MBIP weekend blogger Chip Joyce has lived in the same location since 1984 and will soon be moving on from the neighborhood he has called home for most of his life. In this series, he chronicles the history and memories from his time growing up in Peoria’s East Bluff. This is part three of the series. Click here for part one and here for part two.
At last! The weather has let up (well, somewhat as of this writing), and I can resume my tour of memories from growing up in the East Bluff neighborhood. My posts over the past few months have covered many other topics due mainly to weather but perhaps also in an attempt to put off or prolong this series, because my time in my turf, it’s sad to say, is waning. But for now here we are, and as promised, a continued look at an area that’s not only near and dear to me, but many others too it seems...of all the pieces I’ve written for MBIP to date, I think the “East Bluff” posts are the ones I’ve been asked about the most.
I’ve never really been sure where the East Bluff begins, or where it ends. Is its eastern boundary Prospect Avenue, or does it go closer to the river? Does the western boundary hit at Knoxville and War Memorial the north? Is south somewhere around Nebraska Avenue? I always thought the East Bluff basically meant wherever I could ride my bike as a kid, or as far as I was willing to pedal before getting lost. (I also wasn’t allowed to cross any of those busier streets, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t throw caution to the wind a time or two).
I made a lot of tracks over the years through the neighborhood on my Kent BMX (in the 80’s BMX reigned supreme with E.T. and Fruit Roll-ups), which was a gift for my fifth birthday. Obviously it took some time to grow into…
Learning to ride took a lot of trial, error and skinned knees in the parking lot of this church directly behind my house but once I did, I was off! The church (at East Corrington and Prospect, across from Springdale Cemetery) underwent several names through the years, and eventually became “Infogenic Systems” before they moved out and now it sits empty.
Lets pedal west to Knoxville and Forrest Hill. The Strong Business Center began as an insurance building but spent most of my life as the “Dunn Center”, a building whose name we found funny as kids (no clue why today though). As the Dunn Center, it served as a sort of annex for Grace Presbyterian Church until they moved to the North End of town (like everybody else it seems) just a few years ago.
Pedaling down Knoxville to War Memorial sits Peoria Public Schools Stadium, back in the spotlight as of late due to its proposed fate as your next Wal-Mart. (Did that get cleared up yet? The neighbors around there still have signs posted stating what they think about that idea.)
I never saw the stadium much beyond this vantage point until high school because if I had dared try crossing War Memorial on my bike, the wrath of my parents would have been worse than being flattened in the middle of the road. Later on, many Friday nights were spent there against my will for football games (I’m not a sports guy).
In a time where video stores like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video have gone the way of the dodo, Family Video keeps on truckin’—in fact, it seems they actually keep growing! It’s been here since the late 80’s, taking over the Stafford’s Dairy building, where I remember stopping at for milk and other essential items when very young. Family Video had its run of the place for a few years, then tore it down and built this building and the accompanying obelisk (random).
Alwan’s was also re-built and moved into bigger, better digs a few years ago, but what I remember about the place (in fact, its one of my earliest memories of anything) is sitting on the cow statue when it was still at ground level of the original building.
Leonardo’s Pizza was a very popular hangout for many in the East Bluff, especially the local theatre crowds, for whom they would often stay open later. It briefly closed in May 2007 then re-opened as part of the “La Gondola” brand (which is better than Avanti’s, if you ask me). Known also for live music and a spacious back room that was always available when needed, I even had a birthday or two here. It’s a little brighter than it used to be in there now, but I’m glad that tree still “grows” in the middle of the restaurant, and every now and then I still wear my Leo’s t-shirt.
Heading east takes us to War Memorial and Prospect, the longtime perch of Peoria’s Most Famous Clown. There’s not much I can say about Emo’s that hasn’t been said before, but I’ll add that there is no surer sign of spring in Peoria than opening day at Emo’s.
The original “Emo” was Emo Harms, a Woodruff teacher who tended his own ice cream/coney dog stand during summer months. For many years I recall Emo’s did not use registers and made employees add and count by hand (math teachers, I tell ya). Emo passed in 1992, and the family sold the business in 2010 to the Ice Cream Shack folks.
Remember the guy that used to sit here and sell roses between Emo’s and the gas station? He established quite a following, and the Journal Star even did an article on him and his mission of selling roses to save enough money to reunite with his family. It’s been a few years since he’s been there...maybe he finally reached his goal?
Soon after I graduated high school, Walgreens swooped in and dropped a fortune to bulldoze all the houses on this block of Paris Avenue for its new location. My friend Tuan’s house was one of the casualties, which was located right where this ditch now sits
West Peoria still has Haddad’s 2.0, and the East Bluff had John Bee’s Grocery, which originally shared this building with Miracle Mart. Eventually, John Bee took over the whole space, and not a week went by in my growing up where I wasn’t in here at least once—my mom and grandma did nearly all their shopping there and especially enjoyed the added service of baggers carting the groceries to your car for you. John Bee closed in September of 2002 and the building was split again, now it’s Family Dollar and American Rent to Own.
This Domino’s building (one of only two in Peoria now, believe it or not) once housed a KFC and then some place called “Corn John’s Pork Farm.” Domino’s moved into this spot when its location across from Peoria Stadium closed.
There are still some longtime businesses that have lasted in their locations for as long as I can remember like Prospect Sound and Prospect Florist (no relation!) which is where I bought most of my high school prom corsages.
Numerous cars in my family have come from off the lot at Prospect Auto Mart, which has also been here “forever”.
Another earlier casualty in the death of video rental stores was here: Video Love, later re-named Video Land due to the playground legend (which I still don’t know if it’s true) that the name changed to get away from the misconception that they specialized in porno flicks, never mind their mysterious curtained-off section that every kid in the neighborhood peeked behind a time or two.
Many businesses have come and gone on these blocks through the years, but many have more have stuck around and there exists a small, vibrant surge of energy still..I think...I hope...
The Prospect Place strip and other retail pads along this way include salons, photo studios, pet grooming, antiques, clothing boutiques and even coin collecting—it definitely has the potential to become a nice place akin to all the cool stuff happening around the little hipster district that’s sprung up across town on Main Street.
I’d get stuck spending occasional Saturdays at Kim’s Academy of Dance (not dancing, but having to support my younger sister), which only recently moved out of this space on Prospect to the north end of town. Little did I know then, that the future was just under my nose: One of her dance teachers happened to be Jenny, the future “Mrs. Chip.” Jenny actually spent many days and nights in this studio very close to my house, and looking back now I wonder how often she was in there when I pedaled past through the years…
At the corner of Indiana and Virginia was Weaver’s Grocery, an alternate stop for candy from Weber’s Grocery (I guess your address determined your manner of preference). I was only ever in Weaver’s a couple times for candy stops while playing at friends’ houses. Now it’s Cedar’s Bakery and specializes in pita bread. No clue what that pole is/was for.
Tucked away on Arcadia Avenue is a place I visited often with my mother in her candy and mint making phase—The Decorators Grocery. Specializing in cake and candy making supplies, I fondly recall this place being a lot more fun to look around than one might think—walls adorned with Garfield and Empire Strikes Back cake pans, among many other fun things. This place is totally hidden but I suppose it’s a specialty business so if you need to go there, you know where it is anyways.
I used to get my hair cut in the building that once stood at the corner of Frye and Wisconsin—Bob’s Barber Shop. This was a barber shop in the absolute, most old-school traditional sense, always full of old guys that just seemed to hang out there for fun, it was a definite neighborhood “meetin’ place.” Bob was also a Shriner clown who carried (what else?) giant scissors and performed under the handle “Clipper.”
After Bob’s went away, it became Hubbard Dianetics Center. I had no idea what that meant until Hollywood introduced us all to the world of Scientology. The building was later razed (along with most of Frye) for the new Glen Oak School and the Scientologists are now on North Prospect by the aforementioned Domino’s. I have been in the Domino’s often, but the Scientology place, not so much.
Just down the road from this site, once stood the tiny “Busy Chef” diner and other long gone places. I can’t say I’ve been in any of these buildings for years, but I do get a kick anytime I drive this way and see this homage to Chicago sports on the side of Sparky’s Bar...I remember back in 1991 when it was painted here!
The top of Abington Hill was labeled “Dan Fogelberg Parkway” a few years ago for Peoria’s favorite son (and also son of the “Leader of the Band” who taught music at Woodruff, just at the bottom of the hill). The day after Thanksgiving, 1997 I was in a car accident at this intersection (nobody injured, except the car) which remains probably my most vivid memory of this spot. The empty building on the left once housed Viking Catering, and police recently investigated a stabbing that happened in an abandoned house just doors away from here.
You don’t see a lot of kids pedaling their way around the East Bluff like we all used to anymore (and that’s probably best), and heck knows I haven’t done so for a long time either, but after pedaling thousands (literally), thousands of times around it,I managed to retain almost that many memories of this little patch of the world.
Oh, and I even still have the bike.
It still comes in handy at Halloween.