Bernard Aloysius Winkel was the epitome of what one would call “a colorful character.” He would run one of the “junkier” businesses in town, but delighted many as a jovial entrepreneur and master showman who looked out for the area’s black community in a segregated Frederick before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
Born in Baltimore on May 7th, 1890, Winkel was the son of Eugene Joseph Winkel (1852-1911), a son of German immigrants and livery keeper by occupation. Bernie's mother was Mary E. (Waltz) Winkel (1877-1929) who served as mother to eight children, six sons and two daughters.
Bernie Winkel is reputed to have worked as an accountant for a plumbing business before coming to Frederick in the year 1924. This can be confirmed by the 1920 US census which shows Bernie living on Baltimore’s South Paca St. The 1910 census shows 19-year-old Bernie as a piano player. This perhaps played a hand in one of our subject’s later endeavors here in Frederick.
Later in 1910, Bernie married Daisy Marion Isabella Grove, also of Baltimore. In 1917, he could be found in the Mt. Clare shops of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad employed as a machinist’s helper. The couple had no children. Bernie came to Frederick in the mid-1920s, and soon after he and Marion would separate in 1925, and eventually divorce. He is shown living as a boarder with the Jacob W. Castle family of Battletown in the 1930 census.
Once in town, Bernie opened a used car establishment on the western outskirts of Frederick on West Patrick Street. This was in 1924. Today, the site of Bernie’s old business endeavor (469 W. Patrick St.) comprises the footprint, and parking lot of the West Patrick Street Center.
The surrounding neighborhood of Bernie’s Garage was better known as Battletown back then. This was a name dating back to the previous century as it was said to have been a rough & tumble part of town. Many residents were black, and Bernie hired several folks from this locale to be part of his staff. A business associate reported at the time of Bernie’s death that there were numerous times Winkel had helped children in the Battletown area through his generosity. This won him the devotion of many of his neighbors.
From the used car business, Winkel expanded into automobile salvage. At one time (in the late 1930s), Bernie’s Auto Exchange was the largest business of this type in the state. He proudly wore the marketing moniker "Bernie, the Used Car King of Maryland."
At the West Patrick Street location, Bernie eventually opened a gas convenience station that fronted on Patrick. It was said to have a car on the roof as a quirky marketing gimmick. Soon, Winkel came into ownership of another parcel on the southside of West Patrick. Today this is the home of Comcast, and former home of Frederick Cablevision/GS Communications. This latter endeavor was my workplace from 1989-2006.
Bernie had built an interesting structure here in 1932, actually an entertainment venue he would name "Hollywood Gardens." It was told to me that Bernie built this facility as not only a secondary business venture, but also as a venue where his employees and other residents of color in town could be entertained at a time when Frederick was segregated.
This wasn’t Bernie’s first foray into the world of entertainment, however it was more respectful and legitimate than what the late Frederick NAACP leader and social activist Lord Nickens told me that Mr. Winkel had offered in previous years—hosting after-hour cockfights at his “salvage yard” in previous years.
To top things off, Bernie also was behind one of the first outside miniature golf courses in Western Maryland. He began promoting the business around 1930 at the 452 West Patrick street location, on the south side of W. Patrick. This was operated by Thomas Bowie who resided nearby, and was popular for a number of years. The original course is far below the macadam that makes the Comcast/Old GS parking lot found adjacent the cable-television office building.
The “Hollywood Gardens” was at one time, a very popular place of entertainment and a dance hall drawing such well-known entertainers as the Mal Hallet band, the Mills Brothers, Floyd Mills Band and the Commanders. Residents told me that the legendary Cab Calloway once performed here, and on another occasion, the night Ella Fitzgerald played Winkel’s club, the cars were apparently backed up for miles in both directions trying to get here.
Back in the 1930’s, Friday nights were big dance nights where Saturday night was alright for fighting—sanctioned of course by the proprietor for entertainment purposes. These began in 1934 and the venue name changed its moniker a year later to “Ideal Gardens,” when it came under the management of Charles T. (Cap) Cramer.
The facility doubled as a home to dancing and boxing/wrestling, but received another name change in 1936. Known now "Bernie’s Arena," many fights were promoted by Winkel in conjunction with the local American Legion, Francis Scott Key Post 11. Jack Lipps performed matchmaker duties. One of the top draws was James J. Braddock, the world champion heavyweight and original "Rocky Balboa." The facility could comfortably hold hundreds of spectators.
This endeavor lasted until around 1940, at which time the building was leased and often times used as a dance hall. Throughout the next decade, Fridays and Saturday nights was the scene of barn dances here, admission costing patrons 35 cents.
Bernie did not participate in World War I on the account of a heart issue. However, he helped the war effort during World War II. Hios West Patrick Street salvage entity was a "scrap drive" all to itself, and the War Production Board came calling in 1942.
During the balance of the mid 1940s into the mid Fifties, Bernie Winkel had experienced failing health. He had made his home at 513 Lee Place in Frederick's new Villa Estates neighborhood built on the northwest suburb of town near Fort Detrick. Bernie had been sick from an illness over a week and a half before dying on Leap Day, February 29th, 1956. Surviving him were his ex-wife, Marion, two sisters, Mrs. William Fox and Mrs. Grace Kirby, and one lone brother, Jerome Winkel, all of Baltimore.
Services were held at St. John's Catholic Church on March 3rd, 1956. Interment followed here at Mount Olivet Cemetery where the “Used Car King of Maryland” was laid to rest in Area GG/Lot 9. This location is beautifully secluded today, shaded by trees and set against a backdrop of shrubbery.
An old friend of mine, the late Joseph Coady, first told me of Bernie Winkel nearly 23 years ago while I was researching for my documentary entitled Up From the Meadows: A History of Black Americans in Frederick County, Maryland. He relayed that Bernie would often be caught clowning around with employees, and was beloved by loyal customers. Joe said that Bernie was also a bit of a "wheeler-dealer "as you would expect a business mogul of his caliber, and in this line of work. “He could always find what you needed!” Joe said with conviction in reference to Bernie and his customers' quests for automobile parts. Joe also said that Bernie talked out the side of his mouth in a peculiar way, and my friend then went on to demonstrate. He would commonly act out a dialogue involving a customer asking Bernie how much a certain part would cost. Bernie would always look off in the distance as he was carefully doing computations in his mind, only to exclaim after a long pause, and looking in the patron’s eye,….”two dollars!” Of course, this highly anticipated reply would be uttered out the side of his mouth.
Joe also told me that Bernie had amassed some nice real estate holdings. After Bernie’s death, the property of his salvage enterprise was sold to allow for the shopping center. Houses were also built on the far side of the yard all the way to the newly designed Carroll Parkway, Joe’s home being one of them. He said they hit plenty of rock in the construction of those houses. To backfill, dirt was apparently excavated from the salvage yard. He told me this allowed for an easy solution for the removal of junk automobiles on Bernie’s lot. They were simply rolled into the excavated cavities. Apparently, there are likely antique cars like Model T's and the like underneath that Patrick Shopping Center parking lot.