Showtime in Roseland

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Roseland was a community unto itself. There were clothing and shoe stores galore and Gately’s People’s Store for a major department store. There were restaurants up and down Michigan Avenue (The Ave), including Tony’s Snack Shop, Snack Time, Giovanni’s, Nino’s and Krapil’s, and Kresge’s and Woolworth’s each had a food counter.

Over the past couple of years, a number of people have mentioned various theaters that were in the Roseland community. Those included the Normal, Verdi, State, Roseland Show, Parkway and Ridge.

The State Theater (11016-20 S. Michigan Ave.) seated 2,000 and was much more stylish than any of the others. It had a retractable Wurlitzer, an ornate vaulted ceiling and a balcony, which was opened on weekends. Their free yellow passes for any of eight summer movies made the State very popular with the kids, and after the movies a lot of us headed to Palmer Park for a swim.

The most unique feature of the Roseland Show (11331 S. Michigan Ave.) was the extra-wide seat that was made specifically for 6-foot, 2-inch, 350-pound Two-Ton Baker. He was known as the jolly fat man and would make appearances at events. It was said that his laughter could always be heard above everyone else’s. His seat was in the lower-right middle section of the theater.

The Parkway (11053 S. Michigan Ave.) was next to Nick’s Olympic Grill. I recall when the Parkway closed and my dad’s friend, the Parkway maintenance man, gave us two five-gallon cans of coconut oil, which my mom used for cooking for months. It was another small theater and was also demolished in the late 1950s.

I recall going to the Normal Show (452 W. 119th Street), which was on a par with the Roseland Show. Anyone who grew up in Stewart Ridge and St. Catherine of Genoa Parish definitely went to the Normal. It was just up the block from Tastee Freeze, which was known for its chocolate dip cones.

I recall going there when I was dating a girl from Stewart Ridge. Two years later, when I’d returned from Vietnam and lived in Susanville, Calif., I went to the town theater that totally reminded me of the Normal. A couple of months later, I made the move back to Chicago and 116th Street but never made it back to the Normal.

One mystery theater whose existence some have questioned was the Ridge (120th and Lowe). It opened in 1917 and went through three name changes before it became the Ridge in 1936. It kept that name until it closed in 1951 and was converted into a store.

The Verdi Theater (301-303 E. Kensington) was near St. Anthony’s school and next to The Penguin restaurant, which was on the southeast corner of Kensington and Prairie Avenues. It wasn’t a very large theater but it was built for the Kensington neighborhood and named in honor of the Italian composer.

There was one theater that was a part of almost every Roselandites dating life and led to many stories and some marriages. Going there was always an adventure and the intermission was always a time for the kids to have fun. Have you figured it out yet? The Halsted Drive-in (138th and Halsted) was one of the best date-night places around Roseland. It was close enough to Raceway Park that you could always hear the stock cars racing.

How many people do you know who pulled away without taking the speaker off the window? Can you visualize the intermission clock on the screen with the animated concession stand offerings? As soon as that clock appeared on the screen the kids jumped out of the cars and ran to the lighted playground. As the clock ticked down to the end of intermission, all of the kids would run to the bathroom and then find their way back to the family car in the dark. Those were definitely the good old days.

Note & Notizie
Congratulations to Judy and Ed Pietronicz, who were married at St. Anthony’s with a reception at Parise’s, and are celebrating 50 years of marriage on Jan. 28. … The Veneti Nel Mondo will meet from 2 to 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 9 at Carmel Hall in Melrose Park. For details, call 815-463-3093. … The Spaghetti-Os will meet at 5 p.m. on Jan. 25 at Carlos Lorenzetti’s in Chicago Heights.

Contact CJ Martello at 1501 W. Belmont Ave. #708, Chicago, IL 60657; 773-525-7823; or; Online: Roseland Roundtable on Facebook

About C.J. Martello

CJ Martello has returned to his roots as the author of “Petals from Roseland.” After five years of writing his column as a resident of Chicago's North Side, CJ put his money where his heart is and moved to Pullman, near the Roseland area in which he grew up. Having joined the Spaghetti-Os, Veneti nel Mondo and St. Anthony of Padua Parish and being one of the founders of the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page, CJ has become reacquainted with countless friends and acquaintances from his youth. CJ is looking forward to retirement and completing the books he has put on hold, including one that will encompass as much of Roseland's rich, beloved history as possible.

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