Louis (Lou) Sydney Grossman was born on June 30, 1893 in Minneapolis, the first Grossman in our family born in the United States. According to the Social Security Death Index he was born on June 3, but this is probably erroneous. As I stated above, the 1900 Federal Census indicates that Lou was already attending school at the age of seven. Norman and Sylvia Grossman sent me a wonderful photograph of Lou from around 1903-05, sitting on the front step of a wooden home, possibly that of his family on 618 North 6th Street. I was not able to identify the younger boy sitting next to him.
Lou Grossman and unidentified boy, circa 1905
In 1906 he moved with his parents and three siblings to St. Louis, where he finished junior high school and part of high school. In 1910, the same year his father Moishe opened his first butcher shop on 602 North 5th Street in Minneapolis, Lou got a job as a stockpiler at the L. S. Donaldson Company, one of the biggest retail department stores in the state of Minnesota.
Donaldson's Department Store, 6th and Marquette, circa 1925
At the time he was 17 years old and in his junior year of high school. By 1912 he was promoted to the position of “clerk”, apparently because his boss recognized his natural business and sales skills. According to his son Harold he worked in the drug department.
On the August 17, 1913 Lou married Jean “Jennie” Berman (23 July 1894-7 Aug 1991), the second of Mechel and Ethel’s children. They are the two on the left in a photo taken in about 1916; the other two adults are Hattie Bierman Grossman and Max Grossman, and the two children are Lou and Jennie’s son Norman and Hattie’s daughter Rosalee.
Jennie had spent her teenage years on her parents’ farm just out of town on 2907 Benjamin. She met Lou not long before she and her family moved into the city, at 902 11th Avenue North. Norman Grossman, their son, knows for a fact that his mother’s family moved to that address shortly before his birth on August 20, 1914. Norman was born in Lou and Jennie’s first home, located at 607 Plymouth Avenue North, a street which was fast becoming the heart of the Jewish quarter in Minneapolis. His mother’s older sister Sophie lived on the upper floor with her husband Louis Maltzman, whom she had married in 1910, and her two children, Evelyn (1911-) and Vernon or “Val” (Sep 1915-). Marion Cohen told me that Lou, who was very close to his brother Max, rented a duplex with him before she was born (1916). Therefore, at some point Max must have lived with Lou on Plymouth Avenue.
Lou Grossman and brother Max and wife Jennie, photo, circa 1920
In the 1915 Minneapolis city directory Jennie Grossman is listed as a “machine operator” (sewing machine?), employed at 1112 4th Avenue North, just across the street from the grocery store of Lou’s granduncle, Jacob Grossman. She may even have been employed by him directly. Marion Shapiro and Norman and Harold Grossman (Lou’s sons) had this to say about Jennie:
Marion: “I adored her. She brought me my first doll.”
Norman: “She was sort of avant-garde for her day, in a way. She loved cloths.”
Harold: “She was in love with Rudolph Valentino.”
Marion: “She was very beautiful, VERY beautiful.”
Norman: “She was a woman who lived on dreams.”
Harold: "She had carrot or light-colored hair with natural pink cheeks and white skin.”
Marion: “She wore it an a pugly for many years.”
All agreed that she was extraordinarily beautiful.
Harold: “And so did all the men. She always had her elbows out. She wanted freedom.”
Norman and Sylvia sent me a photograph of Jennie posing with her sister-in-law Ida (Kaufman) Grossman which I estimate was taken in about 1918.
Ida Kaufman (left) and Jennie Berman (right), circa 1918
Indeed, she was a spectacular-looking woman! Lou and Jennie’s second son Harold was born October 12, 1916 in the Swedish hospital of Minneapolis.
Jennie Berman and sons Norman and Harold Grossman, circa 1935
In 1917 or 1918, after at least seven years of hard work at the Donaldson Company, Lou landed a job as a Ford salesman at Howard & Horton. Ironically, Harold remembers that Lou “couldn’t even drive a car... He would just tell people ‘step on this pedal or that pedal and your car’s gonna go!’ The Fords only had a brake and a forward pedal, and that was it.” Norman added: “I have one story about a friend of mine, Jerry Zipperman, who said that his father bought a car from my father. And the interesting part was that my father was to deliver the car and then teach his father how to drive. So he drives the car to their house, parks it in front, and runs up the stairs, rings the bell, runs down the stairs, and runs rapidly to Plymouth Avenue, gets on the street car... He couldn’t teach anybody how to drive [laughs].”
Ford Motor Company, Minneapolis, circa 1915
Norman told me the story of how Lou went from working as a salesman to founding his own automobile franchise: “The story that I know concerning my father working for Howard & Horton was that he sold 500 cars in one year. I say that because he told me that... [He was] a super salesman... [and had a] great sales personality. And you know, if you realize, that’s more than one car a day that he was selling for somebody else. And on the strength of that was his ability to get a franchise. And in those days, since cars were not very reliable, the requirement was that you had to take in a partner who was a mechanic, so that the cars would certainly get serviced properly, and when people brought ‘em in with their complaints they could be taken care of. That’s why he got Mr. Kimball. That was the basic requirement. The Chevrolets became, eventually, the biggest selling car. And during the Depression when people who were used to Buicks and whatever... couldn’t afford them, they went down to the Chevrolets and Fords. So Chevrolet, during the Depression, became the most popular car, [in the] late 20’s, the middle of the 30’s, and so on.” Thus, in the early 1920’s Lou teamed up with a mechanic named Frank Kimball and got an automobile franchise. According to my grandfather Bud the precise year was 1921. Francis Yedidia recalls that her father Sam Bierman helped Lou get started in his business. Sam’s help must have been critical at that particular moment in Lou’s life, when he was struggling to make the leap from employee to manager. The first years he was in business must have been particularly tough. Harold stated: “And I can remember when Norman and I were little kids and we lived in an apartment house, second flight of steps up the back. My father used to candle eggs at night to make extra money...if the egg had a little one in the middle you discarded it [laughs]... Norman and my father and I, we’d stand in the bathroom and we’d hold an egg up to the light and see if we could find the spots. He was just earning extra money.”
A Chevrolet showroom, Minneapolis, 1926
In the 1925 Minneapolis city directory there is the following listing: “Louis S (Grossman Kimball Co) r 1506 Sheridan av N—Grossman Kimball Co (Louis S Grossman Frank Kimball) automobiles 1304 E Lake”. In the same year the brother of Jennie, Chas E. Berman, was one of Lou’s employees. Chas was living at home at 902 11th Avenue North at the time. Evidently, by 1925 Lou and his family had moved to Sheridan Avenue North, which was in the same neighborhood as Grace and Harry Stillman, Sam and Sophie Marcus, and—in 1927—Max and Ida Grossman. Lou lived less than five-minute’s walk from his older sister and younger brother, while the dealership was on other the end of town.
Kimball Chevrolet Company, 600 South 7th Street, photo 1929
Chevrolet sedan, Minneapolis, 1929
Around the year 1925, just as the Grossman Kimball Company was starting to take off, Lou and Jennie filed for divorce. Jennie took her two sons to Los Angeles, California in order to start a new life there. She eventually married Orem Cohen, who had immigrated to the United States via Ireland. Curiously, in the 1929 directory there appears the following listing: “Jennie Grossman Mrs h 1506 Sheridan av N”. In spite of this apparent anomoly the divorce probably occurred in late 1928.
By 1927 Lou had become the sole owner of his company. Harold explains: “And it seemed that Frank Kimball, as I understand it, didn’t like to work too much, so father bought him out, and that’s when it became Grossman Chevrolet.”
Grossman Chevrolet Company, 1300-24 East Lake Street, 1950
In the Minneapolis city directory of that year Lou listed himself as the “manager” of the business. The telephone number was “Drexel 0815” and it was the first listed telephone number of any Grossman or Berman in our family! Bud commented that “Lou was an excellent businessman and built a company from scratch that’s still family operated.”
Not long after the divorce Lou married Beatrice “Bertha” Berman (31 Oct. 1899-Jan. 1989), the daughter of Aria Berman as well as Jennie’s first cousin. Beatrice first appears in the 1920 Federal Census as a stenographer working at a bank. In the 1930 directory I found the following listing: “Louis S (Beatrice) mgr Grossman-Chevrolet Co. r 2011 3rd av S—GROSSMAN CHEVROLET CO Louis S Grossman Mgr Automobile Dealers 1304 E Lake tel Drexel 6815”. Lou and Beatrice were married by 1931.
1935 Minneapolis city directory listing reads “Louis S (Beatrice) prop and mgr
Grossman Chevrolet Co h 2731 Dean blvd—GROSSMAN CHEVROLET CO L S Grossman Prop
and Mgr Sales and Service 1304-1310 E Lake Tel Drexel 3636”.
Marion recalls that Lou and Beatrice were jet-setters in the early years of their marriage, but they gradually settled down into a more mature, tranquil lifestyle. Burt Grossman, their son, sent me a picture of his parents from New Years Eve, 1937, when they were in Havana, Cuba. Beatrice is sitting in the front of a sled with her husband on her right.
Lou (left) and Beatrice (center) Grossman, Havana, 1937
John Marcus, on the other hand, remembers Lou as a very religious and family-oriented man, like his brother Max. Harold explained to me that Lou eventually became a wealthy man, but was always very generous with other people. Marion recalled that Lou and his brother Max eventually became country-clubbers. Lou was heavily involved in the community socially. In another photo he and his wife are seated across from each other at a table, probably in around 1955.
Lou (right) and Beatrice (left) Grossman, circa 1955
Marion had a very warm relationship with Beatrice, and would see her and her uncle periodically through the years. She and her husband Bill met them summers in Miami in the 1960’s. She told me that at the end of his life, Lou was in a hospital room with Alzheimer’s disease next door to his brother Max, who was also ill.
Lou Grossman had four sons, two by Jennie and two by Beatrice. The first two, Norman (20 Aug 1914-) and Harold (19 Dec 1917-), moved to California with their mother in the summer of 1925. In Los Angeles the three of them settled in a place right off Sunset Boulevard, but visited Minneapolis regularly.
remembers his bar mitzvah in Mikro Kodesh synagogue in 1927: “I had been
living in California, and I came [to Minneapolis] at the request of my mother
and my grandparents… I had a tutor for the summer who was a very sweet old guy
whose name I don’t remember, but I remember him.
And being a poor student I was thrilled to have this guy because he was
so patient, and I learned very well what I had to know to get through my bar
mitzvah. And it was very nice being
up on the bema with so many strange people looking at me...
I could get through this with a relative ease.
And then when its all over you go down in the basement and everybody’s
congratulating you. Now this what
quite a long time ago and these were all elderly people at that time, and I had
a cookie or two and they let me taste a little schnapps, because I was a man,
you know. At thirteen you become a
Norman remained in California until 1933 when he went back to Minneapolis in order to begin university, where his tuition cost only 30 dollars per semester! Harold did not move back to Minneapolis until 1939, when he graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles.
Norman married Sylvia Turner (4 Dec 1917-) on July 31, 1937. They had known each other for about a year. She was employed by a finance company while he worked for “a kind of one-man finance company”. They were in the same space, which was owned by Lou. Sam and Hattie Bierman were among those present at his wedding. Norman and Sylvia had three children: Eileen Tema (13 Dec 1941-), David (5 Dec 1945-3 Oct 1991) and Sandra Mae (11 Mar 1949-).
Harold got involved with his father’s company at a very young age: “I started hanging around there when I was about seven, eight years old, putting parts away, running errands. And summer vacations I came back to Minneapolis, and always spent time at the dealership. And when I was sixteen I talked the used car manager into… teaching me how to sell used cars. So after that I spent every summer of my life on the used car lot selling used cars. And it was fun. And eventually I made enough money to go to college, and pretty much take care of myself financially.”
Unlike his brother Norman, Harold had his bar-mitzvah in California. He met his future wife, Mary Lorena Bullock (19 Dec 1917-26 Oct 1995) when they were in junior high school. He recounted, “I had three majors [in college]: economics and business, pre-med for three years and military science four years. So when World War II came out I was in [snaps fingers] that fast. I had my commission already.” Harold served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
During and after World War II, Harold and Mary had three children: Michael Frederick (23 Oct 1941-), Robert Lewis (19 Aug 1944-) and Virginia Lorena (29 Oct 1954-).
Lou’s two sons by Beatrice are Allen Richard (7 Jan 1932-) and Burt David (8 May 1934-). Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to interview them for this essay. Allen, a professor of English on the East Coast, married Meryl Mann and had two sons, Jonathan Harry (1956-) and Adam Lewis James (1959-). He subsequently married Judith Spink and had three more children: Bathsheba Lydia (1966-), Austin Seth (1969-) and Lev Thomas (1969-). Allen’s younger brother Burt runs a travel agency in Minneapolis and has a son named Judd Arthur (7 Mar 1962-). Burt was very kind to supply me with documents and information about his family.