Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Reminiscing days long past

On Saturday, I went with my parents to hear my brother give a short presentation about some photos he had for the Hammond Historical Society's monthly "show and tell" at the Public Library in downtown Hammond, Indiana. Though I grew up on Chicago's far south side (Hegewisch neighborhood), my siblings and I ended up working, shopping and hanging out mostly in Hammond, Indiana and Calumet City, Illinois since those two places were only a few minutes away from where we lived.

My brother's photos are of the grand old Parthenon Theater which stood in the heart of downtown Hammond from 1921 till its demolition in 1983. Opening night's program several vaudeville and musical acts, a couple of film shorts, and the Douglas Fairbanks feature, "The Nut".

The luxurious and ornate neo-Renaissance style Parthenon quickly gained the nickname of "The Wonder Theatre", screening the best first-run features, with sound by 1927, and also vaudeville acts into the 30s, many of the most famous big bands of the 30s and 40s, and celebrities such as Harry Houdini, Jack Benny and even Rin-Tin-Tin, the most famous canine star of Hollywood until Lassie.

The Parthenon's spacious auditorium featured one of the earliest Hammond movie houses with unobstructed sight lines, thanks to its large reinforced steel and concrete balcony, which sat well over 1200 alone. Its lobby spaces could fit more than 1000 patrons, and all the Parthenon's public areas were richly decorated, like a Renaissance era princely palace, and furnished with the finest artwork and furniture, including caged songbirds in the main lobby.

By the 70s, the Parthenon began to look a bit shabby and was losing much of its luster and gilded glamour. The seats became ratty and worn, and not as many people came to see movies once the cinaplexes were being built in areas with more convenient parking. The Parthenon began to be used more for rock concerts than as a movie house. In 1967, Sonny and Cher appeared on stage to promote their movie, "Good Times". During the 70s, groups as diverse as KISS and Rush played at the Parthenon.

And this was where my brother worked when he was 16-17 years-old. My sister also worked there for awhile when she was 16. My brother was an usher and my sister worked behind the candy counter. I worked at Goldblatt, a huge 4-story department store down the street. On nights I got off at 9 p.m. I would walk down to the Parthenon and wait for my brother to get off work so he could give me a ride. Even though I was 4 years older, I didn't have a car and he did.

I didn't mind having to wait for him because I got to see the late movie for free. I could sit anywhere I wanted. The place had 4 balconies. I didn't like sitting in the top one because that gave me the jeebies being so close to the domed ceiling with the monster chandelier that hung at the center. I usually sat on the ground floor, or the first balconey.

Sometimes I would hang out with my brother and the other ushers in the dressing rooms behind the stage. The chairs were old and torn, kind of dirty, too. The walls were dirty and the paint was peeling. The place was in obvious dire need of renovation.

So was the store I worked at. Goldblatt's was built in 1927 and demolished in 1993. I worked on the 4th floor in the LayAway/Credit Department. I also did window-display and sign change which I loved, but wasn't paid enough for the job. One day they hired a new window-display person right from college and they asked ME to train him. While I was showing him the ropes, he mentioned what his salary was and I was livid since I didn't even make half of what this guy was making (and the guy was complaining that HE was underpaid!) So, I asked to be put back in LayAway and I was sorry later because even though it was less money, I enjoyed it more than working with the two old bats I was stuck with. A crabby old lady named Caroline who thought her last name was Goldblatt, and a black woman named Ruby who thought she didn't have to work and took off with her friend in the furniture department for numerous breaks.

Goldblatt's building was practically falling down and in need of some major renovation (and probably asbestos removal!). I felt like I lived there since I put in so many hours. I worked six days a week, Monday, Thursday and Fridays were mandatory 9-9 days for me. I hated it. I grew to hate working there and couldn't wait to leave there and go somewhere else. I became engaged to my husband and couldn't wait to say goodbye to the dump. When I was saying my goodbye's one of the old ladies who worked in the credit department said, "You'll be back, they always come back." I said, "They will tear this place down before I come back!"
And they did! LOL! Funny how I am now nostaligic for a place I despised.

The Parthenon was next to Walgreen's
(hidden) and my brother met his wife
while she was working
as a waitress at Walgreen's!
click images to enlarge

In 1993 going, Going, GONE!

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