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Published: Monday, 10/17/2005

Bar destroyed by fire was virtual shrine for politicians

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Jimmy Carter once stopped by Jim and Lou's Bar. So did former Ohio governor Richard Celeste and former U.S. Sens. John Glenn and Howard Metzenbaum.

They made sure, during campaigns past, to pay their respects to Lou Ratajski and his old-time bar in North Toledo, where former U.S. Rep. Lud Ashley was a regular.

On Saturday, Jim and Lou's at Mulberry Street and Central Avenue was in the spotlight again.

This time the images were not of smiling politicians shaking hands with Mr. Ratajski. Instead, they were of flames and smoke coming from the bar after rioters looted and burned it.

"It was just the wrong place at the wrong time," Mr. Ratajski, 86, said. "We've been part of this neighborhood a long time. I can't make sense of it."

Yesterday, he talked about how he escaped his long-time business and home just before rioters decided to target his landmark bar.

He was home, just before 2 p.m., when his nephew Terry Rybczynski spirited him away. Moments before, a mob had started looting the American Petroleum convenience store across the street.

"[Mr. Rybczynski] said we better get you out of here," Mr. Ratajski said his nephew told him when the looting started at the convenience store. "I went to his house. He did the right thing. He probably did save my life because I don't know what would have happened if I would have stayed."

Mr. Ratajski was surrounded by family and friends yesterday as they tried to salvage political memorabilia, some of it from the early 1900s.

Jim and Lou's Bar hosted a Who's Who of political candidates and insiders in its heyday. Mr. Carter, when he was running for president in 1975, and countless local politicians made their visits to the bar to find the pulse of the community.

The corner of Mulberry and Central was also home for Mr. Ratajski. He was born in a house across the street from the bar. Jim and Lou's opened in 1952 at the current spot and in 1956, Mr. Ratajski bought the building and moved upstairs with his wife, Alice, who died in 1984.

Much of those memories, though, were destroyed Saturday by fire.

Keith Wilkowski and Dave Simko, lawyers and longtime friends of Mr. Ratajski, said they will send a letter to city officials asking that they compensate Mr. Ratajski for his losses.

They said police and firefighters sacrificed the building because they failed to get the corner of East Central and Mulberry under control earlier. Toledo police Lt. Frank Ramirez said Saturday that firefighters declined to go into the area to fight the blaze until police could assure that it was safe.

"The city can start the healing process by doing the right thing," said Mr. Wilkowski, who ran for mayor this year and was edged out by incumbent Jack Ford in the September primary.

City Councilman Michael Ashford said he did not know if the city would legally be able to compensate Mr. Ratajski for his losses. Mr. Ashford made arrangements yesterday for an improved police presence around the bar as family members went through the remains.

"We've been able to save very little," said family member Georgia Poole. "We haven't been able to save anything of value, just some things of sentimental value. I've been coming to this bar for about 25 years. This was our gathering place. We're worried about Lou. This was his home, his life."

Mr. Ratajski ran the bar from 2 to 8:30 p.m. daily except for Sundays.

He still attracted many of the old timers in the neighborhood, who relived the best days of the bar and the neighborhood.

Sylvester Lesniewicz, 87, walked up to Mr. Ratajski and expressed his anger at the bar's demise.

"It's a dirty shame," Mr. Lesniewicz told Mr. Ratajski. "What did we do wrong? What did we ever do to them? It's just not right."

Mr. Ratajski said the remains of the bar will likely be torn down because the structure remains unstable.

Blade Columnist Roberta de Boer contributed to this report.

Contact Clyde Hughes at: chughes@theblade.com or 419-724-6095.



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