Jewish influence strong in Tucson

Though few in number, Jews promoted growth and commerce, helped govern, started University of Arizona
2013-08-01T00:00:00Z Jewish influence strong in Tucson Arizona Daily Star
August 01, 2013 12:00 am

With the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the transfer of the Arizona territorial capital from Prescott to Tucson in 1867, business opportunities in Tucson abounded.

The Jewish Virtual Library summarizes the beginning of Jewish heritage in Tucson: "At first there were relatively few people, Jews and gentiles, in the community, but some Jews came because of merchandising opportunities. Some opened general stores, others acquired Indian trading licenses, and some also served as contractors for the U.S. Army.

"The settlement in the 19th century consisted mostly of young men out to seek their fortunes. … The total Jewish population of Arizona in the 1880s was estimated at about 50 people, so the numbers in Tucson must have been fewer. (The population of Tucson in 1880 was about 7,000.)

"A number of men from the city's pioneer Jewish families … could be found in elected political positions: on the school board, on the county Board of Supervisors and even as mayor."

Jews in territorial Tucson were also miners, bankers and prominent in the entertainment business.

Jewish family businesses were common in Tucson. In 1878, for example, as Tucson merchandising historian Bettina Lyons observed, of the 10 general stores operating in downtown Tucson, "six were owned by first-generation German Jews, all related to one another by either blood or marriage."

There were virtually no single Jewish women in early territorial Arizona, so Tucson's pioneering Jewish men often had to travel "back East" or to the West Coast to meet and marry Jewish women.

There were no rabbis in Arizona until the 1900s, so lay leaders took on the responsibility of presiding at Jewish religious ceremonies.

Influential Jewish pioneers

• Brothers Philip Drachman (1833-1889) and Samuel Drachman (1837-1911) were among the earliest Jews to settle in Tucson. They became successful businessmen and helped keep Judaism alive in the desert Southwest. The brothers were born in Russian-occupied Poland and immigrated to New York City in 1852. Philip settled in Tucson in 1866 and entered the retail business with his partner Isaac Goldberg. Samuel came to Tucson in 1867 to work for his brother at the Drachman-Goldberg general store until 1873, when he established his own business as a government contractor carrying supplies and mail. Both Drachman brothers successfully sought out Jewish wives, Philip traveling to New York and Samuel to California.

Philip bought and sold real estate, operated an extensive freighting business between Tucson and Yuma, opened a saloon and bought a cigar store. Philip also represented Pima County in the Territorial Legislature before his death in Tucson from pneumonia. One of Philip's sons, Mose Drachman, became a prominent Tucson businessman in the early 1900s. Another of Philip's sons, Emanuel, was the father of Roy Drachman, one of Tucson's key developers and civic leaders in the mid- and late 1900s.

Like his brother, Samuel engaged in multiple businesses, including a cigar store. He also served in the Arizona's Territorial Legislature and helped develop Tucson's school system. Samuel served as lay leader to Tucson's Jews, often presiding at local religious ceremonies.

• Brothers Louis Zeckendorf (1838-1937) and William Zeckendorf (1842-1906), with their nephew Albert Steinfeld, established one of the most successful and longest-lasting merchandising businesses in Tucson. Louis and William were born in Germany along with their older brother, Aaron. By 1856 the three brothers were merchants and Army provisioners New Mexico. In 1866, Aaron and Louis decided to open a store in Tucson with younger brother William in charge, older brother Aaron to manage their New Mexico business, and Louis to move to New York City to buy goods for the Zeckendorf enterprises. William struggled at managing the store, preferring to gamble and participate in self-serving promotions and spectacles. In 1870 Aaron closed the New Mexico business to concentrate Zeckendorf efforts in Tucson. When Aaron died in 1872, Louis took over as head of the family business and brought in his 17-year-old nephew Albert to help him make a better go of the sole remaining Zeckendorf brothers operation.

William was elected as a member of the Arizona Territorial Legislature and married the daughter of a successful New York City clothing merchant. In 1878, William resigned from the family enterprise and opened a store of his own that thrived for a while but suffered due to overextended credit and competition from inexpensive goods arriving by rail after 1880. William invested heavily in mining in Pima and Santa Cruz counties, and devoted much of his time to managing Arizona's Democratic Party. With his business finally closed and mine speculations failing in 1891, William sold off his entire stock and permanently rejoined his family in New York City.

Albert took over as managing general partner of L. Zeckendorf & Co. in 1878 when William resigned. He grew the business (with the help of financial adviser Charles M. Strauss, another German Jew), and in 1904 bought out Louis to become sole owner. Albert turned Albert Steinfeld & Co. into the largest, most elegant and most successful department store in the territory. It thrived in Tucson until the 1980s.

• Jacob S. Mansfeld (1832-1894) founded Tucson's first bookstore and first public library, and was instrumental in getting the University of Arizona started. Mansfeld was born in Germany, came to America in 1856, and arrived in Tucson in 1869. Mansfeld opened the Pioneer News Depot and Bookstore, selling newspapers from New York City along with magazines and books. In 1871, Mansfeld established the first public library in town, lending books from his store. Mansfeld helped draft the first charter for the city of Tucson as a member of the county Board of Supervisors and he raised money, found a site and secured land to build the UA.

Mansfeld married a Jewish woman in New York City. One of their four children, Monte (who changed his last name to Mansfield), became a prominent Tucson auto dealer and civic leader in the 20th century.

• Brothers Lionel Jacobs (1840-1922) and Barron Jacobs (1846-1936) were successful Tucson merchants and started the first bank in town. The brothers were sons of a Polish Jew who migrated with his family to San Francisco in 1851. In 1867, the brothers' father sent them to Tucson to open a mercantile store. The Jacobs business grew and prospered through the 1870s.

Lionel and Barron were active in Tucson social life and civic affairs. They helped form the Tucson Literary Society. Lionel found a Jewish wife in San Francisco and Barron found his in New York City. Lionel was appointed to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, was elected to the Territorial Legislature, serving as treasurer, and also served on the Tucson City Council. Barron also served as treasurer of the Territorial Legislature.

Starting in the 1870s, more and more of the Jacobs brothers' business involved handling money. In 1871 they established a loan business in the store. In 1879 the brothers organized the Pima County Bank, the first banking institution in Tucson. Over the years, through a series of mergers and consolidations, the Pima County Bank became Valley National Bank, controlled and directed by the Jacobs family until 1935.

• Alex Levin (1834-1891) was Tucson's first pioneer in the entertainment business. Levin was born in Germany and made his way to Tucson in 1869 starting the Pioneer Brewery. Over the next decade, Levin turned his brewery grounds into a three-acre park (at the corner of today's North Granada Avenue and West Congress Street). Levin's Park was very popular and in its heyday, into the 1880s, was the location of nearly every important and communal event in Tucson - until the much larger Carrillo Gardens opened in 1885 and Levin's Park declined.

Levin was also a Tucson City councilman. Unlike many Jewish men, he married a Mexican - from a prominent family in Sonora - and adopted his wife's Catholic faith. Levin's descendants include internationally known singers Luisa Espinel and Linda Ronstadt.

• Charles M. Strauss (1840-1892) was Tucson's first Jewish mayor and an early proponent of the University of Arizona. Strauss was born into a Jewish family in New York City and married a Jewish woman in Memphis, Tenn. The Strauss family came to Tucson in 1880, seeking a better climate. Strauss worked for Albert Steinfeld as business manager of the Zeckendorf general store. Strauss was a member of the Tucson School Board, joined Tucson's new Volunteer Fire Department and was elected Tucson's mayor in 1883, but resigned in 1884 after a political dispute. During his abbreviated term, he did much to transform the appearance of Tucson, shepherding the construction of a city hall, a firehouse and infirmary, a library, a building and loan association and graded roads. Perhaps his greatest achievement to Tucson's legacy was his work with fellow Jew Jacob Mansfeld to sell bonds to buy land and start construction of the university.

Editor's note

This is the last in a three-part series about some of the people who most influenced Tucson history between 1850 and 1900. Read the first two parts at azstarnet.com/bobring

E-mail Bob Ring at ringbob1@aol.com Sources: American Jewish Historical Society; Arizona Daily Star; "A History of the Jews in New Mexico" (Henry J. Tobias, 1990); Jewish Museum of the American West; Jewish Virtual Library: Tucson; "Jews on the Western Frontier: An Overview" (Harriet and Fred Rochlin, 1985); "Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West" (Harriet and Fred Rochlin, 2000); New Mexico Jewish Historical Society: Crypto-Jews; Southwest Jewish Archives: Arizona Jewish Pioneers; Tucson Citizen; Tucson Territorial Pioneer Project (2008); "Zeckendorfs and Steinfelds: Merchant Princes of the American Southwest" (Bettina O'Neil Lyons, 2008); "Tucson - The Life and Times of an American City" (C.L. Sonnichsen, 1987).

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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