Irving & Thelma Meyers (Transcript Only)


INTERVIEWER: Sandra A. Remis
INTERVIEWEE: Irving and Thelma Meyers
DATE OF INTERVIEW: March 3, 1986
PLACE OF INTERVIEW: 5555 N. Sheridan Rd. #610
Edgewater Beach Apts.
My name is Irving Meyers. I was born April 16, 1907, which means this coming April I’ll be 79 years old. I was born in Chicago at Ashland and Taylor, lived there a number of years, and later moved to the west section of Chicago, now called Lawn-dale. After that I lived in West Chicago. For about four years I was in a little town thirty miles west of Chicago. Except for four years in military service dur­ing World War II, I have lived in Chicago. During the war, I served as weatherman for three years in North Africa; the last year of service I was associate editor of a military paper in Casablanca.
We’ve lived here since 1973. Prior to that I lived in Rogers Park on Albion Avenue
near Broadway for twenty years, and before that in Hyde Park for a period of time. My wife is Thelma Myers. I must say something about her. She was Assistant Dean at the University of Illinois Graduate School until September of last year when she retired. To this day I have not retired. I still go to my downtown office where I practice law with my son, but I don’t handle litigation any more–less stressful this way. I represent various organizations, unions, actors union; I design scenery for television. My activity over the past year has been mainly in arbitra­tion, either sitting as an arbitrary or as an adversary representing some unions where there was no conflict of interest involved. I have a sister living on the north side. Back in the 30s, she lived on Balmoral as did my parents. My sister is now married. My own children are scattered, mostly on the northside. I at­tended Crane High School on the near west side, but transferred to and graduated from Senn in 1926. I had a number of buddies who went to Senn. What I remember mainly are people from my grammar school class. Some of them created stage sets; I worked with them. I spent only a short time at Senn, but while there I made it in some of the drama activities. I had an accident in Shop during my final period. Senn was a vibrant school, catered to the wealthy families. It was THE school in the city. There were many advantages not apparent in other high schools–many activities: tennis, probably even a golf team. I remember one of my friends, William DeVry. DeVry’s father owned the DeVry Camera Company, which later became the DeVry school. William followed in his father’s footsteps and later became head of the DeVry Institute. His uncle was also famous, Cy DeVry, the world-famous DeVry zoologist in charge of the Lincoln Park Zoo. Most of the DeVrys lived in the area, and William DeVry still lives on Sheridan Road, north of here. He played football for Senn, went on to Illinois in Champaign a little after I did.
No, but because it drew from wealthy families, most of the students went on to col­lege. Many of them became famous. Bing Crosby’s first wife, Dixie, came from Senn, as did Helen Filkey, who became the wife of William DeVry. Helen was champion of hurdle and dash sporting events. She once beat the famous Babe Didrickson. About four months ago DeVry organized a reunion for us. Though we are fine friends, I seldom see him anymore. He belongs to a different class—yacht at the lake, as did his father before him. This building itself had many famous people–the former mayor, Mayor Kennelly, the head of Sears Roebuck, the head of International Har­vester. Harry Gahagen should be interviewed. He knows them all–the famous band leaders who lived here, among them Wayne King who also played at the Aragon and Trianon Ballrooms. Harry Gahagen would know all about them, in fact, I think he moved in about two weeks before anyone else in this building.
The Edgewater Beach Hotel was then a little too classy for me. I went there for plays, occasionally to the Marine Dining Room, but it was outside of my class to frequent it. The Edgewater was famous for its proms. I never attended one, but I did attend tennis matches and went swimming in their big pool once or twice.
When I came here, the beach was a very small beach area on the edge of this build­ing, but it was adequate for their clientele.
I remember that the El, now elevated, was on the ground especially not yet around Wilson Avenue. Wilson area was a very fine area as was this. At the time of the big snow storm of ‘78, the El over at Wilson was on open trestles, the snow came down through the trestles to the ground and that terminated the El getting through. The snow stayed packed up at the tracks and it wasn’t until that could be cleared that the El could go further north. That’s how I remember that the El was differ­ent from Wilson down. It must have ended near Wilson.
In 1927 I worked for the Marx Brothers, not the actors, but the ones who built the Marlborough Theater, named after the Marx Brothers, and the Granada Theater over on Broadway. These were ornate theaters. One of the Marx brothers lived on the west side of Sheridan Road in a beautiful home. I visited his home a few times.(This section is the usual lingo about double-deckers, etc.) He remembers going downtown with his mother. He admired the construction work enroute and marveled at the Carson Pirie facade. Before high school days I had a paper route and during my high school I had a job downtown at Cutler’s Shoe Store.
I remember when Cubs Baseball Park was just across the street from us where I lived on Taylor. Later they moved up north and I with a friend climbed the walls to get into the games for nothing. We were climbing close to the line of people who were buying tickets for the game and they cheered us on. It was a funny thing; no one tried to stop us. We were then about twelve or thirteen. Referring back to the park when I was about five years old and living on Taylor, a group of us discovered a hole in the sheet metal fence and we climbed through. Later when we tried to get out we couldn’t find the hole, it had been repaired in the meantime and those who saw us had to call the fire department to get us over the fence and out.
It was a desirable neighborhood, good high school closeby, my folks liked
the beaches. Clarendon was a popular beach; my father used to take us to
My folks never had a car. My own first car was after I returned from the war, around 1945. There were no special homecomings or parades, but my parents were glad to see me because it had been very close to four years that I was away and I came back alive as did my younger brother, though he had been a prisoner of war for over a year in Germany. He now lives in Denver. As a weatherman, I had an easier time of it, measuring clouds mostly to see if the weather would be right for tac­tics. If there had been a parade, I’m sure I would have avoided it. I have no use for formality. The main activity the last few months of the war was for officers to pin medals on each other so they could return well decorated and be ready for a big job.
I wanted to be a professor. I participated in writing activities in high school, not Senn, but while I was at Crane. I was also in debating activities. I thought I would enjoy being a lawyer, perhaps because my older brother was one. I could become a lawyer very quickly because all you needed was two years preparation. In fact I tried to beat even that because in high school I was going to take pre-law courses at night, but I soon found that was too much. I soon quit. I became a lawyer in 1930. Took the bar and passed it. I was a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. As soon as I became a lawyer I offered my services. Later I worked for an organization and I was on the Board of the American Civil Liberties branch just formed in 1929. They had a working lawyer and a couple of lawyers on the Board. Though I was one of the busiest lawyers in town, I didn’t make much money; it just wasn’t to be made. It was Depression time. There were labor demon­strations. I defended some of the demonstrations. I was sent outside of Chicago, to South Bend and various other communities where there would be demonstrations.
I remember one case where a leading witness was a professor from Northwestern who, before he was called to the stand, I told him he would be questioned on his back­ground. He had studied in a German hospital before the outbreak of the war. Hos­tilities started and he couldn’t get out. He remained there on the German side through the war. Fortunately, this didn’t come out in his testimony. Another case I was involved in was when I went down to Mississippi in 1965 after three boys were killed. We were trying to get the blacks the right to vote. I was one of the 400 lawyers who volunteered. I was instrumental in unseating a white Congressman who had denied the blacks many of their rights, one of them the right to vote, and while we were not able to do much, we did help to put through the blacks’ right later. While we were on dangerous ground, we were protected by the FBI, etc.
IN ROGERS PARK–I was vice president and on the Board of Directors for many years. Our major activity was to try to save the beaches from private developers. While we might have been somewhat successful, we had some horrendous battles with politi­cal figures. They were trying to build high risers all the way to Howard Street, and I think that helped Edgewater because I recall we had visitors from Edgewater and they expressed admiration that we were able to prevent the destruction of the beaches. Edgewater property got away from them before Edgewater knew what was hap­pening. Mundelein College wanted to close that scrap of beach on Devon and use the stretch for people to get from one building to the library without getting wet. They didn’t get away with that; the beach remains. At least we saved that beach. We got a lot of cooperation from Loyola.
DISCRIMINATION? I never felt it personally, but we were conscious of it against the blacks. I recall when Loyola won the National Basketball Championship in 1963, there was some ugliness because many of the players were black. Other than dis­crimination against the blacks, I was never cognizant. The only others they could have been discriminating against would have been the Jews, but I did not feel any. Thelma recalled when a survey was done in Rogers Park to determine who had lived in Rogers Park the longest time it turned out to be a black family who lived in Ravenswood near the Northwestern tracks. My own friends in my younger days were mostly non-Jews. We, ourselves, were never very religious. We did not belong to any particular temple.
COMMERCIAL. DEVELOPMENT: I recall Loren Miller’s Department Store which later be-
came Goldblatt’s at Broadway and Lawrence and the Rainbow Gardens, an entertain 
ment place with ice skating, etc., and the Aragon Ballroom. The Rialto, the
NEIGHBORHOOD CHANGES? Kenmore and Winthrop are probably the biggest change. That
part is not only seedy, but became dangerous as well. Right now it seems on the
way up again. It has been most depressing to see groups of men hanging around the
streets, mostly because of unemployment. Swift School, an elementary school, is an
example of how good the neighborhood was. It had a swimming pool, which later had
to be closed. But that must have been the only grade school in the city with a
swimming pool. We deplore the decline of the neighborhood.
I taught for awhile in Metro School as a volunteer. That school tried to reach out to kids not getting a good education elsewhere. I think the public schools have declined greatly, probably due to the population change. Many good teachers can’t hack it anymore; they become discouraged and leave. When our son, who is now thirty, was in school, the teachers were from the locality; you’d meet them in the food stores, even. It was like living in a small town. Then the teachers fled and when the teachers desert, it’s time for the people to go, too.
In 1973. He had served as alderman in Evans­ton after having attended various schools–Northwestern, Denver among them. He’s a trial lawyer. He lectures a great deal in colleges, universities. He’s interested in social justice, working against discrimination, not only minorities, but age and sex discrimination. He left ACLU, was a labor lawyer working with CIO and other unions. I see advancement for the poor because of legal aids to the poor. They have a better chance to assert their rights in court. We do a lot of innovative work in his office.