This biography of Fred Grunwald was written and self-published by his son, Ernest Grunwald (1923–2002), himself a celebrated physical organic chemist. Though undated, it appears to have been written in the 1990s, some three decades after his father's death in 1964. The majority of the biography is reproduced below; to download the full version, including a preface by erstwhile director of the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts David Rodes, click on the Save PDF button at the top of this page.
- The Learning Years
- The Independent Businessman
- We Are Not Waiting For You
- The Lean Years
- It Is the Collar That Makes the Shirt
- The Golden Years
- Disputes with the Labor Union
- Fred Grunwald Collection: The Formative Phase
- Fred Grunwald Collection: The Acquisitive Phase
- The Final Years
Many families have a member who is such a strong and original character that his memory has become a legend to them. In my family, such a legend is my father, Fred Grunwald. His life was dominated by two engrossing interests: his men's shirt factory, and his collection of graphic art. In the manufacture of men's shirts he concentrated on styling, when the conventional wisdom held that men are not style conscious. The success of his business stemmed largely from these original styling ideas.
In collecting graphic art he concentrated on German Expressionists and French Impressionists. Before his death in 1964 he donated a major part of his collection to the University of California, Los Angeles, which under the leadership of UCLA Chancellors Raymond Allen and Franklin Murphy established and nurtured the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts. Starting with my father's gifts as a nucleus, the Grunwald Center has been enhanced by outstanding gifts from important collectors and is now one of the foremost teaching and educational centers for the graphic arts in North America.
Most of the events that I am describing took place between 1930 and 1960. Until 1939 my family lived in Germany, and in common with all Jewish families in Germany, we faced ever more oppressive restrictions by the Nazi government. Life became virtually intolerable. In 1939 we managed to emigrate to the United States and settled in Los Angeles, California. My father founded his US shirt factory in 1939 and weathered an extraordinarily difficult start-up period. It was only after he had learned to focus on styling ideas that the business began to flourish.
By the late 1940s the shirt factory was well established, and my father could revive his long-standing interest in graphic art. In those days, original prints signed by the artist were relatively inexpensive, and he soon had developed a very fine collection. As time passed, the collection grew. By the time of his death in 1964, collecting had become virtually an obsession with him.
In rounding up the material for this book, I interviewed the few surviving eyewitnesses, especially my sister. I also used some written records, including my mother's diary of our life in Germany, old passports, records of my father's estate, transcripts of court cases, and facts about the Grunwald Center supplied by Professor David S. Rodes. Even so, much of this story is based on my own memory. While living in Los Angeles I was an eyewitness to the events described in this story. After moving away in 1947, I paid semi-annual visits during which my father talked openly. I am a good listener, and I think I remember our conversations well, even today.
Although this story of my father's life is as accurate as I can make it, I call it a saga rather than a history because so much of it is based on personal recollections. Psychologists tell us that memory is a tricky thing. A person may feel that he remembers true events, yet in fact he remembers only perceptions of events – perceptions that may be distorted. Thus there may be mistakes concerning unessential points, but the essence of the story is correct.
2. The Learning Years
Fred Grunwald was born in 1898 in Düsseldorf, Germany, the youngest of three children in a middle-class Jewish family of modest means. His father (my grandfather) would have liked to see him enter a profession, but Fred preferred to become a businessman. He did go to the local Gymnasium but did not stay the full course, leaving at age seventeen with what we might call an associate degree in business.
That was in the middle of the First World War. After leaving the Gymnasium he was drafted into the German army and saw action on the western front. In 1918 his left leg was severely wounded; the bones below the knee were shattered. He then spent two years in army hospitals while surgeons tried to reset the broken bones, but none of the operations succeeded. In the end, the surgeons gave up and amputated below the knee. Fred was fitted with a prosthesis and, given this artificial leg, gradually taught himself to walk without a cane and, indeed, with barely a limp.
Can you imagine spending two years in hospital, with one medical hope after another being dashed? I have endured a number of hospital stays, the longest (also with a broken leg) lasting about six weeks. Long hospital stays without noticeable healing can be demoralizing, especially to a young man like my father who was eager to get on with life. Fred kept his sanity by using the time for study and self-improvement. He was especially fascinated by German graphic art of that period, which eloquently expressed the bitter anger of the artists after the First World War. The anger reflected his mood precisely.
He also learned to play chess and became a master at it. He eventually returned to civilian life and settled in Wuppertal, a city of more than half a million people, where he was one of the top twelve players and qualified for the varsity municipal chess team. Chess is a hostile game—you are pitting your brains against those of your opponent—and I can see that it provided an outlet for his anger at the time.
Perhaps the best thing that happened to my father during his years in hospital is that he met my mother. Gertrude Löwenstein was born into a prosperous middle-class Jewish family in Lübbecke, a small county seat in Westphalia. There was no prior tie between the Grunwalds and the Löwensteins. My parents met by accident. Mother was a volunteer who visited wounded Jewish veterans in hospital, trying to be helpful and to cheer them up. In the case of my angry and bitter father she had a lot of cheering up to do, and I imagine that she visited him regularly. They were married within three years after father was discharged from hospital, but only after he was convinced that she would not be repulsed by the stump of his amputated leg. I was born a year later.
Germany was in an economic depression after the First World War, with severe unemployment. An inexperienced young man with an amputated leg did not have much of a chance at a job, but my father was lucky. His brother-in-law (his sister's husband), my uncle Hermann Wistinetzki, had built up a substantial wholesale business, which included a small men's shirt factory. My father was hired and joined the supervisory staff of the factory. This gave him a chance to learn the technical aspects of garment manufacturing and allowed him to understand, in human terms, what it means to work at a sewing machine. He also read, as much as he could, the technical literature about business management and dry-goods manufacturing. He transferred to sales when his knowledge was good enough to give customer service.
During the years that followed, my father watched Uncle Hermann's once successful wholesale mail-order business slide into bankruptcy. In the prosperous days before the First World War, the business did well. But after the war, in the Weimar Republic, business became far more difficult, and customers shopped around rather than ordered from a catalogue. Business shrank and profits evaporated.
Another adverse factor for business was the terrible German inflation in 1923. Politically, Germany was a bitterly divided country at the time. Partisans of the right and left hated each other, to the extent that political murders were frequent. The right also hated the Jews. There were serious attempts to accomplish coups, and to quell them the government had to call in the army, with orders to shoot. The political spectrum was splintered into many parties and, because of proportional representation, it was difficult to adopt resolute policies. For example, the passage of a major law might be delayed for weeks because the critical votes of a minor party would not support the government unless, say, the miners in Silesia were given a five pfennig per hour wage increase. Policies to control inflation could not be enacted while inflation was still manageable. The result was the runaway inflation of 1923, when banknotes became so worthless that it might cost a billion(!) marks (rather than twenty pfennig) to send a first-class letter. When conditions finally became desperate, resolute action at last became possible. The old currency was replaced by a new currency whose value remained stable at four marks to the US dollar.
For retail business, the inflation was a disaster. It was difficult to conduct business when the value of the currency changed daily. But more important, after the currency was stabilized, the middle class found itself impoverished and the purchasing power of the German nation had suffered seriously.
These political and economic problems of course affected Uncle Hermann's business adversely. Orders dropped off and deficits grew. The business hung on for a few more years, but by 1930 could do so no longer. An agreement was negotiated with the creditors, and the company was downsized and reorganized drastically. My father left on August 1, 1930, and started his own business, a small shirt factory.
3. The Independent Businessman
When my father opened his shirt factory in the summer of 1930, Germany was in the midst of a frightening depression, and some of his friends must have thought he was crazy. But there were several factors that made this course an acceptable gamble. First, my grandparents Löwenstein were willing to supply the capital for starting a small factory, partly because my mother championed the idea and was herself going to work in the factory as a bookkeeper, and partly because grandfather respected my father's talent and integrity.
Second, my father had been active in German Jewish circles and politically as a Democrat. He was a member of the Brotherhood of German Jewish Soldiers and had won recognition for starting up a chapter in Westphalia. He was a director of the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold, a citizen group that supported the democratic Weimar Republic. (The Weimar flag was black, red, and gold.) He founded an athletic club with gym for Wuppertal's Jewish congregation. And he was a member and officer of the B'nai B'rith Lodge, the Jewish cultural and charitable organization. As an invited speaker he delivered thoughtful lectures, including a series on oriental religions. Thus he was well known and respected, and there was little doubt that buyers in retail stores would give him a chance to show his merchandise.
Finally, in the liquidation of Uncle Hermann's business, the sewing machines and other manufacturing equipment could be bought at a low price and the very competent foreman of the factory became available. By taking advantage of this opportunity, my father soon had a working factory, which quickly achieved a high-quality operation. He was thus able to concentrate on selling.
In spite of these advantages, it was an uphill fight. In 1931 my mother wrote in her diary that business was very difficult, but by September 1932 she wrote that "it looks like we may have overcome the worst." Ironically, this was just before a national election that brought Adolf Hitler with his Nazi dogma to power. Suddenly Jews were undesirable misfits who were unworthy of being German citizens. This was a terrible blow for Jewish families who had been productive German citizens for generations and had fought and died in Germany's wars.
Except for imposing a high tax burden, the Nazi government was initially good for business, even for Jewish businesses. Heavy defense orders stimulated the economy, and unemployment began to disappear. Late in 1933 my mother wrote that "our customers remain loyal, and we get enough orders to stay busy." By 1934 the factory employed ninety people.
At first the Nazis used public boycotts to harass Jewish businesses, but after a while they switched to less obtrusive legal persecution, turning the screws gradually ever tighter. In the face of this discrimination the Jewish community pulled together, and my father formed many friendships with Jewish retailers.
By 1935 the constraints on Jews had become severe enough to induce many of my father's friends to leave Germany. They reasoned that conditions for Jews were not going to get any better and left while the Nazi government was still letting them take a fraction of their money. But emigration is a major step. In case of a family, husband and wife must both want to leave and agree on a country of destination. The separation from relatives and friends would be painful and might be permanent, for while the Nazis remained in power, trips to Germany by emigrants might be risky. In fact, my parents did not agree to leave Germany until late in 1937. In the meantime, those of my father's business friends who had already left Germany provided the security of useful contacts abroad.
Despite the deteriorating conditions for Jews, my father's business continued to prosper. Two of his business friends had settled in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, the South American republic. My father developed a respectable export business with them. The Nazis appreciated this because it gave them much-needed foreign exchange. In return, my father got certain import concessions that enabled him to import high-quality cotton textiles from Holland and Czechoslovakia. Shirts made of such textiles were snapped up by the retail trade, because most shirts available at that time in Germany were made either from cheap imported cotton or from synthetic cellulose fibers such as rayon that could be produced in Germany.
Perhaps more importantly, the import-export business justified business trips abroad. It was illegal for Germans to own foreign bank accounts, but individuals who often traveled abroad managed inconspicuously to deposit small sums which, after many trips, grew into significance. One of my grandmother's nieces lived in Amsterdam, and her husband was director of a well-known bank. He set up a secret bank account for my father's use. When we did eventually leave Germany, this asset was very useful.
In the meantime, the Nazis had tightened the screws. Jews were excluded from many everyday activities. They were excluded from public sports facilities and cultural events. There were laws that forbade the mixing of Jews with German Aryans in the work place. And travel became difficult because many hotels and restaurants would not serve Jews. But this bigotry appeared outside the home. At home we could still live as we wished.
But that was not to last. My father was an officer of the B'nai B'rith Lodge, which had become an important cultural center of Jewish life. In the fall of 1937, the Gestapo—the German secret police—searched the homes of all B'nai B'rith officers, looking for possibly incriminating documents. Six policemen rang our bell at six a.m. Two carted off my father to the police station, and the others made a thorough search of our residence. All of this took place without any kind of writ or prior warning. The officers who searched our home confiscated the manuscripts of my father's lectures on oriental religions, but otherwise found nothing that struck them as worth taking. Myfather was released and returned home late in the afternoon. I imagine that someone at the Gestapo subsequently read the lectures and perhaps even enjoyed them. In any case, we never saw the manuscripts again.
The day on which the Gestapo invaded our home was decisive to our emigration. It is always upsetting when your home is invaded by an uninvited stranger, but usually it is a burglar and one may hope that the police will catch him and that the law will punish him. But when the invader is an agent of the official government, the chagrin assumes an entirely new dimension. If the police can invade your home once, they can do it again, and at any time. After a few days my parents decided on emigration.
It took a little while to sell the shirt factory, but by early 1938 there was a serious buyer. This person—I shall call him von Hagen—was a decent individual who would later help us accomplish our emigration. The negotiations for sale and purchase were conducted in a gentlemanly spirit, and the buyer never resorted to threats or blackmail. Jewish businesses could be bought at bargain prices in those days, and von Hagen was no fool and took advantage of that situation. But when the negotiations were over, my father felt that he had been treated fairly and shook hands with von Hagen to celebrate the deal.
The actual change of ownership took place on April 1, 1938. On March 31 there was a going-away party at which Herr von Hagen was introduced to the employees. It was a sentimental occasion at which tears flowed freely. My father must have been pleased by the ample signs that he was liked.
When my parents agreed that our family should leave Nazi Germany, a tug-of-war developed between them as to the destination. My father, as breadwinner for the family, wanted to follow his exports to Bogotá, Colombia, where (as his business friends advised him) it would be relatively easy to start a successful garment factory. My mother wanted to settle in the United States. She thought of Bogotá and the country of Colombia as a cultural backwater, while in the United States the fine arts and belles lettres were flourishing and the educational institutions included universities of world renown. My father, on the other hand, had seen newsreels of American factories—newsreels that depicted their efficiency and productivity. He was afraid that he might not be able to function at such a hectic pace.
My parents then agreed to take a two-months' trip to Bogotá and see which of these opinions agreed with the facts. The trip settled the issue in an unexpected way. Bogotá is located at 8,600 feet above sea level, and many of its residents find it necessary to spend some time at lower altitudes. On the advice of their business friends, upon returning to Germany my parents consulted a well-known cardiologist for his opinion whether their hearts would be strong enough to tolerate the altitude of Bogotá. My mother passed the examination easily, but my father had a hitherto unsuspected heart problem, and living at a high altitude would be risky. That ruled out emigration to Bogotá, and my parents agreed to settle in the United States. They did not want to live in New York, but rather on the West Coast, where life was reputed to be relatively easy and where the opportunity to assimilate would be greater. Upon the advice of a business friend they decided to settle in Los Angeles, California.
Since immigration to the United States was limited to a quota set by American law, the procedure was to complete an application and provide supporting documents. After the US consul was satisfied, the prospective immigrant was placed on a waiting list and watched for his tum on the quota. Unfortunately, during the two months that my parents had been to Colombia, many German Jews had decided to emigrate to the United States, and the waiting time for a visa had grown from three months to eight months. As it turned out, the delay postponed our emigration to a time when the Nazi oppression of the Jews was becoming deadly, and it nearly wrecked it.
Of course we didn't know that in June 1938, and preparations for emigration proceeded promptly. We invited two women from the United Kingdom, in succession, to stay with us, and we concentrated on learning English. By the fall my vocabulary was good enough to read murder mysteries in their original English text. I became quite a fan of Agatha Christie.
Our household goods were packed under customs supervision for shipment to Los Angeles in August 1938. We took enough furniture for four rooms, as well as dishes, linen, pictures, and light clothing. The entire shipment fitted into two lift vans, roughly ten-by-eight-by-eight-foot wooden crates, equipped with hooks by which they could be hoisted into and out of a ship's hold. After packing, the lift vans were closed under customs seal and shipped to San Pedro (the port of Los Angeles) to await our arrival.
At the time our household was packed, emigrating Jews could take their household goods but were not allowed to take anything of commercial value. Nonetheless, my parents took the risk and smuggled jewelry into the lift vans. The powder my father used on the stump of his amputated leg came in cans that were a smuggler's dream: after some practice, the metal bottoms could be pried off and pressed back on without leaving telltale signs. Included among our household goods were several of these cans, but they now contained not only the powder but also the best pieces of my mother's jewelry. My mother sold the jewelry in 1941, when we needed money to pay for grandmother's and her nurse's transatlantic fare. When the two ladies arrived in good health at the Los Angeles railroad station in the fall of 1941, my parents knew that the risk they had taken had been worthwhile.
After our household was gone, we moved in with Uncle Hermann and Aunt Irma. They had a spacious house, and even though part of it was rented out, there was enough room for us to fit easily. Our invitation to stay was indefinite, until the time of our departure from Germany. Altogether we stayed for six months. I stayed in the former maid's room next to the kitchen.
In the fall of 1938 Jews were still allowed to use German currency for one-way tickets to their final destination, and for the shipment of their household. All other property was confiscated by the Nazi government. Thus, no matter how poor we might be in the new country, we might as well travel there in luxury. My parents therefore bought steamship tickets on a Cunard liner. Since our visa appointment with the US consul was tentatively scheduled for early in February, the tickets were for a liner departing from Hamburg on February 18, 1939. (I give the precise date because it will matter.) In New York we would then transfer to a cruise ship to continue the voyage to Los Angeles through the Panama Canal. Direct travel by transcontinental railway would of course have been faster, but we could not pay for it in German currency.
By the time we moved in with Uncle Hermann and Aunt Irma, the dispute over the Bohemia region of Czechoslovakia threatened war, and we spent an anxious month of September wondering how it would affect our plans for emigration. The Munich Accord gave us a few weeks of relative quiet. But on November 8, an embittered Jew shot and killed a German diplomat in Paris, and the Nazis made this the occasion for grim action against the German Jewish community. On the night of November 9, Nazi vandals and storm troopers destroyed Jewish synagogues, stores, and many private homes. So much glass was broken and windows shattered that the night has gone into history as Kristallnacht. On the following morning, the Gestapo arrested virtually all Jewish males between the ages of sixteen and sixty (I was fifteen at the time) and shipped them to concentration camps, while the German Reichstag passed a punitive tax.
My father was arrested along with the others and taken to Gestapo headquarters. Then fate would have it that the officer who interviewed him was himself a veteran and noticed that my father had lost a leg fighting for Germany in the First World War. His conscience wouldn't let him send my father to a concentration camp, so he sent him home.
At about the same time my mother received a frantic telephone call from her parents: "Our house is destroyed. Come get us." So upon returning home, my father jumped in the car and drove to Lübbecke. At that time my grandparents lived in a rented apartment, having sold their store in the preceding year. The damage to their vandalized household was serious, but enough remained usable to serve as a nucleus for a new household. My father established contact with a local moving agent and then took my grandparents and their live-in registered nurse back to Wuppertal to my aunt and uncle's house. The latter had not been vandalized, possibly because part of it was rented out to Aryans.
By a happy coincidence, there was a small apartment that could be rented to Jews just around the corner from my aunt and uncle's house. We rented it at once, and my grandparents moved in within a few days. Grandfather never recovered from the trauma of being exiled from a town where he had been a respected citizen all his life. He died within a year. My grandmother regained her equanimity, and she and the nurse joined us in Los Angeles in 1941.
After the grandparents were resettled, there began an episode in which my father showed exceptional courage. The arrests after Kristallnacht had been thorough, and my father was one of the few Jewish males in the prime of life who was still at liberty. Moreover, he was a prominent member of the Jewish community and a war veteran, so he felt a compulsion to negotiate with the Gestapo to bring about the release of the arrested men from concentration camps. Fortunately, the officer he had to deal with was the same individual who had sent him home after Kristallnacht.
Release from concentration camp could be authorized if the family was making an energetic effort to leave Germany, and if this effort was likely to bear fruit. With the wisdom of hindsight, I think that the Nazi government was still trying to solve the "Jewish question" by emigration, and Hitler's "ultimate solution" of Holocaust did not become the official policy until somewhat later.
My father would meet the wife or family of an arrested man and, if asked, help with the preparation of a petition for release from concentration camp. He then took the petition to the Gestapo and answered questions that might arise. The Gestapo official was helpful—one might say he collaborated with my father. He cut red tape and even took helpful steps for which, strictly speaking, he had no authority. My father had the pleasure to see many of the people he had helped regain their freedom. In 1945, when the US occupation government asked my father to submit a short list of "good guys," he included this Gestapo officer, but it was too late. The officer had been transferred to the Russian front, and had died in the fighting.
While my father took the almost daily risk of visiting Gestapo quarters, my mother, too, was unusually brave. She quietly hid her anxiety and sustained our morale, even though she must have died a little with each visit. In my father's view, however, the bravest in the story was the Gestapo officer who went out on a limb to expedite the release of the Jewish men.
In the meantime, our date for departure from Germany was drawing close. On January 26, 1939, we picked up our German passports. These were special passports stamped with the letter "J" for jüdisch or "Jewish" and were good for one year. Our appointment for an immigration visa at the American consulate in Stuttgart, Germany, was for February 8.
There now intervened an episode that could have been fatal to our emigration: the longtime foreman of the shirt factory tried blackmail. Given the political atmosphere in Germany, his request for money was practically a command. There were few things about the factory that he did not know, and if he went to the Nazis with accusations he was certain to be listened to. My father must have done some quick thinking. He explained that he was not allowed to take money out of Germany and agreed to pay. But that would have to wait until just before the sailing date, which was on February 18. If the foreman could wait until February 16 or 17, the transaction would be relatively easy. The foreman agreed to wait.
Still, my father felt uneasy about the situation and resolved to devise a margin of safety. His strategy was bold. He made an appointment with Herr von Hagen, who had been decent when he bought the shirt factory, and told him about the blackmail. The ensuing discussion must have been memorable, and I wish I had a transcript. One result was that Herr von Hagen bought tickets, for our family of four, on a US liner leaving Hamburg on February 14, just before the date on which the blackmail money was to be paid. Another result was that after the war, when the Adenauer government decreed that Jews who had sold their business under Nazi duress might renegotiate the selling price, my father never filed a claim against von Hagen. The original tickets on the Cunard liner leaving on February 18 were left intact, just in case the foreman decided to check.
After these arrangements had been completed, my family left Wuppertal as quietly as possible, telling no one where we were going. In fact, there was a small hotel in the Black Forest, only a short trip by rail from the American consulate in Stuttgart, that was still offering room and board to Jews. During our stay there we kept a very low profile. On the appointed day of February 8 we traveled to Stuttgart for our US visas, then returned. We stayed until February 13 and caught the last train to Hamburg that would let us board the US liner departing on February 14, for which we had the new tickets. We never heard from the blackmailer again.
One may think that our emigration from Germany had enough crises, but the climactic crisis occurred at the US consulate in Stuttgart. When we presented ourselves there, we first had a routine visa interview. Then the consul asked the wife and children to wait in the waiting room while the consular staff questioned my father further. As it turned out, the vice-consul who had handled our paperwork had been caught accepting bribes from prospective immigrants, and the consul wanted to make sure that we were not guilty of bribery. Evidently my father's testimony was not incriminating, because the consul did not send us home. Instead, he asked my father to wait with the rest of us while the consular staff would scrutinize our file.
My sister has confessed to me that the five hours we spent waiting for a decision were probably the most anxious hours in her life. The remark has the ring of truth. We had given up our apartment, shipped off our furniture, and spent down our money. Being denied a visa at this late stage in the emigration would have been disastrous. In the middle of the afternoon we were called back into the interview room and told the decision. The consul had the grace to apologize for keeping us waiting. Then he said: "Your file is in order. You will get your visas." Words do not exist to describe our relief.
The prolonged strain that my parents suffered during our emigration left their mark. When we finally boarded the US liner that would take us to New York, and thus were safely on US soil, my father confessed that he had a nervous rash all over his torso. Fortunately, it cleared up quickly. On the other hand, my mother acquired a nervous stomach that would be with her for the rest of her life. At times it was so bad that she would be incapacitated for days.
5. We Are Not Waiting For You
For my father to start a successful career in the United States at the age of forty was every bit as difficult as he had visualized. After a few unsuccessful months of looking for a job he said, only half-jokingly, that the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island should carry a sign: "WE ARE NOT WAITING FOR YOU." Actually, this remark is not quite fair. With rare exceptions, my parents were received with great hospitality and as social equals. But the country was still in an economic depression, and no one was willing to offer a job to an one-legged stranger who did not have a proven history in the United States.
One of the hospitable individuals in New York was the president of the B'nai B'rith Lodge in the United States, whom I shall call Dr. Ross. Before our departure from Germany my father had asked Dr. Ross's counterpart in Germany to write a letter of introduction. When my father phoned in New York, Dr. Ross not only knew about us, but he and his wife were so interested in the condition of Jews in Germany that they invited our entire family to their home and gave us an elegant lunch. We gave them a current eyewitness account. The threats facing the German Jews at that time were formidable and were becoming steadily more dangerous. Before we left, Dr. Ross offered to write to two of his colleagues in Los Angeles who were close to my parents in age. One of them - I shall call him Dr. Lowell - was the president of the Los Angeles chapter of B'nai B'rith. The other, Dr. Irving Frisch, had retired from medical practice at a young age because of heart disease. Dr. and Mrs. Frisch became my parents' best friends. They were superbly helpful when my father started a shirt factory.
The contact with members of B'nai B'rith was helpful as well. As a result, my father gained many introductions to garment factories in the Los Angeles area. People answered his questions clearly and honestly. It was an indispensable learning experience, but none of his hosts offered what my father really needed, namely a job.
My father soon realized that he was not going to get a job at the managerial level and was willing to settle for less, but he would not accept just any job. One day, after several months of looking, a kind and helpful acquaintance offered him a job as night watchman at eighteen dollars per week. Being a night watchman would have been quite a comedown for the former owner of a shirt factory, but my father considered the offer seriously before he declined. It seemed obvious that if he were a night watchman, he would have to spend daytime hours catching up on sleep, and there would be little chance to assimilate in the new country, nor time in which to look for a more appropriate job.
The experience triggered my father's decision to start his own shirt factory. There were no other job offers in sight, and my mother encouraged this decision by offering to help with work in the factory.
Now, of course, my father did not have the advantages that he had when he started the shirt factory in Germany, but success was not impossible. He had a good knowledge of the potential competition and thought he could meet it. The rental of a suitable factory space would be no problem: in 1939, there was an abundance of vacancies. Last but not least, the guts of a shirt factory—the sewing machines, cutting tables, ironing tables, and related appliances—did not have to be bought but could be rented. It seems obvious that all this manufacturing equipment was on the rental market because other garment factories had failed, but my father refused to be discouraged. Once he had decided to start on his own, he was no longer swayed by the misfortunes of others. He rented a small factory space in the Garment District of Los Angeles and opened up for business in the fall of 1939.
6. The Lean Years
I call this section "The Lean Years," because my father soon found out that it is easier to start a shirt factory than to earn a living from it. As soon as the factory was open, operators dropped in and inquired about work. Among those applying for a job was a lady, a German refugee, who had taken a course in garment cutting and had some practical experience. My father hired her as forelady, and the two began making patterns for dress shirts.
It was at this time that the advice given by Dr. Irving Frisch and his wife Florence at the weekly bridge evenings with my parents was especially helpful. There are scores of details in business that an immigrant has to learn. For instance, official permits, accounting requirements, laws concerning labor relations, and how to approach the bank for a line of credit. Above all, it helps just to have a sympathetic listener. It clarifies issues wonderfully.
Among the many suggestions thus made that my father adopted was a brand name for the products of the new factory. Irving Frisch suggested "Spire Shirts," and the name caught on. Henceforth the letterheads of the new company would bear the legend FRED GRUNWALD ··· Spire Shirts.
At first the selling was easy because the output of the factory was small, only about twenty dozen shirts per week. A retailer's minimum order for dress shirts is about four dozen, to include a range of colors, neck sizes, and sleeve lengths in a given style. On this basis, it took only a few orders per week to keep the factory busy. There were many Los Angeles store owners and shirt buyers who would place a small order to give a struggling refugee a chance. Some of them no doubt hoped that the new supplier would become a regular resource. Others were making an anti-Nazi political statement. In either case, it was important that the delivered merchandise show good workmanship.
My father and the forelady worked hard to produce high-quality shirts. In a new factory some glitches were unavoidable, but they could be fixed. A much greater problem was to increase the size of the business, because a production of twenty dozen shirts per week at competitive prices does not generate enough profit to support a family. A production of a hundred dozen is a minimum. The production did increase, but slowly. Meanwhile, the firm's meager capital was running down.
By September 1940 there was a real danger that the enterprise might fail. My father later admitted that once, during the summer of 1940, he nearly gave up. He was walking down Broadway in the summer heat, the stump of his amputated leg was hurting, he had just been condescended to by a shirt buyer, and his money was running out. He couldn't help it: he had a good cry. He must have been nearly desperate, because he usually kept his cool. After all, he did not panic when, in 1939, the US consul on whom he depended for an immigration visa challenged his probity.
Soon after, he solved the problem by taking in a business partner. Ludwig Marx was also an immigrant. But he had left Nazi Germany in 1935, when Jews could still take a fraction of their money with them. He had been a successful textile converter (dyeing, preshrinking, and chemical treatment of fabrics), and my father and Ludwig knew and liked each other. He had settled in San Francisco, but had not yet found a suitable activity there. By the fall of 1940 he was ready to take a chance.
The partnership agreement was concluded rapidly. My father made one trip to San Francisco, and Ludwig made one trip to Los Angeles. Ludwig and his family moved to Los Angeles late in 1940. The name of the company changed to GRUNWALD-MARX ··· Spire Shirts.
The arrival of Ludwig Marx was a turning point in the fortunes of the company. The unsettling financial pressure was off. Modern, more efficient machinery could be bought. In view of the capital contributed by Ludwig, the bank was willing to increase the line of credit. And with two partners, there were now two bodies and two brains to do the work.
Shortly after Ludwig's arrival there were two unexpected visits to the factory that would make a profound impact: one by David Weir, and the other by Ben Lewis.
David Weir had just moved from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles, because he and his wife both thought that the warm and, at that time, smog-free climate of Southern California would benefit their health. Weir was a seasoned cutter who had worked for the Eagle Shirt Company, a quality operation located in Philadelphia, and had a thorough knowledge of all aspects of shirt manufacturing. With Mr. Marx's approval, my father hired him on the spot. When the original forelady realized that she was going to be in second place, she resigned in good grace and accepted a job elsewhere.
As cutter and foreman, Weir was the factory's Mr. Quality. At first he concentrated on perfecting the cutting patterns for the shirts, which up to then had been somewhat amateurish. It took a while, but when he was finished the shirts would fit well, and for patterned shirting the patterns to the left and right of the buttoned front would align. At the same time, the volume of production increased, and the shirts that were shipped to customers conformed reliably to high standards.
Ben Lewis (I am using a fictitious name) was the owner of the Towne Lounge, a men's clothing store located near the CBS studios at the corner of Hollywood and Vine. His customers consisted mostly of well-paid CBS employees. They did not fret too much about price but looked for well-made, well-fitting garments in distinctive styles. Lewis had a flair for style and understood the tastes of these clients.
Lewis was looking for a quality manufacturer who would make men's shirts from cloth that he supplied, and according to his designs. If Grunwald-Marx wasinterested in working with him, he would guarantee to place shirt orders of at least twenty dozen per week. My father and Mr. Lewis discussed in detail the kind of relationship that would develop (I was working in the factory on that day), and then shook hands on the bargain. This was the factory's first major order but, more importantly, Mr. Lewis opened my father's eyes to the business opportunities that existed for the manufacturer who dared produce shirts whose styling deviated from that of ordinary staples. I shall write more about this in the next section.
7. It Is The Collar That Makes The Shirt
For eight years after the arrival of Ludwig Marx and David Weir, my father clearly enjoyed the shirt business and devoted most of his energy to it. The business arrangement that he had made with the Towne Lounge store got off to a good start. The textiles supplied by Mr. Lewis were of high quality and caused no unusual problems in manufacturing. They were outstanding for their elegant colors and patterns.
When a man's shirt is worn under a suit coat, only a small part of it is visible, and that part is dominated by the shirt's collar. Mr. Lewis therefore was fussy about collars. On some shirts he wanted collars with a wide spread, on others a narrow spread. Some collar points he wanted long, others he wanted short. His ideal collar was the roll collar—one that lies flat on the chest like a button-down but avoids the nuisance of dealing with clumsy buttons.
Producing a roll collar is really a problem in physics. Two layers of cloth, with a lining sandwiched between, must be cut and sewn together so as to produce an inward pull at the edges. My father and David Weir spent much time trying to make this work, but the rolls of their collars did not survive commercial laundering.
Besides the inherent interest in styling, the advantage of making stylish garments is that one can charge a higher mark-up. The risk is that the style may not catch on, and then one is left with unsold shirt fabrics. To my father the risk was tolerable because, as he said: "A good cook knows how to use his leftovers."
The relationship with Mr. Lewis prospered for two years. Unfortunately, Lewis had a flair not only for styling but also for overspending his income. One day he phoned and said: "Fred, we are declaring bankruptcy tomorrow. Please come today and we shall let you take back all the shirts you made for us that are still in stock." My father sent me to the Towne Lounge at once to pick up the merchandise that Lewis was willing to return. After the smoke had cleared, it turned out that Grunwald-Marx had not lost a penny.
Bankruptcies were not unusual among the small, privately owned retail stores in the Los Angeles area, but luckily my father's losses due to bankruptcies were small. As a struggling new manufacturer he could not be fussy about his customers' credit ratings. He would scan a store and if it looked neat and well managed, he would accept orders. He would not discriminate against small stores by sending them sloppy merchandise: everything had to be of good quality. In this way he helped the financially weak customers to survive and created goodwill, which paid off if there should be a bankruptcy. He also monitored the accounts receivable and approached delinquent customers with firmness and good humor.
The first case in which my father created a major style involved leftovers. In 1943 he had cloth with a fancy pattern that for some reason would not sell. So he introduced a styling idea that would make it salable. In those days, formally dressed men still wore their shirts with stiffly starched detachable white collars. My father modified this fashion by sewing the white collar directly onto the body of the shirt. The result was a shirt with a comfortably soft collar that nonetheless was suitable for formal occasions. He applied this style to the cloth with the fancy pattern, and orders came in. The style caught on (it is still popular today with TV personalities), and soon fancy shirts with soft white collars became part of the regular line of the Grunwald-Marx company. It was at this time that the company adopted the slogan "It is the collar that makes the shirt."
Another case in which my father created a major style from leftovers was the two-tone sport shirt. One of his customers in the Watts section of Los Angeles had clients who liked jazzy clothes. In 1945 this customer ordered rayon shirts in which blue, green, or purple stripes were superimposed on a light-yellow background. However, before the shirts could be put into production, the customer phoned and said: "Sorry, I must cancel my order. I am going bankrupt." The cloth represented a significant investment, and my father realized that it was probably too bright for general acceptance. So he looked for a way to use the cloth, but tone it down. He ordered light-yellow rayon of the same color as the background in the striped cloth, and made shirts with a striped front and plain sleeves and back. These shirts were delivered on hangers so that the construction could be seen, and were delivered to three selected customers. The following day, which happened to be a Saturday, one of the customers phoned our home and said: "Fred, those shirts are terrific." He had sold practically his entire consignment in less than two business days. When it became clear that the other customers had done equally well, my father knew that he had a hot new style and began deliberately designing elegant two-tone shirts. One of the best-sellers had a plaid gabardine front with matching plain gabardine back and sleeves. For an entire season he had this market all to himself, because it took that long for the competition to stop laughing and realize that this was a popular item.
My theory to explain the success of this style is that 1945 marked the return to the United States of many war veterans. Many of them were tired of olive-drab and looked for ways to display their individuality. The two-tone shirt met that need. It also established the reputation of the Grunwald-Marx company as a style leader for sports shirts.
8. The Golden Years
The stylish shirts featured by the Grunwald-Marx Company contributed greatly to its success. The factory moved into larger quarters early in 1943, and again in 1944. Textile mills now greeted my father with open arms and were willing to reserve shirt cloth for him, so that the company's product line was unique. Rayon was still a major material for garments in those days, because it drapes well and can be made in many colors and patterns. The Grunwald-Marx Company bought its rayon fabrics mostly from Folker Fabrics, a leading rayon house whose senior member, Ed Folker, was willing not only to reserve cloth from their line, but also to supply special cloth according to my father's designs. Equally important, Folker Fabrics offered liberal credit terms.
A business without much capital needs a strong line of bank credit. My father actually went shopping for a bank whose credit terms were best. A business without much capital also needs an intelligent bookkeeper/accountant who recognizes portents of financial trouble and warns the management in time. The Grunwald-Marx company was lucky to have such a person during its period of rapid growth. Walter Kirby (not his real name), an immigrant from Germany, was a PhD candidate in history at the University of California, Los Angeles, who needed a part-time job to support himself. The company hired him two days per week. In that limited time he not only kept a meticulous record of the accounts receivable and payable, but also kept track of the company's "cash flow"—before accountants even used that term. He had a flair for numbers and understood the meaning of a set of numbers as well as most of us understand a string of words. Two years later, when he completed his PhD work and accepted a faculty job at a distinguished university, his replacement, a seasoned professional, barely managed to do the same job in five days per week.
Accountants are jokingly called "bean counters" because they worry about nickels and dimes, but they perform an essential service. In the highly competitive garment industry the net profit is only a few percent of sales—3 percent may be typical—and if one does not watch the nickels and dimes, one may soon find oneself in financial trouble. An occasional lapse does no harm, but habitual carelessness does, and a major loss could wipe out an entire year's profit. My father understood this well and would fight when he saw the prospect of a major loss.
Because labor costs are high in California, lower-priced garments produced by cheaper labor were a serious competition. Before the Second World War, that competition came mostly from factories in the northeastern United States. After the war these factories moved to the southern United States, or to a low-wage Caribbean or Asian country. After 1950 such competition was especially potent from Taiwan. My father knew that he could not meet this competition on the basis of price, so he emphasized style and workmanship. Fortunately, there are always individuals who do not shop for the lowest price but will pay a premium for attractive, well-made garments.
Most of the goods made in Caribbean or Asian countries, or even in the southern United States, are made by contractors. The nominal manufacturer makes up the specifications and then commissions a contractor to manufacture the garments. The lower cost permits a lower price, but also results in at least partial loss of control. My father never dealt with contractors. Everything he sold was made in his own factory, where he had direct control over product quality.
Styling remained a major preoccupation. The excitement generated by the two-tone sport shirt was probably unique. But other, less spectacular styles could also be distinctive. Among the possible modes of styling were variations in color and pattern, variations in collar and pockets, and variations in shirt construction and ornamentation.
According to tradition, the pieces from which the shirt is made—the fronts, back, and sleeves—are sewn together with strong but conspicuous double seams, made efficiently by a double-needle sewing machine. On the other hand, the seams on expensive, custom-tailored shirts are made inconspicuously by single-needle construction. My father bought a special attachment, used by the ladies' garment industry, which made it possible to produce inconspicuous but strong seams on a single-needle machine at about the same cost as those made on double-needle machines. In this way, the Grunwald-Marx company was able to offer shirts with single- or double-needle construction at nearly the same price. The shirts with single-needle construction became big sellers.
During this period, my father often looked at engravings dating back to the Middle Ages, in order to study the clothes people wore in the past, and perhaps get styling ideas. One result was ornamental stitching. The factory rented a specialized machine to sew wide stitching that looked as if done by hand on appropriate parts of shirts, such as the pockets, cuffs, or fronts. Especially on cotton gabardine such stitching produced an attractive high-priced look at low cost.
Hand in hand with the expansion of production went the creation of a national sales force. Perhaps "force" is too strong a word, because the number of salesmen could be counted on the fingers of one's hands. There was one salesman for the West Coast (outside of Los Angeles), one for Texas, one for the Midwest, and one for the East. My father was careful to avoid the hearty, empty-minded Willy Loman types. His selling motto was: "Know your merchandise, and know your customer." When a salesman calls on a store, his opening remark is likely to be: "I have a hot number that I think will interest you," and such a remark can be on the mark only if the salesman has figured out the tastes of the store's typical customers. The shirt that one might show to a store like Sears, which caters to the middle class, is not the same as that which one might show to a store like Neiman Marcus, which caters to millionaires. I remember my father scrutinizing stores to estimate the nature of their clientele before even trying to sell a single shirt.
David Weir, the company's "Mr. Quality," died from cancer in 1948, but his successors were committed to the same ideals and carried on the tradition. Especially worth mentioning is Homer Purdy, who became foreman in the early 1950s and stayed with the company until well after my father's death.
Ludwig Marx, the business partner, retired in the late 1940s. He sold his interest in the company to my father because no one in his immediate family was interested in taking his place.
About the time of Marx's retirement (but not because of it), my brother-in-law, Stanley Talpis, accepted a managerial post with the company. Talpis was the right man in the right job. He approached employees, customers, and suppliers with good-natured humor. His eyes shone with pleasure when he made a witty remark, and it was hard to deny the wishes of such a sympathetic person. Coupled to the humor was a keen mind for business. Late in my father's life, as my father's ailments curtailed his energy for business, Stanley carried the extra load as a matter of course. After my father's death he succeeded as chief and ushered in a new golden age for the company.
Because of my father's success as a creator of men's fashions, he became a celebrity of sorts and garnered some honors. For example, shortly after the introduction of the DC6 airplane into commercial use by American Airlines, he became an Admiral of American Airlines. The occasion was the shipment of dress shirts with wide-spread collars to Marshall Field's in Chicago. These collars were advertised under the slogan: "DC6, the collar with the wide-spread wings." At the time, American Airlines' investment in DC6 airplanes was still a gamble. They appreciated the publicity and gave my father a lifetime membership in the Admiral's Club.
9. Disputes With The Labor Union
We have seen that my father had overcome unfavorable odds due to economic depressions, both in Germany and in the United States, and had succeeded in establishing a viable shirt factory in each of the two countries. A man who can do that must have nerves of steel. The same steely quality became evident in litigation with the International Garment Workers Union (IGW union, or simply, union).
It is ironic that my father should be at odds with a labor union. In Germany he had been a Weimar Democrat, and in the United States he was a Roosevelt Democrat. In principle, he approved of labor unions. But he would fight when he saw a breach of contract.
Organizers of the IGW union showed up on the factory's doorstep in the mid-1940s. At that time my father remained neutral. An election was held by the National Labor Relations Board and the union won.
After some negotiation, my father and the union signed a contract, which soon became the standard contract that was signed by all garment factories in Southern California. Imagine my father's surprise when a Los Angeles department store advertised a Southern California sport shirt at a price that was clearly too low for the contractual wage scale to apply. A few simple inquiries located the manufacturer in a small town east of Los Angeles, and established that the factory was unionized by the IGW union and subject to the contractual wage scale. Further inquiries showed that the actual wage scale was considerably lower. In other words, the manufacturer was violating his union contract, and the IGW union was not preventing it. The manufacturer must be blamed for the initial breach of contract, but the IGW union must be blamed for not stopping it.
In 1947, when this breach of contract occurred, Congress had just passed the Taft-Hartley Act, to take the place of the earlier Wagner Labor Relations Act. According to the Wagner Act, manufacturers had to comply with union contracts, but labor unions were free from that constraint. The Taft-Hartley Act changed that. It extended the constraint equally to manufacturers and labor unions. My father worried that the breach of contract he had discovered might set a precedent and proceeded to sue the IGW union.
Under the Wagner Act, when a union sued a manufacturer, it used the term "unfair labor practice" as a belligerent synonym for breach of contract. My father decided to use the same term, and thus sued the union for unfair labor practice. This oxymoron may have tickled his sense of humor, but it was not a smart thing to do. It gave offense to powerful officers of the IGW union and may have triggered the lengthy litigation that ensued.
My father clearly won the suit. The union was ordered to pay court costs, attorney's fees, and a sum for damages. The original breach of contract came to an end. At that time my father's business was expanding, and the factory needed more space. My father took out a loan and tripled the amount of factory space by contracting for a new building in Phoenix, Arizona. No sooner had he begun operations there when the IGW union slapped him with a suit, alleging that he had made the move to escape a union contract. My father defended against that allegation by showing that the factory needed additional space and that there were many precedents for factories to add the needed space in parts of the country where the wage scales were lower. And that in any case he was not escaping, because the company’s offices, facilities for styling, and parts of the factory had stayed in the existing facilities in California. The union lost the suit.
Shortly after the new space in Phoenix was in production, the IGW union tried to organize it. This time my father did not remain neutral. He and my brother-in-law made speeches on the theme that operators in the factory would have nothing to gain by unionization. Their arguments must have been convincing, because when the National Labor Relations Board held an election, the union lost.
By that time the relationship between the Grunwald-Marx Company and the IGW union had become tense. Threats were in the air, and it seemed possible that the agents of the union might vent their anger by taking physical action. A few weeks after the union’s election defeat, when the door of the factory was opened in the morning, the manufacturing space reeked of formaldehyde fumes. My father closed the factory at once and sent all operators to the hospital for examination at his expense. Most of the operators were released immediately. The few that stayed for further observation were released the following morning. My father also hired a ventilation expert to have the fumes exhausted. After a few days the factory was free of formaldehyde and reopened for business.
What had happened? The formaldehyde was introduced into the building through ventilation ducts on the roof. On the evening before the fumes were discovered, neighbors had seen three men on the roof, but did not know what these men were up to. It was too dark to give a description of the men, let alone an identification.
In our legal system a person is innocent until proven guilty, and in this sense the IGW union is innocent of causing the incident. It is clear, however, that the brains behind the vandalism belonged to individuals with an intimate knowledge both of the garment industry and of the layout of the factory. The choice of formaldehyde was revealing, because formaldehyde had only recently been introduced to make crease-resistant cotton fabrics. The knowledge of the ventilation ducts among the ducts on the roof was revealing. And it seemed unlikely that the vandalism of the Grunwald-Marx building, of all the buildings in the neighborhood, was a random chance.
There is a saying: "Don't kick a dog when he is down." Yet when the factory was down with formaldehyde fumes, the union slapped a suit on the Grunwald-Marx Company, alleging impropriety in a speech to the operators made by a foreman just before the union election. The union wanted the company to post a public retraction and offer a public apology. The suit went all the way up to the Arizona Supreme Court, where it was dismissed on the principle of de minimis non curat lex—the law does not concern itself with trifles. After that embarrassing defeat, the union quit litigation.
Even though my father won every lawsuit, his victory was Pyrrhic. By the time the contest was over, he had suffered a major heart attack and was no longer the bundle of energy that he used to be. The various altercations with the union sapped his energy further and were nasty. The only memory that gave him satisfaction was that of the initial suit: how he had sued a union for unfair labor practices and won.
10. Fred Grunwald Collection: The Formative Phase
In 1949 two events occurred that led to a renewal of his interest: first, my mother was killed in an automobile accident. For decades she had been the anchor of his life, and without her he felt adrift. He needed an involvement that would ease his loneliness.
Second, the Adenauer government in West Germany began a program of restitution for losses caused by Nazi persecution. In this program, first priority was given to disabled veterans, and soon my father received a substantial settlement. There was a constraint, however: the money had to be spent in West Germany. My father made a trip to West Germany and visited his old haunts, but the expenses did not even begin to use up the restitution money. How was he to spend the rest? Remembering the pleasure he had always derived from graphic art, he decided to invest in works by twentieth-century German and central European Expressionists, because their portrayal of central European life had struck him as right and true. While still in Germany he called on a former university professor who now was an agent for fine art and knew many collectors. He commissioned him to buy original graphic art, with emphasis on German Expressionism. The arrangement succeeded—I think beyond my father's wildest hopes—and illustrates the adage that opportunity favors the prepared mind.
In 1949, Germany was still rebuilding itself after the Second World War, and there were impoverished collectors who needed cash. There were no restrictions on the export of art from Germany, unlike those of currency, and the United States did not impose customs duties.
Perhaps I should explain what is meant by original graphic art. After an artist has etched his design on copper, or drawn it with a grease pencil on a lithographic stone, or has chiseled it in wood, he inks, prints, and edits the design until he is satisfied with the result. He then produces a definitive set of prints, each of which he signs. These signed prints are the originals; subsequent printings usually lack the artist's personal signature or supervision. The original prints are numbered. For example, a mark of "8/50" denotes the eighth print in a set of fifty originals. Typical sets consist of twenty to two hundred originals. That would hardly qualify as mass production, but it allows original graphic art to be distinctly cheaper than paintings, watercolors, or other one-of-a-kind works. In my father's mind that was an important distinction. He described original graphic art as fine art whose ownership is within reach of ordinary citizens.
A few weeks after returning to Los Angeles, my father received the first shipment from the German professor/ agent. It was sensational. It consisted entirely of graphic art by well-known artists, including works by the pioneers in Central European Expressionism. There were works by the founding members of the schools known as the Brücke and the Blaue Reiter and their distinguished disciples. The majority of these masters are famous enough to be listed in the one-volume Columbia Encyclopedia. Let me give a list:
Ernst Barlach (4)
Paul Klee (5)
Willi Baumeister (2)
Otto Kokoschka (16)
Max Beckmann (11)
Käthe Kollwitz (24)
Otto Dix (5)
Max Liebermann (5)
Max Ernst (1)
Franz Marc (9)
George Grosz (4)
Edvard Munch (7)
Erich Heckel (11)
Emil Nolde (11)
Carl Hofer (3)
Max Pechstein (8)
Wassily Kandinsky (13)
Hans Thoma (3)
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (17)
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (11)
The number in parentheses after each name denotes the number of prints that were left in my father's estate at the time of his death, after eight years of regular giving to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Most of these numbers are large enough to permit a study of the artist's growth. Moreover, the value of the collection is enhanced because prints by German Expressionists are relatively rare, the Nazis having destroyed everything they could lay their hands on.
It took only one shipment of this quality to rekindle and extend my father's enthusiasm for graphic art. When the restitution money was spent, he financed further acquisitions from his private funds. Shortly before his remarriage in 1952, he took his bride on a sightseeing trip to Europe and, while in Paris, established contact with a leading agent. He commissioned the agent to send "on approval" shipments of graphic art by artists whom he designated, and he kept only those that appealed to his artistic sense and taste. He corresponded with this agent on a regular basis for the rest of his life. The prints that interested him were mostly by French and Italian masters, beginning with the nineteenth-century impressionists but also of more recent schools. Although the agent played an indispensable part, the initial suggestions and final choices were my father's. He built the collection uniquely on his own.
The connection with the Paris agent broadened the scope and changed the timbre of my father's collection. Works by the German Expressionists, such as Max Beckmann or Emil Nolde, tend to be sad or grim or turbulent, and are hard to live with on a regular basis. Some years ago, my wife and I hung up in our living room a lithograph by Käthe Kollwitz, entitled Sorrowing Woman [Sievers 147]. We left it there for a few months but then took it down, because a sane person will not depress himself every day by looking at such a strong portrayal of grief and hunger. Perhaps that is why the German Expressionist masters are relatively unknown in the United States. Museums tend to place their works in storage and bring them out only for special exhibitions.
By contrast, works by the French masters, such as Henri Matisse or Raoul Dufy, tend to be affirmative or peaceful, even when portraying a sad event, and are easy to live with. In the United States, museums tend to display them in permanent exhibits, and the names of the artists have practically become household words. I shall list a few of the artists whose prints were represented in my father's estate at the time of his death. The numbers in parentheses indicate the extent of his holdings.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (51)
Pablo Picasso (50)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (33)
Jacques Villon (26)
Marc Chagall (23)
Georges Rouault (13)
Henri Matisse (11)
Raoul Dufy (8)
Paul Cézanne (5)
Georges Braque (5)
Louis Favre (5)
Pierre Bonnard (4)
Paul Gauguin (4)
Honoré Daumier (1,800, unsigned)
The Italian collection was more modest but included some of the top graphic artists of his day. My own two favorites are a lithograph by Marino Marini showing a jockey standing between two horses, and a color lithograph by Giuseppe Capogrossi showing, in gorgeous color, an abstract design based on the footprints of birds in sand.
My father also bought prints by younger, less established artists if their work appealed to him. One of these was the Italian-born Mario Avati, who created wonders in black-and-white etching by the neat control of shades of black. Another was the Uruguayan-born Antonio Frasconi, whose color woodcuts use the grain of the wood as part of the design. Another was the American-born John Paul Jones, a faculty member at UCLA whose intaglios and etchings are abstract and serene. Still another was the distinguished Southern California artist June Wayne, founder of the seminal Tamarind Lithography Workshop and an effective promoter of graphic artists in Southern California. My father owned many of her prints and benefited from her deep knowledge of the graphic arts.
During the formative phase of the collection, my father derived much pleasure from it. He organized and matted the prints and stored them suitably in a reserved closet. He studied books on graphic art and began to appreciate composition, perspective, distortion for emphasis, and creation of mood. He invited friends to showings of specific facets of the collection and talked about their artistic features. Indeed, the Grunwald house became a much-loved and influential center for the discussion of prints and drawings. He had his best French prints framed and used them to decorate his house. It is fair to say that he was proud of his role as a patron of the arts.
By the mid-1950s he decided to give his art gradually to a public institution, so that a wider audience might enjoy it. He first approached the Los Angeles County Museum, but withdrew from it within a few weeks. There are two stories of what happened, and I don't know which, if any, is correct. One story has it that the curators for graphic art essentially snubbed him. The other has it that he was invited to a function for potential donors, where his host became drunk and made a personally offensive remark. In any case, he changed his mind and decided to approach UCLA instead. This decision came naturally, because he had a sentimental attachment to UCLA, his children and their spouses having graduated there.
His reception at UCLA was friendly, and he and his collection were taken seriously. Professor E. Maurice Bloch, a young, recently appointed art historian and expert in the graphic arts, soon visited my father's house and examined the collection. He was enthusiastic about what he saw, as were Frederick Wight, director of the university art galleries, and Gibson Danes, chair of the Department of Art. The UCLA Chancellor Raymond B. Allen and Robert Rogers, UCLA's venerable accounting officer, negotiated on behalf of the Regents of the University of California. In March 1956, the regents and my father signed an agreement with essentially the following terms:
- Fred Grunwald would donate his collection of graphic arts to UCLA in suitable installments.
- UCLA would provide an equipped, staffed facility in which to house the art. This facility would be open for study to interested students, faculty, and members of the public.
- The collection and facility would be called the Grunwald Graphic Arts Foundation.
Later, as other important donors appeared on the scene, the name of the facility was adjusted to the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts. Initially, the Center shared the facilities of the Wight Art Gallery, a part of a new building housing the art department and art library and with pleasant if modest exhibition and study spaces. The Center consisted initially of a small exhibition room dedicated to graphic arts; a library/study room with floor-to-ceiling cases for storage; and a crowded workroom-cum-office for cataloguing, framing, and restoring the prints.
Professor Bloch served, for twenty-seven years, as the Center's founding curator and taught a seminal course in the history of the print. During all this time, the Grunwald Center sponsored public exhibitions, about one per year, as well as many special course-related shows, drawn largely from its own archives. The exhibitions and attendant publications were widely reviewed and highly respected, and the designs of the exhibitions under the aegis of Professor Jack Carter were celebrated.
Once Franklin D. Murphy became UCLA chancellor in 1960 the collections began to grow rapidly, since this great connoisseur, a physician by training and a particularly informed devotee of Renaissance printing, wanted to create a strong teaching and research center for the fine arts at UCLA. In the eight years of his chancellorship, Murphy created a magnificent campus sculpture garden in front of the Wight Art Gallery and Grunwald Center. And, custom has it, this Maecenas of an administrator regularly invited Director Bloch to his office to go over the recent print catalogues from Europe, New York (William Schab, especially), and California (in particular R. E. Lewis and Jake Zeitlin). Murphy's close association with regent and collector Norton Simon secured, for instance, magnificent Matisse prints from the artist's own estate and Japanese woodblocks from the estate of architect Frank Lloyd Wright to add to the continuing gifts of the Grunwald family and many others. Particularly notable have been the donations of Walter Otto Schneider in 1962, Lorser Feitelson and Helen Lundeberg in 1986, Richard Vogler in 1987, Rudolf Baumfeld in 1988, and Ellen Smith Graff in 1995, as well as the long interest of Lloyd Rigler and Lawrence Deutsch and the UCLA Art Council and Friends of the Graphic Arts.
11. Fred Grunwald Collection: The Acquisitive Phase
Collections normally pass through two phases: a fun phase in which the collection grows up, and a serious—one might say semi-professional—phase in which the collection is being perfected. When I was a boy I collected postage stamps. In the initial fun phase I paid attention to the theme of a stamp. I learned geography, history, politics, and science. Postage stamps are often issued in sets that portray the same theme and show the same picture, differing only in color and denomination. For example, they might all show a given political personality or a given picture of a camel in the desert, so that when you see one, you have seen them all. In the fun phase I did not mind if the set was incomplete. Rounding out the set wouldn't teach anything new. But in the serious phase I wanted complete sets, because I would not be a genuine collector if I didn't. I shall call this phase—of collecting for collecting's sake—the acquisitive phase. My father's graphic art collection entered the acquisitive phase at about the time that he agreed to establish a graphic arts center at UCLA. He began to worry as much about completeness as about diversity. That would have been all right—after all, it was his collection—if he had not become consumed with acquiring. Some of his holdings became encyclopedic. For example, he would tell with some pride that he had thirty-seven prints by Pierre-Auguste Renoir for a given phase of the artist's work, while the definitive catalogue of Renoir's work listed only thirty-six.
The tables in the preceding section show that at the time of my father's death, his estate owned fifty-one prints by Renoir, fifty prints by Picasso, thirty-three prints by Toulouse-Lautrec, and twenty-four prints by Käthe Kollwitz. There is no way to convince me that a private collector needs fifty prints by Picasso or thirty-three prints by Toulouse-Lautrec to study the work of these masters. Clearly, the originally relaxed, fun-filled interest in collecting had become an obsession.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with that. My father could justify the extravagance, at least to himself, because eventually his riches would go to UCLA and become available to a broad public. However, his obsession with collecting was expensive, and gradually his attention shifted from artistic to monetary value. Now, when he showed his graphic art to visitors, he would talk about prices rather than artistic features, and his presentations no longer conveyed the sense of fun and enthusiasm that had been so attractive during the formative years.
When my father died in 1964, the estate did not have enough liquid assets to pay all the debts. The principal heirs—my stepmother, my sister, and I—called on Chancellor Murphy and proposed that UCLA would receive one quarter of the graphic art immediately. The rest of the art in the estate would be divided among the three of us, to be used if necessary to settle the estate. In any such settlement we would try, as much as possible, to keep the collection intact. After completion of the settlement, each of us would make independent donations from his remaining share. Chancellor Murphy graciously accepted this proposal. In the end, UCLA received graphic art equal to more than half of the value of my father's collection.
In mid-1994, the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts moved just off campus to the newly constituted UCLA at the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in Westwood Village, where it enjoys elegant facilities and continues to be enriched by treasures of graphic art donated by other collectors, who want their gifts to be preserved, shown, and studied within the context of a major teaching and research university. My father's initial gift of approximately 3,500 prints has now grown to a collection of over 40,000 prints, drawings, photographs, and artists' books.
The new and much more spacious, attractive, and accessible spaces at the UCLA Hammer allow for more and larger exhibitions year round, as well as more space for print storage, study, and conservation. Indeed, in its four decades of existence, the Grunwald Center has become the largest and finest university-based collection of graphic arts in the western United States and among the most active exhibitors of and publishers about works of art on paper in the entire country. Since 1956, the Center has organized well over two hundred public exhibitions, included internationally celebrated surveys of the works of Matisse, Picasso, and Jasper Johns, as well as landscape drawings and prints, prints of the sixteenth-century French Renaissance, and illustrated children's books. Almost all of these exhibitions have been accompanied by handsome catalogues and brochures and enhanced by seminars, lectures, and cultural programs.
12. The Final Years
My father suffered his first heart attack in 1952. He weathered it well and continued to function in a reasonably normal way.
His old age probably began with the second heart attack in 1960. It was a major attack and caused serious damage to the heart. His energy began flagging, he rested more, and he adhered to a strict cardiac diet. As time passed, the heart became progressively less able to circulate blood. He died of heart failure in the winter of 1964, nine months after his sixty-fifth birthday.
By early 1963 he knew that the end was near and prepared to say goodbye. On the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday, he organized a celebration that must have been a sentimental high point of his life. He invited not only his current American friends, but also three surviving Jewish friends from Germany: a married couple then living in Australia who had been my parents' best friends, and a male friend, a keen intellect and award-winning pioneer in advertising, who was then living in Switzerland. All three came.
Later that year he arranged a reception at his home to which he invited the faculty of UCLA's Art Department and local graphic artists whose work he admired. The reception was well attended. The guests complimented him on the high quality of the graphic art he had already donated to UCLA, and on the extraordinary quality of the prints that decorated his home. The reception was a tacit saying of goodbye to art experts whose company he had enjoyed while building his collection.
Most people change when they enter old age. Some become mellower, more tolerant, and less assertive. Others become caricatures of their former selves: flaws and foibles that had been minor and tolerable during their younger years now become major and conspicuous. My father belonged to the second group.
He had always been stubborn, and now he would not acknowledge his physical deterioration. He had always been a good dresser, but now he dressed with meticulous care in expensive-looking clothes, as if he were trying to hide his progressive weakness under fancy garments.
In business he had always been firmly in charge, but now he became bossy and would not delegate authority, even though he was working with a thoroughly competent team. In his weakened condition he made bad decisions.
The collecting of graphic art had degenerated into a financially reckless obsession. There was not enough money to buy all the prints my father craved. To feed the obsession he borrowed from the bank and from friends. When he died, his estate was saddled with substantial debts.
It is clear that my father was not a saint, but I think we may honor him as a hero. In the novel Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad describes a hero as an ordinary human who has learned not to panic in a crisis but, instead, keeps a cool head and survives by calm and reasoned action. In this sense, my father's life was marked by notable heroism.
In Germany he showed courage by starting a shirt factory at the depth of a grim economic depression. He made a success of it by persistent hard work.
After Kristallnacht he showed courage by calmly and repeatedly visiting the offices of the Nazi Gestapo in order to expedite the release of Jewish men from concentration camps.
During our emigration from Germany he overcame dangerous crises by keeping a cool head and an ability for quick thinking. He got us out just before the onset of the Holocaust.
In California, when the new shirt factory was failing, he recognized and seized upon unexpected opportunities. He not only saved the company but established its reputation for quality workmanship and fashionable styling.
When the West German government paid him a substantial sum of restitution money that had to be spent in West Germany, he used it to start a collection of graphic art that eventually reached museum quality.
He entered into litigation with a powerful labor union over matters of principle and was not frightened when the atmosphere in and around the factory became tense. He continued the litigation and won all lawsuits.
He did all this in spite of the handicap of having only one whole leg. I think that my father was as close to being a hero as it is possible for a civilian to be.
On the day of his funeral I was contagiously ill with the mumps and almost delirious from high fever. There was no way I could attend the funeral. But after all these years, I still feel regret that I had to miss it.