The Backstory: The wolf of Liberty Street

The building at 215 East Liberty (now 241 E. Liberty) has been home to many things. Most recently, restaurants like Squares and What Crepe? Before that, Yoshi and Dinersty. But outlasting them all has been the sign for Zwerdling's Furs.

Chances are you have walked by this repainted historical advertisement dozens of times. The moon glows. A wolf is forever frozen, baying at the bright disk in the sky. The sign reminds us that Zwerdling Fur Shop, a "complete fur service, and has been around since 1904. Of course, Zwerdling Fur Shop closed decades ago. But the baying wolf remains.

According to a 1997 Observer article Osias Zwerdling was very proud of his sign, because it was painted by a 'professional' artist. Born in Austria, Mr. Zwerdling came to Ann Arbor via Buffalo and Paris. He was one of only three local Jewish families and helped found the Beth Israel Congregation in 1916 and the campus Hillel in 1926. After working at Mack and Company for a few years, he struck out on his own. His first store opened in 1907 at 333 South Main (what is now the Bed & Butter store). Eight years later, he bought the store on Liberty. While he began by selling ladies clothing, by 1926 Zwerdling exclusively dealt in 'fine' furs. In the 1920s, the sign went on the building. It has been there ever since.

In 1988, city council designated the now-fading sign as an individual historic property. At the time, no one had the money to restore it to its former glory so the sign remained a shadow of what it was. Finally in 1997, a group of concerned citizens, including two grandnephews of Zwerdling, raised the money to refurbish the sign. The Seebohn Company fully restored the sign, putting a cover on it that would allow graffiti to be removed.

For almost a hundred years now, that wolf has howled silently on Liberty Street, surrounded by bare trees, reminding of us a time gone by. Long may he bay!

Chime in! While doing the research for this article, I stumbled across a map of "old timey Ann Arbor" that someone had put up on Google maps. They claimed that the rental rooms above Zwerdling's Fur Shop were used as a brothel. They included a quote, purportedly from the Michigan Argus: 

"(t)he ill repute of the Jewish fur house makes all Christians cross the street rather than be corrupted by its presence."

If anyone has further information about this please share in the comment section below!
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