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Tribute to GE workers

The Brass Rail rolls back prices, pays some dues

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2015-01-15


Last October, when the General Electric plant on Broadway auctioned off some of its contents, the phrase “end of an era” seemed as ubiquitous as the GE logo itself. But as many people were all too aware, the “era” of the Broadway GE campus — when the plant ran three full shifts and employed thousands — ended quite a while ago, trickling away over the years like many of the good-paying manufacturing jobs that once made up the backbone of Fort Wayne and a lot of similar big town/small cities in the Midwest.

And many would say that the fortunes of the also once vibrant Broadway Corridor followed. Though the area has seen a bit of an upswing in recently, the stretch between Jefferson to Taylor and beyond used to be really hopping, with bars, restaurants, and other establishments catering to the GE workers.

One of the remainders from that time is The Brass Rail. It’s a far different bar now than it was then, of course, but according to owners Corey Radar and John Commorato, in the late afternoons and early evenings, before a younger music crowd comes in, a few long time customers still tell stories about the GE workforce back in the day, and how the Rail was a regular after-shift stop.

On Saturday, January 17, The Brass Rail opens at 1 PM to pay tribute to the era by rolling back the price of a glass of Pabst Blue Ribbon to .50 cents. Commorato says they initially tried for a .35 cent glass, but… “Corey, astute business man that he is, pointed out that could be a change nightmare for the servers.” Brass Rail regular and GE retiree Gary Guy will serve as MC. “Gary is a storyteller and sort of a ‘humorist’,” Commorato says. “He’s got a lot of interesting tales to tell about that time.”

The connection goes a little deeper than “just” being a bar that was around at the time. Commorato went to the auction partially out of curiosity. As he puts it, he’s lived downtown for a big chunk of his adult life, under the light of the iconic GE sign, and had never been in the building. He also had an interest in the high-quality industrial furniture, lights, and machinery — much of it locally made — from factories of the 30s and 40s. “I’m not a designer, but the artist in me appreciates the design and quality that went into making some of that stuff,” he says. And he’s not the only one; years ago, Commorato and a partner would buy those items at different auctions, and find a market for them among collectors in New York City. “It brought in good money. In fact, that’s how I funded some Art Attack projects” he says. “That was pre-internet days. A lot more people are into it now.”

At the auction, there were quite a few retired GE workers, and handful of whom Commorato knew from the Rail. “They seemed a little stunned at the prices these benches and tools were going for,” Commorato says.

But Commorato’s interest in the era and the workers began way before the auction. Before he co-owned the Brass Rail, he was a customer, and met some former GE workers then. He says the young people would sit on one side of the bar, and the older guys at the other. “We sort of just would look at each other,” he recalls. “Not in hostility, more like… bemusement. You know, like ‘who are you guys?’” And though both Commorato and Rader are two young to really remember the GE plant’s heyday, they always loved hearing the stories.

When the event was first announced, Commorato wondered what kind of response they’d get, if anyone would be interested beyond the roll back prices. But he’s heard from a lot of people — retirees, the fathers and grandfathers of current Brass Rail clientele and employees, younger Fort Wayne people who have a family business history with GE. “ I hope these guys get together, tell some war stories, tell some funny stories, just paint a picture of an era gone by that I caught the tail end of, and that I wish was still around in some ways.”

Tribute to the GE workforce
Saturday, January 17, 1 – 6 PM
The Brass Rail
1121 Broadway

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