The summer after 8th grade, I went downtown a few times a week to take classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Young Artist’s Studio program. The photo silk screening class was in the Pakula building at 218 S. Wabash. The painting class was in a studio on the campus building behind the Art Institute. On occasion, I would shop at the Woolworth’s on State Street and the Stop & Shop at 16 W. Washington. When I was about 18, I summoned the courage to walk into an X-rated book store located on Randolph near State, if memory serves me right. I hightailed it out of there when a freaky guy in a trench coat leered at me. Perhaps he would have flashed me, or my vivid imagination got the better of me. I was fascinated by Randolph Street, in particular the block between State and Dearborn. It had a similar kind of sleazy charm as Times Square in the 1970s, albeit on a tiny scale.
The photographs featured in this blog provided inspiration for businesses to include and a search for materials such as matchbooks, postcards, and menus. This ephemera offers a glimpse at a street that was once vibrant and thriving with an incredibly cool and eclectic array of businesses. Sadly, by the time I ventured downtown, most of these businesses were long gone or had lost their luster. I primarily researched businesses between State and Randolph, west to LaSalle. Of course the beautiful Chicago Cultural Center’s north lobby is on Randolph at Michigan.
I clearly recall going into Shopper’s Corner on the Northeast side of Randolph and State. It seemed like an intriguing store with all sorts of weird items and souvenirs, but I distinctly remember an unfriendly environment in which I was given the evil eye as I browsed, so I never returned.
Greyhound Bus Terminal
Although I never stepped inside, I certainly remember the iconic Greyhound Bus Terminal designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill at the corner of Clark and Randolph. The Greyhound station opened on March 19, 1953 and was demolished in 1990, many years after it had fallen into a state of disrepair. The terminal moved to 630 W. Harrison, a far less convenient location purposely away from the Loop. My mother warned me to never venture near the terminal, and rightly so. By the mid-1970s, it had become one of the most dangerous places in the Loop, attracting pimps, pickpockets, rapists, drug addicts, baggage thieves, and bums, according to a sensationalized 1975 article in the Chicago Tribune. A far cry from the once shiny station in close proximity to theaters, wonderful restaurants and the iconic Sherman House at Clark and Randolph.
The first Sherman House burned down in the Chicago Fire, and the second one opened in 1873. At the turn of the century, the hotel had already lost much of its luster. Entrepreneur Joseph Beifeld acquired it, bringing first-class customer service and entertainment to the hotel. By 1904, the new and improved hotel and its famed restaurant and jazz venue, the College Inn, attracted celebrities and members of high society. A multi-million dollar, 15-story Beaux Arts redesign by Holabird and Roche featured 757 rooms. The 1925 annex expansion increased capacity to 1,600 rooms, making Hotel Sherman the largest hotel west of NYC. The 1911 building was razed in the early 1950s, leaving the more modern annex. Unable to compete with newer hotels, Hotel Sherman closed in 1973 and was torn down to build the James R. Thompson Center.
Chicago’s Great White Way
Randolph and Oriental Theatres
This name is far more synonymous with the marquees of Broadway theaters. Indeed, that’s where the Chicago-based company White Way Sign, established in 1916, borrowed its name and how Randolph Street got this moniker. The 845-seat Randolph Theatre at 14-16 W. Randolph designed by the noted Chicago theater architect Henry L. Newhouse, opened in December 1918 and closed in 1933. The site soon became home to the Eitel Old Heidelberg, then Allgauer’s Heidelberg, subsequently Ronny’s Steak Palace, and now an Argo Tea Cafe. White Way fabricated and maintained marquees at Chicago theaters, including the Oriental Theatre at 24 W. Randolph (built in 1926). By the 1970s, the Oriental had fallen on hard times and was showing exploitation movies. Today the full name of this beautiful theater is The Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theater and it features Broadway productions.
Woods Theatre and United Artists
Movies palaces in addition to the Oriental included the Woods Theatre (54 W. Randolph) and United Artists (45 W. Randolph), both of which closed in the late 1980s. It’s amazing that three movies theaters in such close proximity thrived for as long as they did. The Woods Theatre opened in 1918, closed in 1989, and was demolished in 1991. The United Artists Theatre opened in 1921, closed in 1987, and was demolished in 1989. As a youngster in the 1960s, I vaguely remember going to a movie at United Artists and I’ve seen a Broadway in Chicago play at the Oriental.
RKO Palace Theatre
The current Cadillac Palace Theatre at 151 W. Randolph enjoyed several former lives as the New Palace Theatre (1926-31), followed by the RKO Palace Theatre (1931-53), Eitel’s Palace Theatre (1953-72), and Bismarck Theatre (1984-99). Practically right next door at 171 W. Randolph was the Bismarck Hotel, which opened in 1894 and is now home to Hotel Allegro.
Like so many other gorgeous historical buildings, the circa 1891 Garrick Theatre at 64 W. Randolph was torn down in 1961 and replaced with a parking structure. Thankfully, Chicago historical preservationist Richard Nickel took many photographs of the Sullivan and Adler masterpiece and rescued hundreds of artifacts and ornaments before and after demolition. Nickels died in 1972 doing what he loved most – salvaging architectural ruins from the Old Chicago Stock Exchange. He never completed his Sullivan Project, which including the Garrick Theatre.
The Iroquois Theatre, located at 24-28 W. Randolph (between State and Dearborn) was a stunning, Renaissance-style building advertised as fireproof. A Wednesday matinee performance of the musical Mr. Blue Beard starring Eddie Foy, overflowed with a standing-room audience of nearly 2,000 people, mostly women and children. During the second act, an arc light sputtered, igniting a strip of paint-saturated muslin on a drape. The 5-week-old Iroquois Theatre went up in flames on December 30, 1903, killing more than 600 people. This was one of the most tragic disasters to befall the city of Chicago and stands today as the worst theater and single-building fire in American history.
Henrici’s Steak & Lobster
Founded in 1898 by 23-year-old Phillip Henrici, a member of a noted family of nineteenth-century Viennese restaurateurs, Henrici’s Steak & Lobster was one of the oldest and finest restaurants in Chicago. After the four original locations burned to the ground in the Chicago Fire, Henrici opened the flagship restaurant at 67-71 W. Randolph, in the heart of the Theater District. This location closed in September 1962 when the building was demolished to make way for the Daley Center.
South Pacific Restaurant
Located at 28-30 W. Randolph, restaurateur Wayne Sit became renowned for his signature Almondine Duck and Hong Kong steak dishes, among others. The South Pacific Restaurant menu featured Polynesian dancers, luau decorations, and a fire dance by a man wearing only a Hawaiian-print loincloth. Before opening his restaurant in 1954, Sit worked at another Chinese restaurant on Randolph, Hoe Sai Gai. The below photo depicts Sit’s nephew Tom Go in 1962.
In an Oct, 31, 1969 review, Chicago Tribune columnist and restaurant critic Kay Loring wrote about the newly remodeled restaurant, “Cantonese and Chinese dishes have always been good. But deterrents for many have been the garish block in which the restaurant is located, and the somewhat bleak and dreary dining room of barn-like proportion. It’s still a garish block and the dining room with its hard tile floor is still far from opulent. But it’s cheerful now and more comfortable with the old soot-blackened bamboo painted warm vermilion; artificial tropical trees growing amusingly from structural pillars, and beaded curtains all around.” The Sit family opened Hoe King Lo Restaurant in Lincolnwood in 1967 and ran both restaurants until selling them and retiring in the 1980s. Sit died in 2006 at the age of 88.
Hoe Sai Gai
Joseph Eng emigrated to the U.S. around 1911 from China’s Guangdong Province. In the 1920s, Eng opened the Golden Pumpkin at Madison and Pulaski, billed as “the largest and most beautiful Chinese cafe in the world.” He also owned three other Madison Street restaurants called the Paradise Inn, the Tea Garden, and the Chicken Shop. He lost all these restaurants in the Depression and opened Hoe Sai Gai in the 1930s with just $300.
Located at 85 W. Randolph, this beautiful restaurant was known for its Ming Room and splendid Art Deco décor. The restaurant drew American and Asian patrons, including many Chinese-American college students from throughout the Midwest who wanted a taste of home. Among the patrons was Sydney Greenstreet, who starred with Humphrey Bogart in the Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. Harry Eng, Joe’s son from his first marriage emigrated to the U.S. around 1919 to go to school, and eventually Joe made him a partner in the restaurant business. In the 1940s, Harry went out on his own and opened the House of Eng on the Gold Coast.
After Joe suffered a stroke and died in 1946, the business was largely run by his widow and four daughters. Like Henrici’s, Ho Sai Gai was demolished in 1962 to make way for the Daley Center. Laura Eng Sit, who became a top salesperson at Marshall Field’s 28 Shop, died in May 2017 at the age of 95.
Old Heidelberg Restaurant
Located at 16 W. Randolph, the elegant Old Heidelberg Restaurant opened in 1934 as a spinoff from a popular German restaurant operated by the Eitel family at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. The restaurant was owned later by Gustave Allgauer, evident in one of the photos and a wiki about the restaurateur. Built by the famed architectural firm Graham, Anderson, Probst and White on the site of an old wooden warehouse, the exterior of the Old Heidelberg was designed to evoke the charm of a traditional German village. This site later became home to the iconic Ronny’s Original Chicago Steak House, which is now located at 100 W. Randolph in the James R. Thompson Center.
Located across the street from the Oriental Theatre at 27 W. Randolph, not much information exists about Holloway House. A Forgotten Chicago reader said, “The restaurant had a little display off to the side for kiddies like me that said ‘free balloon (take one) if you finish everything on your plate!’” This was a chain of cafeterias, with two other Chicago-area locations at 7527 N. Western and 900 Winston Park Plaza in Melrose Park, in addition to seven restaurants in Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C. The wonderful 1955 photo by Lee Balterman may be Holloway House according to this blog, but could possibly be DeMet’s Tea House or Thompson’s Cafeteria, which had more than 100 locations across the U.S.
Born in 1889, Dario Louis Toffenetti emigrated to the U.S. in 1910, allegedly after being recruited to peddle ice cream from a cart in Cincinnati. Before opening his first restaurant in Chicago in 1914, he was a bus boy at Chicago’s Sherman House on the northwest corner of Clark and Randolph. By 1937, he ran six restaurants in the Chicago Loop known as the Toffenetti-Triangle and this grew to seven by the 1950s, including one that ceremoniously opened a week before the Greyhound Bus Terminal. This location boasted a staff of more than 250 workers with seating for 600 patrons, in order to accommodate the huge throngs of people that would come through the station.
Toffenetti won catering contracts for both the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933 and the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40. The latter led to an incredibly brilliant acquisition of property on the corner of 43rd and Broadway in Times Square. He commissioned Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to design a two-story, glass-fronted modern building, where he opened a highly successful restaurant that served 8,500 meals on its opening day.
DeMet’s Candy was once as popular in Chicago as Fannie Mae, with locations all over the Loop, including 5 W. Randolph, which also was a tea room. George DeMet established DeMet’s in 1898 as a candy store and soda fountain shop in Chicago. Of course the company is most famous for creating Turtles candies. A 1952 ad said, “There’s no lovelier or more practical Valentine than this candy-filled sewing heart of natural finished wool filled with two pounds of famous DeMet’s light and dark chocolates with assorted centers.” Judging from the photo showing Holloway House, I surmised what looks like Dutch Mill Candies was the former DeMet’s. After several mergers and acquisitions, DeMet’s was purchased by Nestlé in 1988 and sold in late 2013 to Yıldız Holding, the Turkish conglomerate that owns Godiva.
What an Eclectic Mix!
Once upon a time, Randolph Street was a wonderful mix of diverse businesses. In addition to the aforementioned businesses, the photos reveal many cocktail lounges, currency exchanges, the Brass Rail, 17 Restaurant, Randolph Square Theater Lounge, Hotel Bancroft, Sunny Italy Italian Restaurant, Around the Clock Coffee Shop, The Ham n’ Egger, Morrow’s Nut Shop, Hudson-Ross appliance store, State Auction Galleries, United Cigars, Trailways Bus Terminal, Bensinger’s Billiards and Bowling (located at 29 W Randolph on the 6th floor until 1961). A 1956 ad for Hotel Bancroft revealed it had rooms with and without baths – and kitchenettes – as well as special rates for show people. I decided to end this blog with two rather curious businesses I found fascinating.
Baer’s Treasure Chest
Opened in 1949 by Bobby Baer, the Treasure Chest was a somewhat sleazy novelty shop and arcade with a magic counter managed by Ed Marlo, a well-known Chicago magician. The arcade section featured rows of Skee-Ball, a shooting gallery, flashy pinball games, and mechanical arcade machines. From 1942 to 1977, it was the only arcade licensed within Chicago’s Loop that allowed pinball games, since they were designated a form of gambling. A 1988 Chicago Tribune mentioned a crowd standing in line at Baer`s Treasure Chest, a video game room at 19 W. Randolph St. The store is featured on the cover of the 1997 book Arcade Dreams by Jon Racherbaumer and Ed Marlo.
The shop had two floors, a chase-lighted marquee, two smiley-bears wearing cartooned straw hats gazing down from the double doors, and 12-inch tall moveable letters advertising goods such as jewelry, records, and souvenirs. It became a favorite hangout for teenagers and Navy cadets in the 1960s-70s. According to Chuckman’s, the fire photo is from 1980, so the Treasure Chest survived that by at least eight years. The 1962 Billboard clip indicates the original building housing the Treasure Chest burned down in 1961 and Baer unveiled a new and flashier shop in 1962. This photo also pictures the X-rated book shop I mentioned earlier in this blog. So the business survived two fires, but I can’t find any documentation when it closed.
The 2007 book The Magical Life of Marshall Brodien: Creator of TV Magic Cards includes many sections about Bobby Baer. Brodien worked at Baer’s original arcade Finer Amusements at 159 N Wabash at the tender age of 14, demonstrating and selling magic tricks from 4 pm to 9 pm and working double shifts on weekends. After Baer closed that arcade and opened the Treasure Chest, Brodien followed. Don Alan, Okito, and Theo Bamberg also demonstrated magic tricks at the upstairs Abbott’s Pro Shop.
Hargrave Secret Service Agency
In 1888, Edward J. Hargrave established the Edward J. Hargrave Secret Service in St. Louis, Missouri. George E. Hargrave, son of the founder opened a branch office in Chicago many years later. After his father died in 1919, the name of the business changed to Hargrave Secret Service. Chicago was the headquarters, the business was franchised, and incorporated by July 1, 1969.
The Romanian-born Anne Sage, the famous “Lady in Red” who gave up John Dillinger was rumored to be a paid operative for Hargrave Secret Service! A Chicago Tribune article did not mention this connection, but did reveal some intriguing facts. Sage was the landlady of Dillinger’s red-haired waitress girlfriend Polly Hamilton and a successful operator of houses of prostitution. Deportation proceedings had been started against her at the time of Dillinger’s death in June 1934 and she was wearing an orange skirt that looked red. Another interesting piece of history – in 1963, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the CIA considered using Hargrave Secret Service, which at the time was at 6 W. Randolph, as seen in two of the color photos posted near the beginning of this blog.
Vaughan Seed Company
Based initially in Chicago, Vaughan was one of the largest horticultural distributors in the U.S., supplying large sections of the country with grass and flower seeds, as well as plants. They operated a seed store at 10 W. Randolph that also sold pets and educational toys. Gager Throop Vaughan, the great-grandson of the founder Amos Throop died in 1991 at age 76. I found gorgeous catalog covers indicating they had other locations at 84-86 and 31-33 W. Randolph in the late 1890s to 1915. The covers are so beautiful, it was tempting to include all of them!
I hope you’ll share your memories of any of these businesses or others on Randolph Street! Thanks to Sonya, granddaughter of Joe Eng for providing factual corrections to Ho Sai Gai.
Photo sources: Amazon, Calumet 412, CardCow, Chicago Tribune historical archives, Chuckman’s Collection, Cinema Treasures, Creatively Graceful, ebay, Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest