Melvin Greenwald, who co-founded downtown Baltimore’s Arrow parking business, died of heart failure June 1 at the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital. The Pikesville resident was 91.
Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Rebecca and Benjamin Greenwald. His father operated a Belair Market produce stall. His mother was a Sonneborn and Co. seamstress.
“They struggled financially, which made life tough,” his son, Ben Greenwald, shared in a written eulogy. “In 7th grade my dad dropped out of school to help his family make a living by working with his dad. He described to me the scene at the market and the mix of vendors and how tough it was to succeed. … He said you just did what you did and didn’t think too much about it.
“When it came time for his bar-mitzvah he described it as the worst day of his life. He took a streetcar from his home on Rockrose Ave. near Park Circle to the B’nai Israel Synagogue on Lloyd Street. After he finished his bar-mitzvah portion the rabbi spoke to him in Yiddish and he had no idea what he was saying. The celebration was a bag of kichel [cookies] and a bottle of whisky.”
The family struggled to make a living in 1920s and 1930s Baltimore.
“My father used to tell me being poor never really bothered him until he witnessed the humiliation of his parents when they had to borrow money to pay for heat in the winter,” his son said. “The experiences of his childhood gave him the drive to succeed, to empathize with those less fortunate and to place a value on education because of his lack of a formal education.”
Mr. Greenwald served in the Army — where he earned his GED certificate with honors — and in the merchant marine.
As a young man he worked with his brother, Elmer Greenwald, who owned Elmer’s Bar in a pre-gentrified Inner Harbor.
“My dad would bartend once a week to relieve his brother,” his son said. “One night a fight broke out, my dad tried to break it up and got hit over the head with a bottle which needed stitches. He carried that scar the rest of his life, but he finished his shift because there was nobody to replace him.”
He briefly was the District of Columbia salesman for Gunther beer owned by his father-in-law, Abraham Krieger.
Mr. Greenwald became a savvy stock market investor who later acquired the Maryland Trust Co. Building at Calvert and Redwood streets and the Drovers and Mechanics National Bank at Fayette and Eutaw streets.
“Business was always incredibly important to him,” his son said. “In 1977 he brokered a deal for a company to lease the Rivoli Garage across from City Hall. He was asked to be a partner in the deal.”
Mr. Greenwald and his son created Arrow Parking in 1983, the year they bought their first garage. They continued to own, lease, construct and manage parking facilities.
“Soon after we got into the business, we went to a meeting of the Baltimore Parking Association, our trade organization. Two of the members started to get into a fist fight, my dad being the big strong guy he was broke the fight up and [garage owner] Allen Quille proclaimed that we just found our new president, Mel Greenwald,” his son said. “A vote was taken immediately and he became president that night.
“The parking business gave my dad the identity, confidence and financial success he had been searching for his entire career,” his son said.
After leasing the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre garage, he acquired the entire complex after the death of its owner, Clarisse B. Mechanic.
His son said his father appreciated his employees and gave generous holiday bonuses.
“He remembered how difficult it was to get through the winter from when he was a kid,” his son said. “He didn’t need a spreadsheet to figure that out.”
He was a member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
“The traditions of Judaism were very important to my dad,” his son said. “The traditions that he followed represented the link to his parents, grandparents and past generations of the Jewish people.”
Court of Special Appeals Judge Stuart R. Berger, a family friend, said: “I loved Melvin because he was an extraordinary man who lived a full and wonderful life. I enjoyed his company — he was so old-school. He was blunt, incredibly wise and street-smart.”
Mr. Greenwald drove himself to work every day until October.
“He’d park his car in our Lombard Street garage, smoke a cigar in the garage office and barely able to walk would proceed to walk across a very busy South Street to our office.” his son said. “At the end of the day he would reverse the process.”
Mr. Greenwald enjoyed meals at Linwoods, Boca West and the The Prime Rib.
“And some other restaurants he couldn’t find too much to complain about,” his son said. “He also enjoyed playing golf immensely.”
He was a regular at Saturday afternoon get-togethers with his friends at the Cobblers Shop on Saratoga Street. They discussed current events.
“My dad enjoyed his vodka on the rocks with a lime. Not just a lime but a lime wedge,” his son said. “If he asked a bartender or server for a lime wedge and got a sliver he would say, ‘What is that?’ They would reply a lime. He would say, ‘No, that’s a lime sliver not a wedge and I can’t squeeze a sliver but I can squeeze a wedge.’ Like cut it in 4’s, not 8’s or 16’s thickness for my dad.”
His son said that Mr. Greenwald enjoyed giving Tzedakah — charity — in a quiet, unassuming way.
“This was very important to him,” his son said. “He didn’t do it because he was on boards and committees and or was directly involved because he didn’t like boards and committees.”
He was a donor to the The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, various Jewish day schools, Little Sisters of the Poor and Baltimore Outreach Services.
In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 36 years, Joyce Rich; another son, Harvey Olin of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; three daughters, Lois Cohen and Sherri Sacks, both of Owings Mills, and Madeline Linksman of Westchester, N.Y.; and 14 grandchildren. His first wife of 27 years, Bettie Krieger, died in 1980.
Services were Monday at Sol Levinson and Brothers.