Part one of 14
From the deep dark recesses of a long forgotten second floor loft, across the street from Toledo's red-light district, laughter mingled with the sounds of a slightly out of tune piano. The music drifting across the wet snowflakes fused together to obscure the shadows that played obliquely on the gritty windows.
As he covered his beat, Policeman Louie Haas' footsteps had long since disappeared, swept away by the snowstorm that was raging through Toledo's downtown. The windows of Pearl Barber's gambling room were barely visible as he sought shelter across the street in the doorway of Melcher's liquor store.
His superiors had ordered him to look after street walkers and gamblers, and Louie Haas was good at his job. Gambling, liquor, and women waited at the top of the stairs as Haas watched several of Toledo's finest mingle with the residents of Toledo's downtown red-light district. Society's high and low merged into one as they climbed the wide staircase to Pearl Barber's willing embrace.
Signaling the police for the raid, Haas had seen enough as he made his way across Monroe Street to Barber's second-floor loft. After the arrests and bookings, Haas walked down the deserted hallway to the isolated sergeant's desk in the roll-call room. Weary and cold, Haas reduced the night of March 20, 1915, to a few lines in his battered personal log.
Reported for duty at 1 PM out at 2:30 PM. General street duty till 7 PM. Went to 1923 Canton Street on complaint of gambling, found none. At 10:30 PM went to 606 1/2 Monroe Street and arrested Pearl Barber for running a gambling room, and Reed Holland & J. Scham, George Victor, Charles Gray [colored] Theo Thomas, George Conty, Richard Patterson, Paul Janeska, Harry Johnson, Louis Harra, Israel Dixon, W. P. Davis, Mike Jarvis, Harley Smith, George Bladden, Con Moore, W.L. Wales, John Rikus, Christ Pappas for gambling. Off at 12 AM.
This wasn't Pearl Barber's first brush with the law and it wouldn't be his last as he continued to dominate a growing segment of Toledo's gambling community.
October 3, 1870, and King's Switch, Ohio, was in the distant past as Pearl's friends thought about his rise from the abject poverty that pervaded the black community, to the life that he was now enjoying at Sans Souci, his waterfront estate adjacent to the affluent Eagle Point Colony in Rossford.
Pearl was 26 when he first visited Toledo and was captivated by an Irish dressmaker that he had met in her mother's saloon on Canton Avenue. It was almost a year before Anna M. Dildine consented to become his wife, and that was only after he had earned the respect of her brother, Edward A. Dildine. Together they operated a saloon and caf across from her mother's place on Canton Avenue in 1897 until his wife's untimely death.
Several times a year while having a drink at his favorite saloon, Pearl Barber would invite his friends to join him. They would lock the doors of the tavern for a private party, and enjoy every vice that the inn had to offer. At the end of the gathering Pearl Barber would pick up the tab.
Newspapers reported that one evening Pearl Barber placed $2,000 dollars on the bar of one of Toledo's best Superior Street establishments, invited his friends to join him, and drank champagne till sunrise or the saloon ran out of the bubbly. Pearl was well liked by both races and moved freely between the two, but Toledo's tolerance had boundaries and did not extend to everyone.
Ignoring the social conventions of the day, Pearl married Haidee Blanche Myers, a white woman from Lindsey, Ohio, sometime between 1900 and 1912. They moved their residence to 524 Southard, between 12th and Canton.
Retaining his ties with the Irish Dildines and the black community, Pearl moved easily between the wide gulfs of social prejudices that marked the country. However, the community's overt discrimination invaded their life when they attempted to rent a home in an exclusive Cherry Street neighborhood and were forced out.
Pearl responded to Toledo's overt housing discrimination in 1920 by purchasing candy maker John Hoffman's riverfront estate, Sans Souci, in Rossford, Ohio.
John Hoffman, president of the Hoffman Confectionery Company in Toledo, explained " that the expansion of Rossford industry and the influx of immigrants prompted the sale." Continuing with his explanation, Hoffman said "Barber paid spot cash and even offered to buy the property adjoining which is owned and occupied by a widow, but she has indicated she has no intention of moving."
But the reality of the sale of Sans Souci might be closer to the prejudice that Hoffman faced from his neighbors, or perhaps the sale was nothing more than the satisfaction of a gambling debt.
According to the newspapers of the day " John Hoffman was the object of scorn among his neighbors at River View, adjacent to the Eagle Point, because of his purported pro-German sympathies." Coupling his World War I open pro-German sympathies with his dislike of Rossford's " influx of immigrants ," Hoffman may have thought that the sale of Sans Souci to Pearl Barber was one last insult to his neighbors who had the temerity to disagree with his perceptions.
But the truth of the sale may be a combination of perceived discrimination and a gambling debt. John Hoffman's confectionery business and Pearl Barber's gambling establishment were just around the corner from each other, and Hoffman was quoted as saying "Sans Souci is worth nearly $75,000, but that Barber paid less than $50,000 . Barber paid spot cash. "
With the arrival of the twentieth century and riding the crest of Toledo's economic boom, Pearl moved his saloon from Canton Avenue to Erie Street between Jefferson and Madison, and added gambling to the saloon's beer, food, and whiskey. Noticing that the community's attitudes towards beer and liquor were slowly changing, Pearl obtained a charter from the City of Toledo to open a private club that would be immune from the prohibition laws that were slowly sweeping across the county.
When prohibition became the law, he was able to ignore the politicians and the bribes that they demanded by operating the Young Men's Social Club in strict compliance with the regulations demanded by Toledo's charter.
Well-read, mannered, and cultured, Pearl Barber and his wife Haidee traveled extensively throughout North and South America and Europe, where they would be royally entertained.
The Barbers' first recorded trip to England was in 1912 and their last was in 1930. When the Barbers arrived at their destination, two chauffeur-driven automobiles with the family's coat of arms skillfully painted on the door would be waiting for them. The first automobile would be for Pearl and Haidee, and the second would be for their Hungarian maid, Julia Tanaba, and their handmade luggage.
Pearl Barber would often be mistaken for an East Indian prince and was not known to correct that impression. While traveling in South America he would assume the role of a wealthy Brazilian coffee merchant. Barber also traveled first class and always stayed in the best hotels and ate in the best restaurants.
Barber was known in the gambling circles throughout the world, especially in horse-racing tracks where his carefully selected horses always won. Well-dressed, Pearl was known to carry a gold-headed cane in the afternoon and a curved hand-carved ivory cane in the evening.
It all ended late Friday night, November 21, 1930, when Pearl Barber left his chartered Young Men's Social Club and headed for his gambling house in the 600 block of Monroe Street, between Huron and Erie Streets.
The roadster was cold as the winds of November swept through Toledo. The heritage of his custom $12,000 car was apparent as Pearl shifted naturally through the gears. Another hour or so and he would be in his Rossford home, relaxing in front of the den's fireplace, surrounded by the literary classics and fine art, recapping the day's events with his wife, Haidee Blanche.
At about the same time that Pearl left his Monroe Street gambling house, a Detroit Avenue man, after having a few drinks, was leaving a Rossford pool room.
As the man traveled east on Miami Street weaving from lane to lane, the police said that Pearl didn't have a chance in avoiding the head-on collision that followed. Bystanders pulled Pearl from the twisted wreckage and rushed him to the East Side Hospital.
Doctors admitted Pearl with two broken legs, a fractured skull, crushed chest, and other internal injuries. Pearl's luck held till his wife, Haidee, was with him.
Haidee had Pearl placed in a bronze casket and taken to Sans Souci, their home of over 10 years.
Positioned in his den amongst his books and art, mourners from all walks of life came to pay their respects. Flowers and tributes filled their home as the Rev. Walter P. Stanley of the All Saints' Episcopal Church read the service. With leaders from both communities as pall bearers, Pearl was placed in a vault in Toledo's Woodlawn Cemetery on November 24, 1930, and three weeks later was buried at Forest Cemetery.
Writer Elmer Williams wrote Pearl's obituary in Toledo's News-Bee: "Pearl Barber did not talk or make idle gossip; he kept his word and was extremely loyal to his friends. He had no time for his enemies, and had the courage to tell them so. In death, Barber wore that same ineradicable look of disdain he always had given society, whether it was a society that accepted him or shunned him. There he was, Pearl Barber, a man who believed himself a gentleman and a scholar."
For almost 30 years Pearl weathered the social and business discrimination that he encountered every day by believing in himself and his abilities, and when his wife, Haidee, died two years later, Pearl was moved to be with her in the Lindsey, Ohio, family plot.
TODAY: Licavolis' River Gang makes its move from Detroit to ToledoDay one of this series will be on toledoblade.com. For days 2-14, go to print versions of The Blade.