My friend Eddie Wolak didn’t even grow up in Roseland but we eat at the Cal Harbor Restaurant at 115th and Forestville often. We were talking when the subject of “The Ave” came up, and Eddie wanted to know more. Eddie worked for the railroad in and around Roseland for more than 20 years so he is acquainted with the area and he wanted to know all about “The Ave” that all the guys from Roseland talked about.
“The Ave” was our slang name for Michigan Avenue from 110th to 115th Street. It not only was the main shopping strip for Roseland, it was so popular, with every kind of retailer imaginable, that people came from the surrounding suburbs to shop. Shopping was what our parents might have done when they went down The Ave, but each generation of young people claimed The Ave as their place to shop for members of the opposite sex.
“I’m going down The Ave.” was a common reply many parents heard as their young sons and daughters were heading out the door to meet their friends. If a car was available, the length of The Ave extended all the way south to 127th Street and west for a few blocks. That was due to the drive-in restaurants that were located there. They had car hops and they were where the young people hung out: Vinci’s, Chicken Little, and The BBQ Pit.
I started by telling Eddie about the State Theater, which was the premiere theater for all Roselandites. It was where we spent every grade school summer watching cartoons and a movie. There was an outstanding organ in the theater that would be raised for performances and lowered during the showing of films. I can still see the yellow cards we received from merchants on The Ave that served as admission tickets to see the eight movies shown throughout the summer.
Down The Ave at 111th Street was Toni’s Restaurant and Snack Shop, which was a great place for a late night bite to eat. If I ask my brother Bill or my sister Tootsie about Toni’s, they wouldn’t be sure what I was talking about because The Olympic Grill (“The O”) was where they hung out with their friends. My brother Bill even belonged to the car club “Chicago Slicks,” which used The O as their main hang out.
Crossing 111th Street on the west side of the street was the Union Bank, which was where almost every kid in Roseland had their first bank account. On the east side of the street was Three Sisters women’s apparel, where my sisters and all their friends shopped when they wanted finer women’s clothes.
The centerpiece of The Ave was, of course, Gatley’s People’s Store. It is oft repeated Roseland history that old man Gatley was the original retailer to make the center aisle the ‘sale’ aisle. In today’s retail terminology, Gatley’s was a “super store” where you could buy a shirt, shoes, tie, suit and your groceries or house wares all in one location.
I couldn’t possible mention Gately’s without talking about the donut machine that held children and adults spellbound as it made fresh donuts. The donut machine was a series of connected grates that carried doughnuts through the cooking process by dunking them in oil and then flipping them back up to do the other side. The doughnuts would then be picked off the conveyor grates by one of the doughnut ladies who would then frost or powder and box the donuts.
Further down The Ave were Roseland Music Shop and Zordan Music House. These were the cool record stores where everyone could pick up WLS’ Silver Dollar Survey or WCFL’s Top 40 List. When the Beatles surpassed the Beach Boys, these record shops were the places the cool kids ran to get their 45s. Roseland’s Panozzo brothers and their band STYX started playing at the Battle of the Bands that was held in Roseland throughout the ’60s.
The Ave, as I explained to Eddie, was where we Roselandites grew up and had some of the best experiences of our lives. The Ave is one of the major reasons for the existence of Dan Bovino’s Roseland Roundtable Facebook page and the fact that there are more than 5,000 members of that Facebook page. The wonder years that Roseland provided us with is the reason that this column has such a large number of readers as evidenced by the number of people who contact me to thank me for keeping the memory of their beloved Roseland alive. Roseland is a part of our hearts and memories that will live on forever.
Contact CJ Martello at 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; firstname.lastname@example.org; or leave message at 773-701-6756; Or visit Roseland Roundtable on Facebook.
On a personal note, on March fourth, my son, Lieutenant Commander James Lee Martello, received his Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies Degree. He has been reassigned to San Diego, CA where he and his wife Heather have a home in the Crest Hill community.