Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Get Out Time Machine: 1947

Coeur d’Alene has had a vivacious downtown scene since before the turn of the 20th century when folks would flock toward the lake to check out the military drills and parades at Fort Sherman, ride the steamboats, and have a sarsaparilla at one of the local saloons. Many favorite restaurants and night spots have come and gone over the years, their existence locked away in the dimmest compartments of our collective memory. In a series over the next several months, I’ll be investigating what it might have been like to “Get Out” locally during bygone eras of yore, specifically sixty, forty, and twenty years ago. Step into the mighty Get Out time machine as I set the dial to a time when post-war moods were bright, bebop and pop crooners were all the rage, and entire families were fed for less than a buck down at the corner luncheonette.

The 1947 Polk’s City Directory lists the population of Coeur d’Alene that year as 10,005 and describes it as “an industrial city”. The town’s economy seems to have been fairly buoyant at the time, driven by the working-class values of its citizens. A large majority of the men in town were employed at one of the many logging operations and sawmills, and judging from the large number of local restaurants and drinking establishments, most of the women worked as waitresses and barmaids. For a town its size, there were a ton of places for people to dine and dance, that is when they weren’t at home getting busy, helping to create the Baby Boom. The Polk Directory lists nearly forty places to eat and nearly as many pubs within Coeur d’Alene city limits alone, not to mention those located in such far-off, distant locales like Gibbs, Huetter, and Dalton Gardens.

A fabulous legal breakthrough happened in 1947, allowing the Athletic Round Table downtown to become the first public establishment in the state of Idaho to serve liquor by the drink since prohibition put an end to the idea thirty years earlier. This explains the prevalence of “beer parlors” around town, since cold lager was the only alcoholic beverage anyone had been able to peddle or purchase. I have a feeling that beer did the trick just fine, and places like the Blue Jacket, the Rosebud, and the Victory Inn likely provided North 4th street with plenty of action.

Sherman Avenue itself also had enough beer parlors to get even the burliest lumberjack crocked, including Tubby’s, the Rainbow Tavern, the Shamrock, the Sea Gull, and the Surf. A relative of mine fondly remembers Fritz’s Corner at 3rd and Sherman, whose motto was “where good friends meet” as being “a smoky little hole with a bunch of drunk old men.” A local resident I spoke with recalls the wild “honky tonk” atmosphere of the Boots & Saddle Club at the east end of Sherman Ave. Interestingly, several beer joints from the era remain today, albeit with some slight changes. The Regina Stand is now known as the Corner Bar, but the name is pretty much the only noticeable difference, and of course the Fort Ground Tavern, recently renovated and rechristened as the Fort Ground Grill, occupies the same patch of earth as it did back then.

One of the hottest spots around at the time seems to have been the Boulevard Club, which was another spot legally licensed to get patrons liquored up on hi-balls. It was located in the newly annexed Robins District area, near where old Highway 10 used to cross Northwest Boulevard. Advertisements touted the place as the “most beautiful theater-café in the Northwest.” Although I was unable to track down a photo, I’d like to imagine the interior as plush and gorgeous, with elegant chrome and glass fixtures, velvety fabrics and art deco touches. Totally swank. Owner Dave Sobol must have had some powerful connections in the music biz and was able to bring in some pretty big names like the Ink Spots, the Delta Rhythm Boys, and Billy Eckstine. Most notoriously, the Boulevard Club stage was frequented by the legendary Billy Tipton, a popular Spokane jazz pianist who, after his death in 1989, was revealed to have actually been a woman secretly living as a man for the last 50 years of her life. Slot machines were in use here and at quite a few other night spots, much to the chagrin of local police who seemed to barely tolerate such activity, raiding a different place every month for gambling-related crimes. Clearly, the place was oozing with forties glamour and martini-infused hi-jinx.

The food served at the Boulevard Club was classic-style American cuisine that we might now refer to as “Comfort Food”. Diners would sit down to a multi-level lazy Susan known as a “Boulevard Tray”, which was loaded with fantastic nibbly bits like baby corncobs, sweet gherkins and pickled herring. Next, a tangy shrimp or crab cocktail was followed by a green salad, a big top sirloin steak and a basket of toasted garlic bread. Throw in some strawberry shortcake for desert and you’d be completely full for around $2.50. Another well-liked eatery and lounge was “Coeur d’Alene’s favorite spot” the Sourdough, which was a mining-themed restaurant near Fernan whose entryway was a long man-made underground tunnel. Their advertisements announced that “Louie wants to see you!”, and I’m guessing Louie was the man responsible for their famous Sunday Ham Dinner, which came with Macaroni and Cheese, Green Salad, Cherry Cobbler and Black Coffee, all for one dollar.

My relative vaguely remembers going out to Fowler’s Café downtown on 4th street as a young girl, and while she can’t quite recall the food, she describes the décor as “very fancy, with white tablecloths and mirrored walls everywhere. It was kind of a big deal for a kid.” Also downtown was The Sugar Bowl, which featured both the formal dining experience of the Sacajawea Room as well as a casual soda fountain. Hudson’s Hamburgers was then still known as The Missouri Lunch and was located across the street from its current home, near Central Motors and facing the Club Cigar Store. The only restaurant in town that served anything other than American food was the Noodle Inn on Locust, which provided locals with a selection of very vaguely Chinese dishes like Egg Foo Young and Noodle Soup.

Other places to grab a bite included the Sky Line, the Tower Inn, and the Silver Grill Cafe. There’s really not enough room here to mention them all. Templin’s Grill sat on the west end of Sherman near the lake across from the majestic Desert Hotel, which held a popular coffee shop and diner, as well as the Athletic Round Table Club, which was at the center of Coeur d’Alene’s social scene for many years. Along with fine dining and drinks, they hosted dances every weekend with live music provided by acts like the Five Jives or Jack Milan & His Farragut Collegian Eight Piece Band. In fact much of the nightlife scene back then revolved around regular events held at private clubs with bestial names like the Eagles, the Elks, and the Moose.

There was plenty of action for local teenagers in 1947 as well, with frequent dances under the stars at the City Park Pavillion, where hep cats and kittens could get togged to the bricks and drag a hoof to the smooth tunes of Frankie Laine, Perry Como, Jo Stafford and Sinatra. Admission was fifty cents. Playland Pier was a small but well-loved amusement park which opened in 1941 and sat on the spot that’s now Independence Point and stretched out into the lake on a boardwalk, complete with a carousel, a ferris wheel and carnival booths. Along with goldfish swallowing and yo-yos, hanging out in ice cream shops was also very in vogue for young people, and there were quite a few to choose from, including the Frosty Cup near the Desert Hotel and the D’Alene Dairy at 4th and Sherman. Hmm, a scoop of maple or banana, it’s so hard to choose.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I went to Coeur D'alene, ID in 1960, I was 6 yrs old, and I remember the Sourdough restraunt. You entered in a Mine shaft and it took you down and down into the "mine." They had the best ribs and baked potatoes on the planet!!

Cheryl Feldman, Cary, IL