Two Restaurants, Two Families - And No End To The Confusion One, The Old Original, Is Operated Now By Taxins. And The Date Of Its Founding? Well That Depends . .

Posted: September 05, 1999

Few restaurants in the country can boast the long and intricate history of the Bookbinder restaurants, but which version is the one to believe?

The long-publicized history at Old Original Bookbinder's states that Samuel Bookbinder founded his restaurant at 125 Walnut St. in 1865. The printed family history at Bookbinders 15th Street Seafood House says that Samuel did not begin what was originally an oyster saloon until 1893. It was first located at 525 S. Fifth St., moving to 125 Walnut in 1898.

It is confusing enough that there are two Bookbinder restaurants, and that they are owned by two separate families.

Bookbinders 15th Street was opened in 1935 by Sam and Dick Bookbinder, grandsons of the founder of the first Bookbinder's, and is still run by the Bookbinder family. Sam's son Richard, who currently operates Bookbinders 15th Street with his daughter, Gretchen, says the brothers split from Walnut Street because of family friction resulting from his father's marriage to a non-Jewish woman, a waitress at the original restaurant.

The Walnut Street location continued to be operated by the founder's daughter, Harriette Bookbinder-Blackburn, until she died. Her husband, Harmon Blackburn, a New York lawyer among whose clients were singer Enrico Caruso, then gave the restaurant to the Federation of Jewish Charities, after which it was sold to produce merchant John M. Taxin and his partners.

Today, the second and third generations of the Taxin family, John E. Taxin and his aunt Sandy Taxin, operate what came to be called Old Original Bookbinder's. But the date of the Taxin purchase of the place is also clouded with conflicting information. The restaurant's flyer, "A Taste of History," says that John Taxin took over the restaurant in 1935. His daughter, Sandy, recently amended that to 1938.

A search through newspaper clippings, however, finds that the Walnut Street restaurant remained in the Bookbinder family until 1945, when, according to articles from spring of that year, Blackburn received more than $200,000 in tax credits for his gift to the Jewish charity group. Taxin and his partners purchased the restaurant shortly thereafter.

But even in 1945, before Taxin's ownership, there was confusion over the date of the restaurant's founding. One article states 1865, which was repeated and reprinted enough over the years to result in a 1965 centennial celebration. Nevertheless, several other articles put the date at 1876.

In 1955, Richard's father, Sam, hired a real-estate agent to research the question. The agent reported that Samuel Bookbinder began his oyster saloon on South Fifth Street in 1893 and moved to 125 Walnut in 1898.

One detail, though, is a telling argument against the 1865 date. The researcher states that Samuel Bookbinder, the Dutch Jewish immigrant, was born in 1853. That means he would have been 12 years old in 1865, a precocious age to operate a saloon.

As Richard's brother, Sam Jr., likes to say about his great-grandfather: "He was good, but not that good."

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