Monday, January 27, 2014

Chicago's "Big Snow", January 1967

One of the most storied events in Chicagoland history took place 47 years ago this week. From early morning on January 26, 1967 through about 10am the following day, 23 inches of snow fell, and a city that had long prided itself on an ability to push through harsh winters was brought to a standstill. There have been other record-setting snowstorms in Chicago in the years since – in 1979, 2011, and whenever I’m trying to fly out of Midway Airport in January, but when one hears the phrase “Chicago’s Big Snow”, 1967 is what’s being referred to.

This amazing set of photos comes to us courtesy of Susanne Peters, and depicts scenes of various retail locations in the near-north suburb of Skokie, on a bright sunny day in the aftermath of the Big Snow.

First up is the Turnstyle-Jewel Family Center on Skokie Boulevard, where a dump truck is being loaded with snow. Opened in early 1963, this Turnstyle was the second location opened by Jewel Tea Company after completing its acquisition of Turnstyle (a Boston-based chain of discount stores) the previous year. Jewel had opened up a Racine, Wisconsin location in 1962, and another Turnstyle Family Center at the corner Harlem and Foster opened around the same time as the Skokie store. 

In my years of enthusiastic perusal of vintage supermarket photographs, I had yet to see one where the store’s facade was finished in bathroom tile. But here it is – The National Food Store at the corner of Niles Center Road and Skokie Boulevard. Originally opened as a Sure Save Food Mart, the store, along with 10 other units, came under National Tea Company ownership in 1961. It retained the Sure Save name for some years afterward, but by 1967 had been rebranded as a National.

This one would be of primary interest to those who grew up in the area, but it’s a nice shot. I sure would have hated to be the one to clean those store floors after all that snow and slush was tracked in!

Here’s a neat view of Dempster Street, showing among other things a combined Firestone Tire dealership/Mobil gas station. To this day, the “Complete Car Service” signage can be seen on some older Firestone stores. The Mobil portion sports their “transitional” signage – the 1966 logo (which caused quite a stir in design circles and is still used today) contained within 1950’s-style Mobil sign frames. In the distance is an Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen, one of a long-gone chain of family restaurants based on the pancake icon.  (I’ve been waiting my entire life to use the phrase “pancake icon”. A dream realized, this is.) There weren’t a lot of Aunt Jemima’s Kitchens, but they had a fairly widespread geographic distribution, as can be seen here.

Another shot of the Firestone dealer, with a “1967 License Plates Installed Free” sign in the window. Illinois issued new plates every year until 1979, the end of a tradition I’d enjoyed every year as a kid – the anticipatory “what color will the plates be this year?” game. Yes, friends, I lived an exciting life in those days. 

And what snow-trudging shopping trip would be complete without a trip to the Golden Arches? Unfazed by the snow, “Speedee”, McDonald’s early-years mascot, beckons all to partake of the chain’s legendary 15-cent hamburgers. (In your car, of course. Indoor seating was still a couple of years away.) 1967, in fact, was the last year of the 15 cent hamburger price, as after much gnashing of teeth, McDonald’s raised it to 18 cents apiece that year. Many of these signs were then modified to replace the “15c” panel with one saying “Coast to Coast”. By the early 70’s, most McDonald’s stores of this type were torn down and replaced altogether with indoor-seating restaurants and modern signs. 

A Wanzer’s truck sits in front of the McDonald’s. Wanzer (“Wanzer on milk is like sterling on silver”), a large Chicago-area dairy, was purchased two years later, in 1969, by The Southland Corporation, the Dallas-based parent of the 7-Eleven stores. Immediately it became the house milk brand for “The Sev” in the Chicago area, and my folks bought a good many gallons of milk there.

Well, once again I’d like to thank Susanne for letting me show you these great pictures. And wherever you live, I hope it’s “just a dusting” this week!