Strolling down ‘The Ave’

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June always meant a break from school when we were growing up. There was always something to do and, most of the time, we kids were in charge of filling our days. Roseland will forever be remembered for “The Ave” — Michigan Avenue — which was the shopping strip mainly from 111th to 115th Street. All you’d have to say is “I’m going down the Ave” and people would know where you were heading.

That little sentence covered a lot of territory: were you meeting friends or were taking a solo stroll down the Ave? Maybe, you were going to Stu De Jong’s Hobby Shop to pick up a model car or airplane kit with just enough money to afford an extra sheet of decals to spruce up the model. Most of the time going to the Ave was not a solo trip, unless you were on a mission such as going to Zordan’s Music Shop or to Roseland Records for the latest Elvis or Beatles record.

If you were going to Gately’s, your visit to the Ave was dependent on your age. When you were a little child, you accompanied your mom as she shopped downstairs for groceries or upstairs for dresses. Maybe she shopped the sale items on the center-aisle tables on the on the main floor. If you were A Girl or Boy Scout, the first floor was where they had every possible scouting clothing and accessory known to man — or so it seemed. Another item your mom might drag you to Gately’s for was school uniforms. They stocked the standard variety of for the local school students.

For me and many others, one of the most unique, fascinating and fun things about Gately’s was the donut train. That train took many trips through children’s minds as its trays traveled its donut-cooking rail.

I recall being able to buy a small bag of broken donuts for 15 cents when available. I remember being there one Saturday morning and attempted to buy a bag of broken donuts. I must have looked disappointed when the nice woman behind the counter told me they didn’t have enough broken donuts to fill a bag. She kindly told me to wait a minute, grabbed a bag and turned around, and when she turned back to me, she had a bag full of broken donuts just for me at 15 cents.

Gately’s shoe department was near the woman’s department and, I believe, its wall separated it from the restaurant. I never managed to eat at the restaurant, but I have heard they had some very good specials and were always very busy. The shoe department held a special interest for any kid that ever found himself there. They had a foot X-ray machine. No one knows if it gave off any radiation, but no one cared because it was the coolest thing to see. I know many kids had a blast and were entertained while their mothers shopped.

As we grew older, the Ave took on a new meaning as boys and girls grew into teens and found the possibility of mutual attraction existed. In other words, “cruising the Ave” entered our lives! Many a marriage that exists today got its start on the Ave as both guys and girls began their journey into their adulthood. You either walked the Ave, or you made friends with someone who had “wheels” so you could spend Friday and Saturday nights driving the Ave.

If you met someone on Friday, that would mean you probably had a Saturday night date at one of Roseland’s outstanding pizza places. Roselandites had a lot of good pizza places to choose from and a lot of times it depended on where you lived. Many times, the question has come up on social media as to which Roseland pizza was the best. There are a few that everyone is familiar with, but there are quite a few neighborhood pizza carryout or delivery-only places that had devoted followings.

As any Roselandites will tell you, the mainstays were Giovanni’s on 111th behind Walgreens; Nino’s on 111th Place across the alley and behind the Union Bank Building; and, not quite on the Ave, but just as well known, Ken & Dick’s on Front Street. They’re the source of many great memories of our time “cruising the Ave” and laying the foundation of our lives.

If cruising the Ave wasn’t enough and you or your friends had wheels, an age-related hangout appeared on our horizons: the drive-in restaurants on 127th Street. These were places where we could park and let our flirting games begin. Once again, many Roseland marriages got their start from these early relationships.

The meetups while cruising the Ave, shopping the stores on the Ave, being fascinated by Gately’s unique offerings, shopping at American Sale or Stu De Jong, or heading to the drive-ins on 127th. Those were all occasions where we, the products of Italian immigration, were assimilating into the American way. Our parents never had the opportunity to live the life we had. All I remember about my dad was that he was always working, because that’s what our immigrant parents and grandparents did so that we could envision new horizons and live fulfilling lives.

Spaghetti-Os

Bonny Sandona has kept in touch with many SpaghettiOs members and has found a place to get together. The Tuscan Gardens in suburban Glenwood has scheduled a public event on the first Sunday of each month featuring a pizza-and-salad special or menu offerings. From 2 to 5 p.m. the Frank Rossi trio will provide entertainment with a mix of music that we’re all familiar with. Come out and enjoy talking about fond memories of Roseland, its neighborhoods, its parks, and cruising the Ave.

Petals: The book

“Petals from Roseland: Fond Memories of Chicago’s Roseland, Pullman and Kensington Neighborhoods” is available for anyone interested in sharing or revisiting their life in Roseland. Contact me at 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; 773-701-6756; or email: petalsfromroseland@gmail.com.

 

 

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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