CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY
The PAVONIA HOUSE
(aka HENRY STRAHLE'S HOTEL,
STRAHLE'S GRILL & DONATO'S PAVONIA HOUSE)
948 North 26th Street
The Pavonia House had already been established as a saloon and small hotel when it was purchased by Henry and Sophia Strahle in 1912. They had been operating a small bakery at 27th and Hayes Avenue prior to buying the bar.
The bar and hotel business proved successful, and the mortgage was paid off in 1920. Henry Strahle passed away in 1925, after which his wife and children operated the bar through at least 1947. The bar is listed as Strahle's Grille in the 1947 Camden City Directory. The bar was sold in the late 1940s, and Sophia Strahle moved to 3055 Carman Street in East Camden in the late 1950s. She died on December 12, 1960.
The bar is shown in telephone books of the 1950s as the Pavonia House. An ad from a banquet program dated April of 1959 indicates that the owners were George and Rudy. Francis J. "Champ" Donato later became involved in the bar. He owned & operated The Pavonia House, known then as Donato's Pavonia House with his wife, Helen Selah Donato until his death in 1977. After his death, Helen Donato and daughter Gloria "Jean" Donato McShane ran the business until about 1980.
The Pavonia House remained in business into the 1980s, when it was demolished after the building was heavily damaged by fire. It was being operated by Billy and Marge Eckel at the time of the fire, according to sources still residing in the neighborhood.
Strahle’s Pavonia House
Strahle was born on September 11, 1875, in Holzheim,
Wurttemberg, Germany, the 11th of 13 children of Andreas
Strahle and Margarethe Leyrer. He was the first of his immediate family
to leave Germany for America, followed subsequently by one brother and
two sisters. His German Emigration Passport was issued on 20 September
1890, and stated that he was to travel at the end of October from
Holzheim via Antwerp to Philadelphia. He was 15 years old at the time.
Like many young Germans of that era he left to avoid conscription into
the Army. He traveled alone, under his own name, with very little money.
The family in Germany did not appear to be well off, and dreams of
striking it rich in America were widespread. His emigration documents
state that he was a baker, and list the following personal
characteristics: age, 15; height, 1.58 m; stature, slender; face, oval;
complexion, healthy; hair, blond; eyebrows, blond; eyes, blue-gray;
nose, straight; mouth, regular; cheeks, half round; teeth, good; legs,
His first job was as a baker in Haddonfield, earning $2 a week. He later moved to Trenton and married there at the age of 25 (a year after he was naturalized in 1900). He spent his wedding night in the State Prison, which his best man and several friends arranged as a joke. (The warden was a guest at the wedding.) His new bride, Sophia Walz, was still a bit put out by this when she told the story to her granddaughter many years later.
their marriage they opened a bakery in a new suburb of Philadelphia. It
failed because of a lack of customers with money, since all the
neighbors were busy paying off their homes. They then opened a bakery in
the Cramer Hill section of Camden, New Jersey, employing two other
bakers. While living there
Henry was initiated as a Mason into Mozart Lodge #121 on 11 February
1908 at the age of 32, although he does not appear to have been very
active in that organization.
June, 1912, he and his wife bought the Pavonia House, several blocks
away from their bakery. (The $11,500 mortgage was paid off in 1920.)
This was a combination saloon and small hotel. (Two of his wife Sophia's
aunts were married to saloon owners.) The building had originally been a
one or two room structure, but over the years one room was added here,
another there until it became quite a large place housing the saloon,
family living quarters, about half-a-dozen rooms for boarders and a
dining area where daily lunches were served. It had electricity, and was
heated by a coal furnace, which the older son Henry was assigned to look
after, keeping it supplied with coal and removing the ashes. There was a
large lawn, many rose bushes, and a large adjacent barn in which the two
children and their friends enjoyed playing. The younger Henry kept his
pigeons there. The barn was used as a garage later when the family owned
Just before the First World War electric trolley car lines were introduced, with tracks laid in the street right by the tavern, and the gravel roads paved. Camden at that time was a very prosperous town, and the trolleys were crowded with passengers going to work at the shipyards. German was the language of the household until the First World War. Both parents and their sons were, however, very fluent in English. The oldest son, Henry, went to German school on Saturdays where he learned how to write German until the arrival of the war. The atmosphere in the neighborhood was very anti-German during the First World War, so the use of German was not looked on favorably by the customers, although many of them were German. As a result the two boys soon lost their ability to speak it fluently.
younger son, Fritz told his children stories of the effects of
Prohibition (1920-1933) on the operation of the saloon. Since alcohol
was prohibited, the beer taps would only produce low-alcohol
"near-beer" from the barrels in the basement below the bar.
However, if the taps were pulled all the way down, real beer was
delivered from "special barrels."
were about 32 saloons in the city of Camden at the time. Two were owned
by Masons, one of which was Henry. The local Congressman was also a
Mason. Whenever there was a police raid looking for illegal alcohol, the
two Masonic saloons never seemed to be caught. (The penalties were
severe - the offending saloons had all their equipment smashed.) When
the tip-off of an impending raid came, the "real" beer barrels
were buried beneath the coal in the basement, and the hard liquor was
hidden in the barn on the property. Illegal whiskey was not difficult to
get for the saloon, which would have gone out of business without it.
There were many bootleggers and illegal stills operating. The whole
justice system was compromised, either by payoffs to police or by judges
turning a blind eye.
older son Henry, remembers driving the family car, a large, roomy
vehicle, to pick up bottles of raw moonshine at thirty dollars for a
six-gallon jug, a lot of money in those days. The moonshine was put into
wooden barrels which had contained real whiskey, which significantly
improved its flavor.
was a Lutheran, but not a very religious man, although he did send his
sons to Sunday School. He donated a stained-glass window to his new
stone church when it was built in Cramer Hill, probably in the early
1920's. The window was still there in the 1970's. The previous church,
in which his sons were christened, was an old frame structure on Sherman
Avenue in Cramer Hill.
older son remembers Henry as a very dapper man who dressed in expensive
suits. Photographs taken of him as a young father show a very
well-dressed man of middling height and weight. (He was about 5'8"
tall.) Later pictures in middle age show a portly man with dark hair and
eyes and a medium complexion. He was a good singer, and performed as
First Tenor with the Germania Maennerchor, the local German club choir
(about forty singers). The group won a number of prizes and made a
recording, but it was never released.
was also interested in hunting. At this time there was plenty of game
locally, such as deer and rabbits. He would bring it home for his wife
to cook. The rabbits frequently required considerable work to remove the
shotgun pellets. On one occasion the pellets had to be removed from his
heavy hunting coat, as he was on the receiving end of an overzealous
effort by a fellow hunter.
was a staunch Republican in his politics, as were most residents of
Camden at that time. The Democrats were perceived as supporting ideas
related to social services which were not of interest to the small
shopkeepers and businessmen. His oldest son recalls that it was an
absolute disgrace to have a member of your family in the bread-line. The
family was supposed to take care of that.
died at the age of 49 at his home, the Pavonia House, at 26th and River
Avenue after being treated for several years for cancer of the colon.
The whole family's reaction was one of relief, since, although he was a
marvelous man, he had suffered terribly for two years.
wife Sophia Walz was born at the home of her parents, 241 Elizabeth
Street in Philadelphia. She married at the relatively young age of 17, 8
years younger than her husband. According to a newspaper announcement of
her marriage, she was "exceedingly popular among German
helped her husband Henry run his bakery and subsequently his saloon
until his death in 1925. Despondent because of his death, she decided to
visit her husband's family in Germany in the summer of 1926 with her son
Fritz. Her older son Henry, 21 at the time of her trip to Germany, was
left in charge of the saloon. He remembers that she ran the business
very conservatively, and he decided to run it in a more flamboyant
manner, decorating it with banners celebrating the U.S.
sesquicentennial, which was a big event being held in Philadelphia at
the time. However, when his
mother returned to Camden, she wanted to run the business in the same
conservative, old-fashioned manner as her husband, while her son Henry
wanted to run it in a more wide-open, contemporary way.
with Prohibition and the attendant pay-offs to police and politicians
must have been an interesting experience for her. Her grand-daughter
remembers sitting with her watching the presidential election returns
which brought John F. Kennedy to office. Sophia was outraged, and could
not believe that the son of "that crook" was now President.
Evidently Joe Kennedy, the President-elect's father, had made his money
by smuggling huge quantities of illicit booze during Prohibition.
saloon was witness to some technological firsts in the neighborhood.
Sophia's son Fritz built a small radio receiver which picked up early
broadcasts. Enrico Caruso's singing was a big hit, and the headsets were
passed from hand-to-hand among the patrons in the bar of the saloon.
Soon after World War II one of the first television sets in the area
(with a 6-inch screen) was mounted above the bar. Patrons would stare
for hours at nothing more than a test pattern.
older son Henry remembers his childhood as quite normal. The
neighborhood bordered on riverfront communities, where some rather shady
characters lived. Sometimes it was necessary to fight your way through
the area, and he recalls that there were more fist-fights among both
kids and adults than is now the case. There was very little serious
crime however, and no-one ever felt the need to lock their doors.
Baseball was extremely popular. There were baseball diamonds everywhere,
and both kids and adults played. Every town had its own team.
first big event that he remembers was the sinking of the British
passenger ship Titanic when it struck an iceberg off the south coast of
Newfoundland in 1912. There were very few radio stations at that time,
and all the news came via newspapers. He recalls paperboys on the street
calling out "Extra! Extra! Titanic Hits Iceberg!" The story
was an absolute sensation.
was about ten or eleven when he learned how to drive his father's
Overland automobile, receiving his license in 1918 at age thirteen. The
reason for such precocity was quite pragmatic - in common with the
accepted mores of the time his father drank a lot and was frequently in
no condition to drive. There were very few automobiles then, and the
change from horse-drawn to powered vehicles had a tremendous impact on
the way people lived. It created its own set of problems initially.
Roads were poor, breakdowns frequent, and gasoline stations few and far
between. Spare cans of gas were carried in the car. It took seven hours
to travel the sixty miles or so from Camden to Trenton.
outbreak of World War I also remains a sharp childhood memory. There was
a great deal of pro- and anti- German propaganda at that time and
considerable sympathy for Germany in the German-speaking community,
where this was viewed as a terrible event. People went wild, stirred up
by propaganda, and there was harassment of German-speaking students in
event that made a tremendous impact was the solo flight of Charles
Lindbergh from New York City to Paris in 1927. Henry recalls that
starting in 1928 the transatlantic voyages of the German dirigible, the
Graf Zeppelin, turned heads all along the eastern seaboard as it flew
the late 1920's there was a Cramer Hill neighbor who was a relief
pitcher for the New York Yankees, Freddy
Heimach. He came into the
saloon one night about 10 o'clock when Henry was tending bar, bringing
one of his teammates with him, Babe Ruth. There was pandemonium. Ruth
wanted to buy everyone drinks, and everyone wanted to buy Ruth drinks.
The Babe was a big, burly fellow who looked as though he was top-heavy.
graduated from Camden High
School in 1923, and got a job at Broad and Chestnut
Street in Philadelphia, paying $18 a week. He commuted by trolley from
his home to the ferry docks in Camden, took the ferry to Philadelphia,
walked to the subway surface train station, and took the train to Broad
Street. He worked all day, then four evenings a week he left work and
walked twenty-seven blocks from 15th and Chestnut to 42nd Street to
attend evening courses at the Wharton Business School of the University
of Pennsylvania. After classes he then returned home to Cramer Hill late
at night. He did this for a little over a year and was doing well, but
then had to drop out because of a severe case of typhoid fever, one of
about seven or eight cases tied to Philadelphia water that year. This
caused him to lose all his hair and confined him to bed for six months.
He didn't drink water for years after that, confining himself primarily
to beer. After his bout with typhoid he attended Temple University.
it was at this time that he received a job offer, as office manager and
private secretary to a general contractor named Verga, paying $50 a week
plus a year-end bonus (big money in those days). It was in the
newly-built Wilson Building in downtown Camden. The company built roads,
streets, sewers and similar structures. Henry loved his work, and
eventually became vice-president of the company.
With the financial assistance of his mother, he bought Verga's
construction company in the early 1950's when the owner retired and
renamed it "Straco Construction Company."
brother Fritz continued to work for his mother, helping her to operate
the saloon until the start of WWII (when he went to work in the New York
Shipyard). He hated the times he had to fill in for an absent bartender.
At one time there was a Grand Jury probe into vice in Camden. All the
saloons and hotels in the city except four were raided and closed. The
Pavonia House was one of the four that remained open. Unfortunately, all
the riffraff were driven into the open ones. Twenty-five to thirty
people were in the bar at one time, some of them real toughies. Fritz
had to run out the drunks. He was "happy to have a nice shiny
service pistol in back of the bar."
Sophia sold the saloon in the late 1940's and moved to a comfortable middle-class neighborhood of row houses on Carman Street, near Woodrow Wilson High School, where she lived until her death in 1960. She was a short woman, about 5 feet tall, of medium complexion, with dark hair and eyes, and rather stout (as were all of her female relatives that the writer remembers). On her deathbed she finally relented and gave one of her oldest friends the recipe for her special cheese spread, used for years in her saloon. Fortunately, her granddaughter overheard the conversation and copied the recipe down. It is still used in the family.
Night Babe Ruth Came to Cramer Hill
uncle, Henry C. Strahle, the oldest of the two Strahle brothers, told me
that in the late 1920's a Cramer Hill neighbor, Freddy Heimach, was a
pitcher for the New York Yankees. He came into the saloon one night
about 10:00, bringing one of his teammates with him, Babe Ruth. There
was pandemonium. Ruth wanted to buy everyone drinks, and everyone wanted
to buy Ruth drinks. The Babe was a big, burly fellow who looked as
though he was
|Fred Heimach||Babe Ruth|
have many fond memories of the place as a child growing up. There were
many customers of German background who loved to play cards. I
remember my grand-
Francis J. Donato - known to most as "Champ", (my grandfather) served in the US Navy, later worked and retired from Campbell Soup. He also owned & operated The Pavonia House, known then as Donato's Pavonia House, at 26th & River Road. He married my grandmother Helen Selah, in the early 1940s. She was one of the children of Mary & Joe Selah, also of Cramer Hill. Champ died at about age 55 in 1977. After his death my mother, Gloria "Jean" Donato McShane, and grandmother held the business for a few years - selling it in about 1980. My grandmother Helen died in June 2004.
Club - Bridge
Cafe - Kernan's
Cafe- Harry's Taproom - Clancy's
Cafe - Big
Larry's Cafe - Lynch's Cafe - Morgan's Cafe - Nittinger's Cafe
Big Horn Cafe - Jack's Grille - Cooperson's Auto Body - Scotty's Thist'es
Vari's Cafe - Davalo's Cafe - Bush's Cafe - La Victoria - Shantytown Cafe - Billy's Cafe
Phil Hart's Cafe - Pavonia House - White Owl Inn - George's Grill - Dick's Rendezvous
Dragon Inn - Royal Inn - Bismark Cafe
Ginger's Cafe - Daly's Cafe - Kenure's Cafe - Knauer's Cafe - Oaklyn Inn - Bellevue Inn
Fourteenth Ward Democrat Club - Blanche's Cafe - Duke Gartland's - Regan's Cafe
Bettlewood Cafe - Mulvihill's Cafe - Barrington Cafe - Chews Landing Hotel - Blackwood Cafe
Laurel Inn - Starr's Cafe - Gruber's Inn - Welcome Inn - Somerdale Bowling Alley
The Bars, Taverns, and Clubs of Camden
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