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I loved the times my parents took me to San Pedro’s when I was a child. Their varied menu was unlike any other restaurant around our area, and from the start I loved trying foods not cooked at our apt. in Spanish Court: from San Pedro’s I learned in later years with common sense and experiment to make the chilled jelled borscht which first entranced me among the varied menu options, and the pecan loaf, a meatless roast (before vegan times) served with a lucious mushroom sauce: heavenly! I also loved the cold asparagus and lettuce vinaigrette. These dishes were so in synch with the TV program I watched, as a little girl, on our old Admiral b/w TV: “Creative Cookery”, hosted by Antoinette and Francoise Pope. As far as I know, that was the first cooking show on the tube.
I have been so sorry these years that the San Pedro restaurant is gone. The one that takes its place is all right, but doesn’t have the same “flavor” at all!
Current residents who weren’t here in the past don’t know what they are missing!
Sure! Peacock’s “Dairy Bar”…gum under the counters and all!
For those who’d like to know the history of Leo Elbaum, here it is. My source material is from The Wilmette Life (Thursday, March 11, 1999) in an article about him (“Leo leaves his newsstand at CTA depot”) upon the closure of the old 4th & Linden station house and opening of the new one just east of it. Here is an abridged transcript with a comment or two from me:
“In the fast-paced evolution of modern retail, many specialty stores and strip malls come and go in a matter of months. Others stick around for a decade or more. A very few go on to become institutions.
“If ever a small business earned that distinction, Leo Elbaum and his newwstand in the CTA station, current and former, at Fourth Street and Linden Avenue, Wilmette, certainly qualifies.
“Through the better part of four decades, eight presidents, and a seven-day work-week that often amounted to double shifts, Elbaum was the first friendly face that many commuters and neighborhood residents saw. The one-man kiosk was the source of newspapers, magazines, cigarettes and friendly greetings for CTA train riders as well as neighbors picking up the weekend edition.
“The 85-year-old Elbaum has since retired to his Skokie home.
“In a brief telephone interview, Elbaum said only that he didn’t want to quit working.
“‘I am trying to get somewhere else. I like to work,” Elbaum said in a raspy voice.
“Both his long career and his personal history show Elbaum to be a survivor in the largest sense of the word. Born in Poland, he came of age just as the Nazis invaded and ultimately shuttled him to a concentration camp, where he stayed until liberation in 1948.
“With only one close relative, a sister, remaining, he came to the United States in 1951. He opened his business in Wilmette in 1963, selling newspapers the week President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, according to a 1990 Wilmette Life feature.”——(NOT TRUE – date is WRONG——I remember Leo from when I was a little tot in the early 1950s when my Dad would take me downtown for a day at his office at 620 N. Michigan Ave., and Dad would buy candy or a comic book from Leo for me before we got on the el!)
“Although none of his earliest regulars seem to remain in the neighborhood, (oh yeah? what about me, who spent all that time going to the School of the Art Inst. during the 80s in persuit of my Master’s degree and taking the el back then, and Leo saying on very cold January mornings as I bought a pack of smokes, "Your hands will be so cold – don’t you have gloves?” as he put his hands on mine while I assured him I had gloves in my coat pocket, and in the 90s when I’d go downtown with a friend?) some of his long-time acquaintances remember Elbaum as a hard-working businessman who did things his own way.
“Donald Olson, who opened his State Farm Insurance office neaby 28 years ago, recalled that Elbaum had bought his original stand (at) the old el station. It was there that he did his best business.
“‘He bought that stand from a guy named Harry. He did a tremendous newspaper business, and he had a lot of books. If he didn’t have it, he’d get it for you. He was the Barnes and Noble of the neighborhood,’ Olson said.
(Leo saved for me the last regular issue of Life Magazine (1972)).
“As the sole operator, Elbaum also held himself to hours that no hired help would have tolerated. He usually arrived at 6:00am and often stayed until 9 or 9:30pm and kept weekend hours with infrequent breaks and almost no extended leaves.
“Through some mix of long hours and a good location, the shop was apparently good to him, helping put a son and a daughter through college.
“Olson said he sensed Elbaum’s business suffered somewhat in more recent years after he moved into the new station east of the old depot. Changing commuter patterns might have played a role, and the newsstand also seemed to attract more than its share of shoplifters.
“‘Once he moved over here, it kind of fell apart. It was harder for people to get into here and it kind of lost its mystique. I think what he lost was the neighborhood traffic,’ Olson said.
“For better and worse, Elbaum was an active and accommodating entrepreneur.
“His vision of free enterprise was, at times, a bit broader than the authorities would tolerate. His store was reputedly a destination for teens hoping to buy cigarettes, and Elbaum several years ago faced a citation for firework sales.
“Olson keeps his memories of Elbaum in perspective.
“‘He wasn’t a saint, but I like him for what he was. He was an old wheeler-dealer. He was a legend and now he’s gone.’
“CTA officials said the agency is seeking proposals and has not yet identified a new vendor for the newsstand space. Both a nationally known coffee chain and donut shop have been mentioned as possibilites.
Leo Elbaum passed away a few years after this article was printed.
I just have many fond memories of the way it was then, remember a lot of things about the past, still live in Wilmette, and was very sorry to see the Teatro go and much of the look of things there change. Like you said, we were living in a paradise and didn’t know it. Didn’t mean to sound like an authority….I just tried to answer some of your questions.
Hi again, Frank – My memory re Vista del Lago was a bit skewed. First, there was the Breakers Beach Club, which never really got off the ground, especially once the Depression hit. As for Vista del Lago, while it was a club, it was intended for whole families to join. It was never completed – only the first two floors were finished. It was the Miralago with the unsavory reputation for illegal gambling and sale of liquor (Prohibition still in effect). Miralago burned in 1932. According to the book: From No Man’s Land To Plaza del Lago, by Robert Schea, “The ballroom on the second floor……featured a silvered ceiling, black marble columns, jade-green drapes and lighting that changed colors. Its centerpiece was a neon fountain which, if it still existed, would be viewed with the same reverence by collectors of Art Deco objets that a Rembrandt commands among art dealers.”(p.58) Because it was in No Man’s Land, police from Kenilworth and Wilmette claimed they had no jurisdiction in settling incidents of violence or illegal gambling and liquor. Since Wilmette authorities could not enforce order there, Wilmette withdrew fire protection and shut off the water in 1931. No Man’s Land residents sank their own wells. Wilmette offered fire protection for $500 a month in advance. No one took up that offer. Fire broke out March 8 ‘32, and Wilmette and Winnetka FDs did not respond. The Evanston FD came through, but Kenilworth then shut off the water! There is more to all this in the book. Another book you might try to find is Wilmette: A History, by George D. Bushnell. I have a copy, but can’t find it. I saw several copies of both books listed on Alibris.com. Both books have plenty of photos including several of the Teatro.
Sad to say, Art Roberts, one of my favorite DJs passed away on March 6, 2002 after a second stroke. He and his wife Bobbie lived in Nevada. His website is still there www.artroberts.com – be sure to visit the tribute page there.
Frank – Just happened to be online when your message came in. It’s great to read of your memories! It was always a treat when my folks took me to San Pedro’s – what a wonderful little restaurant that was, and a great menu, too! (Where else could you find chilled borscht, pecan loaf, and whitefish almondine all on the same menu?) The Vista del Lago certianly was, I believe, a mob-run nightclub from the 30s. It had Art-Deco architecture, and the ruins were still there when I was little, and I was forbidden to cross Sheridan Rd to explore them. Jim and I instead played either in the parking lot on our trikes before the Teatro opened for the first film of the day, or explored the little wild undeveloped area of woods behind the theatre (now all townhouses and perfect lawns…too bad). The Peacock’s ice cream place was called “The Dairy Bar”, and sometimes we’d stop for ice cream cones after a day at the beach. Paul’s was probably one of the last of those record shops where you could listen to records in those little booths. I used to stop in there to pick up each week’s WLS Silver Dollar Survey. The place you played touch football was called Mahoney Park. In the early days of the village there was a small farm there, owned by someone named Mahoney. The car place was Walther’s – mainly a Buick place, if I recall right, but they certainly worked on the imports too, like Jaguars and such. I used to see Walther from the apt windows facing the alley, and he walked with a limp and always had a cane. Do you remember Leo at the 1st and Linden “L” station? Well, it was wonderful to hear from a fellow No-Man’s-Land “graduate” – sometimes I wish I had a time-machine!
Bob, Andy says he remembers you from Jr. High School and that you had some classes together. We couldn’t find you in the New Trier Directory, though. Andy has gotten pretty good at finger-picking guitar – see http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/stranglen1
He wonders if you still live in the Chicago area.
I’ve seen this site put up by the Central Elementary School, and it is incorrect. What you see is the Jewel Food Store, which is a completely new (as of the late 60s) building. The Teatro was demolished. Incidentally the Jewel is not on the very site of the theatre, but a bit south of where it was. The Jewel is built in a Spanish style to fit in with the architecture of the original block of apartments and stores called Spanish Court.
Bob, no, I have a brother Andrew. I too, saw a lot of movies there, some of them Three Stooges shorts, and I remember one of the “Sinbad the Sailor” Technicolor movies that had an impressive tidal wave in it! I think the last movie I saw there was the Beatles in “A Hard Day’s Night”.
Casey, I have a photo from March 1953 of Jim and me playing in the parking lot of the Teatro during the daytime before the evening crowds. Jim is on a tricycle and I am standing nearby wearing a winter snowsuit-type outfit. Unfortunately only the apartments show in the background; the Teatro is off-camera to the right, but it’s a cute picture!
I was born in 1951 and lived in the Spanish Court apartments across from the Teatro del Lago until 1958. My parents were friends with Stan Pratt, and his son Jim was one of my first playmates. Occasionally, Mr Pratt would treat my folks to free admission to the theatre. My bedroom window faced this beautiful building with its bright, pulsating, and scrolling marquee, and I have fond memories of the aroma of fresh buttered popcorn, and the sounds of the crowd outside on warm summer nights.