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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:            GERALD A. "JERRY" BLONDER

INTERVIEWER:         SANDRA BERMAN

DATE:                        September 28, 2005

LOCATION              ATLANTA, GEORGIA

SPONSORED BY:      Taylor Family Fund

CITATION:                 Gerald A. Blonder, September 28, 2005, OHC10364, p. xx from the Herbert and Esther Taylor Oral History Collection, Cuba Family Archives for Southern Jewish History at the Breman Museum, Atlanta, Georgia.

Transcript (PDF)

Biography

Jerry was the son of Irving and Pauline [Janowitz] Blonder. Irving emigrated from Poland when he was 13 years old and Pauline was a native New Yorker who grew up on the Lower East Side of New York City.

Jerry and his family lived with his parents and sister Phyllis in Port Chester, New York, a small town about 35 miles from New York City that bordered Greenwich, Connecticut. Irving owned a milk delivery business in Port Chester.

From the age of 13, Jerry spent his summers in Atlanta, Georgia where three of his aunts, his mother’s sisters, lived. He spent summers with his aunts Anne Fields, Florence Rachelson, and Francis Ritchkin. His aunts all worked in the family business, Southern Merchandise.

Jerry enrolled in the University of Georgia and was introduced to his future wife, Lois. Lois was from New York City but had relocated with her family when her father took a job in the jewelry business in Atlanta. When his mom was ill, though, Jerry returned home for one year and attended New York University.

Jerry visited Lois in Atlanta, courted her, and proposed. By 1955, Jerry and Lois were married and living in Atlanta. Not wishing to join his father’s milk delivery business, Jerry launched his own career, in real estate, by purchasing and refurbishing 50 apartment units on Piedmont Road and 14th Street. Jerry’s father helped with financing this first purchase. The couple lived in one of the small efficiency apartments. In 1956 Jerry expanded into construction by building 10 housing units on Greenwood Avenue off North Highland Avenue

Before their son Michael was born, Jerry and Lois moved out of the efficiency into a duplex at Montgomery Ferry Drive and Monroe Drive. Jerry’s businesses, called Tempo and Focus Group, eventually included apartment complexes on Buford Highway in Atlanta, and in Birmingham, Alabama; Charlotte, North Carolina; Greenville, South Carolina; Ocean Springs, Mississippi; Charleston, South Carolina; and Somerville, South Carolina.

Jerry’s success in the apartment industry led him to be one of the founding members of the Apartment Association in Atlanta, and later vice president and president of the National Apartment Association.

While Jerry pursued his business interests, his wife Lois was actively involved as a volunteer in the Jewish community. The couple’s philanthropy established the Blonder Family Department for Developmental Disabilities at MJCCA [Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta] and the Blonder Heritage Gallery at the William Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum.

Scope of Interview

Jerry discusses growing up in Port Chester, New York. He talks about his parents Irving and Pauline [Janowitz] Blonder and his sister Phyllis. He tells how his father, who emigrated alone from Poland as a 13-year old boy, owned a milk delivery business in Port Chester.

Jerry discusses spending his teenage summers in Atlanta with his maternal aunts Anne Fields, Florence Rachelson, and Francis Ritchkin. Jerry’s memories of his Atlanta summers include swimming and playing with his cousins, trips to movies, and dinners at the Progressive Club. Jerry recalls wanting to move to Atlanta from the time he was 13 years old. Jerry tells how he decided, also at a young age, that he did not wish to be a milkman like his father.

Jerry tells about attending the University of Georgia and moving back to Port Chester for one year when his mother was ill. Jerry tells how he missed his girlfriend Lois in Atlanta and how he returned to Atlanta and proposed to Lois. He recalls moving with his wife Lois to Atlanta in 1955, and purchasing—with financial help from his father—his first apartment property on Piedmont Road and 14th Street.

Jerry discusses becoming a successful realtor by acquiring and constructing apartment complexes on Buford Highway in Atlanta, and in Birmingham, Alabama; Charlotte, North Carolina; Greenville, South Carolina; Ocean Springs, Mississippi; Charleston, South Carolina; and Somerville, South Carolina. Jerry mentions naming his real estate ventures Tempo and Focus Group. Jerry attributes much of his success to the support of his wife Lois.

Jerry describes the segregation that was endemic Atlanta in 1955. He tells about separate drinking fountains and bathrooms for whites and non-whites. He mentions signs on buses that read “coloreds from rear to front, whites from front to rear.” He discusses the integration of his apartment complexes. Jerry says his philosophy about renting to minorities was, “It's not black. It's not white. It's green.” Jerry also describes the changing demographics in Atlanta. He tells how apartment rentals were affected by the increase in the Korean, Vietnamese, Haitian, and Hispanic population.

Jerry says he can recall only one incident of antisemitism during his career. He tells how he was promised power, yet he saw Georgia Power trucks pass by his location without stopping. He says an employee named Dusty Rhodes told him, “Listen Jew boy, we gotta get there when we get there.” Jerry said he called an acquaintance, Joe Bower—the head of Georgia Power—and the trucks were there in 20 minutes.

Jerry tells about his leadership in the apartment industry and rising to be president of the National Apartment Association. He explains his emphasis on building and managing his business while his wife Lois excelled as a volunteer in the Jewish community. As a result, he says he was able to establish the Blonder Family Department for Developmental Disabilities at MJCCA [Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta] and the Blonder Heritage Gallery at the William Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum.

Keywords

Ahavath Achim

ADA (Americans with Disability Act)

Blank, Arthur

Blonder Family Department for Developmental Disabilities

Blonder Heritage Gallery

Blonder, Gerald A. (Jerry)

Blonder, Irving

Blonder, Leslie

Blonder, Lois

Blonder, Michael

Blonder, Pauline (Janawitz)

Bright, George

Buckhead

Buford Highway

Camp Barney Medintz

Discrimination—Racial

Feldman, Sidney

Focus Group

Immigration

Integration

Lane, George

Love’s Restaurant

Marcus, Bernie

MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority)

Mayfair Club

MJCCA

National Apartment Association

Olens, Sam

Philanthropy

Port Chester, New York

Progressive Club

Russell, Herman

Russell, Otelia Hackney

Segregation

Standard Club

Tempo Apartments

The Temple Bombing

 

 

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