Westgate Street in Oak Park has always been quaint, because of its English-style architecture and the very narrowness of the street. But a few places and some people on Westgate had meaning for me.
My family bought all special-occasion floral arrangements from Westgate Florists, which was on the corner of Westgate and Harlem. Also, some of my friends and I bought baseball cards at the hobby shop on Westgate. We referred to the owner as “the colonel,” because he dressed in khakis and frequently talked about his war experiences.
The largest barber shop in the area was Sam Kaster’s: six barbers, no waiting. One of the barbers – Shorty, 5-foot-2 – had been a guard on trains taking German prisoners of war to concentration camps in Montana during World War II. He told some great stories, but his favorite one was about the time he knocked out a prisoner who tried to overpower him and jump off the train. Shorty said that he nailed the prisoner with a “Joe Louis uppercut.”
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bohassek lived in a huge apartment above the hobby shop. These people were close friends of my grandparents, and I would see them often. Mr. Bohassek was a famous Chicago architect who participated in the design of the WGN site on Michigan Avenue, as well as many other buildings. Mrs. Bohassek and my grandmother were members of the Colonial Coverlet Guild, as was Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, who came to guild meetings in Chicago two or three times a year.
Westgate Street still maintains most of its quaintness. But the people and businesses I knew are now but memories of a time that continues to be cherished by many of us.
John Stanger, a Dear Old Oak Parker, is a 1957 graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School and a lifelong resident of the village. He is married, has three grown children, and is an English professor at Elmhurst College. Living 2 miles from where he grew up, he hasn’t gotten far in 69 years.