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If these walls could talk: 106 - 102 N. Main Street

March 21, 2011

Likely a Memorial Day parade, taken between 1949 and `55, during the time when 106 Main was Betchel’s Royal Blue, as seen here, along with the Culver Cafe at right. Note the spectators positioned in chairs on the roof of Betchel’s. PHOTO COURTESY THE ANTIQUARIAN AND HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF CULVER

We continue our series of semi-regular journeys through Culver’s past as we look at the lives of historic buildings in the Culver area. For now, we're strolling down Main Street's east side in down¬town Cul¬ver, making our way south.
This time, we're nearing the northeast corner of Main and Jefferson Streets, where today's vacant lot fails to convey the memories of generations of Culverites and others who enjoyed the many entities once occupying the space, which included some extremely popular spots.
Readers unfamiliar with the historic layout of the area before the structures there were razed may not realize there were actually three businesses in the area, each with a distinctive storefront appearance and sharing walls, though some reader with a more intimate knowledge of the history of the place than I could discern will have to weigh in as to whether there were technically three buildings there, or just one.
Starting at the north (abutting today's Gladie's Deli at 108 N. Main) was 106 N. Main St., where records show a house as of 1906, which by 1914 had been divided into two. Meats were sold there in 1914, and on July 1,1920, Milton Ewald opened Ewald's Meat Market in that locale (his granddaughter, Bobbie Washburn Ruhnow, is a regular correspondent for the Citizen and well-known community servant). During the famous State Exchange Bank robbery of December, 1920, one of the bandits crossed Main Street from the bank and entered Ewald's, locking several customers in the ice box, having just let out a spray of bullets which killed businessman Jacob Saine (who was firing from 102 S. Main, the site of today's Culver Academies Museum) during a gunfight between locals and the robbers.
Paul Snyder bought the business from Ewald in April, 1940, operating it until 1949. Betchel's Royal Blue store began its run at the site that year, followed in 1955 by another long-lasting business fondly remembered by many residents today, Gretter's market, operated by Urban A. and Rita Gretter until 1977.
Gretter's, of course, was one of several downtown (and uptown) businesses to represent the transition from another age in Culver, which up through the 1950s and `60s boasted a good half-dozen grocery stores of one sort or another. It's hard to imagine heading downtown, today, to take care of one's grocery needs, but even I recall the last days of being able to do so, during the late `70s.
The Back Door Boutique occupied the store for a time during the late `70s, and in 1977 Chuck Robeson bought and remodeled it. Briefly, as was the case with so many downtown buildings, it housed the Culver Citizen circa 1987-87.
Culverites would have known 104 N. Main, just to the south, as the "Neighbor" Cromley homestead until about 1898 (Cromley was Culver and Union Township's longest-lived veteran of the Civil War). In 1909, Nathan Rector first opened the pharmacy bearing his name a few doors north, in the Menser Building. By 1914, he had moved to 104 N. Main, operating one of two drug stores in Culver which would serve the community's needs for much of the 20th century. Rector's, among other things, was noted as the first "to hang out a big electric lamp over the front door" in the wake of electricity finally reaching Culver, as reported in the September 14, 1914 Culver Citizen.
Rector's son, World War I veteran Stephen, took over full operation of the drug store in 1938. Stephen Rector was a prominent face in Culver's civic life as a member of the VFW, American Legion, Culver Lions, and was, said his Citizen April, 1955 obituary, "well-known for his generous response to all requests from youth and adult groups for scores of civic and club projects through the years."
In 1962, former Culver City Drugs (across the street to the south) pharmacist Rob McKinnis took over the store, which became known as McKinnis Pharmacy. Ten years later, he would relocate the business to the shop complex at the easternmost intersection of State Roads 10 and 17, before merging with Mr. T's drugs (which had taken over Culver City) in its final location on Academy Road, in 1977.
The former Rector's storefront would become home to Kline's Appliances' northern expansion, which we'll discuss momentarily.
102 N. Main Street was home to a barber shop circa 1906, a "restaurant and confectionary" as of 1914, and in 1919 began its run as the Culver Cafe, initially operated by Arthur Simpson. In July, 1937, he sold the cafe to Mr. and Mrs. Garl Cultice, who in turn would sell to Mr. and Mrs. Leo Butler in August, 1943. By August, 1955, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Williams took over ownership, with Catherine Williams operating the restaurant and Kenneth continuing his work as a field representative for the State Exchange Bank across the street.
The arrangement wasn't terribly long-lived. In 1959, Raymond Kline moved his appliance business to the site. He'd opened up in June, 1952, across the street and to the south at 113 S. Main, site of today's Cafe Max (where he purchased the former Oberlin's appliance store), before moving to the east side location, where he stayed until 1989, when he retired (Ray Kline passed away December 26, 2009). Kline's had expanded north into the former Rector's building in the 1970s.
Another minor landmark of the site was the telephone booth on the corner of Main and Jefferson, just south of what was last Kline's appliances. Surely the editor wasn't the only young Culver boy to transform into Superman in that booth, some years ago? Either way, it's been gone for some years now as well.
In the early 1990s, the entire complex was razed, making way, of course, for the vacant lot it remains today. For several years, Culver's Farmers Market set up shop at the site before moving to its present home at the corner of Main and Ohio Streets. Otherwise, other than the occasional rumor of something on the horizon there, all that remains are the good memories of generations of Culverites.
Next installment we'll saunter south across the street and continue our journey through the past. A few final words this week, pertinent to some past editions of this column: Kay Tusing wrote to point out that our February 24 column, which focused on 108 Main Street and its various occupants, was incorrect in naming longtime barber there Verl Shaffer as Culver’s last official barber. It turns out Kay’s daughter, Michelle Tusing Allyn, is in fact a licensed barber (and there’s the image of an old-fashioned barber pole in her shop window a few doors north at 114 N. Main to prove it!). Sorry for the error, Michelle and Kay!
Donna Green also wrote – after a very busy and enjoyable Facebook exchange from a number of readers in response to the same column – to remind us that her father, Don Shock, is still barbering in Plymouth. Don and his father Howard Shock were both barbers for years at Culver Military Academy. Howard started there in 1959, seven years after opening up his barber shop in nearby Leiters Ford (he passed away in 2000).

EDITOR'S NOTE: Since this article was published in the March 10, 2011 CULVER CITIZEN, Judi Burns notes that the three were intended to, officially, be separate buildings, each with its own separate exterior-type wall (rather than one long building sharing interior dividing walls), partly for fire safety. A few readers pointed out a glaring omission which one reader is helping me research in more depth, in order to present a more thorough history of it at a later date. For now, I apologize for leaving out Snyder’s Cafe, which operated at least in the 1930s on the southernmost corner building, as more than one person pointed out. I knew it had been there, and even made a mental note to add it to the list, but somehow it escaped mention! More on that soon. Until then, thanks for all the feedback -- it shows this column is being read and appreciated, and what more can we ask?

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