The following is part of the Fifth Avenue Project, an ongoing effort to document the world of wholesaling merchants who operated along Fifth Avenue in Uptown Pittsburgh from 1880 to 1980. This article explains the project. I’ll be giving a talk on the history of the Fifth Avenue wholesaling district at the Rauh Jewish Archives on Sunday, April 21.
The Lower Hill District and Uptown were full of kosher butchers for much of the 20th Century, and the Dean of Kosher Butchers, at least according to his daughter, was Albert Cazen, who ran a meat market at 1227 Fifth Avenue from around 1926 until 1955.
Cazen was born in what is now Lithuania, around 1885, and came to Pittsburgh around 1902. Like many young men of his day, he immigrated to the United States to escape forced conscription into the Russian army. His father had been drafted as an “inordinately handsome and inordinately tall” boy of 15 and sent home to marry and start a family 25 years later, as a middle-aged man. Albert Cazen was the youngest of three children, and the only boy, and once he reached military age, his family saw fit to help him leave the country. They were poor. His oldest sister sacrificed her dowry to fund his journey. As Cazen and another young man headed east, Russian guards fired upon them near the German border. Cazen escaped, but his traveling companion was killed. Cazen made it to Hamburg, where he got a boat to the United States, and met up with family in Pittsburgh, including a cousin who taught him how to be a shochet, a kosher butcher.
Within a few years, he opened Cazen’s Meat Market in the Lower Hill, and for a decade or so he operated on Logan Street, the center of Jewish life in Pittsburgh at the time.
“My mother was from a different milieu,” Cazen’s daughter, the local actress Freda Alber, recalled in 1985. Anna Sachs came from a fairly well to do Ukrainian family. The Sachs’ lived in Poltava, in view of one of the famed summer residences of Russian nobility. Her father, Carl Sachs, ran a kvass plant operated by bands of gypsies. Unlike Cazen, the Sachs family spent six months traveling through Europe before arriving in the United States to join a relative who owned a cap and hat factory in Pittsburgh. “Everybody wore derbies and that sort of thing in those days. They had them piled in cases, one on top of the other, and they would push these things down the street,” Alber said. “Well my grandfather was a sophisticated man and that wasn’t for him. So one day he just took the whole dang thing and dumped it into the Monongahela River.”
Instead, Sachs opened a ready-to-wear shop catering to workingmen. The family lived above the store, in a place that was so drafty they hung Oriental rugs on the walls to keep the heat from the wood stove escaping. It was a far cry from a view of Russian palaces.
Albert Cazen married Anna Sachs around 1908. For their engagement, he gave her a bracelet made of gold coins. They started out on Locust Street. While Mr. Cazen ran his meat market on Logan, Mrs. Cazen ran a ready-to-wear shop on Wylie Avenue. “She was a smart gal. She was a very ambitious gal,” Alber said. Mrs. Cazen stayed in business even after she gave birth to Freda, in 1911. She would bring the baby into the shop to sit alongside her while she worked. After the birth of their second child, Abe, two years later, the Cazens bought the Logan Street building and Mrs. Cazen stayed home.
Now they lived above the Logan Street shop, in a three-bedroom unit with an upstairs apartment where Mr. and Mrs. Sachs retired. The building had enough room to build a sukkah out back each fall. Because of the eponymous elevations native to the Hill District, they could pass food directly into the sukkah from the kitchen window.
In 1926, as Freda prepared to enter Fifth Avenue High School, Cazen moved his business to 1227 Fifth Avenue. From 1896 until the start of Prohibition, the lot had housed a variety of liquor stores, but from 1920 until at least the early 1970s, the address was synonymous with meat, starting with a butcher shop run by a Hyman Steinberg.
The larger facilities allowed Cazen to operate an emporium. He added a wholesale business to his retail operation, and hosted sit-down dining: Bernard Reichbaum’s Delicatessen from 1926 to 1938 and Hyman Schwartz’s Grocery and Delicatessen from 1939 to 1953. “There was a shochet who took care of the chickens and the geese,” Alber recalled. “His wife tried so hard to speak English. She had trouble. If somebody said they’d like a particular size of duck or goose, she’d say, ‘Go downstairs. My husband’ll kill you.’” The building was large enough for an upstairs tenant, an artist named James Kelley in 1931 and a chiropractor named Constantine J. Cacheris from 1934 to 1936.
In advertisements, Cazen often boasted of distribution deals with national chains, such as the Kosher Star Sausage Mfg. Co. of Chicago and the Jewish food giant Manischewitz, with whom he claimed to have an exclusive license for Passover matzos and condensed chicken soup. As the supply chain pushed consumers farther from the sources of their food, he took great pains to reassure his customers that his meat was strictly kosher. In 1939, he became one of the early members of the Hebrew Butcher Workers Union of Pittsburgh — Local No. 223.
The Cazens eventually moved to Albemarle Street, in Squirrel Hill, but the shop stayed on Fifth Avenue until Cazen sold the business around 1955. By the time he retired, Cazen was so well known that advertisements continued to call 1227 Fifth the “Cazen building” for years. He died in January 1966, leaving two children, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The building continued to house meat markets until at least 1973.