Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Old Lincoln Library

If you had asked me when I was six what my favorite place was in downtown Springfield, I undoubtedly would have said the Lincoln Library. Well, I might have said the municipal fountain but probably it would have been the library (they were next to each other anyway).

Since we are talking 1966, I am of course referring to Springfield’s old municipal library with all the marble, the large central staircase, the huge grandfather clock, and the glass floors that graced some sections.

I continued my love affair with that building until it was torn down in the mid 1970s. I was a freshman at Griffin High School the year he wrecking ball began to make way for a new, more modern library. I don’t think I understood then just how much I would miss the old building.

Thanks to Russ Friedewald of Springfield Trivia, I am able to post several pictures of the old library.

The first shot is of the front of the building itself.

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Next we have the marble staircase and the grandfather clock. This picture doesn’t do justice to how cool that staircase was. Nor do you really get a sense of how dominant the clock was as you climbed the stairs holding the brass handrails.

Then there were the glass floors. These were not everywhere in the building but were pretty cool where they did exist. This picture was taken as the library was being emptied for demolition. Therefore, the books are all gone but you can (sort of) see the glass floors. The supports with the curly ends held the shelves. The mesh cage next to the worker was (as I recall) a book elevator for getting the books up to the second floor.

Finally here is a shot of the interim library used while the new library was being built. It was a storefront on the south part of the Old State Capital Plaza. I recall it being a bit cramped but still functional. I remember reading my first Rolling Stone magazine in there in there about 1975.

These pictures are part of a Power Point presentation Russ linked to in the comments section of an earlier post. If you would like to see the whole thing (you of course need Power Point) click here. It's really great. It has pictures going back to the construction of the old library right through its, umm, deconstruction.

New Blog Members

Just a quick note that two more Springfield bloggers have joined the LBS group. Russ at Springfield Trivia and Marie from Disarranging Mine have both agreed to contribute to the effort here.

Marie has indicated to me she is working on a couple of things to post here and Russ is full of trivial knowledge that is right up our alley.

Welcome both of you!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

'70s Show Prep

In addition to helping out on this fine online publication, and contributing to the clutter of the Internet on my own blog, I also have a paying gig in Springfield radio. And next week (starting Tuesday 7/5), that will include hosting the "I Love the '70s Lunch" on WNNS (98.7 FM). So I'd like to pepper that with authentic '70s memories of Springfield. I've lived here my whole life, but spent most of the '70s in a drug-induced haze.... um, I mean, surrounded by the nuns at St. Cabrini. So help fill in the blanks.

You know the drill: favorite hangouts, restaurants, what movies played in what theatres, what were the great concerts of the decade locally, best rides at the fair, etc. I'll read the best comments on the air

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

To Quote Petula Clark: You Can Always Go -- Downtown

Thanks, Dave, for setting this up. For my first contribution, I'd like to offer a reminiscence from childhood. After half-day kindergarten at Pleasant Hill, my mom and I used to get the bus on North Milton and ride it downtown. From there, shopping at the K-Mart at Fifth and Adams, maybe the JC Penney store across from the Old State Capitol (at least I recall it being a Penney's; then I think it was temporarily the main branch of Lincoln Library until its current building was built); often it was lunch at Steak 'n' Shake on 6th Street, or maybe the Woolworth's lunch counter. In later years, my favorite stop was a record store on South Fifth (right in the area where Bridge Jewerly and Bentoh's are now); I can't think of the name of it, but I bought an awful lot of LPs there.

Favorite memories of downtown Springfield?

Up North

I wanted to initiate my part in this blog by pointing to two articles in last week's Illinois Times. Both deal with the part of Springfield with which I am probably least familiar with - the North End. I grew up on the South Side.

The first article, titled Northern Exposure, is on the old North 22nd Street neighborhood near St. Aloysius Church.
The neighborhood burgeoned in the aftermath of World War II, when the veterans returned from service, got government-backed housing loans, and settled down to the peacetime business of raising families -for most, a prolific undertaking. It was a decidedly blue-collar neighborhood with nearly similar houses that featured a downstairs bathroom and an upstairs dormer. Fathers, in the days before women entered the workforce en masse, were largely union workers -police officers, firefighters, postal workers, or employees of such long-gone concerns as Sangamo Electric and Pillsbury Mills.

According to retired educator Jim Berberet, whose family moved there in 1954, large families were the norm in those days: "Everybody, it seems, had a large family. Six, seven, eight kids -it was just not unusual. The Redpaths, for instance, had 10 kids. Getting two full sides for baseball was never a problem."

His assertion is echoed by Mike Aiello, now of Troxell Financial Advisors, who says, "I'm not exaggerating when I say that in that three- or four-block stretch of 22nd Street, there had to be at least a hundred kids, or more. We played sports and rode bikes all the time, at Fairview School or Fairview Park. Nobody wanted to stay inside -there was no air conditioning."
This is exactly the kind of stuff I would like to see on this blog. Read the whole article. If you grew up in the 50's or 60's it will sound very familiar no matter what neighborhood you lived in.

The second article reports on the Adams house, one of Springfield's oldest, that may be torn down soon.
The 147-year-old Adams House, located on the grounds of the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, would be razed to make way for a new 2,000-square-foot office building, according to plans announced recently by the Audubon Society.

The organization, which is moving its headquarters from Danville to Springfield to be closer to state government agencies, has decided that the Adams House is poorly suited to its needs and must go.

"Our members do not give us donations to restore old houses," says Marilyn Campbell, society director.

Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, 2315 E. Clear Lake Ave., consists of 30 acres of natural growth. The sanctuary was established so that urban children could learn about nature. It offers walking trails, as well as special programs throughout the year.
I've always thought the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary was a strange, but welcome, sight in the middle of a very developed area. It's a great resource too. I really hope they find a way to preserve the place. I appreciate the work of the Audubon Society and welcome them to their new digs. I just ask that they do all they can to keep the house.

Springfield, Illinois Barber College Shoe Shine Boys - Early 1960's

Back in the early 1960's my father would take me in to have a weekly buzz cut. I would have been very young at the time. We'd go to the Springfield, Illinois Barber College. I'm not really certain where it was located, but I suspect it was located in a building on Sixth Street - a building which no longer exist, as it was torn down to make room for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

I recall the first time I saw a black person was outside the Barber College. Shoe Shine Boys would be positioned just outside the Barber College entrance. Sometimes the Shoe Shine Boys would be boys, but mostly they were older men. I only saw black shoe shine boys. As you'd walk in, they often times open the door. After the haircut, on the way out they'd ask, "Get your shoes shined Sir?" They'd say it in an almost melodic manner which I'd never heard before.

I knew something wasn't quite right about it all. Perhaps it was in the quick glances from the older (old men) shoe shine boys? Those looks had a kind, but nervous quality to them. Sometimes one might crack a quick joke, and laugh at this own joke, and look down to the floor laughing. In fact they never kept eye contact for longer than just a glance.

These older black men had probably grown up in the South, under Jim Crow.

They seemed very kind, but I knew something wasn't right - almost like a secret was being screamed at me through the blazing eyes of these older black men.

My dad, who was raised in the South, was very polite to the black people who would shine shoes. My dad had had it tough during the Great Depression, and despite his southern ways, the lessons he learned while toughing it out on the streets changed him. He believed in racial equality. I could tell that my father was teaching me a lesson. My first lesson in race, from my father was teaching me to treat blacks kindly.

I know now what they were saying with their eyes. They were saying, you be a good little boy, and grow up to see the truth. Don't hate, and help to make a better world. Call me crazy, but that was the feeling I get today when I think back at those looks - or perhaps it's just my guilt.



Welcome to Look Back Springfield. Come here to relive or learn about how Springfield once was –ten years ago or 200 years ago.

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