton in 1853, utilizing his stonemason skills in supervising the building of the Junction Railroad's bridge over the Great Miami River between Hamilton and Rossville.
William C. Frechtling -- born May 19, 1837, also in Hanover province -- came to Hamilton as an 18-year-old. He had learned cigar-making while living in Cincinnati, but in Hamilton he clerked in the store of Conrad Getz, formerly a neighbor in Germany.
In 1856, the brothers opened the H. & W. Frechtling Company, a partnership which continued for 23 years. The store offered a full line of clothing, linens and domestics, fabrics, groceries, china, glass and queensware (glazed earthenware). The 1871 city directory described its inventory as "staple and fancy dry goods, notions, family groceries, provisions, etc."
It became W. C. Frechtling & Company in 1879 when William bought Henry's share of the business. In 1892, a subsidiary business, the Frechtling Wholesale Grocery, was established under the direction of William's oldest son, Edward H. Frechtling. Another sideline was the Globe Opera House (southeast corner of High Street and Journal Square), acquired by William Frechtling in 1887.
The business continued under family direction after the death of William C. Frechtling July 1, 1902. The city directory that year also listed Henry Frechtling Jr. as operator of similar stores at 150-154 High Street and at the northwest corner of Main and D streets.
` In April 1931, when the original Frechtling store at Second and High streets marked its 75th anniversary, the fourth generation of the family was involved in its operation. According to an advertisement, the store sold dry goods, foreign and domestic china, coats, suits and millinery.
The store closed Dec. 24, 1934, and furnishings and equipment were auctioned Dec. 28. The next day it was announced that a new company, Wilmurs Inc., had negotiated a 10-year lease with the Frechtling family on the building at 202-206 High Street.
That Dec. 29, 1934, report described the irregularly-shaped property as having frontage of 40 feet on High Street, extending 112 feet along North Second Street, 124 feet east along Market Street, then south 32 feet, west 84 feet and south 80 feet to High Street.
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, July 12, 1995
Wilmurs: downtown Hamilton shopping magnet for 32 years
By Jim Blount
Wilmurs Inc. -- a downtown shopping magnet for 32 years -- opened its doors Thursday, March 14, 1935, in a building occupied for 78 years by the former Frechtling store.
In 1935, the F. K. Vaughn Company remodeled the structure on the northeast corner of Second and High streets, which has housed some departments of the Elder-Beerman Store since 1967. William Murstein, who headed Wilmurs throughout its existence, said all work had been done by local companies and local workers recognized by the American Federation of Labor.
The new exterior was described in 1935 as "modified moderne" The High Street entrance featured "a new type of aluminum sash bar, used for the first time in this part of the country is being used in conjunction with extruded aluminum on a background of black Carrara-glass." The store front was lighted "by special flood lights, such as were used at the World's Fair in Chicago" (the Century of Progress, 1933-34).
The entire staff of the Frechtling store was among 40 Wilmurs employees. Also retained was "the weighing scale which for so many years was in the W. C. Frechtling Company Store for Hamiltonians to use free of charge." It was loaned to Wilmurs by the Frechtling family, and was "given a place of honor in the new store" for many years.
"You'll never find an extravagant shopper here," Wilmurs ads boasted. "At no time will you find seconds of any description on our many bargain tables and value-packed racks and shelves. Every item is guaranteed to be of perfect first quality."
Some 1935 opening prices included men's shirts at 64 cents; men's work shirts, 35 cents; men's suits, from $9.90 to $14.60; women's pure silk hose, 29 cents a pair; women's spring hats, from 95 cents to $1.87; women's suits, $7.75; dresses, from $3.77 to $14.85; and towels nine cents each.
Another ad said "because we will sell for cash only, we will be able to offer you merchandise at the lowest possible prices."
Instead of credit, Wilmurs offered a popular lay-away plan. Customers "not prepared to pay cash," were urged to "come in and select your merchandise, and with a small deposit, we will hold it until wanted, enabling you to buy at the lowest possible cash price."
Although Wilmurs later added credit accounts, the lay-away program remained a customer favorite. During a 1950 remodeling, the second-floor lay-away department was expanded to about 6,000 square feet, mostly storage. In 1950, the department had six full-time employees and increased to 12 people during peak seasons.
The 1950 remodeling added 21,000 square feet, almost doubling store size and increasing inventory 300 to 400 percent per department. It included an additional building (two stories and a basement) facing 60 feet along Market Street and extending 120 feet into the old store. Escalators and new elevators also were added.
In 1950, full-time employment reached 200 with another 100 hired during peak periods. Wilmurs also boasted 12 buyers who doubled as department managers. "Each of these persons also waits on customers to keep in touch with what the public wants," the company explained.
In 1956, Wilmurs launched an even bigger expansion program. The entire store was remodeled and realigned. The B. F. Goodrich property, at the northeast corner of Second and Market streets, was acquired to become a 3,000-square-foot home furnishings department. Also added was a free customer parking lot with parking attendants on Market Street, opposite Wilmurs' Market Street entrance and next to the home furnishings store.
May 11, 1967, Wilmurs was sold to Elder-Beerman Stores, headed by Arthur Beerman of Dayton. In the transaction -- estimated at $2.5 million -- Beerman acquired Wilmurs stock from Murstein and members of his family. Since 1965, Beerman had been involved in a $3.5 million development, Project Center Punch, in the block bounded by High, Front, Market and Second streets.
# # #
feet, west 84 feet and south 80 feet to High Street.
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, July 19, 1995
William Murstein, Wilmurs leader, was more than a savvy merchant
By Jim Blount
Wilmurs was William Murstein, who gave parts of his name to the popular department store which he operated in downtown Hamilton for 32 years. Murstein died June 6, 1967, less than a month after he sold the business to Elder-Beerman Stores.
Murstein opened Wilmurs March 14, 1935, during the Depression, in the former Frechtling store at the northeast corner of Second and High streets. Wilmurs founder and owner was born in Sharon, Pa., Jan. 17, 1897, one of nine children. After marine service during World War I, he learned retailing in Youngstown and Cleveland before coming to Hamilton.
Under his direction, Wilmurs soon revolutionized retailing in Hamilton with aggressive advertising and promotions. Murstein and his staff seemed to know what local shoppers wanted, and how to attract them to the store.
An example of the store's promotions was in November 1955, when free bus rides were available from 6:30 to 9 p.m., "anywhere in Hamilton" and "in any direction" with fares paid by Wilmurs. The objective was to get customers to downtown stores, which were open until 9. Ads noted that all buses "will stop in front of Wilmurs in addition to all regular bus stops."
But Bill Murstein was more than a savvy merchant. His success brought him wealth, which he shared with the community in many ways.
Organizations blessed by his leadership and money included the Community Chest and United Appeals (predecessors of Butler County United Way); Red Cross; Boy Scouts; Cancer Society; Booker T. Washington Center; Salvation Army; Family Service of Hamilton; Hamilton Chamber of Commerce; and the Hamilton Merchants Association.
He was a founder of the Hamilton Community Foundation in 1951, and organizer and first president of the Hamilton Jewish Welfare Fund. He was the donor of the William Murstein Chapel at Hebrew Union College Biblical and Archaeological School in Jerusalem, which was the first reformed Jewish chapel in Israel.
Murstein was a member of the Ohio Committee on Aging; the President's Committee on Government Contracts; vice president of the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Ohio; chairman of the mental health section of the 1950 White House Conference on Problems of Children and Youth; and a delegate to the Minority Community Resources Conference in Washington in 1958.
The Wilmurs chief also was a member of the Hamilton Rotary Club, the Masonic order, Temple B'ene Israel and Wise Temple.
His proudest contribution to Hamilton was the Senior Citizen Center, which appropriately bears his name. Through the Hamilton Community Foundation, Murstein donated $15,000 to buy the former Adams School from the board of education in 1957. He also gave generously to the $40,000 fund to refurbish the 1902 building at the northeast corner of Ross Avenue and South C Street.
He died, at age 70, less than two weeks before he was scheduled to place the cornerstone at the Murstein Alumni Center, Patterson and Chestnut streets in Oxford. The center was named in recognition of his generosity to Miami University, including establishment of three scholarships. In 1960, Miami had conferred an honorary degree for Murstein's business and civic leadership.
Much of his charitable work was publicized, but that wasn't the purpose of his philanthropy. A friend, W. Otis Briggs (executive director of United Way for 33 years), recalled that Murstein "helped many Hamilton people and Wilmurs employees without recognition."
"His unselfish dedication to all civic and cultural projects," said Common Pleas Judge Fred B. Cramer, "and his philanthropic and charitable contributions in money, energy and talents, stand as an everlasting monument to him."
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, July 26, 1995
Atomic test cloaked in secrecy
By Jim Blount
There was no mention in the Journal-News of a spectacular "accident" in the New Mexico desert Monday, July 16, 1945. Instead, headlines emphasized World War II developments in the Pacific and a meeting of top Allied leaders in conquered Germany.
Since fighting had ended in Europe (V-E Day May 8, 1945), attention had turned to the war against Japan. Most Americans assumed an invasion would be launched soon against the Japanese home islands. It seemed inevitable as Japanese leaders ignored repeated Allied demands to surrender or face destruction.
American planes had been pounding Japanese cities for several weeks. That day, July 16, more than 1,500 U. S. planes bombed Japanese targets. Two weeks earlier, Japanese officials had acknowledged only 200,000 people remained in Tokyo, and that as many as five million people had been killed or wounded during U. S. air attacks.
Casualty reports were still filtering back to the states from Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands -- the islands closest to Japan. After an 81-day campaign, American forces captured the island June 22. But it was a costly victory: at least 12,520 Americans soldiers and marines killed, and about 36,650 wounded; 36 ships and more than 4,900 men lost by the U. S. Navy; and 800 Allied planes lost. More than 100,000 Japanese died in defending the island.
The intense resistance on Okinawa was considered a preview of what American forces would encounter in invading the Japanese home islands.
In the western United States July 16, 1945, newspapers reported "a heavy explosion," explained as an accident at "a remotely located ammunition magazine containing a considerable amount of high explosives and pyrotechnics" at an air base at Alamogordo, New Mexico.
The blast was about 50 miles north of Alamogordo, and it wasn't an accident. It was the planned test explosion of a mysterious new weapon -- the atomic bomb.
Most of the media's attention was on the July 16-Aug. 2 meeting of the Allied Big Three at Potsdam, Germany -- U. S. President Harry Truman, England's Winston Churchill and the Soviet Union's Joseph Stalin.
Word of the successful atomic test was flashed to Truman in a coded message: "Babies satisfactorily born." July 25, the Potsdam conferees called on Japan to surrender or risk "utter destruction." The ultimatum was rejected July 30, setting off final plans for using the new weapon.
"NEW ATOMIC BOMB LOOSED ON JAPS," shouted the bold headline across page one of the Journal-News Monday, Aug. 6. The bombing of Hiroshima had been disclosed by President Truman at 11 a.m.
A wire service story said "the awful bomb is the answer, President Truman's statement said, to Japan's failure to heed the Potsdam demand that she surrender unconditionally at once or face utter destruction." The next day, a page-one story listed details of the July 16 New Mexico explosion, previously cloaked in secrecy.
Fred Hammerle, Butler County engineer in 1945, emphasized the destructive power of the atomic bomb in comparing Hiroshima and Hamilton for a reporter. He said Hamilton's size was 6.85 square miles, very close to Hiroshima's 6.9 square miles.
Sixty percent, or 4.1 square miles, of the Japanese city was destroyed by the bomb. Hammerle said that would correspond to all of Hamilton east of the Great Miami River.
The comparison ended there. Hamilton had between 55,000 and 60,000 inhabitants in 1945. Hiroshima's population was believed to have exceeded 300,000.
Estimates of deaths in the Aug. 6 Hiroshima bombing range from 78,000 to 240,000. An official Japanese report said about 140,000 had died by December 1945.
# # #