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If these walls could talk: Main Street (Part 2 of a series)

February 23, 2011

The Culver VFW Ladies Auxiliary march in front of 202 N. Main Street on may 30, 1956, during a Memorial Day parade. PHOTO: CULVER VFW POST 6919 LADIES AUXILIARY

We continue our series of regular (sometimes weekly -- sometimes unavoidably delayed due to space limitations) journeys through Culver’s past as we look at the lives of historic buildings in the Culver area: how far back they go, what (or whom) they’ve housed through the years, and what they are today. For the first several weeks, we’ll take a stroll down Main Street in downtown Culver, starting at the north end and making our way south down the east side.
This week we pay a visit to 202 N. Main, today’s Family Vision Clinic. This is one of many spaces in the downtown area through the past century-plus to house some business relating to The Culver Citizen. In this case, as of 1914, the building was the home of "Milly" Eleanor Zechiel Millinery, where printing of the Citizen took place. It had also been listed as a "kindergarten school." By 1924, it houses lodge halls, and in 1920, its longest-lasting occupation began, that of the Johnson Tire Repair Service, run from 1920 to1930 by Walter Johnson. The original building was demolished in March, 1930, and the business in the new building (which sits there today) became Johnson Super Service (a Sinclair station) between 1930 and1937, still operated by Walter Johnson. The Culver Citizen, in 1938, described the business as "Culver's first complete super service station."
Beginning in January, 1963, Harold Miller, Robert Miller, and Wesley Schilling purchased the operation, by then known as Johnson Tire Service.
Through the ensuing years, it changed hands various times, and was for a time home to Muehlhausen's Yarn Shop, a seamstress and clothing repair operation (notice the long-forgotten theme of repairing worn items, such as tires and attire, something absent in today's disposable culture).
Bob Tanguy ran Land & Lake Realty Inc., circa 1985 to 1987 there, and around 1990 (ending in 1993), The Entertainer Inc., run by Steve and Beth Randolph, rented videos and the like. Around 2002, Culver optometrist Dr. Mark Couts took over the building, expanding it about five years later into its current incarnation.
At the southeast corner of Main and Washington Streets sits the "Menser Building" at 116 N. Main Street, built in 1903. The building houses the Lake Maxinkuckee Environmental Council and the Miller-Norcen Insurance office today, though for generations of Culverites the northern storefront, at least, may be best remembered as the home of Don Trone's clothing store, from 1949 to 1978.
A sometimes confusing assortment of businesses existed from year to year and storefront to storefront through the ensuing years. Details of early retail inhabitants are sketchy, but meat was sold there circa 1906. In 1909, Nathan Rector started the first incarnation of Rector's Pharmacy there, on the second floor (that business would thrive for decades several buildings south, in what is today a vacant lot at Main and Jefferson Streets). The very first school basketball games were played on the upper floor of the building, likely prior to the first recorded inter-scholastic games played here in 1910.
By 1914 the property was listed as housing a grocery in the north section. A silent movie theater, one of Culver's first, occupied the south section as of 1914 as well, and Dr. B.W.S. Wiseman's office was listed in the building around 1920.
In January, 1927, Forrest Geiselman purchased the former Hatten grocery (which had been The Corner Market, which is said to have opened around 1924), preceding the opening of Verl McFeely's Culver Bakery, which opened in 1937.
The southernmost storefront for a time around 1920 was home to the Culver Vulcanizing Station, whose proprietor was the aforementioned Walter Johnson (for many years in the building just north, across Washington Street). For about a year circa 1925, the State Exchange Bank functioned from the Menser Building while the old bank building was torn down and the current one built. A tailor and barber shop existed there afterwards, and John Drenk operated Culver Cleaners and Tailors in the building between 1931 and 1944, after which Culver Cleaners -- operated by Charles Ricciardi (father of today's Town Council member Sally Ricciardi) between 1944 and 1947 (many will recall Ricciardi and family running their business a few blocks south, on the same side of the street, for many years, which will be covered in a later installment).
Through the years, the Menser Building housed Hersh Strang's barber shop, a beauty salon, Elliott Construction (in the 1980s), the Culver Citizen office (circa 1985), the cable television office, Roderick's Hair Styling (in the mid-1980s), Don Miller's office, the Easterday and Ummel Law Offices, Chris Landskron's Interior Views, and other entities.
Over the years, various businesses came and went, as did apartments and offices. The structure was extensively remodeled around 2001 to create the two upstairs apartments and two business sections on the street level of today.
Just south of the Menser Building is the one-story structure at 114 North Main, which today is home to Michelle’s Headquarters. It was listed on Sanborn fire maps as a vacant lot between 1906 and 1924, but in 1933 Ben Oberlin constructed the building as a Ben Franklin "5 & 10 cent" store, which opened in November of that year. The building continued in that function for many years, under Frank Amond in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Wilber "Bob" Taylor between 1952 and the 1970s, and the Johnsons between 1975 and 1980. Jerome "Zeke" Zechiel was proprietor of "The Parlor" there, which he opened in October, 1985 as an all-ages gameroom. Zechiel died in a car accident in December, 1996, but many recall The Parlor fulfilling an interesting function in Culver as a video arcade, pool hall, and general teen hangout during its heyday.
The building sat empty a few years until it was purchased in 1998 by Culver Academies fine arts instructor Bob Nowalk, whose art studio still occupies the eastern section of the building, behind the east wall of Michelle's Headquarters, which opened in the late 1990s.
Next installment, we'll continue our stroll down the east side of Main Street for a visit to the Kelly Shop, among other entities.

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