By: Frank Kavanaugh
I was born in 1934 to parents who lived at the Edgewater Beach Apartments and I have absolutely no memories of those first few years. I do have some pictures with my mom and dad standing out on a large elevated terrace on the south end of the building. In later visits I recall how beautiful it was as you looked south – just lovely grounds, then the tennis court which in the winter became an outdoor ice rink and then more grounds that led to the Edgewater Beach Hotel which was the equivalent of a couple of blocks south.
About 1939 mom and dad separated and mom took me and rented the backroom of a nice ladies three-flat at 5410 N. Winthrop. I recall in those days we had various salespeople in horse-drawn wagons and motorized vehicles that traveled the alley behind the building delivering milk, selling ice and collecting rags. A few years back I returned to find most of the block had been torn down except for that building which was being renovated, but noticed on a more recent trip back that it had been gentrified into what looked like upscale condos.
In the early ’40s when times got better, Mom and I moved to an apartment on the 4th floor of the Somerset Hotel at 5009 N. Sheridan. That was fancy living. The hotel had a restaurant in the outside corner of the first floor, its own dry cleaners and beauty parlor, a uniformed doorman, a little cigarette-candy-newspaper stand in the lobby, and an elevator with a 24-hour uniformed operator. As I made friends with the operators, they would let me run the elevator if no one else was aboard. The trick was how close to perfectly level at a given floor you could stop the elevator in one shot without making any secondary adjustments. I got pretty good at it. On my last trip back 1 noticed the building had become a residential care facility for challenged folks.
Mom got me into grammar school at Swift, which was a much nicer school than the closer Goudy. Going to Swift required that I take the “L” from Argyle down to Thorndale. Early one morning as I was walking west on Argyle to catch the “L,” a large black limousine made the turn from westbound Argyle into an alley that separated the L from a corner bar. As it did, it nearly ran me down, but also sprayed the bar with machine-gun fire and sped off. The newspaper revealed that it was a mobster by the name of Martin “The Ox” Labora whose girlfriend had some problem in the bar in the earlier wee hours of the morning and “The Ox” was taking revenge on the establishment. Funny how I remember his name. Guess it was because he almost ended my life at a tender age.
In 1948 I started high school at Senn and not too long after, we moved into the Brockton at 5630 Sheridan. It was brand new then and there was nothing on the east side of Sheridan Road so we had a great view of the lake. We lived at the Brockton through high school and college at Lake Forest until I got married in 1957. Shortly after I married, mom moved upscale again into the then brand new Hollywood Towers at Hollywood and Sheridan.
The parts of the neighborhood that stand out the most for a variety of reasons during those years were several.
On the southwest corner of Bryn Mawr and Sheridan was the finest operated, most spic-and-span gas station I have ever seen. It was a company owned station for Standard Oil and they used it to train dealers who would eventually take over the management of other Standard stations. They all wore dress shirts and bow ties and all cars were met by three-man service teams. One did the gas, a second checked under the hood and a third checked the air in the tires. It was a thing of beauty to watch. I made many friends there hanging out and often filling in part time during high school. It was also a great channel of information for anything colorful going on in the neighborhood.
My church affiliation was at Edgewater Presbyterian that was then run by Reverend Adolph Bohn.
He had a son and daughter who were a little older than I was. The church had a gym inside where we played basketball. They had lots of youth activities and Bible School programs in the summer.
On the southwest corner of Kenmore and Bryn Mawr was Denny’s Drugs owned by Sy Dworkin. Sy had been a boxer and was a short, stocky bald-headed little, man who knew everyone and made any visits to the drug store highly entertaining. I worked part time for him as a delivery boy with one of those neat bikes with the big front basket (neat was a popular word back then). I recall one delivery as an awakening experience when an older gay man put a move on me. Arriving back at the store, I told Sy and he said I should have knocked him out with the lamp and taken his money.
Between Kenmore and Winthrop on the north side of Bryn Mawr was Isabelle’s Restaurant - the fanciest thing on the street. It was expensive, had fine dining, a small stage show, a big circular bar, an outside sign with sequentially flashing lights and everybody dressed up to attend. It was the Saturday night place to be for those who could pay the prices. I was too young to drink and could not afford the fare but often went in to deliver a message or look for an older friend.
A man by the name of Joe McQuaid, who was perhaps 20 years older, became kind of a surrogate father to me. Joe worked a regular job for a living but also ran football cards part time for the mob and sharked pool to pass the time. Just a couple doors east of the “L” on the north side of Argyle there was a second floor pool hall. Joe and I always hung out there on Saturday night, so he could pay off the winners on the college football cards. Joe would be sure and engage any newcorners to a game of pool, often a few more games, and would, of course, lose all except the last one.
After the pool hall closed about 2 a.m. we would walk down to an all-night sandwich and egg type restaurant that was on the north side of Bryn Mawr just opposite Isabelle’s. It was where you went when everything else had closed and all manner of colorful street folks congregated there throughout the night to catch up on everybody and everything that was happening on the street. We often stayed, till sun-up, until we were sure we knew all that had been a newsworthy part of the previous day.
The most famous establishment on Bryn Mawr in the early 50’s, however, was the 1111 Club located at that address just east of the “L” on the south side of the street. This was the home of some of the best Dixieland music in the city. George Brunis played trumpet. The doctors told George that the vodka was eating away his ulcerated stomach so George took to mixing milk and vodka which he drank continuously throughout the evening and continued on playing for years. The drums were played by “Hey Hey Humphreys,” so called because he shouted out “hey-hey” as he started his solos. The highlight of his act was leaving the bandstand and playing his drumsticks all the way along the bar, each person’s glass and all the walls in the room until he triumphantly returned to the bandstand. I think the club was the smokiest place I can recall and severely restricted your vision; but the aura was like no other.
Editor’s note: Frank Kavenaugh wrote this letter to Laurie Winklemann after she spoke with him and told him about the Edgewater Historical Society’s newsletter, The Edgewater Scrapbook. Our newsletter welcomes any recollections that you might be willing to share with us. With our new technology we can scan in the typed text easily.