At a recent get together with Cousin Tom Press, he recalled his dad’s time during World War II when U.S. Army Capt. Irving Press served as head of the Camp Ritchie, Maryland PX (Post Exchange store) during World War II.
Camp Ritchie, besides featuring the Irving Press squired PX store, trained “The Ritchie Boys” consisting of approximately 20,000 service men trained for U.S. Army Intelligence at the camp’s secret training facility. Per my conversation with Tom, I just finished reading the Ritchie Boys, a marvelous depiction of the camp by Beverly Driver Eddy, disclosing the base’s program for training immigrants, refugees and others language skills and knowledge prior to undercover service in enemy lands.
Irving Press, my own tough civilian army captain, relentlessly mentored me on 44th Street instilling in me much of his well-earned trade knowledge. “Uncle Irving” also pursued acts apart from heading J. Press, the role he assumed in 1951 upon the death of his eponymous father, J.(Jacobi) Press. His reign as Chief of Staff lasted until the1986 sale of the business to Japanese licensee Onward Kashiyama, at the time with over 100 J. Press department store sites throughout Japan,
Member of the Yale Class of 1926, he was a violinist for the Yale Collegians, a student band performing for proms, country clubs and debutante parties and also serenading Eli dining halls. Celebrity footnote: Irving shared the bandstand with saxophonist, later 1930s America’s top ranked crooner, Rudy Vallee. Customer Frank Sinatra’s forays in the 44th Street store always included conversation with Irving about his time and friendship with the earlier crooner. My uncle enlarged his repertoire graduating Yale Law School ’28. After the stock market crash, many New Haven law firms closed their doors. Grandpa Press, recognizing his son’s talent and interest in the business he often showed joining his dad’s meetings with British mills and clothing resources. Grandpa talked his son into giving up law to enter the family business expressing his full confidence immediately taking over his father’s role as chief buyer.
Irving’s time at Camp Ritchie provided a postwar goldmine for J.Press. His PX store activities fostered friendships with two Camp Ritchie suppliers. Clothing manufacturer Gordon of Philadelphia provided Army uniforms and clothing paraphernalia for the base. Tyson Shirt Co. supplied Army uniform dress shirts. The principals of both companies became good friends of Irving discussing the possibility of manufacturing clothing and furnishings for J. Press postwar.
Ralph Trichon, principal of Norristown, PA shirt company Tyson Shirts, became the primary shirtmaker for J. Press. Shortly after the war Irving and wife Florence moved to New York becoming close friends with Norbert Ford. Norbert was a charismatic entrepreneur who began his career dressing windows at the original Abercrombie and Fitch safari, rifle, and menswear emporium on 45th and Madison a block from J. Press. He was a scrappy senior executive, and when Abercrombie faded, Ford became a partner of menswear clothing manufacturer Gordon of Philadelphia, changing the name to Gordon-Ford. The Gordon honcho apprised Ford of his PX time with Irving Press and they ended up making seersucker, linen, poplin, and corduroy outfits for J. Press, originating the “suburban suit,” an amalgamation of the rustic country club/company signature regularly advertised in New Yorker Magazine.
Irving’s 44th Street office abutted The Yale Club, often noted by all who knew him, his home away from home. He serendipitously ended his business journey constantly frequenting the building that currently houses the NYC J. Press’ Headquarters emporium.
A long day’s journey into night from New Haven to Camp Ritchie and on to 44th Street — “A Ritchie Boy” still fiddling Boola Boola in his heart.