Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Square Deal Building, 1514-1516 Miner

Wahl Jewelers is one of the most enduring businesses in Des Plaines. The Wahl firm was founded in Chicago in 1894, moving to Des Plaines in 1949. The Des Plaines roots go back even farther, though, as Wahl came into Des Plaines by taking over John Kray, Jeweler, which had been in Des Plaines since 1892, founded by his father, Ray Kray. Kray advertised himself as watch inspector for the Chicago & Northwestern Railway and United Motor Coach, two local institutions that relied heavily on timeliness. Wahl now is in its fourth generation of family ownership (with a fifth in the wings) - the F.X., F.F., F.C., and R.C. Wahl families.

Kray in 1892 (presumably a different building)

The old Wahl Building, after a 1950s Modernization. The 'before' look can be seen below - much more detail is visible in the unique and attractive brickwork.
No sign of what it looked like before the brick false front. Thanks to Malcolm Mlodoch for this pic.

Walter Harness Shop, circa 1920. Courtesy Des Plaines Historical Society.
For many years, the other building on this site was the Joseph Walter Harness Shop. Founded by his father, Jacob Walter, in 1862, it stayed in business with his brother, Philip, until Walter's death in 1941. As a young man, Walter drove a stagecoach between Des Plaines, Shermerville (Northbrook) and West Northfield, carrying passengers and mail. The business was originally on Ellinwood, and moved to Miner Street in the 1890s. The Walters were one of the first Catholic families in Des Plaines, and moved here from Bensenville because the railroad allowed easy access to the nearest Catholic church in Grosse Pointe (Wilmette). They were one of the families who worked to move a small mission church from Arlington Heights via flatcar in 1883, serving as the first St. Mary's.

A 1941 Chicago Tribune article described the shop, already a throwback:
When enter the dark little shop, it is as if you are stepping back into another era. The front of the room is dark and the whole little building has a musty atmosphere. On the walls hang saddles, bridles, and harnesses. In back, in what was once the room set aside for the printers, is the workshop. There one sees the old sewing horses, old spool cases, and box after box lines the shelves that mount to the ceiling. But there is modern equipment, too, for today, two elderly men repair everything from airplane parts to dog harnesses.

In the old days, harnesses were all made by hand and that was about all the shop handled. But Joseph and his brother, Philip, have decided that harness making is too much work and they keep the shop now mainly as a spot where they can kill a little time. People come from all around to have bits of work done.
 Under construction in 1950. Square Deal is in the storefront to the far right.

Before the harness shop, the building served as a drug store, hardware store (the original home of Kinder Hardware), grocery store, post office, and a printing shop where the first newspaper was printed. After Walter's closed, it became S.C. Wessell Real Estate and Becker Roofing. In 1950 Luigi Capozolli moved the building, said to be over 100 years old and Des Plaines' oldest store building, "out to pasture" - it was moved to his farm near Cumberland and Golf Roads, used as an outbuilding. It has since been demolished.

 1950 Square Deal Building, featuring a distinctive Midcentury "Exterior Lobby" display front. Photo courtesy Malcolm Mlodoch.

Capozolli then built a new building for his Square Deal Shoe Store. Like Wahl, Square Deal began in Chicago, at Diversey and Milwaukee in 1921. Moving to Des Plaines in 1931 in the Behmiller Building, it grew into the family shoe store we know today. By the 90s the store expanded to the old Wahl site. Square Deal is now in its third generation of family ownership. Square Deal has seen a lot of changes throughout the years, and still displays a size 37 shoe from Robert Wadlow, the world's tallest man at 8'11" in the 1930s (who had a job visiting shoe stores as a promotion) as well as a disabled fluoroscope x-ray shoe fitting machine.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

History of 1512 Miner, R.C. Wahl Jewelers

Wahl Jewelers now occupies one of the newer buildings on Miner Street, built in the last 20 years, but retains its address from its many years next door at 1514 Miner. The previous building at 1512 Miner is shown below. Originally a simple Victorian design, with a closed in gable and bay window, it later was remodeled with a cartoonish Tudor facade. I don't know too much about its occupant history, except it once contained Vick's Barber Shop, a Restaurant, and much later,
1971-1972 The Great Pants Explosion (a wonderfully ridiculous business name that had an equally ridiculous sign)
1972-1976/09 Elda's and Vera's Uptown Boutique
1977 Hairlines by Remo
1980-1983 Felice Vincent's Hairdesigners

Eventually it was demolished for the present Colonial Revival style R.C. Wahl Jewelers building, as Square Deal Shoes expanded (around 1993?). We'll cover those downtown fixtures in the next post.
(bottom photo courtesy Malcolm Mlodoch)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

History of 1504 Miner & 1508 Miner, Leona's and Total Security

When the Thoma House was demolished in 1929, the articles said that it was to make way for "a modern furniture store". I haven't been able to determine what that store was or if it ever opened.

1504 Miner
1939 Zephyr Interior
The Zephyr Cafe circa 1939, looking every bit as modern as the Pioneer Zephyr for which it was undoubtedly named, which was a hit at the 1934 Century of Progress Exposition. Appropriate, since the restaurant presumably relied heavily on train passengers.
1957 Zephyr Inn Interior
Toned down by 1957, it later featured a large mural of pioneers. (A reader advises me they were Mediterranean or Latin American Field Workers.) Probably not the mountains of Illinois.
Close-up of the Neon Sign in the window
Ad from 1936 opening

The Zephyr Cafe opened in July 1936 on the left side of the building; a different tenant was next door in the same building. The facade was simple Streamline Moderne; covered in randomly-sized cut stones with two notches at either end. It was managed by the Ladas Brothers - Sam, Andrew, John. The family also ran the Arlington Cafe in Arlington Heights. Like the Sugar Bowl, it featured good, diverse meals and a soda fountain - the slogan was the straightforward "Good Food". In 1938, the Herald described it:

The people from all over this part of the county, the tourists and visitors, all have pronounced this Cafe one of the finest in this section.
It is attractively furnished and tastily decorated, which makes it a most cheerful place, and here amidst comfortable surroundings, one of the most courteous services is afforded the public. Whether at noon luncheon or dinner, you will find all the satisfaction of good service and high quality of food that will please the most jaded appetite.
Good food is a watchword with this concern and the management is so careful in supplying high quality continually that it is the kind of a place to which you can go and be sure of a good meal.
Thr manager personally sees that the people of this part of the country are not only given the choicest of food, but the latest dishes of the day and that the best of service is always given regardless of the size of the order. They have provided the very latest of equipment in the kitchens, and everything is in the very best of condition and appetizing when served to the guests.
They specialize in genuine Chinese Chop Suey and real Italian Spaghetti. You are assured of the finest at moderate prices.
You won't find too many Greek restaurants today claiming to serve genuine Chinese Chop Suey (isn't that an oxymoron, since Chop Suey is an American invention?) and real Italian.

In 1949, the business was expanded next door, to the Zephyr Lounge and Steak House next door, which had previously housed "The Curiosity Shop", a resale and antique shop that opened in 1946. Called colorful, beautiful, comfortable, and relaxing, and featuring gorgeous circular booths, a "magnificent" bar, and an all-mirror background, the Lounge sounds like somewhere I'd like to kick back a few drinks.
By the time it closed, around 1967-1970, the two were together known as the Zephyr Restaurant.

In 1971-1972 it was briefly the Aristo Restaurant. From 1973-1985 it was the popular Sawa's Old Warsaw Polish restaurant, which still operates in Broadview.

Photo by Malcolm Mlodoch

Next it became Magnolia, another Polish restaurant, from 1987 to at least 1989. In March 1993, Booeymongers, a blues club with a pizza kitchen, opened, and closed in 1996. Booeymongers updated the (green!) facade with stucco and an arch at the top, but kept the notches. From 1998-1999 it was Zodiac Chinese Restaurant. Later that year, the Leona's chain opened a location, which it remains today.
1508 Miner
A Glimpse of 1508 Miner's original facade, 1936 Des Plaines Historical Society Postcard

"Modernized" By 1940 with Faux-Marble
Toned down a bit... (Malcolm Mlodoch photo)
 And Today's Inoffensive but Boring Facade
Again, there was little to be found on this building pre-1949. It had a short-lived but attractive stepped facade originally. In 1949, Frank's Apparel opened, a women's wear store. In May 1958, Leonard's for Men and Boys opened, closing in 1963. The next business was Kier Men's Wear, closing in 1974. Audrey's Bridal Boutique was in business here from 1976-1995, with Signature Studios Photography inside. Square Deal Discount Shoes closed in 1997. Cookie Garden was next. Currently it is Spy Source/Total Security Solutions.