August 1, 2008

First Friday: Downtown was jumping!

Monument Square was packed, as Mean Jake rocked!

First Fridays are supposed to be about the shopping -- the galleries and stores are open late and Downtown restaurants and bars are packed. But for me, it's usually about the music, the joy of seeing the streets jammed with people (like Cape Cod used to be), Monument Square absolutely packed, kids dancing, friends socializing.

This month's First Friday was all that -- and much more. Tons of people, great music in more than half a dozen places, cash registers ringing, exhibits at both RAM and the Racine Heritage Museum ... and some amazing old cars and even a doggie benefit.

Below, some images and explanations...

Cheryl McCrary and her band on Sixth Street...

Musicians in Training on Main Street...

Husband and wife, Jill Jensen and Jack Grassel on Sixth...

Paul Kaye on Sixth ...

Eric Nelson's 1935 Nash (note its 1935 license plate, too)

And then there were the cars! The Nash/American Motors Car Club displayed a dozen cars in the parking lot of Jeff Leavell's law firm on Main Street -- beautiful cars, many from a forgotten era when people didn't mind that their cars got less than 13 miles to the gallon.

Two of the oldest, a 1935 and a 1938, were from the collection of Eric Nelson of Pleasant Prairie, who actually worked at the Nash factory in Kenosha, from 1952 to 1954. He left, he said, because Nash was going through hard times, during the "Korean situation," and its cars weren't selling very well. "I was underemployed with them, and I finally said, 'Enough.' I went into the wonderful world of plumbing."

Eric is retired now -- he's nearing 75 -- but he still collects old Nash's. One of the newer ones on display Friday was a 1954 model owned by Tom Creece of Racine. He bought it from Eric three years ago, but its provenance goes farther back than that: Eric actually helped make the car.

Creece was a fount of information about Nash: The company started out in 1902 as the Thomas B Jeffery bicycle company, but later built cars after buying the old Simmons Mattress Factory in Kenosha. It was purchased by Charles W. Nash in 1917, who changed its name to Nash Motors... until 40 years later merging with Hudson to become American Motors. Eventually, in 1957, the Nash marque was dropped, when its sales were far outstripped by AMC's Rambler. Creece guessed that Nelson's gorgeous '35, above, is worth about $30,000.

More information on the cars can be found at the Nash Car Club website.

And then there was one sad note on Main Street -- this sign in the window of The Yellow Rose. We've already reported on the restaurant's closure at the end of June, but hated to see that it's really true and permanent.

We picked up another bit of news last night: 716 Fine Art, an art gallery and performance space that located on the corner of Main and 4th Street last fall, having moved here from Kenosha, is moving again.

But not very far: just down the block, next to Dover Flag and Map, in the space vacated by Silents Please. Although the space will be somewhat smaller, gallery owner David Geisler promises to continue both his art shows -- perhaps limiting them to two artists at a time -- and the gallery's musical performances. And he promises the new gallery, which he is just starting to renovate, will be as nice as his present one. He hopes to be open in the new space by the next First Friday, in September. Until then, the existing 716 will remain open.

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