Chicago’s Oak Street Beach

It was in the 1970’s during my high school and college years that I remember traveling with friends to Chicago’s Oak Street Beach for a summer field trip from the south suburbs of the city. We would also pick out high rise apartment buildings we wanted to live in after college. And I remember it crowded with beach chairs, towels, bicycles and of course, numerous bathers and acrobatics. I remember male friends wanting to be a life guard as a summer job there; where prestigious life began. Oak Street Beach is located at 1000 N. Lake Shore Drive at Oak Street and Lake Michigan near the Gold Coast/Streeterville neighborhoods.

According to the Chicago Park District, Lincoln Park and Lake Shore Drive suffered constant damage from storms and lake shore erosion. The city built a breakwater made of pilings, planks, and stone on the lake’s edge between Oak Street and North Avenue in the 1870’s. This device could not protect Lake Shore Drive, so in the late 1880s, the commissioners began working with the Army Corps of Engineers to design a seawall between Fullerton and North Avenues to provide better protection. Lake Shore Drive was also extended south from Oak Street to Ohio Street.

The park district claims property owners helped pay for the landfill extension, which included a breakwater to protect the lake shore and roadway from erosion. Constructed in the 1890s, the project included a 50-foot-wide roadway as well as an extensive granite-paved beach, stone sidewalks, bicycle path, bridle path, and luxury lawns with elegant trees.

The beach was extremely popular in the early 1900’s but rich, mansion property owners complained about how small it was so it was extended in 1923. My father remembers living in the city in those early years as a child attending the beach. According to sources, over 50,000 visitors were known to travel to the beach during that time.The Chicago Park District offers some wonderful history on all Chicago area parks and when they can be used.

Today, Oak Street has gone through many renovations and has a outdoor cafe though with Covid restrictions, not available at this time. Currently, the beach is closed but when opened, you can rent beach chairs, umbrellas and cabanas. Of course, public restrooms are available. Usually, various vendors carts are seen along the path. Besides swimming, many beach goers play volleyball or just sit, taking pictures of amazing sunrises and sunsets. Still, a beautiful place to visit.

Photo courtesy of Greg Wass

Chicago’s impact on Fox Lake

By Caryl Clem:

Chicago Trading Company, a giant distributor of crops by trains and ships that resulted in Chicago becoming the largest grain port in the world by 1854. When the Wisconsin Central railroad connected to the Chain O’Lakes area in 1882, a resort haven for wealthy Chicagoans was created. Chicago Board of Trade members decided to build a private grand hotel in Fox Lake, The Mineola on 91 North Cora Avenue in 1884. The three story structure with a two tiered veranda featured one hundred private room suites with hot and cold running water available for $2.00 daily. Labor statistics in 1884 for Chicago day laborers averaged about $2.20 a week. The hotel sold to a new owner in 1891 that expanded business by going public. Weekends at the hotel featured entertainment while enjoying the surrounding scenery. Sightseeing steamboats carried tourists to” Egyptian Lotus “beds flowering on several lakes.

In 1897, The Chicago Board Trade members shifted focus to opening a private boating enterprise, The Pistakee Yacht Club still in operation today. Boat racing competitions attracted powerful men. In 1922, Cook County Board President, Anton Cermak, thrilled 5,000 spectators victorious in his “City of Chicago” boat. Governors of Illinois, Otto Kerner, William Stratton, Fred Busse, and Big Bill Thompson all relaxed in the Chain of Lakes summer activities. Gatsby era mansions appeared along the Chain of Lakes coastline as families claimed their summer retreat territory. Fox Lake became the summer hot spot; leisure time could be spent boating, fishing, hunting, gambling, dining and dancing.

When the Nippersink Station opened connected to the Milwaukee railway in 1901, a broader financial spectrum of people arrived. In 1907, permanent residents in the Fox Lake area numbered around 500, soaring to over 20,000 during the summer months. Over 45 liquor licenses were issued in the Fox Lake area just before the Prohibition hit. By 1910, The Chicago Tribune reported the Mineola Hotel lacked morals and was not a proper place to spend time since excessive drinking, prostitution and gambling existed. The Fox Lake village did not place any limits on profitable business practices. During the 1920’s Prohibition era liquor flowed freely throughout the area.

By the “Roaring Twenties” Fox Lake became the choice hangout for mobsters and gangsters. Al Capone, head of Chicago’s North side battled “Bugs” Moran head of Chicago’s South side for control of the booze trade, during beer wars in Chicago. Both owned property near Fox Lake. On June 1, 1930 the feud came to a head at Manning’s Hotel in Fox Lake when 3 of Moran’s crew were shot dead, commonly referred to as the Fox Lake Massacre. A year earlier, Capone had lost lives to Moran in the St. Valentines’ Day Massacre. Moran, outmaneuvered, losing power left the Chicago area shortly after this attack. Fox Lake today continues to grow and change remaining a favorite summer retreat.

Gayety’s Ice Cream is open

Gayety’s Candy was located on the South side of Chicago at 9207 Commercial Ave. established in 1920, over 100 years ago, right next to the Gayety Theatre. Founder James Papageorge was an immigrant stowed away on a steemer from Greece at the age of  nine. He learned everything about candy and ice cream while opening a shop next to the Gayety Theatre with the same name. It wasn’t uncommon to share the names of other businesses.I remember Mom I visiting to buy their homemade candies when I was little but they had best ice cream sundaes and banana splits with fruit cocktail. Moved to Lansing, IL and Shereville, Indiana, was closed, but has re-opened in Lansing.

Located at 3306 Ridge Rd,  Laurene Lemanski bought Gayety’s through her new company, For the Love of Chocolates and Ice Cream. Her parents grew up on the South side and went to the shop there. She actually worked at the Torrence Avenue store in Lansing in the 1980’s while attending high school.

The fruit topped banana and vanilla ice cream sundae is buried under a liberal dollop of real whipped cream and crushed nuts. They also offer seasonal flavors of ice cream depending on the time of year. Their shakes are massive, and they serve you what’s left in the tumbler too. They have ice cream chairs that are also fun to sit in enjoying the atmosphere of a real ice cream parlot.

Image courtesy of A.C.C

Ice cream facts

By Caryl Clem:

Surviving Italian Florentine rebellions, at the tender age of 14, Catherine d’Medici was to wed the second eldest son of the King of France, Henry Orleans in 1533.  Her two loves, ice cream and high heels are still around today.  She had purchased a recipe for ice cream from a goat and chicken farmer who won a contest her family sponsored. This frozen dessert won instant popularity after it was served at her wedding.  As a short new bride, Catherine wanted to ensure her grand entrance before the Royal Court of France; a stunning pair of custom made high heels was a fashion first.   Catherine became Queen of France in 1536 bearing 10 children with her husband.

Since 1686, a café that entertained the greatest thinkers in Paris was Café Procope . Famous clientele included Voltaire famous French author against tyranny, Diderot, inventor of modern encyclopedia organization, Americans Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington discussed world issues over coffee and ice cream.

The first recipe for ice cream used by George Washington in America had 21 steps.  Rich mansion owners had underground ice houses for blocks of ice cut in the winter.  Only the wealthy could afford the necessary ingredients.

Before Chicago, Philadelphia was an ice cream “hot spot”. Quaker schoolteacher named Louis Dubois Bassett set out to make high-quality ice creams on his rural New Jersey farm.

Fast forward to the late 1800’s when Chicago enters the ice cream market limelight.  Early vendors hawked their half Penney and Penny licks ice cream from reused, rinsed, small hand held glass containers.  Italian vendors sounded like they were saying, Hockey Pokey’s.  Believed but not proven, the more sanitary ice cream wafer cone happened at a World’s Fair Exhibition in St. Louis.  An ice cream vendor ran out of glass containers so he paired business with his neighbor selling thin wafers, rolling them then placing a scoop on top.

Gone but not forgotten the Buffalo ice Cream Parlor in Chicago.  Elaborate décor of cherubs dancing murals on the walls, leaded glass windows, rich dark walnut wood and marble top counters, amid the whirl of 20 malt mixers concocting heavenly combinations.  The Buffalo offered a perfect place to escape reality and enjoy sumptuous ice cream desserts.  The original Buffalo in Chicago opened in 1902 moving to the Irving Park in 1918.  The new location had the Commodore Theatre across the street.  Now a Shell Gas Station stands has replaced the spot ice cream was enjoyed.

At the end of the civil war, a jobless William Breyer started hand-cranking ice cream in his kitchen in Kensington outside Philadelphia then selling it to neighbors.  He was the first using a wagon equipped with a loud dinner bell to announce his location.  Breyer’s reputation rests on simple good for you ingredients for over 150 years. The cream, cane sugar, fruits and nuts ingredient base became known as the Philadelphia American style ice cream.  During the 1960’s only ice cream parlors sold the number one rated Breyers.  In the 1970’s, Breyers joined the Kraft product line.  A suburb favorite, Homer’s Homemade Gourmet Ice Cream.

In Oak Park, Petersen’s Ice Cream has been in business over 80 years. Founded by a Greek immigrant, his son, Dean Poulos, reports that his grandfather’s secret ingredient was butterfat. With décor from the 1919 era complete with tin ceiling tiles is Petersen’s Ice Cream Shop. Exploring Chicago’s ice cream history is definitely a summer treat.

Buffalo Ice Cream photo Courtesy of Patrick Crane

Rainbow Ice Cream and Rileys Trick Shop

Living on the south side in the 1960’s, we would make a trip to Rainbow Ice Cream  at 92nd and Western eating the same five-flavored ice cream cone as today; chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (New York vanilla with cherries and walnuts), pistachio and orange sherbet. Grandpa Joe Sapp established Rainbow in 1926. His first rainbow cones were sold out of a small ice cream shack on 92nd street across the street from the building that was built four years later and still exists today. Then we visited Riley’s Trick shop that was located at 9033 Western Ave, opened in 1965. I remember getting trick cards and funny eye glasses.

Riley’s opened in 1937 at 79th and Rhodes which mainly sold greeting cards and paper goods. Jim Riley and Eleanor married three weeks after opening their shop. They had a popcorn wagon that was hurting popcorn sales at the nearby Rhodes Theatre so the manager offered them $75 for it. They invested that $75 into a line of tricks, jokes and magic, and Riley’s Trick Shop was born. In 1945, Jim Riley co-founded Magic Masters of Chicago which is still thriving today. They moved into another rented storefront at 1057 W. 79th St. in 1956. In 1965, Jim and Eleanor Riley built their own building with living quarters above at 9033 Western Ave.

In 8 years, there the business outgrew two building additions and moved to its current 5,000 square-foot location at 6442 W. 111th in Worth, Illinois. Jim and Eleanor lived above the business they loved until they passed away 27 days apart in 2002. Jim’s son moved the Worth to Palos but had to close in 2014

Rainbow Round Cake consists of all five ice cream flavors of the Rainbow Cone on top of a cake layer. Rainbow Cake Rolls are offered in 6″ and 12″ rolls. They currently offer chocolate cake rolled with five flavors of the Rainbow Cone. Over 96 years, the Sapp family is still serving the same ice cream Joseph developed back in 1926.

 

 

Plush Horse

We lived on the south side of Chicago and it was a field trip with my family to the Plush Horse in Palos Park. It was like going to visit a relative at an old-fashioned, three-story shingled house and, of course, I always had to see if the horse was there as a child. With my adult daughter, we continue to visit and again, I have to see if the stuffed horse is there…it is. For over 80 years, the Plush Horse in Palos Park offers a nostalgic atmosphere with an overwhelming selection of homemade ice cream. Over 70 different flavors.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the original farmhouse was built in 1893. A Mrs. Gray moved there as a bride during the Spanish-American War. Her husband went off to war, and she had the store built so that he would have something to do when he came home. For a few years the storefront housed a general store. Later, the store went through reincarnations as a butcher shop and an antique shop until the Itzel family opened the ice cream parlor in 1937. It has been through several owners since but still the best ice cream.

Today, as an adult it offers some great, specialty, coffee moments so when the parlor is open, you can visit on a cold night. They are opened all year round and you can order online. Plush Horse offers a variety of ice cream with out sugar added. Cones,shakes,sodas,malts, sundaes, and banana splits are just a few of the delicious handmade sweets and treats they offer and they have some great ice cream cakes. Many a child have spent their birthday celebrating with a cake from the shop. They also have a Plush Horse in Tinley Park which has been opened since 2012 and have been named “The Best Ice Cream” in the South land!

Picture courtesy of Slywy.com.

 

Ford City Mall

For me, my first experience with here was not shopping but seeing the Exorcist released in 1973 followed by Jaws in 1975. But many remember the buildings at Ford City were constructed by Chrysler Motors in 1943 to produce engines for the B-29 bomber. It was  called the Dodge Plant; a sprawling industrial complex with dozens of buildings. The main building occupied 20 city blocks and was then the largest space in the world under a single roof. I know parents of many Baby Boomer children taking jobs there during the war. When the war ended, the plant was stalled until the Korean war when Ford purchased the property and aircraft was manufactured there. The Ford company modernized everything inside the building, employing nearly 12,000 people. After that war, the building closed again in 1959 and the government sold it to Harry Chaddick

The mall opened in 1965 as Ford City. The mall consists of two halves – a strip mall and enclosed mall. The mall consists of two halves – a strip mall and enclosed mall. The strip mall portion is connected to the enclosed mall by a tunnel called “The Connection”. It utilizes the basement between the severed halves of the buildings directly below the parking lot. The Connection was originally called Peacock Alley from the late 1970s through the 1980s.

On May 27, 1966 Ford City Cinema I & II opened at 7601 S. Cicero Ave. Boasting Chicago’s first TWIN theatre. The movies shown that day were “A Thousand Clowns” and “The Great Race”. Ford City East Cinema opened in 1981 and was located at 76th & Pulaski. This theater had three screens.On August 10, 1990, the theater became known as Ford City 14 Theaters. It was one of the largest megaplex theaters of its day. In 2002, AMC took over the Ford City 14.

Currently, Ford City has about 87 stores. Many that go want to tour the basement alone which is still known as “the connection” originally called Peacock Alley.

South Chicago shopping and Commercial Avenue

In the 1960’s, Mother and I shopped at the first Jewel store on 92nd and South Chicago Avenue earning a set of plastic furniture that my cousin helped produced. The building is there but empty now. Also on 92nd, we would go to Steel City Bank. Mom liked to buy her clothes at Gasman’s and if I was patient while she tried on clothes, we would go across the street to Bargain Town where I could get a new paint by number. When selling Girl Scout cookies, our troop would sell in front of Goldblatts and for awhile I was a Rainbow girl attending meetings at the Masonic Lodge at 91st and Exchange. Building is there as well but empty and not in the best shape. Many of my Catholic friends attended Immaculate Conception at 87th and Commercial.

It went on and on when talking about Commercial Avenue or South Chicago Avenue. There was one place after including restaurants, bakeries, hardware stores, shoe stores, dress shops, 5 and 10 stores, theaters, banks and the small business man thrived. The last mill at the South Works site of the United States Steel Corporation (US Steel) closed in 1992. The loss of this major employer has taken a significant toll on South Chicago particularly its economic activity. So in 2016,a plan was put together to revitalize the area focusing on Commercial Avenue between 83rd an 93rd. In ten years, they hope that the economic vitality of the area will be recaptured.

The owners of the Chicago Skyway want to get involved with a community improvement project, it makes sense to jump on the opportunity. Such is the case with the South Chicago Underline Project, a proposal to add facilities for walking, biking, playing, and relaxing under the elevated highway on the Southeast Side

Brachs

Another Chicago original to celebrate National Candy Month! And it was the candy corn celebrated at Halloween that I enjoyed the best as a child. Brach’s candy corn is still the  best selling candy in the US today. I also remember the conversation hearts known as Sweethearts candy passed out at Valentines Day as well as Jelly Bird eggs at Easter. For my children, it was Jolly Ranchers that was my son’s favorite. The company was founded by Emil Brach in 1904 located at the corner of North Avenue and Town Street in Chicago.With a 1,000 investment, he named it “Brach’s Palace of Sweets” and employed his two sons to help.

Emil started with one kettle. Investing in additional equipment he was able to lower his production costs and sell his candy for 20 cents per pound. According to Wikipedia,by 1911, his production had reached 50,000 pounds per week and his first product was caramels. In 1913, Brachs developed the first candy factory and a second factory in 1921. In the late 1940’s an explosion happened killing many but Brachs continued on building a state of the art facility, becoming the largest candy manufacturer in the world.

One of the sons was 75 years old when he sold the company in 1966. Bertram Johnson bought the company in 1980 and moved its headquarters  but it started to decline and he bought Brochs Candy Company and merged the two which brought on new products. In 2003, Barry Callebaut AG purchased the new company. As part of the deal, Barry Callebaut agreed to assume $16 million in debt, fund restructuring efforts for 5 years and paid a symbolic $1 (one dollar) for the company.

In 2007, the company was sold to the Farley’s & Sathers Candy Company, which in turn merged with the Ferrara Pan Candy Company in 2012 to form the Ferrara Candy Company, based in Chicago, moving its headquarters here in 2019.

Tootsie Roll

As a child, I received a lot of Tootsie Rolls at Halloween, trick and treating. They were bought in bulk so parents could hand out several. Though I liked the Tootsie Pop the best. Per parents permission, I passed Tootsie Pops out to kindergarten students this year and was surprised how much they loved them. An old product continues to provide new flavor and excitement. Growing up in the 1950’s, Tootsie Roll sponsored children’s programs while many of us remember their commercials. Manufactured in New York in 1896 by Leo Hirshfield, the now Chicago-based company has grown to become one of the country’s largest candy companies. In 1931, Sweets Corp. which owned Tootsie Roll, extended the line with the Tootsie Pop, a Tootsie Roll center coated with a hard-candy shell on a lollipop stick. The company struggled during the Great Depression in New York. However, finally came to Chicago.

According to Dining Chicago, in 1966, Sweets Corp. changed its name to Tootsie Roll Industries and opened the Chicago plant at 7401 S. Cicero Ave. that is now its headquarters. Melvin Gordon, CEO for several decades and who passed away in 2015 at 95 believed in hiring Chicagoan’s and kept the headquarters here for that reason. I knew several who worked for the company that offered great benefits. His wife worked by side with him, married for 65 years and was CEO.

The company also operates factories in four other states, plus Mexico and Canada. The manufacturer claims to produce more than 64 million Tootsie Rolls. Tootsie brands include: Tootsie Roll, Tootsie Pop, Charms Blow Pop, Mason Dots, Andes, Sugar Daddy, Charleston Chew, Dubble Bubble, Razzles, Caramel Apple Pop, Junior Mints, Cella’s Chocolate-Covered Cherries, and Nik-L-Nip.