Monday, June 22, 2009

Meeting on Civic Center Proposal this Thursday

This is a good chance to learn more about the city's ideas. Catch it at the City Council chambers or on Channel 17. We will have a response the following day.

Des Plaines Journal

A city council committee meeting will be held on Thursday, June 25 in city hall where aldermen---in particular city council's four newest members---will have the opportunity to learn about possible plans to build a new fire station and police headquarters.

City Manager Jason Bajor said the meeting of the Community Development Committee, scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m., will serve primarily as a setting where aldermen can learn about the new station proposals. Bajor added that there are no new developments, explaining that the city continues to pursue adding a fourth fire station, most likely on Central Road on the city's far north side.

In addition, aldermen have said that there is a strong need for a new police headquarters to replace the 20,000 sq. ft. facility next to city hall. Aldermen have said they are interested in possibly building a new police station on property east of city hall that could include land where the former Masonic Temple stands at Miner and Lee and the Choo-Choo Restaurant at Lee and Jefferson streets.

Choo-Choo owner Jean Paxton said Monday that she is unaware of any new developments in the possible purchase by the city of the property where her restaurant is located. She said Mayor Marty Moylan regularly stops by to say hello and is always "adamant that I'm staying."

Said Paxton, "I like to hear that. I'm still cautiously optimistic. People constantly ask me how things are going."

Will the Methodist Campground Rise Up?

Raised is *probably* not the best word choice in this situation - it sounds too much like Razed, which would be a bad thing. Elevated would be a better description. But a lot of changes need to be made at the Campground, both physically and organizationally. It does have the potential to be a much more important part of Des Plaines.

Des Plaines Journal

By TODD WESSELL Journal & Topics Editor

Efforts are underway to not only raise 14 frame cottages at the historic Methodist Campground, but possibly all 120 structures at the site including its two large tabernacle buildings, the Journal & Topics Newspapers has learned.

Des Plaines Sprouts New Newspaper Racks

After years of debate (these were first proposed in the 2005 Design Guidelines and are one of the only changes to be actually implemented), the sidewalks of downtown Des Plaines have finally sprouted consolidated newspaper boxes.

They're nothing fancy, but it's always good to see an improvement - however minor - in the downtown streetscape.

(photo by Adolfo Mendez)

Renovations Ahead for Des Plaines Theater?

Des Plaines Journal

Owner Considering Facility Improvements, Hosting More Events

The owner of the downtown Des Plaines Theater has begun the search to hire a new theatrical and movie manager and is considering interior building improvements as part of a plan to host more events and attract additional people to the downtown area.

According to Ald. Mark Walsten (6th), vice chairman of the city's Community Development Committee, theater building owner Dhitu Bhagwaker recently placed an ad for an operations manager in a movie trade journal. That individual would manage running the theater with part of his role securing movies and booking events such as concerts.

In addition, said Walsten, Bhagwaker has obtained one bid so far to remove the interior wall that divides the movie seating area into two sections. Originally, the theater, built in the mid 1920s, had one large viewing area that could accommodate as many as 700 to 800 people. It was divided several years ago to provide two viewing areas. Walsten said Bhagwaker's intent is to bring the theater back to its original life as a venue for live performances and movies.

"He'd like to get something going late in the fall or the first of the year," Walsten explained. He added that he soon will meet with Bhagwaker to discuss further improvements including installing a new screen that can be raised and lowered.

"As vice chairman of the Community Development Committee I think this can help revitalize downtown," said Walsten.

Meanwhile, Walsten said plans to show "The Sound of Music" will proceed for next Friday and Saturday night, June 26 and 27 at the theater. Ticket prices are $5 per person. Showtimes are 7 p.m. on Fridays and 5 and 7 p.m. Saturdays. The Des Plaines Theater is located at Miner and Lee streets.

It's great to see that people are coming around to seeing the potential of this great asset. However it is also important that the work be done in a thorough and historically sensitive way. There should be some oversight to ensure this. Support these efforts!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Des Plaines grant will raise 14 cabins out of harm's way

Des Plaines will use a roughly $400,000 federal grant to help property owners on the historic Methodist Campground alleviate flooding, a city official said this week.

This is a great step in a long struggle!

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Look at Tenpins in Des Plaines

The closing of Sim's Bowl tomorrow leaves downtown Des Plaines without a bowling alley for the first time in a very, very long time.

SIM'S Bowl and Lounge - 16 Lanes

By 1905, there were already two bowling lanes in town: one at the Thoma House Hotel (on the site now occupied by Leona's) and almost directly across the train tracks on Ellinwood Street, in a building that also housed the post office. These were small places, probably containing 2 lanes each.


By 1924, both had disappeared, replaced by new buildings; the Thoma House Lanes were replaced by the Winkelmann Recreation Parlor, which held 7 Billiards Tables, a snooker and billiards table, and two bowling alleys; this building later became home to a restaurant, followed by Sears and for most of its lifespan, Brown's, until it was wrecked a few years ago to make way for the driveway into Metropolitan Square.

Des Plaines Masonic Temple Building

Also in 1924, bowling alleys and billiard space were built as part of the Des Plaines Masonic Temple Building at Lee and Miner Streets. However, these never opened. The space was converted into a new post office and later into apartments. I have to wonder if there are still lanes underneath the floorboards there.

The reason these never opened is because of the new Des Plaines Recreation Parlor at Pearson and Prairie. This building contained 10 alleys and 8 tables, and opened October 15, 1925. Its success would be short-lived, however, due to the repeal of prohibition.

Pearson & Prairie - St. Mary's Church - Cook Card

With repeal, bars became integral to the success of bowling alleys; however, they could not operate near churches - a clear problem, since St. Mary's Church was directly opposite. Because of this, the Bowling Palace shut down, and in 1936, was converted into the new home of St. Mary's. It was torn down to make way for the Des Plaines Mall parking lot.

It's unclear to me whether an alley operated between the closing of the Recreation Parlor and the 1938 opening of the Des Plaines Bowling Palace at Pearson and Jefferson Streets. This alley, better known variously as Des Plaines Bowling Lanes, Des Plaines Bowl, or Des Plaines Lanes, had previously operated as a skating rink, and had been built around 1924 as a car dealership. It remained in operation until 2004, when it, too, was demolished to make way for Metropolitan Square.

Sims Bowl

The next up was Sims, in November 1954. Sim's, of course, featured 16 lanes and a cocktail lounge, and still looks very much a vintage bowling alley. Few alleys today still have visible ball returns, and most have lots of modern clutter like overhead video, automated scoring displays, disco balls, cosmic bowling, and so forth. While it's sometimes nice to have these new amenities, at a place like Sim's you can really focus on bowling.

The next built in the city was the short-lived original River Rand Bowl. It featured a Cocktail Lounge, Pub Room, Snack Shop, Nursery, and a carpeted concourse in addition to its 32 AMF automated lanes. Opened September 3, 1957, it burned to the ground on July 21, 1967, as a result of three six year old boys tossing a smoke bomb into a room that coincidentally contained highly flammable lacquer, being used to renovate. The original River Rand was near the front of River Road, while its replacement was on its parking lot, in the rear. The new River Rand was scaled down with only 24 lanes, but retained most of its predecessor's features and added a pro shop.

Forest Vue Lanes was the only other Des Plaines bowling alley, on the fringes of town near River and Devon - adjacent to where the new casino will be built. The 32-lane alley opened in 1965 and featured the usual amenities, plus Mack's Restaurant. It closed in 2001 to make way for the Hilton Garden Inn.

There are still a few bowling alleys around with similar vintage charm to those lost in Des Plaines:

Southport Lanes - 1922 - 4 Lanes - Manual Pinsetters - Chicago
Lincoln Square Bowl - 1918 - 12 Lanes - Chicago
Tivoli Bowl - 1928 - 12 Lanes - Downers Grove
King Pin Lanes - 1938 - 8 Lanes - Fox River Grove
Jeffery Lanes - 1954 - 8 Lanes - Wheeling
I sure hope someone brings it back downtown.