Not-quite-forgotten Edgewater - A nostalgia fest

Posted on Tue, 03/01/2022 - 11:30am

By Ron Cohn

Granada Theatre If you reach a certain age as a longtime resident of a big American city, you’ve learned that nothing is permanent. Institutions, cul­tural icons and ingrained beliefs that were expected to last for generations are gone, long before you’re ready to let them go. Younger folks might call it progress; others of us see it as the opposite.

Nostalgia affects people differently. Some seem immune to it. Those living far from where they grew up have weaker ties to their personal history than those of us who can look out the window and actually see the high school they attended. But everyone has a past. There are just some, like me, for whom the past remains part of the present, and remembering it is easier – and more enjoyable – as the years stack up.

The Dialogue invites you, if this article has any resonance for you personally, to submit your favorite reminiscences about life as it once was in this part of town. We will use it, if we can, in a future follow-up to this story.

Gone with (and without) the wind

Take the movies, for example. Everyone has their list of favorites, and most have fond recollections of the places they went to sit in the dark and succumb to their magic. Can you forget where you first saw “Star Wars,” or Sean Connery as James Bond? There’s a good chance, however, that those movie houses of memory no longer exist, victims of changing demographics and technological preferences.

Right here in our neighborhood, as recently as the 1960s, there were five movie theaters within walking distance of Malibu East’s location. Today there is one. Gone, leaving only memories (and in one case, a hardware store) behind, are a true movie palace, one of the largest and most opulent in the Midwest, and three very decent theaters that entertained generations of moviegoers before succumbing, in the ’60s and ’70s, after their struggles to keep a share of the dwindling audience. Can you remember their names? The iconic Granada, standing dark in its grandeur for decades, was finally demolished in 1990. The Bryn Mawr, a jewel designed by the legendary firm Rapp and Rapp, was a thriving part of the namesake historical district before its slow death in the ’70s. The misnamed Devon stood on Broadway, far closer to Granville than the avenue promised by its marquee. Finally, occupying the build­ing now housing Clark Devon Hardware was the more drastically mislocated Ridge, the one most apt to be forgotten despite its large, gaudy marquee and long history. There is some record of a small movie house, named the Balmoral, that was open for a few years in the ’60s at Sheridan and Bal­moral. I didn’t live in the neighborhood during that time and have no recollection of the place. Do you?

The survivor, well into Rogers Park yet still a pleasant stroll from Malibu East, is the doughty little New 400 Theaters, actually the oldest operating movie theater in Chicago. Showing mostly first-run films and the occasional classic or cult favorite, the four-screen theater has a full bar and has been updated with digital projection equipment, surround sound and 3D capability. Reasonably priced, the New 400 is well-supported by the Loyola crowd.

I am grateful that I can still lose myself in its familiar confines for a couple of hours now and then because of a strong personal connection. It was a venue of my boyhood, but that’s not the reason. It’s the theater where I took my two oldest sons about 50 years ago to see a revival of my all-time favorite film, Hitchcock’s classic North by Northwest, which I had first seen when it debuted in 1959 – just down the road at the Granada, if I remember. And I do.

Ding, ding, ding went the trolley

Public transportation around here hasn’t changed that much in the last 70 or 80 years. That’s long enough to make any changes qualify as nostalgia. The “L” is in the process right now of making its biggest changes in over a century. Amid other updates, the Berwyn stop is going to be closed until 2024, to be replaced by an entirely new station. Will the closure be viewed with a sense of loss by the remnants of that generation who got off there to go to their jobs at the Edgewater Beach Hotel? End of another era, and another story.

Some of us remember when the subway opened during World War II, after a decade of construction. It was a thrill ride for preteens, and even a little scary. But fun-scary, not the kind it is today.

The buses still run on the same routes. The coaches have gotten longer, and so have the route numbers. The main­stay 51 Sheridan, somewhere along the way, became the 151, and the longtime unnumbered Outer Drive Limited added a 147 just to confuse a perfectly clear title.

Gone are the wicker seats and leather hang-on straps of the old, wooden “L” cars and the double-deck buses that used to ply Sheridan Road and the Drive. Those, however, are minor losses and can even be chalked up to progress. But there is one change in our selection of public transportation options that has left a painful wound, and that is the passing of the trolley cars.

The sight and sound of the streetcar was a part of this neighborhood and many others. It ran for just over 100 years, first drawn by horses and finally the route of the streamlined “Green Hornets” that gradually sup­planted the classic red cars over the last 20 years leading up to the 1958 elimination of streetcars in favor of buses. Streetcars ran on most Chicago business streets, but the Broadway-State route was the longest – probably the longest intra-urban line in the country. It ran from Devon and Kedzie to 119th and Morgan, and my friends and I once took the ride, occupying the better part of a day, for one 10-cent cardboard token each way.

Do you remember Frank and Marie’s?

Are restaurants suitable subjects for nostalgic recollection? Even in better times than these, they have a limited shelf life. Statistics say that fewer than half of new restaurants live to celebrate a fifth birthday – the median lifespan being 4.5 years. Even those lasting 10 or even 20 years are not assured a place of cherished memory. Three or four decades hence, how many old-timers in this neighborhood will say they really miss the good times at Francesca’s or Nookies?

Undoubtedly there will be some that formed that kind of connection with their loyal patrons. The late Ann Sather on Clark definitely got under the skin. So did Felice’s Round Table, the long-gone Brown Bear on Clark near Devon and the lively Isbell’s on Bryn Mawr. It rarely depends on the food, although it’s assumed to have been good if the restaurant was around long enough to become a fixture. Sometimes it’s an ethnic specialization – the place you used to go for Chinese food, or German, for deli or for killer (literally) desserts. But if something about the food brought you back, it was the way you felt when you were there that makes you miss a place most when it’s gone – and that stokes the nostalgia years later. It might have been the crowd at the bar, “where everybody knew your name,” or the gracious owner who always came to your table with an after-dinner drink. The same people were there to serve you, year after year. They knew your children’s names, and you knew theirs. You memorialize the relationships.

Sometimes it lasts in memory because it was a special-occasion kind of place, where you took a date or a client to impress them. Maybe it was the surroundings. Or entertainment. The Marine Dining Room of the Edgewater Beach Hotel had both for a really big night out.

But, there was a “grand occasion” restaurant just across the street and under the radar that some remember even more fondly, although it wasn’t there all that long, disappearing soon after the hotel in the late ’60s. Frank and Marie’s was a large, yet graciously intimate space on the main floor of a formerly private home on Sheridan Road between Balmoral and Berwyn. Crystal chandeliers, crisp linen, fine china and silver serving pieces set the scene for a dinner of European splendor and exquisite service. Even the lighting, the flowers and the music were perfection. And, of course, the waiters were from central casting and the namesake owners were a warm and welcoming host and hostess.

There’s a lot more to this story, and perhaps it’ll be told in future issues of the Dialogue, along with our readers’ recollections of their own impossible-to-forget Edgewater restaurants. Please send them to Please include the name and location of the restaurant, along with your fond memories.