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.

Forgotten mall: Hillside Shopping Center

Hillside Mall located in the Chicago suburb of Hillside at Roosevelt and Wolf was originally an open air mall that was built in 1956. The anchor stores were Carsons and Goldblatts and initially 21 stores existed, however, that increased in 1958 according to Mall Hall of Fame.  Stores I remember were Carsons, which was three levels. A friend remembers special times with his Dad at Karroll’s Men’s Wear. But in the 1960’s the mall was sold and refurbished; enclosed and climate controlled in August of 1967. Stores also included Lyon and Healy where my Mom and I bought sheet music. Armand was a great restaurant with a smorgasbord as they were called then.

Newer and larger malls began to show their face which included Oakbrook and Yorktown in Lombard which are still open today. Also opening in the 1970s was the North Riverside Mall. Remodeling was done in the late 70s and early 80s but Hillside was declining rapidly. Located near the Eisenhower expressway, there were no immediate off ramps near the mall and people had to go a few miles out of there way to get there.

It was purchased by Northbrook-based New Castle Partners in January 1992. They decided to remarket the struggling complex as a value-oriented shopping hub, changing its name to WEST POINT CENTER in February. Eau Claire, Wisconsin-based Menards opened a home improvement store in the vacated Goldblatt’s space in mid-1992. Prior to Menards, Zayres and Ames were also there. But when Carson’s was closed in 1997, the mall was demolished.

The Hillside Mall Cinemas was closed by Loews Cineplex in late 2000’s and now houses a church, while the adjacent Hillside Mall is now a Carmax used car retailer. They opened as one screen in 1962 but eventually had three. Cinema Treasures offers some great history of different movie theaters throughout the country and is building the world’s largest guide of theaters. They have over 53,000 movie theaters from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and dozens of other countries around the world.

 

 

 

 

Popcorn gains from Chicago Connections

By Caryl Clem:

Popcorn’s early history dates back to worshiping the Maize with popcorn adorned headdresses and rain gods.  Today’s mass consumption of this snack is a combination of ingenuity, determination and old fashioned hustling.  January 19th is National Popcorn day.

Early popping corn was risky, often greasy, or partially burned and inedible until Charles Cretors invented a steam popcorn machine wagon. He moved his family to Chicago in 1885 to expand his business.  During the Columbia World Exposition in 1893, fresh popcorn vendor wagons were introduced. C Cretors and Company of Chicago featured popcorn flavors that won instant approval. Charles previously sold peanuts before the popcorn venture, his recipe combined molasses, peanuts and popcorn. The cheery red wagon that popped fresh popcorn could be pulled by a boy or pony was open for business anywhere a crowd gathered.

Two German immigrant brothers were determined to obtain financial success in Chicago. After their first business burned to the ground that was located South Clinton Street in 1885, they rebuilt and expanded their business using wagon vendors.  Again the combination of popcorn, peanuts and molasses from a recipe they construed in 1871 became a staple of their success.  A box decorated by a patriotic sailor with a slang term meaning the best, “Cracker Jack” originated their popcorn snack.  The Chicago Tribune on March 8, 1896 featured an article proclaiming that to taste the Rueckheim Brothers popcorn would lead to an obsession, “Do Not Taste It,” read the ridiculous headline. “If you do, you will part with your money easy.”   Expanding the popularity of the product, jobbers went to grocers, drug stores and retail merchants to obtain orders.  By 1908 a song embracing the joy of baseball, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” quoted, “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack” cemented the bond between games and snacking.

As America fought two wars, sugar shortages narrowed the choices for snack treats. The Great Depression brought poverty to the majority. A bag of popcorn was between 5 and 10 cents, a luxury most could afford.  Farmers and vendors were able to make a meager living off popcorn.  Cracker Jack started offering prizes inside their boxes to corner the market.

Movie theaters were against serving food to prevent littering the atmosphere of richness and prosperity that dominated the early movie houses.  After the Great Depression, movie theaters struggled to survive.  In the 1930’s from Glen Dickson  manager of a theater in the Midwest area, Julia Braden in Kansas City, Mo.,  and R. J. McKenna in the west: all  saved their businesses by selling popcorn inside the theater to increase profit margins.  Now a movie is associated with the smell of buttery popcorn. Children’s movies and suspense dramas sold the most popcorn.

Since the microwave introduced popcorn in 1981, popcorn starts to dominate the fix at home snack market. Orville Redenbacher in 1965 is selling his popcorn out of his car as he travels to supermarkets across the Midwest.  Family cooks can make snack foods . Options to make your own popping corn are at your fingertips. Range or stove Popcorn is easy to make and offers many flavorful seasonings.

If you want to buy, the top selling brand today is Chicago’s own Garrett Popcorn ShopsChicago, ILThe Cretors family has modernized its market to open Cornfields, Inc.  a healthy snack manufacturer and producer of the G.H. Cretors and Hi I’m Skinny brands.

No matter what your choice, Chicago offers the best popcorn!

Chicagoland/Suburbs: More haunted theatres

The Biograph Theater, now known as the Victory Garden, was opened September 5, 1914. All 942 seats were on a single floor. This Lincoln Park neighborhood landmark is probably best known by Chicagoans as the place where John Dillinger was shot and killed on July 22, 1934 after attending a screening of “Manhattan Melodrama” starring Clark Gable. There are stories of people seeing a shadowy figure of a man running on the sidewalk, or heading for the alley. He runs, then falls and disappears, almost as if reenacting the shooting over and over again. Some feel that Dillinger was not shot but some believe it was a look alike. According to the Ghost Research Society, some people have even claimed to have photographed strange shadowy figures lurking in the alleyway, just steps from where Dillinger was killed.

Woodstock Opera HouseThe four story structure has been used for many years to host live performances of celebrities including launching the career of Orson Wells. The Woodstock Opera House, built in 1889, originally housed the library, city council, court, and fire department for the city of Woodstock, Illinois. The Opera House sat above on the second floor. According to Family Travel on a Budget, in the 1940s, Shelley Berman was working on scenery for a production. A loud noise in the seating area startled him. He scanned the room and noticed that several chairs in row DD were in the down position. He ran over to investigate, and when he arrived, all the seats were in their upright position. Berman shared his experience with other cast members, and a haunted legend was born. Many claim that the ghost is a young woman from the early 1900s that threw herself from the belfry of the opera house since she could not get a part and could not handle rejection.

Coronado Performing Arts Center in Rockford is an historic theater that opened on October 9th 1927; a grandiose movie palace and stage with a Barton Grand Theater pipe organ that hosted a number of celebrities and movies. With the support of the community, the theatre was re-stored in its original style in 2001. However, according to sources, paranormal groups have documented several ghosts at the theater, but the Van Matres, Louis St. Pierre, a manager, and Miss Kileen, a secretary, are the core spirits watching over the historic theater. Many have seen the ghost light, as they refer, during their visit. Besides attending events and shows at the theater, tours are available. Feel free to contact Coronado to plan your visit.

Rialto Square Theater opened in 1926 as an old vaudeville and movie palace in downtown Joliet. The grand space has been restored to its original beauty including an elegant rotunda and dome with amazing chandeliers throughout. The theatre is also home to a Barton Grand Theater pipe organ. Accidents have happened in the building including the balcony according to Haunted Houses who claim that staff and workmen have seen an apparition of a women floating around the theater. Apparentaly, she is more active after the the theater is closed to the public.  Visitors have also taken pictures and have seen strange figures in the photographs.

 

 

 

 

 

Sno-caps, Raisinets or Junior Mints?

A second grader approached me one day and was telling me about her trip to the movie theater. She wasn’t a big popcorn eater but how she loved Sno-caps candy. When I was exactly her age decades ago, it was Sno-caps for me instead of popcorn. A lot cheaper too! Prices have jumped over 600 percent to buy candy at the movies; a dollar, however, would do it during my time. My best friend always chose Raisinets. If all else failed, Junior Mints was the final choice.

We also talked about how we never had that candy at any other time but at the movies. These were the movie candy choices, I suppose.

So, of course, I went to the movies with my adult daughter a week later and had to try out Sno-caps. Unfortunately, the sprinkles got between my teeth and I did not experience the same nonpareil satisfaction as before. My teeth are certainly not the same either. Though, I did save the box and shared with the second grader that I truly enjoyed my trip to the movies.

Sno -Caps have been around a long time. The candy was introduced in the late 1920s by the Blumenthal Chocolate Company. Ward Foods acquired Blumenthal in 1969. Terson Company bought the product and Nestle finally acquired the candy in 1984. Sno-caps are bite sized Nestles chocolate, covered with white sprinkles.

Chocolate-covered raisins are still popular and Raisinets are currently made by Nestlé.  They come in all sorts of packages, sold around the world and come in special movie theater boxes today. The raisins are from California with fruit antioxidants and thirty percent less fat. An important choice for splurging at the movies!

Junior Mints are a candy brand consisting of small rounds of mint filling inside a dark chocolate coating. The product is currently produced by Tootsie Roll Industries.  The product was launched in 1949 and named after a series of articles that was produced into a Broadway play, Junior Miss. However, the play had closed six years before the candy was introduced. In 1945, the play was adapted to a film and radio show. Over 15 million Junior Mints are produced daily in large theater boxes.

I am going to the movies today and I have a taste for popcorn! Today, cinemas have moved beyond the original popcorn, candy choices and sell burgers, quesadillas, and pizzas. Even beer and wine is an option.  Some classic films are paired with specific fine wines…..hmmm.

Maybe, I will just try some Junior Mints.

Early beginnings in Chicago land movie theaters

It was the Chicago theater where I went to see my first movie. Though only three, I remember sitting on the right side of theater only a few rows from the front; fascinated by the colors, magic and amazing action presented in Sleeping Beauty. It was also at the Chicago Theater that I remember seeing Mary Poppins in 1964 and Sound of Music shortly after.

Chicago was known for having majestic theaters that included the Avalon. For me, on the South side with over 2,000 seats and I remember seeing IT’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Avalon was located on 79th street and I always felt like I was going on an exotic vacation designed in Middle Eastern style. Additionally, there were five huge murals in the lobby, which were made of tiny inlaid mosaic tiles, and a giant stage, which was guarded by four menacing gargoyles. The theater also once contained a 3/15 Wurlitzer theater organ. It is set to re-open next month as the Avalon Regal Theatre. 

Another favorite for southsiders was the Jeffrey theater on 71st in South Shore with a vertical marquee that could be seen up and down the street. In addition, The Hamilton Theater was opened in 1916, for the Cooney Brothers circuit, in the heart of the South Shore neighborhood’s 71st Street retail district.

Evergreen Plaza in Evergreen Park was a place we could hang out with our friends and Evergreen Theater was added in a separate building located on the malls south side in 1964. I remember seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Originally Evergreen Plaza, the shopping center opened in 1952 as an open-air mall, with Jewel, Lerners, Kresges,Carsons, Chas. A Stevens, Lyttons, and Walgreens being early anchors. The mall was enclosed in the early 1960s, becoming the nation’s first suburban indoor mall.

Now called Westfield Old Orchard, it was here we would travel to enjoy the open air mall that offered some of the first luxury stores in Skokie that were located downtown Chicago such as Marshall Fields and Lord& Taylor; the latter the oldest luxury department store in the United States. Old Orchard hosted a movie theater which is now called the Regal Gardens where I saw the 1967 movie, Thoroughly Modern Millie.

It was at the Ford City Mall Theater that I saw the Exorcist becoming one of the highest grossing films and the best in horror along with Jaws a few years later, of course, being released in the summer. Actually according to statistics, Jaws was the highest grossing film of all time until Star Wars was released in 1977.

After living in the south suburbs, the original one screen River Oaks Dimension 150 Theater was opened May 30, 1969 by ABC Great States Theaters. It had 1,600 rocking chair seats, a large curved screen, auditorium lights on the sides of theater that were dimly lit during intermission, and a giant curtain that opened from both sides at the middle. It was here that I saw the GodFather somehow remembering the horse head the most.

Opening at the Biograph,was the Rocky Horror Picture in 1975 which probably gets more attention now than ever before, always accompanied by a live cast.

Throughout the early 1980’s, there were many others that included the 400 on Sheridan Road in Rogers Park and the Genesee theater in Waukegan which opened into a huge lobby with a large chandelier. The stage was created for live theater and movies. In 1982, the Theater stopped showing movies due to economic decline and the rise of major movie cineplexes. And in 1989, it officially closed and went up for sale.

The City of Waukegan purchased the building in 1999 and began renovations at a cost of almost $23 million with the help of over 120 volunteers. The Genesee Theatre reopened on December 3, 2004 and still a host to many old time favorites that include Huey Lewis, Gordon Lightfoot and REO Speed Wagon.