Postmarked Houston, Tex. Nov 12 1908 4:30 PM
To: Miss Jessie Finnsted
290 Courtney St
Grand Rapids Mich.
"Dear Miss Finnsted. I would be very pleased to exchange postal's with you. I hope this will not be a suprize to you as I learned your name and address on some notion boxes that were purchased of The Firm you are with. [continued on front] I am cashier with Levy Bros. and wish you to answer this real soon we are now having our fall carnival and there are very many people from all over the state.
P.S. Answer this soon -
Who was this brash young man who sent cards to a woman whose address he found at work? I assume no mature man would act so audaciously, or put himself out there with such vulnerability. He is clearly one who takes a chance to invite a connection with a stranger. He does not hesitate to write on the front, possibly marring the collectiblity of the card for the recipient. I like him already.
By 1910, the nearest census year, Houston had a population of 79,000, the name Jules Wolf should be limited to a few individuals. A search of the census shows only one man by that name: Jules Wolf, a twenty year old single man living at 2701 Main at Dennis with his widowed mother, four grown brothers and one sister, as well as two black servants who lived in the rear of the house.
The neighborhood was a prosperous one in 1910, nearly every house was headed by a professional, most had black servants living in the back, a hallmark of the middle class Southern family of the time. At number 2711 was Judge Gill, an attorney and lawyer, and next door at 2715 was Dr. R. L. Cox, a surgeon and physician. Across the street was the 2nd Presbyterian Church, although the Wolf family would not have been welcome there as they were members of the Beth Israel Synagogue at Crawford and Lamar.
All of Jules' brothers were professional men: Charlie (age 35) was a merchant in retail, Maurice (30) was a proprietor of a theater, Jonas was proprietor of a cigar store, Harry (23) a salesman in retail. Jules' mother, further research shows, was Fanny Levy, born in 1854 in New Orleans; her relation to Abe Levy who founded Levy's Dry Goods store not clear. The Levy's and Wolf's were Jewish, a part of a close-knit community that had deep roots in Houston. The roster roll at Beth Israel included a Who's Who of prosperous merchants of Houston: Battlestein, Farb, Finger, Kiam, Sakowitz, Taub, Weingarten, Westheimer.
The history of the Levy's and Wolf's traces back to nineteenth century Houston and New Orleans. Fanny was the daughter of Jacob Levy and Regina Hohenthal Levy. Her father had run a shoe business in New Orleans before moving to Houston some time after 1880. Nathan and Fanny were already here by then, living with M. Levy (probably Maurice, Jacob's brother) at 66 Travis with Charles (age 6) and 6 month old Morris (Maurice), the adult men in the dry goods business. By 1900 Jacob and family moved further South to 818 Travis, his four unmarried sons all involved in the dry goods business: Meyer 40, Leon 38, Simon 35, and Julius 33 (daughter Lena at 25 a near spinster).
On the Houston City Directory of 1908-1909 the Wolf family was living at 1417 Texas, including the patriarch Nathan, sons Charles S. (with Jonas Levy, proprietors of Levy & Wolf Boston Shoe Store at 317 Main), Maurice (attorney and notary at the Houston Land & Trust Co. Bldg.), Jonas (selling tobacco at 1010 Congress Ave.) and the youngest Jules N. (cashier at Levy Brothers).
The 1910 census lists Fanny as widowed, but in 1908 when the postcard was written, Jules' father, Nathan Wolf, was still living. He died 7 January 1910, so on census day, April 15, the family was still in mourning. Nathan was born 25 Oct 1844 in Poland, then a part of Russia. The family was still intact in 1900, when they lived at 315 Travis, just off Market Square in the center of Commercial Houston of the time. The census shows a busy family: Nathan was merchant at a dry goods store, a naturalized citizen who immigrated in 1866; Fanny was the mother of seven children, five still living, so she was no stranger to grief. Their son Charles was proprietor of a shoe store, Maurice a dry goods salesman, Jonas a grocery store clerk, and Harry and Jules in school.
When Jules registered for the draft of 1917, he indicated that he was "Tall" and of "Medium' build, with gray eyes and brown hair. He claimed an exemption on account of "eyesight," and did not seem to have served in the first World War.
It is not clear whether Jessie Finnsted ever responded to Jules' postcard, and research did not uncover anyone who might be her. Jules went on to live in Colorado, where he married a woman named Frieda, and lived in Los Angeles and South Pasadena. On the 1930 census he lived at 829 S. Masselin, Los Angeles California, in a $15,500 home just a block south of Wilshire Boulevard. He made a living as a manager of a "Moving Pic Theater." Their children were Joseph N. (7) and Regina I (6), both born in Colorado. Since Jules' maternal grandmother was Regina Hohenthal Levy (1833-1893; wife of Jacob b. 1825), his daughter may have been named for her. In 1952 Jules was in the liquor business living at 1714 Meridan Avenue with Frieda.
Fanny Levy Wolf died 27 Jan 1928 at age 74 and is buried at Beth Israel Cemetery at 1207 West Dallas Street in Houston, TX. Jules died in May 1972 in Los Angeles County, CA.
As I stood on the curb in front of the courthouse to take my photograph of the Paul Building (Republic Building on the marker near the entrance), I paused to look down at the message obscuring the face of the postcard. Although some collectors of postcards prefer unblemished images, my taste is to prefer cards with interesting messages, even when the writing obscures parts of the image. Fortunately, Jules gave his last name, making it much more likely to find him on the census. There is always a bit of luck involved in finding a particular person on the census, but with Jules I got very lucky indeed.
As details emerged about Jules Wolf, I became increasingly intrigued at how his life intersected with mine. His childhood home at 2703 Main is now the location of the parking lot for Art Supply on Main, a store I frequent for art supplies and monthly meetings of Print Matters, a group of printmakers I am a member of. After my discovery of the history of the site, I find that when I chain my bike up at the entrance, I half expect to hear the the sound of boys playing: Did Jules and his brothers bring a baseball out into the street in the evenings for a quick game of catch?
Jules' mother is buried at Beth Israel Cemetery Cemetery at 1207 West Dallas. I am fascinated by cemeteries and their link to the history of a place, so whenever I have the time, I stop at cemeteries and scan the stones for tidbits of the lives behind the monuments. I often run past Beth Israel on my morning run, and when the gates are open I will catch my breath amid the monuments. Abe Levy's crypt so prominently placed in front of the mausoleum has captivated me from my first visit. Fanny's tombstone is at the west side of the cemetery, where she is buried next to her husband Nathan, son Charlie and daughter-in-law Bertie.
Even when Jules left Texas, he blazed a trail I was destined to cross. In 1930 he lived at 829 S. Masselin Street, Los Angeles in a part of the city called The Miracle Mile. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is there, and I have been many times. If I had a time machine, I might have spotted Jules or Freida there shopping or just enjoying Boulevard life. When they fled the glitter of Wilshire Boulevard for the Pasadena area, they located within a couple of miles of the Huntington Gardens, another of my California haunts.
History seems an inert presence for most of us, dead lives don't seem to touch us in any intimate way. But if we listen, we might hear them calling out to us.