George and Joe Zainea, August 24th, 2016
WW: Hello, today is August 24th, 2016. My name is William Winkel. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project and I am sitting down with misters Joe and George Zainea. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today, gentlemen.
GZ and JZ: Thank you for having us.
WW: Could you tell me what midtown and Detroit was like in the 1950s?
JZ: I can. I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was an entertainment center for the metropolitan area. Just north of the necklace district where all the movie theatres were downtown. We had plenty of entertainment around here: bowling, roller skating, taxi dancing—
GZ: Some of the different nightclubs—
JZ: Oh, yes, down John R we had a black and tan nightclub.
GZ: Frolic show bar.
JZ: Chesterfield show bar.
GZ: Chesterfield bar.
JZ: And these bars that we’re describing now were primarily white audience. The staff was black. The owners were usually the Jewish people. The entertainment was always black. We saw some fine entertainment. Who did you see?
GZ: I saw Johnny Ray, which was not black. Johnny Ray was a singer back then.
JZ: He was albino.
GZ: I saw Della Reese, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald. That was when our sister was working for them as a book keeper, at the Flame Show Bar. It was interesting to meet—also, that one singer, Mell Tourmay. They called him the Velvet Frog. I got to see all those people and meet them because they were in the area and my sister was the book keeper there, and I used to go there just to listen to some of the songs and some of the things that became really great.
JZ: The manager of the place—I can’t recall his name—but Wayne State Press wrote a book about him, it’s called Man About Town. He was a rather short African American gentleman that always wore an ascot and always had young beautiful women with him. I can’t recall his name, but he owned the bowling alley as well, down on Hastings and Forrest, called the Forrest club. In those days we used to hire pin boys. He and my father had a relationship because when he needed pin boys, my father would send us as pin boys. You know what those are, they set the pins by hand before the automatic things. So at any rate, a relationship was made, you see? We were involved in some way with the African American people long before others were.
GZ: His name was Sonny Wilson.
JZ: Sonny Wilson, thank you very much. Yeah, Sonny Wilson. He was quite a guy. He was the manager of the Flame Show Bar, and he also was the manager of Forrest Club.
GZ: Forrest Club. It was on Mt. Elliot.
JZ: No, no, it was on Hastings. Right on Hastings and Forrest. I could just picture it now.
GZ: All right.
JZ: It was quite an experience. There was a hotel back here, I gotta tell you about it. It was called the Gotham Hotel. It was a hotel for black people and it was a fine hotel. It was as high-quality as any of the major hotels downtown. And the people that stayed there were primarily the entertainers, and business people also, that came to stay, that were performing at the Paradise Theatre, which is now Orchestra Hall, which previously was Orchestra Hall. They would have top-notch entertainment. Then across the street, where the McDonald’s is now, was the Grey Stone Ballroom. There, again, you would have major bands—Tommy Dorrissey and Stan Kenton—finest bands, and the audience was primarily always white. Every so often they’d have a black audience, solely black. This was how the society was separate. [unintelligible]. It was quite an amazing thing. There were lots of bars and restaurants, primarily serving the people staying in the SROs, [unintelligible]. People that had jobs in the Detroit area, midtown, downtown, that lived out of town and took a train in to town on Monday mornings, then stayed in Detroit Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday night. Friday, after work, they would catch the train back to their part of homes, as far as [unintelligible]. When they stayed here, they had money to spend and time to use. It caused these businesses down there to thrive. Open the bars at seven o’clock in the morning. Have the bars set up with drinks. I remember a shot of Kessler’s—that’s very inexpensive whiskey—a glass of beer with a raw egg inside of it, pickled pigs feet, a sausage, that was breakfast, and off they’d go.
GZ: And then they would be back at lunch time.
JZ: We had a Polish cook—
JZ: And she would make Polish dishes. My dad would track everything in a little spiral notebook. Stock, [unintelligible], so forth. Friday when they came in for lunch, he had money in his pocket to cash their checks. Then he would pay the concierge at the hotels and they’d be gone for the week. These places were just very, very busy. Another particular thing that I remember very well, and I wrote about it, was the Canadians. They had blue laws in Canada, and Saturday night, everything in Canada had to be shut down well before midnight because it was the Lord’s day, Sunday. They would come to town, to midtown, and raise holy hell. They would bowl, roller skate, dance, drink, many, many other things. I remember Joe Simon, my brother-in-law, would have a fight every Saturday night with one of them; they’d have to throw him out. Then they would go back to Windsor [unintelligible]. Surely enough, they were here next week. You remember?
GZ: Oh yeah, that was—Woodward Avenue, three in the morning, was busier then than it is today at twelve noon.
JZ: Oh, yes, very busy.
GZ: It was traffic, people around there, [unintelligible name’s] restaurant across the street was open twenty-four hours a day, never closed. The fact that there was so much going on. And a lot of times, one of the things that did go on, if the bars closed at 2 a.m., and you had to be out by 2:30, that was the law. Most of them closed on time and did that. A lot of people would go to—there was a restaurant called not Tasty Barbecue, but the barbecue place on Erskins and Brush, Brush and Erskin. I can’t recall the name of the restaurant right now, but it’ll come to me. They used to sell different kinds of tea. We used to have those little metal teapots, and you could go in there and get a southern tea; you could wind up getting a Canadian tea; you could wind up getting a Scottish tea; you can get a Canadian tea. The pot would be filled to the top and they would bill you as if it was tea. Of course, it wasn’t tea. It was something else. All of a sudden, you’d see Sammy Davis come walking in. He’d get up on the stage and he’d start performing. Checker Barbecue was the name of the place. Checker. Sammy Davis would get up on the stage. I remember when Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra, and the other singer—
JZ: The Rat Pack.
GZ: The Rat Pack, they were here. Frank Sinatra wouldn’t go off. He wanted the ribs to be shipped to him at the hotel, and they did. They did that. But the point was, the place would be jammed, listening to music.
JZ: How about the Sizzle Steak? You remember that restaurant over on east side?
GZ: Sizzle Steak was on the corner of Adams and—
JZ: No, it was on Hastings. Right back here, behind the bowling alley.
GZ: Like Alexandrine or Garfield?
JZ: They used to bring me out a steak on a sizzling thing.
GZ: I don’t remember.
JZ: It was good steaks. There again, black waiters, black management, white customers.
GZ: But that was what was very interesting because you had some of the top-notch—and they’re performing for you. You didn’t have to pay a dime, but you paid for that pot of tea, six or seven bucks. And that place was jammed. Jammed!
JZ: And things would go on until five in the morning.
GZ: That’s right. They would go.
JZ: He’s describing one. I would go with my dad, two o’clock in the morning, we’d be hanging out here, and the bar would get very busy around closing time. Everyone went out the back door. If you go on Willis, the fourth house down, and you went into the basement, even today, the bar is still there. The stage is still there. All the tables and chairs are gone, but it’s still the blind pig that was operating there. The building that we are looking at across the street, the second floor, each floor, each apartment, was some of the apartments there.
GZ: One would have a game of poker, another would have a game run by somebody else. Then there would be another apartment that was just prostitution.
JZ: It was like sin city. Drugs, talk about drugs. It’s not new. I mean, it was different than it was today. It was medicines that some drug storers would be selling outright. You’d look in the doorwalls and you’d see these little bottles, two ounce, three ounce bottles of [unintelligible], good to put on your teeth when you have a sore tooth. But they drank it down for the high. It was just a different city, but a good one. Because on Sunday morning—oh, I remember, the street sweepers, on Saturday night, they would sweep the whole street. On Sunday mornings, this became Piety Hill. You’d see the people walking on the street in their good clothes, men were wearing hats, women all dressed up, going to the many churches in the neighborhood. Anglicans, Catholics, Universalists, all of them. Every denomination was down here, and they looked so different because we didn’t come to work on Sunday morning, and we had a bowling league at the bowling alley, Temple Beth El, a Jewish league. Sunday’s not their holidays, so they bowled on Sunday, and George and I bought a bus, went to Temple Beth El on Woodward and Gladstone, pick up the students after their Sunday school, bring them back to our business. While their fathers were bowling, we served breakfast to the kids, girls and boys, then we took them to the second floor of the bowling alley and made a children’s bowling league out of them. So for that reason, we had to go to church ourselves very early on Sunday mornings. You remember that?
GZ: Yeah, we used to go to—there isn’t a church I haven’t been in in the intercity, from Holy Rosary to you name ‘em, been to every one of them. Been to mass there, too. It was interesting. One of the things that’s missing today that was there before, it’s respect for one another. It’s one of the things you see being destroyed to a certain degree. You want to see more compassion and love amongst people, and understanding each other. Making sure that you make room in your heart to turn around and do the right thing. Some of those things were there back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Now, there were mistakes made, in a lot of ways, but that’s the human nature of people.
JZ: Let me give you some numbers as an example. Our bowling alley was primarily Polish customers. So my dad being a good Syrian businessman told us all to learn to speak Polish, so George and I would say to many Polish people, “Hi, how are you, Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year,” and so forth. Now, when World War II ended, all of these soldiers came back, and by 1960, most of them were married and the [unintelligible] houses were built. The GI Bill allowed them to get 1% under the prime rate, and no money down, if you were a GI. So you bought a house for about $8,000. Most of them are torn down now because they were not that well-built, but they built many, many of them. The important thing was that it was a new invention, the suburbs. Open mobility, something I call the Mile Road Syndrome happened. They started to move, so we had about, I would say, 1,500, 1,600, league bowlers in 1960. Then the riot happened—I want to call it a rebellion, I don’t call it a riot, but that’s what the common word is—happened in ’67, and that season that started, the ’67-’68 season, we had 300 bowlers. We lost them all. They all headed out the Mile roads. So we had a bowling league and a Blue Cross League. We handed out a flyer and we asked people, if you go to your car, what radio station is preset on your car? And they would write down the station they were listening to. What newspapers do you read? Do you read the Michigan Chronicle? And the answers came back after polling. We just handed them out to the African American bowlers in the Blue Cross League, and the answer came back that they listen to WJZZ, a jazz station. They did not read the Michigan Chronicle; their parents did. They read the Free Press, as their main paper. So I took this information—we took it—and we called the owner of WJZZ—her name was [unintelligible], a lovely old lady who I had a lot of love for and likewise, it was returned. She said that when her grandson [unintelligible], I would be his first customer, and he was just graduating. So we met the owner of the station’s grandson, Eric—
GZ: Eric Betz. And Bob Betz.
JZ: I don’t know if the names are important. Nonetheless, we set up a program where we said that we wanted the station to make it seem like they were sponsoring this program for thirteen weeks, that we would give free bowling lessons for four weeks, and we had a free babysitting service, and we had instructors. Now the instructors were the African American bowlers in our alley that were good bowlers and we would ask, “Would you like to be a teacher?” A class would typically be four lanes, three on each lane, that’s twelve people. We weren’t going to pay them at all, until they made it into a bowling league. So if he taught five classes a week, as an example, that would be five times twelve. Once he made a bowling league out of them, I would split the income with him, I would split it in half and I would take half, for thirteen weeks. After that he’d have to do it all over again. With this being done, by 1970, I would say we had 2,700, 2,600 bowlers. All black and beautiful. And green. That’s what business is about. It’s about the green, it’s not about the color. We changed and we did very, very well. We had some very admirable people. Some of them were just so nice.
GZ: Yeah, I’ve met a tremendous—
JZ: [unintelligible crosstalk]
GZ: The electricians, which I knew a lot of those guys, and this was a black group, and unions, the black electricians. I met Mayor Archer, his father-in-law, Jim [unintelligible]. I met him at—I saw him here, and I went to church at Old St. Mary’s one Sunday, and there he was; he was an usher there. I was surprised, you know. Anyway, some of the things that went on was—you met some wonderful people, and that’s one of the things that the bowling and lifelong sports brings you together, is an understanding and a feeling of camaraderie because you had the same aches and pains and I don’t care what color skin you are, but you had the same aches and pains as anyone else. So the situation was that we met so many wonderful people. It became certain things, like we designed programs to set up the things that would fit into what would be—like we organized one group, I’ll never forget this. The name of the league was the Black Diamonds. We had a guy that was a jewelry maker, and he told me, “I’ll get the rings for you.” So instead of giving out trophies for first, second place, and third place, what we did is we gave out rings: rings for the first place, which were a little more expensive; rings for second place; and rings for third. Well, we had two men and two women on the team, and what we did is that was one of the first times that we ever had white and blacks bowling together, which was unheard of, because even the American Bowling Congress, like I told you earlier, was a segregated organization back in the late ‘40s and ‘50s. They finally changed that rule, which was a crazy rule.
JZ: Jack Kennedy sued everybody in the bowling industry—not Jack Kennedy, his brother.
JZ: Bobby Kennedy. He was the Attorney General, and he sued every bowling alley and all the institutions, and we had to put a sign up that said we would not discriminate against race, color, or creed. That sign was posted and up for 25 years. And we did, we put ours up. I’ll tell you, George and I became a social—the person who organizes parties—social agents. They were having a great time.
GZ: Oh, yeah.
WW: What year was the Black Diamond league?
GZ: The Black Diamond league was back in the early ‘70s. Bob Allen and his wife—I remember them very well—and I remember this one dentist and his wife, he lived in Palmer Woods. One day I had a house—I lived, at one time, I lived in St. Claire Shores on Twelve Mile and Jefferson. I bought, under the GI Bill, I bought a house. And it was like Joe said, it was a newer house. That was back in 1958. I invited this dentist and his wife over to have dinner with us, my wife and I. I had a for-sale sign out in front of my house, I was selling my house, and my neighbors came over to my house the next day and said, “Is you selling your house to blacks?” I said, “Oh, no, he wouldn’t buy in this neighborhood.” They said, “I’m glad to hear that.” I said, “It’s too far beneath him. They live in Palmer Woods.” You see? I got even with them by letting you know that you’re not so precious.
JZ: We had some great bowlers. What about that guy that went to work for the—I forgot his name—Levi Jackson? He went to work for the, I think it was the Reagan.
GZ: That’s right, he was a union executive with the UAW. He went to Washington, and they offered him a position in Washington. Levi Jackson. I met so many nice guys. I really did. The Tuskeegee Airmen, they presented me with an award, Businessman of the Year, going back years ago. It was exciting. I knew a lot of those guys. I knew they were very dedicated Americans to our country, you know.
JZ: Switch back to Temple Beth El bowling league. They bowled on Sunday morning. Our heritage is Syrians, and they were noted for hospitality. That’s applicable to most people in the Middle East. My father started buying bagels and cream cheese, lox, capers, and he made rich coffee. He set that up for them, and they were so impressed with the fact that he did that for us, they loved us. They came up to us and they said, “We got some bad news for you.” And it wasn’t that surprise to us. They said, “We sold the Temple, and we’re moving.” And I said, “What are you going to do?” They’re going to go bowl in Southfield at a friend of mine’s bowling alley, Star Lanes. The owner called me back, who happened to be Jewish himself, and said, “Joe, what did you do to these Jewish people? They want me to feed them!” “Of course,” I told him. “The way to a man’s pocketbook is through his stomach. You gotta put a little buffet out for them.” “Every week?” He says. “Every week!” He hired someone to do it, and he learned his lesson.
GZ: Roger Robinson.
JZ: Nice man. We had plenty of good experiences playing the role of social—
GZ: Here’s one of the things that I remember very well: we were trying to build our youth bowling group together and in the process of doing that, we tried to get some new things generated. I was driving down one of the highways and I saw in this one small community, I saw a bus parked out front, a bus for sale. A ‘66 International Bus. I stopped and I went in and I asked, “What are you asking for?” They said, “$500.” I said, “Does it run?” “It runs.” He started it up and we drove it around a little bit. I said, “Okay.” Because we were trying to build our youth league up and I turned around. So we bought the bus. We drove it home, here, to the bowling center, and we had to put a new engine in it with new transmission. We fixed it all up real nice. It was really a ’66 bus that really fixed up good. What happened is that we tried to get—we went to Helm Corporation, I’ll never forget that. They were having problems with vandalizing their building, which was on the Boulevard. The Boulevard, not too far from where the hospital was, St. Joe’s Hospital, back then. The owner of the place, I asked him, I said, “I’d like you to be a sponsor.” He said, “What are you talking about?” I said, “$2,500 would be the amount of money that we would need from you.” He said, “Well, we have our building vandalized, the windows are broken.” I said, “I guarantee you, we’ll get it stopped. We’ll get it stopped and we will have the children out looking at what’s going on.” Well, he called me up one day and he says, “My hi-lo was stolen.” I says, “Well, let me put it to the test.” So I called Dolores Bennett, which she was a good friend of mine. They have Bennett Park now in Detroit. Some of the things she’s done, just fantastic. Beautiful person. She went to the children, said, “Listen, we need that hi-lo back there. Somebody has it in their garage. Somebody stole it and put it in their garage. Find out who it is and get it back there.” The next day, when the guy came in to work, he said, “My hi-lo’s back.” I says, “Not only that, your windows will not be broken from now on. The community’s going to work with you.” I says, “Problem is, you haven’t reached out to the community at all. That’s where your problem is. You don’t reach out to them.” So anyway, we wound up with increasing our youth bowling program tremendously. And we increased it to such a degree, we had a lot of people wondering, “How in the heck did you get so many children to bowl?”
JZ: Other proprietors would come by and ask us, “How do you get that many bowlers in there?” And we said, “The door opens both ways. You go out into the community, you organize them, and you teach them how to bowl.” We had a film project and taught them how to bowl.
GZ: We had a bowling show. We had a bowling show on TV.
JZ: I got together with another proprietor, and I said, “We should promote bowling with PAL”—Police Athletic League. So we said, we’ll do a fundraiser with the bowling proprietors. So we did a fundraiser for PAL with the bowling proprietors, gave the money to PAL, and they organized classes for young African American kids to go over to Harper Recreation and to the Garden Bowl. It got to be so popular, they started to fill in most of the bowling alleys in the city. We had about, I’d say sixty bowling alleys in the city, in the 1960s. Today, there’s only two, because everybody has fled the mile roads, the upper mobility, the Mile Road Syndrome, I referred to, because we lost our black clientele in the ‘90s and in the 2000s. They wanted to hit the mile roads just like anyone else. They wanted to step up. Then we had to rebuild our business, and this time it was with young college kids. It’s just another form of business. It’s green, kids love it, we have obnoxious loud music when they’re bowling. They’re having a good time, we shut the lights off. We started that in 1984 and that’s been picked up by bowling alleys all over the country. They changed the name, we call ours Rock ‘n’ Bowl. They call it Cosmic Bowl, Moonlight Bowling, but we had to do it a unique way. We have a live DJ who plays the genre of music that they like. From that, it spilled out into opening clubs. That was all in the last fifteen years.
GZ: One of the things that was very, very impressive is that today I bowl with some of the guys in a senior league, and some of them are the children that used to bowl here at the Garden Bowl. They used to be in our youth class and I see them every so often. I tease them a lot. I go up to them and I say, “Hey, how old are you?” He says, “Right now, I’m 64.” I says, “64?” He says, “I came bowling in your center thirty, forty years ago.” I say to him, “I really wondered how old you were.” He said, “Why did you want to know my age?” I says, “Because I want to know how long it took you to be that ugly.” That’s Larry Foote. Larry Foote bowls with us and his son plays for the Steelers.
JZ: We had a dynamic youth league, but they hit the mile roads too.
GZ: Sure they did.
JZ: See, during the Reagan Trickle-down era in the ‘80s, it trickled down to the educated, affluent African Americans, and they hit the mile roads the same way as the whites did in the ‘60s.
WW: You said earlier that your bowling leagues dwindled in the ‘60s. Did the traffic on Woodward and the crowds on Woodward also dwindle?
JZ: Absolutely. Woodward Avenue became a desert. You could roll a bowling ball some nights down Woodward Avenue and not hit a car. The Renaissance started to happen with the building of the stadiums, Mr. Illitch bringing his business to Detroit, and of course, the story goes on to what we have today. And again, I’m saying 1988, ’89, ’90, that’s when it started to pick up. When they came, they bring business. We had Rock ‘n’ Bowl—my son started Rock ‘n’ Bowl in 1984. This girl came in, she’s a med school student, and she wanted to have a party after celebrating a major exam. She showed up that day—first, she was wearing her scrubs, when we first saw her. Next time I saw her, she had black leather spikes on, she had her hair black-black, and she had her eyes made up, and she put the booth through there and the lights. She came up with the slogan, Rock ‘n’ Bowl. It was goth. Thank god that’s over with. Nonetheless, it was goth music. She started that, and we started sending letters to the University of Michigan fraternities to have what they call a holiday, term party. They’d come to Detroit, they’d stay at the Pontchartrain Hotel downtown, and they would come bowl, stay at the Ponch, have brunch the next day at the hotel, the bus would take them back. They had a lot of fun. It was ironic, on Friday night, we had this one league, African American league, it was one of the last leagues we had. They were talking about bowling all the suburbs, like, we gotta get out of this raggedy old bowling alley, the city. We’re going to go bowl in Warren. One lady stood on top of a chair and she says, “This bowling alley won’t even allow you to bring your own food in!” Well, we had a restaurant. Why would I allow someone to bring their food in? She called this restaurant across the street, Onion Street. I’ll never forget that. It was actually Minion Street. They voted to bowl somewhere else that year and they left. After they finished bowling that one evening when they had the vote, the busses showed up from the University of Michigan. It was the same place, the same time. These kids would come in and say, “Look how old this place is! Look how cool this is!” How could two groups have such a disparity of opinion at the same place at the same time? So we saw the future alive in the young crowd.
WW: Going into ’67, what were your experiences during the rebellion of ’67?
GZ: Going into it?
WW: Yep, going into it and then it.
JZ: We were losing customers by the league. The white customers. They were moving out to the ‘burbs. By the league. One league would come up and tell us they’re bowling somewhere else. We’d be very disappointed, because we made friends with them! I served in the army with some of them! When the Michigan Mutual League—
GZ: So did I.
JZ: They just left us and we had the feeling—but, you know, it bounced back, and when they come back—it happens to this very day, they say, “Man, you guys are still in business down there? I thought you’d close after we left. And I tell them, “No, it’s improved since you left.” And I don’t mean that facetiously, I mean it in all honesty, that the business indeed has improved since they left because it gave us the opportunity to get a new genre of customers.
WW: Were you here that Sunday morning already, or how did you first hear what was going on?
GZ: You mean during the riots?
GZ: I was coming home from Grand Haven with a vacation with our children. It was Sunday, and we were driving home. And all of a sudden on the highway, I saw the trucks with the troops on the truck from Grayling going past us. I went home and I turn on the news and they’re rioting, this and that, this and that, so I told my wife, “I’m going down to the bowling center.” I says, “I’ll call you from there, let you know what’s going on.” So I jumped in the car and went down there. Some of the guys that hung around here were here already. They were hanging out and they were here because they had a certain amount of guys that hung around. There was one Jewish fella, a black guy, a China man—
JZ: China man?!
GZ: Yeah, [unintelligible name], remember him? A China man. Chinese. There was—who else? What was that guy, the Jewish fella? Jay Levine, and Kenny Couch, and myself and one other person. There were five of us here. We propped those doors open; we opened the doors and put stops on ‘em. People were walking up and down, and there was a curfew on. I called my wife and I said, “I’m going to stay here tonight, and there’s four other guys with me. We’re going to stay here.” So, I had a sawed-off shotgun with double barrel and it was given to me by one of the police officers years ago, that he had one, so anyway, I’m standing outside and the guys are looking at the building, and I says, “Come here.” I says, “You come back here tonight, and you try to do any damage here,” I says, “they’re going to have to pick you up in pieces.” The guy looked at them, and I says, “Go in there. Marvin’s already made sandwiches. Have a sandwich”—and the bars were closed then, we had some old POC beers and Dreweries and Carley’s and it had scum on the bottom of the bottle, and I said, “Take a beer and a sandwich and go on your way.” And he did!
JZ: My experience was that I was at a Tiger’s game. Our clientele at the time was growing Asian-American. But we were at a ballgame, there were about ten or fifteen of us. We were up in the Grand Stands, and we could see the smoke coming from the Northwest area of Detroit, and the announcer came on the speaker and said, “Avoid Grand River Avenue when you exit. Go directly to your homes.” He didn’t announce that there was a problem; he just said that there was—so the game ended and we left. We came back to the bowling center, and the bowling center was, at that time, pretty busy. All of the Asian people that ran restaurants on Cass Avenue closed, so they came over to bowl. The next day, that’s later on, George showed up. The next day I was driving my dad here, because he was not able to drive anymore. We came over the rise on I-94 to 75 and we could see smoke coming from every direction, and I figured, my God, our city is burning down. We came to the bowling alley, and George showed up, and we decided to call the Salvation Army and tell them that we will turn the bowling alley over to the police and the firemen and the National Guard and the soldiers and let them bowl free, to relax. It worked out quite well. They told us, “Keep track of the money, call your staff back, feed them, and we’ll be glad to reimburse you,” and they did. A month later, I got a nice-sized check from the United States Government, for entertaining the police department. And I remember, there was a judge that came up to me at the bar and said, “I want a Jack Daniel’s,” and I said, “Sir, the bar’s closed, we can’t serve drinks.” He says, “I’m a judge.” He says, “I asked for a drink. You get it for me and get it for my buddies over here.” They were prosecutors, and the bowling alley was full of soldiers.
GZ: It sure was.
JZ: We stayed twenty-four hours a day. We ran out of beverages and a police officer rented a truck and went to Toledo and picked up additional supplies so we could sell it.
GZ: I took three [unintelligible] of beer over to the 13th Precinct, which was down the street, and when I pulled up the driveway, they all applauded.
JZ: And I did that at the firestation.
GZ: These guys, they knew they wanted that bottle of beer.
JZ: I did that at the fire station on East Warren and Alter Road.
GZ: We never could figure out how to get rid of the old beer that stood in the corner and never sold.
JZ: We sold plenty of [unintelligible], Jack Daniel’s, so forth. It was a good time. At the same time, we were watching the buildings.
GZ: Most of the people, they’d walk by and they’d say, “Oh, hey, that’s great.” Starvin’ Marvin was making his sandwiches. We leased the restaurant out to him, and it was called Starvin’ Marvin. I had two experiences in that: One day, a guy comes walking in and says, “Brother, can you help me?” He says, “I got my wife and six kids in the car. Can you give me twenty bucks? I’ll pay you back, I promise you. I will pay you back.” And I said, “No, no, you go get your children.” I want to call his bluff. I say, “You go get your children and your wife, bring them in, and sit down, and I’ll feed you.” And he did, and Marvin says, “Man, you’re crazy.” He says, “He’s got the kids out there.” He walks in, they sat down, and the bill came more than twenty bucks, so I dug in my pocket and I paid for it. I said, “You got even with me there!” That was really one time that I tested the Lord and he got me.
JZ: You know, the worst time I could recall was 1990. That was when the big change happened. It was just like ’67. ’67, all the white people had left, and 1990—I don’t like to use the word [unintelligible], everybody has some place in life, but that’s what the situation was, and I had a sign on the window, “$6, all you can bowl,” and my son, David, came up and said, “No.” He tore the sign down. He charged by the hour. He went up $6 to $18, and these people that were coming in and giving us a hard time every time would say, “You’re going to lose our business,” and we said, “Yes, we know that, but this is our new policy. I’m in charge now.” So the generations go on. We had our time. It’s their time. My dad had his time.
GZ: But the majority—I will say this, you know, we have a situation: some people think that proprietors can live on anything with little money because they don’t realize costs go up. The irony of it—I have that with our senior league. They’re paying $5 for three games of bowling, and two of the centers, if you’re not at $7, we don’t want you to bowl, we can’t take you. I told them, “That’s going to happen, guys, because they can’t make any money. If they can’t make money, what’s the sense of opening the door for you, they’re not going to do it.”
WW: Before we have to finish up, just a couple short quick questions. I forgot what they were. Why do you refer to it as a rebellion?
JZ: Because we treated African Americans, prior to the rebellion, in the worst way. Many were not even conscious of the treatment that they gave to the African Americans, but we did bad things. I, myself, did bad things. I have to go to church and do “maya culpas.” I put a sign up one time, when I got out of college, that said, “Detroit Metropolitan Bowling Club, Members Only.” It wasn’t a members only kind of place, but that was to keep the blacks out so we could maintain the business that we had. We had no choice. But that’s a bad thing to do. That’s a bad thing to do. Everybody did that, and I’m not excluding myself. I really think I did a bad thing. I really have to, somehow or another, make up for that. I think we have in doing business, to a degree, but yes, that’s what life was like. It was not acceptable. It’s wrong. When we were in school, we called people names. I was a Camel Jockey, he was a Pollock. This other guy was a Kraut. This woman was a Jap, this guy was a Chinaman. Those are wrong things to do, yet it was just so commonplace that it was acceptable. Today we have some problems, not much different than then, because today it is elitism, which is the same thing as racism. When you think you’re a better person because you live in a better subdivision, you have four bedrooms, you have ceramic tile on your kitchen floor, where I have linoleum—those aren’t the things that make you a better person. The things that make you a better person is what’s in your heart and soul and mind. I don’t know how George said it earlier, but that is what the substance of it is. You have to move yourself up in life with your intelligence and your feelings toward people and doing the right thing. In the ‘40s and ‘50s, my gosh, I went to the University of Detroit, I had never met a black guy at my own college when I was in the ‘50s. How can that possibly be when the city was—at that time it was perhaps maybe 15% African Americans? How can there not be any black students at a college like that, with 13, 14,000 students? How come there weren’t any Jewish kids at our school? I don’t understand that. It should be open to everybody. That’s the transition we went through, in the ‘60s. That’s what it taught people. That’s why I call it a rebellion. That’s why. Because we can’t keep people down. When you put people down, they rebel.
GZ: Well, I think it’s out of simple ignorance, there’s no question. It’s simple ignorance because if we were all blind and couldn’t see, you wouldn’t know what the color of a man’s skin was. And if we can’t tell the color of his skin, how are you going to gauge him by his skin? In this area that used to be a restaurant, a little small place that was for rent. I had the opportunity—I was here one day and Coleman Young had his headquarters here. It was Labor Day weekend, and there was a man marching in the parade by the name of Martin Luther King, and he was here in this room, and I shook his hand. I said to him, I’ll never forget it, I said, “You’re a blessing from the Lord.” I’ll never forget that. I always believed—and both of us do—we believe in justice and integrity and honesty. That is what—we’ve always shown that. That was our basic things. But we do make mistakes because we are human. Most of the time I would say, we’re 99% of the way is right, done the right way. I can go example after example after example of things that happened and even now that I’m retired and I’m not bowling anymore, but I’m still president of our league—we had guys that didn’t want to bowl in a black bowling center. And I said to them, “The man has supported us all these years. You’re going to shut the door on him? Let’s say they became the elitists. Are they going to shut the door on you?” I said, “Think about it. You’re not doing the right thing. The man supported us, we should support them, and we should care about one another.” And of course, when I got through telling him that, the vote went about 80%, 90% of them voted to go with what I said and do it the right way. But this idea of black against white and all this stuff that’s going on today, you know, everybody’s life cares, everybody’s worthwhile. You don’t tell a child that you’re dumb and stupid; you encourage him to do better. You encourage him to do fine. Give him a squeeze and a hug once in a while. Let him know you’re loved. That’s some of the things that we have to be able to—you want to stop crime? That’s how you stop it. You stop it by giving them the confidence that you are a creature. That’s the way that it will stop it. When you can build confidence in young people, you’ll come to find out that there’s no need for as many policemen.
WW: Thank you both so much for sitting down with me today, I greatly appreciate it.