Dining in Chicago’s north suburbs: The Country Squire Restaurant and The Rustic Manor

I was a teacher at Warren Township Highschool in Gurnee in the early 1980’s when I walked through the doors of this Grayslake mansion. I actually remember one visit where I wore one of my favorite lavender, white pin-striped dress with shoulder pads purchased at Chas A Stevens(no longer), sitting with a young friend and his Dad. I can see myself sitting at the clothed table overlooking the beautiful grounds. I remember taking my Mom, celebrating mother’s day for a special brunch and she commented about the magnificent clock in the lobby. I remember attending a special wedding of a friend in the banquet hall. Also meeting friends at the fireside reception or dark paneled bar was unique. Spending time on the beautiful property once owned by Wesley Sears, as a summer home, son of Richard Sears who owned Sears and Roebuck, was an amazing adventure; strolling through a courtyard that had thousands of tulips and daffodils. An iconic place that made Grayslake popular.

The house was built in 1938 with 17 rooms, eight bathrooms, and four fireplaces at the corner of Route 120 and 45. The Country Squire Restaurant was opened in 1954 by Martin and Edna Giesel and acquired by the Govas family in 1977. Patriarch William Govas died in 2008. The family continued the operation until 2012 when it was sold to Northwestern Medicine and completely raised to the ground. They closed without warning. Some claim to have venues booked there and had a rough time contacting anyone to resolve issues.

Again, another favorite of my Mom’s and many friends I worked with though different in decor was the Rustic Manor in Gurnee. One of my closest friends for 30 plus years, Caryl Clem, also a contributing writer, lived down the street; her family were Gurnee residents for many years. Caryl was a waitress at one time, wearing an Indian headband with a feather. Caryl talks about the red/white check tablecloths which was a trademark. There was a souvenir store inside the courtyard selling Indian artifacts and country decor. Gurnee was the Indian crossing point across the Des Plaines River so history was honored. I celebrated many family occasions at the restaurant. My Mom loved the Poor Man’s lobster. The restaurant was truly known for its western theme continuing inside and outside. It was also known for its taxidermy animal displays, as well as a waterfall that was there when you walked in the door. They were located on the northeast corner of Grand Avenue and Kilbourne, looking more like a house when they opened in 1947. According to what sources claim, the owners received their liquor license in 1945.

Victor and Marian Tryboms, along with their children Marjorie and Marvin, were farmers in Gurnee in the 1930’s and decided to give up farming to open the restaurant. The menu was based of Mrs. T’s family recipes. In 1986, the Desplaines River which was located behind the restaurant and Caryl’s home, also severely flooded. I remember helping her move out at the time. Even though the Rustic Manor tried to recover, a fire destroyed the restaurant soon after. The area was designated as a floodplain but just too costly to rebuild. The property was given to the Village of Gurnee and is now the Esper A. Petersen Park. Petersen was a businessman who helped donate the property.

Worthpoint offers a wonderful menu of the Rustic Manor and matchbooks on Ebay of Country Squire.

Chicago south suburbs: Chuck Cavallinis, The Cottage and The Tivoli restaurant

My mother and I moved from the south side of Chicago to Dolton, Illinois in 1970 living in an apartment at 15222 Chicago Road within walking distance of Cavallinis Restaurant at the intersection of Sibley and Chicago Road. I was a steak lover and it was here that she and I would have the occasional Sunday dinner. It was also here in 1976 that I had my first vodka gimlet; soon to be my drink of choice…then. Not anymore. It was also a favorite place of friends from Thornton Community College now South Suburban to hang out for lunch, dinner or to celebrate a special birthday. It was also place I visited in the early 1980’s to celebrate a special anniversary and almost fell asleep at the table; not knowing that I had mononucleosis at the time. Chuck Cavallini opened his first restaurant in Midlothian beginning as an ice cream shop in 1932 but then a family restaurant finally closing in 1989.

The Cottage in Calumet City was a wonderful French restaurant that was truly an exclusive dining experience. A friend mine took me to the new restaurant in 1976 for my 21st birthday and the food was so good that it became a major Chicago destination. The restaurant opened in 1974. It was owned by Carolyn Bust Welbon and her husband for about 20 years located on Torrence Avenue. It was a risk but the atmosphere was really special….just like a cottage….with the most tasty soups and swordfish that was out of this world. According to sources, the couple divorced in 1993, the husband brought in another chef but closed the restaurant in 1996. Carolyn passed away in 2017.

The Tivoli in Chicago Heights was opened in 1947 and grew from 50 to over 300 seats. It was an excellent restaurant located at 19800 Glenwood Rd but also offered banquet rooms for birthdays, funerals and weddings. My girlfriend’s daughter celebrated her wedding at the Tivoli. They offer great steaks but was known for its Italian cuisine. John Giobbi was founder and opened another restaurant called the Tivoli II in Country Club Hills. He was known for greeting many patrons by name. He passed away in 1990 and his wife, Dolores in 2007.

Worthpoint offers a wonderful menu that I remember, preciously holding in my hands. It is in beautiful condition with gold engraving. Inside it says may it always be bluebirds in your trees. Strange, how that memory stays with me decades later. Worthpoint also offers a vintage ash tray of Chuck Cavallinis restaurant in Midlothian in great condition; packed away for many years. I had just started smoking back in the days when smoking was allowed inside and I am sure I had shared an ashtray with several. Matchbook covers were available to represent The Cottage but no longer for sale. Wonderful restaurants enjoying friends and family are missed but not smoking.

Shopping on East 87th Street/Chicago

In junior high school at Warren in the late 1960’s, my friends and I were allowed to walk to 87th street for a Saturday of shopping and lunch between Jeffrey Ave and Stony Island Ave. My home was located at 91st and Phillips; a good mile from the area though we would pass through Stony Island Park which is now known as the Jesse Owen Park. Across the park was Chicago Vocational School, an award winning school, which is now fading, in need of students and in disrepair; hoping to receive enough votes for historic status. At 2014 East 87th street was Leslie’s Restaurant, a popular place for many who attended CVS. My friends and I would continue to travel west on 87th. I remember first approaching Kims Rexall Drugstore at 87th and Bennett. One of my neighbors was a pharmacist there for a few years and filled prescriptions for my family. One of the next establishments was a three story building on the left which had to do with ATT/Illinois Bell at the time. The next building was Monarch/Perusso cleaners at 87th and Cregier. It was a beautiful building with floor to ceiling windows and a neat multi-colored brick post. Back in the 1960’s, cleaners were more necessary than ever since so much was dry clean only.

We always ate at Seaways for breakfast. We also ate at Thomas’s restaurant which is still there at 1657 East 87th. Tom Thomas shares his story that his father opened the restaurant in 1958. Many loved their breakfast but I liked Markons on Jeffrey, where I went for a chocolate phosphate and hamburger. There was a very popular Gossage Grill on the corner of 87st and Stony Island back in the 1960’s and had counter service only…more for the drugstore next door but the best burgers. For clothes shopping, we would visit Totville and my memory now becomes confused since I am not sure of the location and there was record store called Mr. T’s.

As early as 1951, 87th Street had little business; just beginning to prosper. Buses replaced street cars courtesy of Dan Ryan Jr. who was a member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. He served on the Roads and Bridges committee. He was a businessman and lawyer who passed away in 1961 and of course, the Dan Ryan Expressway was named after him. He ran for Mayor and Governor at one point. His father, Daniel Ryan Sr., was a Chicago politician who eventually rose to become President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners

Today, Thomas’s restaurant is still open. Walgreens, may have been Woolworths, is located at 87th and Stony Island Ave which I am not sure how long it has been there. New millenium stores include Essential Elements Boutique at 1640 East and Maxine’s Boutique at 1613.

Designate Chicago Vocational School (CVS) a Historic Landmark

I passed CVS many times in my childhood trips to 87th, Stony Island Park (Jesse Owen Park) and a graduate of Warren Elementary in 1969 on the south side of Chicago. However, Chicago Vocational School was a mystery to me until later years. When I began to listen and become more excited, I learned that at one time it was the best 4-year male vocational trade school in the United States as well as the largest. I went on to James H. Bowen HS. but some friends attended state-of-the-art classes at CVS that included architectural/ machine drafting, aviation mechanics, electrical engineering, machine shop, printing, sheet metal and wood pattern making. It is the only high school in Illinois occupied by the Navy during World War II. During that time, it was open 24 hours a day offering aviation, defense training and teacher training. An airplane hangar was built with an actual plane added. In 1946, women were admitted and the first ROTC program took place at this high school in the state. Over 4,000 students attended the massive structure also called the palace in 1946. Dick Butkus, a professional football player, and now 79 years old, graduated in 1960. Chicago Bears player, Chris Zorich, now 52, played football there as well. Some CVS students got to meet Bernie Mac, a comedian, who passed away in 2008.

Chicago Vocational School (CVS) was constructed in 1938 and sits on a 27-acre campus with two contributing structures bordered by 87th Street, Anthony Avenue, 85th Street, and Chappel Avenue. CVS is currently an architectural beauty and is the largest Art Deco/Art Moderne building in Chicago. Now called Chicago Vocational Career Academy, they said that at one time there were 40 classrooms, two study halls, a lecture room, a chorus room, band room, auditorium, gymnasium, natatorium and lunch room. When CVS opened, it could accommodate 6,000 students with 800,000 square feet of interior floor space. Some talked of underground tunnels located in the basement. Half of the construction costs were supposedly paid by the Federal Works Public Administration; the total being a little over 3 million.

For decades, the school thrived with award winning programs and invincible sports. The third Pan American Games were held at CVS between August 28 and September 7, 1959. Many did compete in interscholastic sports with sports teams named the Cavaliers. Today, the boys basketball competed in many regional championships from 2006-2016. But student enrollment has declined as well as the number of programs available. Work needs to be done to improve building structure. Chairman of the Chicago Vocational High School Restoration Project, Michael L. Mims, who graduated in 1978 has organized an online petition to obtain landmark status which would help bring more students and help restore the structure maintaining this amazing, historical icon that will be honored and not be torn down. Please click on the above link to sign the petition; 5,000 are needed.

Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd opened on May 30, 1932 and for some time it has been the largest indoor facility in the world. I vaguely remember trying to catch site of the floating seahorse with plants in the background, which was new to the Shedd back in the 1960’s; it is home to many species. The highlights for me was the beluga whale or the sharks. I loved watching the trainers give toys to the whales. The Caribbean Reef exhibit was built in 1971, making me approximately 15 years old then, on the site of the aquarium’s very first exhibit, the Tropical Pool. A feature of this exhibit is a diver that interacts with the animals while talking with the people. A part of the exhibit is a 90,000-US-gallon (340,000 l) circular tank that allows for maximum walk-around viewing. My own daughter was going to be a dolphin trainer or a marine biologist which she never became after bringing her to visit in the 1990’s. We loved spending time checking out the beautiful Chicago lakefront and eating lunch on the outdoor patio.

Shedd Aquarium was the gift of retail leader John G. Shedd, a protégé of Marshall Field (benefactor of the adjacent Field Museum), to the city of Chicago. Although Shedd only lived long enough to see the architect’s first drawings for the aquarium, his widow, Mary R. Shedd, cut the ribbon at the official opening ceremony. Shedd has expanded twice, with both additions carefully respecting the original architecture that earned the aquarium a National Historic Landmark designation. The modernistic Abbott Oceanarium, which opened in 1991, was linked physically and philosophically to the original structure by using the same white Georgia marble on its exterior. Wild Reef, which opened in 2003, was constructed 25 feet below street level under the original south terrace.

Today at Shedd, you should check out the Giant Pacific Octopus. The average arm span is 14 feet. With no bones to encumber it, however, this soft-bodied animal can slip through a hole no larger than its hard beak—2 inches or less. It’s also great at camouflage, blending its color, texture and shape into the seascape to ambush fishes, crabs and other prey. Watch them feed the sharks. Bearing horns and hammers, stripes and spots, sharks come in all shapes and sizes. They’re found in every ocean, in habitats ranging from shallow tropical reefs to the deep, cold seafloor.

The Field Museum

Every time we would drive by I would announce to my car friends and family…That is where the gorilla lives! I was four years old in 1959 when I visited the Field Museum and saw Bushman, the gorilla, in his mounted wall case, staring at me as if he were out to kill. He was going to get me and I ran. My parents caught me before I found myself lost among the mummies and man eating dinosaurs. I would not return again for many years to come. Bushman came to Chicago in 1930, a poor orphaned gorilla to arrive at Lincoln Park Zoo and in October of 1950 he escaped from his cage, roamed the kitchen at the zoo. Confronted by a garter snake that scared him, he quickly ran back to his cage. He died in 1951. He was afraid of a garter snake???

When I finally did go back with my own children, I was shocked how little he was and my young toddlers thought he was kind of cute. Go figure! They were more interested in the dinosaur named Sue in the early 2000’s. SUE’s sex is actually unknown; this T. rex is named for Sue Hendrickson, who discovered the dinosaur in 1990 during a commercial excavation trip north of Faith, South Dakota. At more than 40 feet long and 13 feet tall at the hip, SUE is physically the largest Tyrannosaurus rex and she was quite expensive for the Field Museum to obtain. Sue is probably the most celebrated dinosaur in the world today. You can see her in Griffin Hall today.

The Field Museum is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. The museum is named for it major benefactor, Marshall Field and also houses artifacts from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.  In order to share with future generations, the exhibits assembled for the Exposition, Edward Ayer convinced the merchant Marshall Field to fund the establishment of a museum.

Today, some exhibitions come and go. You can see how a giraffe’s heart pumps and explore the speed of a cheetah, which is an exhibition that closes January 9, 2022. Some of my current favorites are Inside Ancient Egypt where you can visit the largest collections of mummies in the United States along with an amazing collection of birds. If you walk through the doors of the East, that is where the gorilla lives located in his glass cage.