The highlight of 1956 was when the Oak Park High basketball team went downstate to play in the state tournament. Students celebrated by snake-dancing at the intersection of Harlem & Lake. Yes, we held up traffic for miles but, boy, was it fun. The team finished fourth in the state tournament, which was the best finish until the team finished third in 1976.
For many years, I bought shoes and boots at Wieboldt’s (southwest corner of Lake/Harlem), and every Christmas my family marveled at the fantastic window displays, decorations, and movable creations that appeared in all of Wieboldt’s windows.
I also bought books (or boots) at Marshall Field’s whenever the store had a sale. Mrs. Van Welde, my friend Milton’s mother, was the head of the cosmetics department, so I would go to her to buy Christmas and birthday gifts for the women in my family. I always knew that she would choose an extra-special item for me.
My family also patronized thee other businesses: Kresge’s 5&10, Woolworth’s 5&10, and Hillman’s Bakery. I especially liked to hang out at the soda fountain in Woolworth’s. My wife and I continued to shop at these 5&10s until they closed over 20 years ago. These “dime stores” have generally disappeared from the American landscape, and this is too bad because they offered good merchandise at very reasonable prices.
The Field Building (Border’s) and the building that housed Hillman’s are still standing, as is the Forest Preserve Building on the northwest corner of Lake/Harlem, but the former Wieboldt site is now a mall.
What will be in these places 25 years from now? We can only guess, but progress is a major goal.
On the southeast corner of Oak Park and North avenues was a Prince Castle. I remember 5-cent square hamburgers and three-flavored ice cream sundaes floating in thick, gooey chocolate sauce (15 cents).
Going west on North Avenue, I remember Hale’s Pharmacy, Ben Franklin’s and Sears. Crossing Harlem there was Hayes’ Bar-the octagonal shaped place that was replaced by Walgreen’s. The next place of note was the Mercury Theater, where I saw the John Wayne classic, The Sands of Iwo Jima in 1949. Across the street from the Mercury was Jim and Pete’s restaurant where many of us went during our high school years to eat pizza and drink 3.2 beer.
On the southeast corner of Thatcher and North was the King Cole restaurant, later the Paddle Wheel and now a CVS Pharmacy. On the northeast corner was Marsh’s, a barbecue spot, and just north of Marsh’s was and still is the best of all barbeque restaurants-Russell’s-which hasn’t really changed much in the past 50 years, and the menu is still five star. Every two months, some of us from the OPRF H.S. class of ’57 meet there for lunch.
On the northwest corner of Thatcher and North is an open field that my grandfather told me was a yearly gypsy camp during the 1920s and ’30s. I understand that the gypsy group would come through the area for a week or so, put on shows, read fortunes and then leave, only to return the next summer.
When I was 9, 10, and 11 years old, I belonged to Den 7, Pack 66 of the Cub Scouts. We had den meetings at the home of our den dad, Mr. Dollinger, who lived on the southeast corner of Grove and Iowa.
I think most every boy in our neighborhood was a Cub Scout. We all worked through the projects in the Wolf, Bear, and Lion manuals, had our parents sign after each project was completed, and when the book was filled with parental signatures, we were eligible for badges and arrows that, when received, were sewn on our blue shirts. I finished as far as the Webelos badge, which was the last Cub Scout award, but I did not continue into the Boy Scouts.
We did not go on any overnight trips, but we did go on some Saturday excursions into Thatcher Woods to improve our camping and nature knowledge. We also met every few months as a troop in the gym at Holmes School where we heard inspirational speeches from Scout leaders, and from time to time we performed Scout-type skits.
The best activity for me was softball, which we played during the spring on the Holmes playground. The reason why this was special for me was that I had little interest in being a bird watcher or a camper, but I did have interest and skill in softball. Now by skill, I mean I could hit and field, but as far as running was concerned, my grandmother could have beaten me to first base.
As I look back on the years I spent in the Cub Scouts, I believe the plan was to improve our socialization skills and teach us to work projects to their completion rather than developing us into woodsmen. It was somewhat fun and educational, but I had had enough after three years, and it was time to move on to other endeavors.