Saturday, March 08, 2014

Building Detective: The Oppenheimer Block

The Oppenheimer block, 125 and 127 North Main Street, is one of four adjoining buildings constructed during the latter half of 1904 on the northwest corner of Chariton's square. It occupies the two south lots of a four-lot site that had been home to the three-story 1870s Mallory Opera Block until it burned during January of that year. Two other buildings, Lockwood and Storie, also were destroyed in that blaze.

Jessie Mallory Thayer, who had inherited the Opera Block from her father, Smith H. Mallory, announced her intention in The Chariton Herald of Feb. 4, 1904, to rebuild on the Opera Block site a two-story commercial structure with three 25-foot store fronts, eliminating the public performance space that had been a major feature of its predecessor.

She began to dither, however, and eventually decided to keep the insurance money and sell the lots. Simon Oppenheimer, who had been in business on the west side of the square since 1884 and was an Opera Block tenant, purchased the two south lots.

Jessie's dithering resulted in a construction delay, so the ruins of the opera block remained in place on March 3, 1904, when The Herald reported that D.Q. Storie had commenced to clear the debris from the site of his burned single-front building immediately south of the Mallory lots in preparation for new construction.

Once the lots had been sold, Oppenheimer commissioned plans for this double-front building. The result, when combined with the new Storie and Lockwood buildings to the south and the Hollinger & Larimer block to the north, is one of the most harmonious and complete suites of turn-of-the-century commerical architecture in southern Iowa.

Once under way, construction moved quickly and was complete by the 1904 Christmas season. The Chariton Patriot of Dec. 8, 1904, reported that "The new buildings on the west side of the square are almost all completed; the occupants have moved in."

Three generations of Oppenheimers were in business in Chariton --- Simon, until his death during 1930; Jerome, who died in 1949; and Jerry (Oppenheimer) Hoxton. Jerome and Florance Oppenheimer made the transition from men's to women's clothing during 1944 and moved the business to another location. The Gambles Store moved into the Oppenheimer Block during August of 1944. Jerry Hoxton continue to operate Oppenheimers until January of 1984, when she sold the business and moved to Washington, Iowa --- a full century after her grandfather had arrived in Lucas County. She now lives in Florida.

Here's an account of Oppenheimer's golden anniversary as reported upon in The Herald Patriot of Oct. 4, 1934. The illustration, lifted from microfilm, isn't great --- but does show both Simon (top) and Jerome Oppenheimer.

Chariton's Oldest Clothing Firm This Month Celebrates Golden Anniversary

In October, 1884, horses strained at wagons mired in the mud on Chariton's public square.

There was agitation for a new court house to replace the brick structure that was in such a state of disrepair that court sessions had been held in churches from fear that the county building would collapse.

Only the Burlington railroad ran through Chariton and it had but recently completed its St. Joseph branch.

For the last time plans to build a street railway were abandoned.

To the Chariton of that day, different in numberless other ways from the present city, came Simon Oppenheimer, a young merchant, and his wife. With the same faith in the future of Chariton and of Lucas county that is evident in the firm today, Simon Oppenheimer established a clothing store for men.

That he builded well is evidenced this month as the firm of S. Oppenheimer & Son celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of its founding.

Only two other downtown businesses first existent in 1884 are operating now.

Simon Oppenheimer died in January, 1930, after 46 years of service in his community and business. His son, Jerome, who became associated in the firm in 1904, is now manager of the store. Mrs. Simon Oppenheimer, who has seen the money panic of 1907 when the First National Bank failed, and well on its way through a third depression and has watched much of Chariton progress, also survives Mr. Oppenheimer.

The first Oppenhiemer store was on the west side of the square in the building now occupied by Tim McLeod's pool room. Later it was moved to the Mallory Opera block on the northwest corner of the square. When fire razed the Mallory building Jan. 20, 1904, Simon Oppenheimer constructed for his store the building which now bears his name.

Commenting upon the life of the business longer by many years that the average life of a store, Jerome Oppenheimer said Wednesday that it is "due to the continued confidence and support of the people of Lucas county.

"We appreciate this confidence and shall constantly strive to always merit it."

Like his father, Jerome Oppenheimer has been active in community affairs and in support of public projects. He is a member of the Community Club, Rotary Club, A.O.U.W., and is a Mason.


Simon Oppenheimer's obituary, published in The Herald Patriot of Jan. 16, 1930, offers additional information about the Oppenheimer family:

Simon Oppenheimer was born at Steinbach, Germany, on December 20, 1852. When he was but a lad his parents died and he was left to the guardianship of the older sisters and brothers, and came to America when he was but 13 years of age. He remained with a brother at Cincinnati, Ohio, for several years, where he was given good training in the mercantile business. Later he came to Iowa, where his brothers were engaged in business. He had a brother-in-law and sister at Albia, and for a time he resided there, and there he was married to Miss Freda Simon. This was on Aug. 16, 1883.

The young couple located at Red Oak, remaining there near a year, coming to Chariton in the spring of 1884, where he established the clothing business which he conducted ever since, of later years in company with his son, Jerome, who with his wife survive him. Mr. Oppenheimer held strong loyalty to all obligations in life, his home people and adopted country. He and Mrs. Oppenheimer visited his native Germany a decade or more since and remained for a time at the place of his birth. There he had left a sister, much older in years than himself, and she and aged husband were not in affluent circumstances owning to the depression which had swept over the county. He purchased them a home and productive acreage, on the eve of his homeward trip, and bade them farewell, never again to see them, but with the pleasant realization that their old age would have the comforts due them. And they have also voyaged to that unknown beyond where mortal trials and disappontments never come.

The funeral was held from the home on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 12, 1930, at 2:30. In the absence of the Rabbi, Rev. Claude E. Sayre, rector of St. Andrews Episcopal Church, led the prayer and delivered the funeral discourse, and paid a just and splendid tribute to the memory of the deceased, invoking heaven's consolation ....

The floral tributes were numerous and many friends paid their silent respect by their presence. The Masonic order, of which he had been a lifelong member, had charge of the burial ceremonies (at the Chariton Cemetery) ....

Note --- Of Mr. Oppenheimer's family there were three sets of brothers and sisters. They area all gone except one sister in Albia, Mrs. Max (Bertha) Loeb, and another sister in Germany, Mrs. Bobetta Behrman of Konken. A brother a few years since died at Mason City. Eli Oppenheimer, of his city is a nephew, but Simon and Eli had married sisters. His wife, Mr. Freda Oppenheimer and son, Jerome, survive as well as one little granddaughter, Jerry.


Carolyn H said...

Wow, you know more about my husband's family than I do, I am going to send this to Momma Jerry (Oppenheimer) Hoxton, she will enjoy reading it. She turned 90 this year! Funny, huh? Thanks Frank.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tribute to the Oppenheimer family and business, was fascinating to read. I purchased many clothes from that store including my wedding dress in 1960. Thanks for the memories.