Despite the hard times, it was the Coeur d’Alene in which I came of age, growing from a geeky pre-teen to a high-school graduate, and I have nothing but fond memories of our fair berg in the 80’s. It might have been a dump, but it was the only dump I knew.
I have to chuckle at those who express fear these days at the idea of venturing east of 15th on Sherman, claiming it to be a “bad neighborhood”. Truth is, that end of town is fabulously posh now next to its shoddy state 25 years ago, when I-90 zoomed right through the gas shanties, trailer parks and fire-trap motels that cluttered the area. The once-proud Cove Bowl was breathing its last puff of second-hand Kool smoke, run down to the point that even Greyhound at one point relocated their bus stop away from there out of fear for the safety of their waiting passengers.
Perhaps a smidge higher on the classiness scale was neighboring Peabody’s Lounge, a dark, busy place where one could get tipsy on cheap Mai-Tais and have Pat Benatar moments with ladies in legwarmers. No need to name names, but rumors abound in regards to Beta’s Place, where apparently many of the local big-wigs often went to do a late-night little slumming and sometimes found themselves in conveniently unpublicized tangles with Johnny Law. Roughest of all was the biker-bar double whammy of cave-like East Sherman saloons Powder River and Lake City. I grew up in the neighborhood just north of these taverns, and my mother put the fear in me from an early age: don’t ride your bike anywhere near those places or you’ll be kidnapped and killed by the Hells Angels. To this day, I get slightly nervous when I drive by there even though the Lake City Saloon is long closed and the Powder River is now so proper you have to pay a quarter to the swear jar if you get caught cussing.
Obviously, I was too young to actually be in on the bar scene, but I never found myself with a shortage of places to hang out and absorb the glory of the 80’s era. The historic Wilma Theater was still operational, but it hadn’t been kept up well at all and to survive, they began showing second-run discount flicks and midnight movies. In fact, the last movie I remember seeing at the Wilma the very year it was shuttered forever was “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, our toast and toilet paper flying through an otherwise empty theater.
Everyone was way into roller disco, and Skate Plaza was home base during the first few years of the neon decade. I often wonder how deep the place impacted me; a practice run for the manic club scene I would bury myself in later in life with its social dramas, trippy lights and DJ worship. A few years later, I had graduated to an all-ages pizza-and-soda night club called Fad’s, located in the dilapidated building which had formerly housed the legendary Rathskellar. Then it was on to Hollywood Nights, another 16-and-over dance club that must have been the first place in town to play rap and hip-hop. I liked their “progressive night” where some unknown DJ unwittingly planted the seed for my lifetime love of underground club music. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the infamous “Sheep House”, which wasn’t actually a business, but someone’s home (no-one seemed to know whose), right off Sherman Ave., that was party central every weekend for a few years. How this continuous, booze-soaked keg party managed to fly under the friendly policeman’s radar for so long, I have no idea.
Certainly there was no shortage of places to sit for hours, drinking coffee and annoying the underpaid wait staff. My own favorite haunt was Frontier Pies on 5th and Sherman, a cobwebby wooden labyrinth where they had fresh Pike Street tea, incredible thick home fries with ranch dressing, and deep-fried scones I still long for twenty years later, served with butter, cinnamon and sugar. Another hangout was Jax, a family-style restaurant which was quite fine but became even better when Rustler’s Roost took over the place and created a social sub-culture all of its own.
Mainly, I just enjoyed hanging around downtown, poking through the shelves at the Bookseller, looking at comic books at Wilson’s Pharmacy, or watching folks ride by on the big red double-decker London bus. I was a record geek from an early age, and I spent many formulative years at Total Eclipse Record Shop, which had an amazing selection for such a small town and was home to Coeur d’Alene’s only “head shop”, a roped off area in the back with “18 and over” signs everywhere. Similarly, there was a curious, cluttered little shop named simply “Oriental Gifts” run a by a delightfully eccentric, chatty little lady who in addition to trading in Asian food, Oriental kitsch, and Duran Duran keychains, also sold various deadly weapons and smoking paraphernalia. She seemed to get away with it by labeling them as decorative items and playing dumb. She’d snap at customers, “Ah! No bong, flower vase!”
The latter part of the 80’s would see the Coeur d’Alene Resort rise phoenix-like from the depths of the lake to replace the old North Shore hotel. A year later, Silverwood Theme Park was hatched into existence out on the Rathdrum prairie. These two entities would serve as magnets drawing people to the area from near and far, gradually putting our town on the national tourist radar and transforming it into a world class destination. The empty downtown shops would soon fill up with Art Galleries and Boutiques and places like Pioneer Pies would be replaced by gourmet bistros and wine bars. Honestly, as much as I do approve of the overall upgrade, there are times when I still miss the personality and quirkiness of the downtown I grew up in during the 80’s, the likes of which we’ll never see again.