JanetheWriter live from Pittsburgh
Last night, a colleague shared with me a newsletter she’d picked up in the lobby of the Pittsburgh hotel where the Union’s North American Board of Trustees is meeting this weekend, the Omni William Penn, a “grande dame” hotel that dates to 1916.
As I read through the article, written in 1991 on the occasion of the hotel’s 75th anniversary and detailing its long and colorful history, I started to make some connections or as might be said in a slightly different context, “to play a little Jewish geography.” As it turns out, while some of these connections may be Jewish, others definitely are not. Nonetheless, they all are of interest in this richly historic city.
Upon learning that the hotel was founded by steel magnate Henry Clay Frick, I made my first connection between this city and my own Manhattan. Among Frick’s other “properties” was his mansion on New York’s Fifth Avenue, now known as The Frick Collection, which houses his extensive original art collection, bequeathed to the public upon his death in 1919, as well as works acquired since then. It also is the place where my sister spent 11 years of her career, most recently as the director of education, hence my personal (albeit not Jewish) connection to today’s William Penn Omni Hotel.
Host during its heyday to Lawrence Welk, U.S. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, as well as to countless other dignitaries, celebrities and salesmen, the hotel also was home to Silverblatt’s Flower Shop. According to the article, the shop was owned by Tom and Sugar Silverblatt, a renowned singer and celebrity who hosted such others as Sophie Tucker, Pearl Bailey, Tyrone Power, and Sammy Kay, and whose shop “sold as many as one hundred boutonnieres a day….” Interestingly, a quick Google search reveals a current listing for Silverblatt’s Flowers (established in 1898) in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
Is today’s florist descended from the Silverblatt’s that called the William Penn home in days gone by? If so, who are the Silverblatts who preceded and followed Tom and Sugar in the floral business? And, with a name like Silverblatt, is the family Jewish? Who knows, but regardless, it’s fun to wonder and, no matter where your travels take you, to play a little Jewish geography.