Roseland was a complete small town that fulfilled our every need. We had our “Main Street,” which was Michigan Avenue, affectionately called “The Ave,” from 103rd Street to 127th. This was where we spent our time away from our black-and-white or color television sets and radios.
Stores on The Ave were sometimes the destination of a shopping trip, but more often simply a stopping point while taking a leisurely stroll. The Ave was the center of a social life that occasioned cruising in a souped-up ’57 Chevy or a super-clean ’56 Ford T-Bird or whatever other hot car a young guy could afford.
When our parents asked us where we were going, “Down the Ave” was a plausible answer. Gately’s People Store was a fascinating world unto itself. Who didn’t spend time watching the donut machine as its metal grates went around, flipping the donuts in the oil and cooking them to a perfect golden brown? Getting a hot dog and a root beer across from the donut stand and watching the donut train always provided something for the guys to do while the gals shopped.
Besides Gately’s, there were women’s clothing stores like Gordon’s, Three Sisters and York’s, while the men had the Thom McCann Shoe Store, Robert Hall and Bovenkirks. The Roseland Music Shop and Zordan’s carried all the records anyone would ever want.
Looking back on the movie theater scene, it seems that Roseland had more than most parts of the city. On The Ave, there was the State Theater and the Roseland Show, but a number of people I spoke to mentioned theaters that were in their neighborhoods: the Normal Theater on 119th Street, the Verdi on Kensington Avenue, and the Parkway, next to Toni’s Snack Shop at 111th and Michigan, none of which survived too far into the ’60s.
Dining on The Ave didn’t offer as ethnically diverse a choice of restaurants as you can find in Chicago now, and there was a reason for this. You went out to eat American food and stayed home or went to your friend’s house to eat ethnic food. Just off The Ave on 111th was Giovanni’s Pizza and one block south was Nino’s Pizza. In the middle of the block was the Snack Time restaurant, which served “The Tummy Buster” sundae, which you could have for two bucks if you were daring enough to eat such a giant dessert. My brother Augie went for it one day when he was in great spirits — resulting in his not being in such great spirits the next day. Great treats and pastries were always available at Karmel Korn, the Tea Garden, Ergo’s Bakery (formerly Elliott Ness’ family bakery), and Hufnagel’s Bakery. Remember the “Atomic” cake?
Cruising The Ave didn’t end when the majority of commercial establishments did, which was after 115th Street. The guys and girls walking The Ave may have gotten to 115th and turned around, but if you were in a car and cruising, you headed to 127th Street. You had to complete your cruising night by hitting the drive-ins with their carhops and great food.
At 127th and Michigan Avenue, you turned right and headed to Vinci’s Drive-in and Chicken Little ,and then there was Vinci’s Tap. During the ’60s ,Vinci’s opened another drive-in right next door called “The Pit,” as in BBQ pit. They all provided a nighttime rendezvous point to end a day spent on The Ave.
When Roselandites try to explain their affection for the good old days, and how it left everyone with the feeling of being in one big happy family, they always give a good deal of credit to The Ave and the sense of belonging that it gave to them. The Ave was a solid piece of their life that they can look back on and recall good times. It was an escape from whatever problems that we may have had at home, and we all remember it fondly.
Unfortunately, we escape our problems today by watching TV and not by interacting socially. Is it really any wonder that we long for the Roseland of our youth and find comfort in websites such as www.gromak.com and the RoselandRoundTable, which take us back to the good old days of Roseland?