December 17, 2009

Downtown at Christmas, then and now...

Main Street at Christmas during the 1950s...

Maybe it's the energy crisis, or perhaps a trend toward minimalism, but we were intrigued by two pictures showing Downtown in its Christmas finery half a century ago.

The two photos from the late 1950s show Main and Sixth Streets dressed with garlands, bells and stars. The pictures were sent to us by Gerald Karwowski from the Oak Clearing Farm Collection. Karwowski says the photographer chose a quiet time to take the pictures, possibly a Sunday night.

We thought it would be interesting to compare the streets' appearance then to the present -- although, of course, the comparison is unfair.First, the city's big and beautiful Christmas tree is out of the frame, in a different part of Monument Square, Second, we took our pictures Wednesday night, about 10 p.m. Most importantly, says Karwowski, "During December in the 1950s the streets of Downtown swelled with thousands of people out Christmas shopping." And why not? "At the time, J.C. Penney, Sears, Racine Dry Goods, Zahn's, Thrifty Sandy's and Mohr-Jones were all anchor stores. Elmwood Plaza had just opened and the mall was still a dream."

Karwowski also has fond memories of Sixth Street. On the corner of Sixth and Monument Square, was Fanny Farmers -- "Their fudge was the best in town." That corner is now occupied by Payday Loans. 'Nuff said.

Main Street, today.

Sixth Street, then...

Sixth Street, today.

52 comments:

  1. I love those old pics! This is sweet! Thanks!

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  2. In many ways it just feels like we're standing still.

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  3. I will go to my grave thinking whoever eliminated those wonderful theaters downtown were crazy. Anyone who had the experience of being inside either of them would understand why. They certainly don't make them that way any more.

    It was good to see the marquee of them both again.

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  4. Born in the late 50's I remember the garlands over the streets were in place into the 60's, also we needed to see those lights downtown right after they would be put up, the high winds I remember would break them apart and would just be hanging down broken. Glad that you put these pictures up to see in fact I was just thinking about how it was downtown as pictured watching wonderful life the other night.

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  5. I wish they still did the garland over the streets.

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  6. In a way it's sad......the place looked way better in the 50's! Wow!

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  7. Downtown looked WAY better back then compared to today!!! Sad.

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  8. Ha Ha you guys! I was there and 12 years old. It was GREAT. All the stores AND the movie theaters. The three dime stores in a row, one with an upstairs, one just on one floor and one with a basement. The buses ran..red line, blue line, green line. Why is it everyone (me included) remember those days as the best. I worked in the dime store with the basement in the toy department. I also worked at Zahns in gift-wrap.

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  9. It did look better. I hate to say it but the Johnson building is an eyesore.

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  10. Whomever took the modern day pics did an awesome job replicating the shot and putting in black and white. Thanks for the effort....great way to look back for some perspective.

    Thanks, Pete! Great story

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  11. I agree the Johnson Building is an eyesore. Im hoping for a fire to take it down someday.

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  12. 11:29 (the arsonist)
    The Johnson building is not too much different than what was there in the earlier pictures. Your hatred sounds a little biased.

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  13. L8ManChecker12/18/2009 8:19 AM

    Pete - Nice Work, man!

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  14. The Movie "Task Force" as shown on the Rialto Marquee was release in 1949. Unfortuately, the last woek in the first movie is clipped off and so it is impossible to tell exactly what is was although "The fighting Kentuckian" with John Wayne was also release in 1949. The picture was probably 1950.
    I used to take the Green Line to downtown for 7 cents.

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  15. The garlands over the street is a fond memory of my childhood at Christmastime. Thanks for the pics.

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  16. Great trip down memory lane. Now if you can find a photo of the moving Santa window at Goldblats I will be thrilled. There was also a hut in Monument Square with a Santa inside. He was hard of hearing so when I asked him for an Electric Theatre he thought I wanted an Electric Heater! Man, I'll never forget that Christmas wondering what I was going to really get. Thanks

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  17. The Translator12/18/2009 9:40 AM

    That's when Christmas was Christmas, not this happy holidays, pc BS, peace pyramid crap. Those were the days.

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  18. 11:29 - This sounds like a threat to me. Be careful the police may make a visit to your house like they did Mr. Angry's. I think the downtown looked great then and now.

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  19. The Venetian theater was a jewel. The Rialto was a dump. It took them much longer to dismantle the Venetian than they anticipated because of the quality of the building. I remember them offering free seats from the theater for the taking.

    The Venetian today would easily compete with the Oriental in Milwaukee or any other landmark theater. It was torn down by elected city officials who decided that they knew best how to deal with the real estate market in Racine. That lot sat empty for years. So they decided to tear down the Racine Motor Inn (old Hotel Racine), too. Then it sat empty even longer.

    Just like they tore down half of State Street.

    Just like they tore down the buildings in West Racine.

    Just like the empty lots all over Racine.

    Just like our elected officials today continue to speculate in real estate with our money.

    Party on, lying John.

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  20. Orbs- Many of the buidings deserved to be torn down, but I was very disappointed when the two theatres went. By the way the Racine Motor Inn turned into a dump. It was neglected by the owners.

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  21. I was born in 79 so I nevver saw or went to those theatres but they did look pretty nice. I agree with orbs and gotta wonder about the GREEN LINE.

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  22. This was before my time.....where did people park for the movie theaters?

    If someone put one up today I think parking would be a big obstacle.

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  23. I took the White line.

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  24. Back in the day, people took the bus downtown. Of course, that was when the bus terminal was downtown instead of next to some train tracks that only carry freight. We did a lot better on mass transportation before our elected officials got involved in real estate speculation. Back then, a principle known as the "free market" ran things. Some of us dinosaurs still have vestigial memories of that...

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  25. I'm glad they moved the buses from downtown. It has improved the sthetics immensely in addtion to improving traffic flow and cutting down on polution in the downtown area.

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  26. And, most importantly, it keeps those gritty "bus people" out of downtown.

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  27. Orbs - you should be ashamed of yourself for calling bus riders gritty!

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  28. beautiful photos... and a great reminder of the proud city this once was.. and can again be... let's do it.

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  29. Don't say free market here. It just gets somebody cranked up.

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  30. I hope the ChiComs restore Racine.

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  31. Hey Aunt Judy you wanna take the white line and go see Task Force wit Gary Cooper over by dare ?

    Christmas 49, the war was over ?

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  32. We used to live about a mile and a half from downtown and my brothers and I always walked to everything. I don't remember taking the bus, but I do remember walking. I too remember going to see Santa on Monument square.

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  33. I loved the candy counter on the second floor in Penney's - used to be able to buy 25 cents worth of chocolate covered peanuts. We took the bus downtown every Saturday. Fond memories - thanks for the pix!

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  34. Concerned Citizen12/18/2009 4:48 PM

    Anon 11:40 -

    Orbs is simply speaking the truth you douche!!!!

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  35. I got the bus at State St and Spring. Sometimes it was late and we would start to walk...all the way down State St. No problems! More $$ for candy at the theater. I would walk down Forest Stto Lincoln Park, through it and through the golf course to Washington Park pool where I learned to swim. We walked everywhere. Also from State/Spring to the quarry to swim. The little babies can't walk to the corner store now-a-days. Of course we have all those pervs out there now.

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  36. create the community you want to live in.

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  37. The community we want to live in all moved out to the suburbs. Now we're left with the ghetto. Free enterprise exists in the suburbs, that's why all the people are gone, and anything good that used to exist in Racine.

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  38. Concerned Citizen

    I ride the bus and i am not gritty. And why the name calling? A true sign of ignorance.

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  39. I don't ride the bus and I'm gritty.

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  40. 4:35 Well according to Orbs - then there are you and the bus riders that are gritty.

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  41. Can I still go downtown if I am gritty?

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  42. 9:11 - You'll have to get Orbs Ok!

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  43. Pete - you're the man! Great work on the photos.

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  44. I loved old downtown Racine. After all, I was a teen who enjoyed the "scoop the loop" traffic and the shopping. But remember then, the lakefront was the end of the world, disregarded and neglected. Now it is beautiful and a recreational destination for residents and tourists. We've lost the theaters but we've gained a lakefront. Isn't that progress?gressed

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  45. Like a few others I was there in the 50's downtown was special at Christmas. Not only the decorations on the streets but in all the stores.Shopping with my parents and going to a movie, some of the best popcorn I ever had. The problem, our downtown has gone the same direction of so many others even the towns who tried malls in the city did not do well, example downtown Milwaukee. I remain optimistic for the future and concerned at the sametime. GREAT pics thank-you for the walk down memory lane.

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  46. WHEN I WAS 16 I WAS AN USHER AT THE OLD BADGER THEATRE. IT PAID 45 CENTS AND HOUR AND WE HAD TO WEAR THESE SUITS THAT LOOKED LIKE TUXEDOS. THE FRINGE BENEFITS WERE THE GIRLS THAT WE TOOK UP IN THE BALCONY AND MADE OUT WITH WHEN WE WERE OFF DUTY. THEN A FEW YEARS AFTER THAT I BOUGHT A CAR AND DID THE "SCOOP THE LOOP". GAS WAS 28 CENTS A GALLON THEN. GOOD TIMES!!

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  47. I got my 1st kiss and feel in those old theatres.

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  48. Free market smarket! That's what ruined many downtowns so big companies could place their wares on the outskirts of cities and people would go there to shop and see movies, stealing business from local businesses. There are no decent regulations for big companies. We have been bought and paid for. Wake up and smell the coffee.

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  49. chateaunoname from Colorado11/15/2013 9:11 AM

    Saturday morning cartoons, Junior Deputy sheriff meetings, just a few memories of the theaters. Hated to see them go. Restored, they would have been a draw to downtown.

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  50. I remember the dime stores and their lunch counters. They each had their own smell and Woolworths had big heavy dishes that made so much noise. I can still hear them. You could buy a bag full of candy for a quarter. We went to the movies for a Saturday matinee and stayed all day. We walked downtown from our house on Villa St and if it was raining we took the bus for a dime. What wonderful memories.

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  51. Loved the old style and pics. So festive.

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