First, a little background…
I’ve lived on the exact same block of the exact same street since 1984. Tucked into Peoria’s East Bluff near Springdale Cemetery, the house I grew up in and the house next door were built by two brothers in the 1920’s. They feature floor plans that mirror each other in design, and also share a driveway. In 1990, my parents bought that house next door to ours and my (maternal) Grandma moved in. When she passed in 2007, I moved into it and am still (for now) there.
Back in ’84, our block was filled with friendly older couples and families, all of whom have either died, retired and/or moved away. Woodruff at the time was a great high school and my parents wanted their kids to go there (I’d be the third generation to graduate from “Big ol’ Woodruff!”). The area was a great place to play, ride your bike, and just have fun as a kid. Pretty typical, pretty all-American.
These days, I can’t say I know any of my neighbors, or their swarms of children, baby daddies, and dealers that roam our street at odd hours, shouting at each other and leaving their litter on my sidewalk. Nor am I acquainted with all the peculiar religious organizations that knock too frequently on my door. My parents, both in their mid-20s in 1984, are now the neighborhood “seniors.”
The part of town I live in grows increasingly seedier with each passing week. It’s not quite a “Clint Eastwood/Gran Torino” situation just yet, but it all annoys me just the same. I take it personally. I was here first, and they’re on my turf. It’s not a part of town that’s really growing or improving in any way, and will sadly probably get worse before any sort of renaissance would happen (if ever it does indeed happen).
Soon however, our houses will be sold and the Joyce’s are all moving on. But I’m not gone yet, and before I pull up anchor, I decided to document for posterity this little corner of the world that I’ve consistently known as home for almost 30 years. I want to remember and pay tribute to all of this, and since there’s no way more permanent these days than the Internet, here we go. If you know this area, you may share in this dose of nostalgia, many more of you may not be too familiar; either way indulge me, and welcome to my neighborhood.
This project will actually take place over several entries, so I’m starting in one section and will eventually work my way around the entire area. At least that’s the plan for now, we’ll just see where it takes me…
Heading west down Maywood four or so blocks from my house, this overgrown, hot mess of a building located at Wisconsin and East Maywood was home to Peoria Flag and Decorating, the first store I was ever allowed to walk to and shop in alone (age 7 or 8 probably). As an eager young kid ready to spend, a dollar or two could really go a long way here in plastic trinkets. Peoria “Thlag” as I briefly called it, (due to an early, and thankfully corrected speech impediment) relocated to Peoria Heights a decade or more ago (I think it was my late high school or college years). For a brief stint after, this building housed a daycare, but then people quit showing up altogether. I haven’t seen anyone go in or out of this building in at least five years, probably longer.
A block east from the old Peoria Flag building brings us to the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Forrest Hill. Before my time, it was a gas station, and eventually a fried chicken joint (which I remember fairly well-particularly its red and yellow sign, always punctured from rocks thrown by 80’s hoodlums). It became a “Dairy Emporium” ice cream and snack stop that was rarely ever open for most of the late 80s/early 90s, and then had a brief stint as “Pacione’s Pizza” (which was superb) in the late 90’s. In the early 2000’s it became The Cookie Shack, run by a very sweet family that delivered baked goods to the neighborhood until just a few months ago, when they chose not to renew their lease. And here it now sits, unoccupied.
This building, right next door to The Cookie Shack, was Forrest Hill Dry Cleaners until a few years ago—its closing seriously cramped my style, forcing me to break down and find a new dry cleaner. They were good too, so good in fact I know of a family that moved to Germantown Hills and still traveled here for their dry cleaning needs. Once it closed, I thought it would make for a brilliant neighborhood dive bar, but alas, it appears something else is moving in there now, but I have no clue what…
Presenting-Von Steuben Middle School, (home of the Vikings.) Also known by its nicknames “Von Stupid” or simply Von (because life is too short for full names). Here is where I (and my sister) spent 5th thru 8th grades, and where my dad spent kindergarten through 8th grade.
That lighter part in back is their “new gym”, dedicated my 5th grade year (20+ years ago). I went back to substitute teach a few years ago and they were still calling it the new gym….and I assume they still do. Von Steuben, by the way, served as Major General of the Continental Army during the American Revolution and George Washington's chief of staff during the war….which automatically gets you a school in Peoria named in your honor. Naturally.
Next to Von Steuben is the District 150 Administration building, and around the backside (adjacent to Von Steuben’s athletic field) once stood a gravel-filled playground I loved and featured lots of concrete and metal to climb all over. We weren’t allowed on it during school, but I had spent the years prior going over there in early mornings and late nights. At times like that, I would get the whole place to myself. Now, its just this boring patch of grass. Don’t step on the grass, Sam.
This pole near the intersection of Forrest Hill and Wisconsin always cracks me up when I pass it. I first noticed it several years ago on a neighborhood walk (I never run, unless being chased). Either someone is attempting a sad Peoria version of the “Lovers Bridge” in Paris, or some ornery, overzealous Von Steuben kids found a creative use for these after cleaning out their lockers. I’ll be really impressed if they can ever fill the whole thing.
My parents, and practically every other family member on my dad’s side were married here at First English Lutheran Church (across from the “lock pole” and one block south of my dad’s childhood home). We went to church here, and I have lots of memories here—8th grade confirmation, I held my high school graduation party in the gym, and its still where I go to vote. In my opinion, one of the more breathtaking and photogenic “classic” churches in town, with a lot more character than those contemporary casual churches set in giant auditoriums.
At the north end of the same block as the church on Chapel Place is my dad’s childhood home. This house, school, and church were all basically in the same block so I obviously spent a lot of time over here. In fact, if you haven’t pieced together from this tour just yet, at one point nearly every place of significance in my wee little life (home, school, church, grandparents, etc.) were all located within the same square half-mile.
My grandparents still lived there when I was a kid, and sometimes I’d get a note to leave school at lunch and walk over from Von Steuben. Strangely enough, my favorite lunches over there were their cold, left over tenderloins from Gold Lion Steakhouse. I’d feed birds in the yard with “Pappy” and play with my dad and uncles’ old toys, most of which would now be an eBay wet dream (plastic Lone Ranger “action” figures, Zorro on Viewmaster, etc.). My imaginary friend lived behind the bar in their family room (he “moved to Ohio” around the time I turned four, or so I said). The house was sold in 2003, and the current owners have done quite a bit to the place, fencing in the backyard and adding an outdoor patio, amongst other things.
Sorry! Steered off-course on this tour! Allow me to backtrack a bit.
Cookie Shack, Von Steuben, and First English make up 3 of the 4 corners of Forrest Hill and Wisconsin, but what about the 4th? That was originally going to be a part of this entry, then I realized it’s so legendary that it was worthy of its own-stayed tuned for that next time…
Bonus Chillmaster, Lex, Spike and Sacha Photos!
As I reported yesterday, my friend Lex is in New York and last night she and MBIP pals, Spike and Mrs. Spike A.K.A. Sacha ran into an old pal of mine, The Chillmaster! Check out the photos below and here’s a link to the legendary first ever Chillmaster party! Cheers!
Here's Lex, The Chillmaster and Spike hanging out in the East Village near the Chillmaster Lair!
Here's the Chillmaster chilling with Mrs. Spike A.K.A. Sacha. Thanks for sending the photos, Lex!