A tour of 1940s downtown Christmas
Friday, December 23, 2016 8:01 AM
All of the activity this year in Fort Wayne downtown reminds me of past Christmases in Fort Wayne in the 1940s and '50s. Although I no longer live in Fort Wayne, I do remember the wonderful Christmas season downtown.
My memory wouldn’t be complete without remembering the transit system. At that time Ft. Wayne had a system of tracks on city streets with ‘streetcars’ that rode on these tracks. Later on, trolley buses replaced the streetcars but the service was just as reliable. The street cars made it possible to ride anywhere inside of Ft. Wayne. Service was excellent and the ride costs seven cents in tokens. So here is a seven cent tour of downtown Fort Wayne in the late '40s, as my 88-year-old memory remembers it.
On this particular Christmas season I boarded a number four streetcar at Broadway and Taylor street. It was a cold evening and the electric heaters under the wicker seats were radiating heat which was very welcome. The electrical whine of the street car as it glided over the rails north on Broadway, then east on Main street, was soothing. The ride was short and on time as I arrived at the Transfer Corner, as it was called, Main and Calhoun street.
I pulled the buzzer cord to let the operator know that I wanted off; he obliged me and I stepped off into the Christmas atmosphere of downtown Fort Wayne. The sound of Christmas carols from the speakers atop the Lincoln bank tower was a good match combined with the whisper of falling snow and set the tone for the shoppers. After a moment's pause of listening and watching, I decided to make my way south on Calhoun street, taking in the Christmas sights as I went.
I walked past Coney Island, (with the steamed windows and that delightful hot dog smell), glanced across the street at Riegels, and continued around the corner past Neisners, Kresges, and Woolworth dime stores. One of the stores had an entrance on both Calhoun Street and Main, but I don't remember which.
At Berry and Calhoun I looked at the display in the window of the Boston Store and threw some pennies into the ‘Penny Pitch’ barrel of WOWO’s annual fundraiser. One of the celebrities of the “50,000 Watt Voice of Farming,” Bob Seivers, wasn't there.
I didn’t visit the Western Auto store or Sears on Berry street as I wanted to stay on Calhoun street. At that time, there were so many stores in downtown Fort Wayne, it was impossible to visit them all in the time that I had.
Continuing south, I noted the tasteful display in Kay’s jewelry store and looked across the street for the correct time on the four faced clock outside of the bank.
Ahead was the arch over the intersection of Wayne and Calhoun street with a huge Christmas tree dominating the top of the arch. I crossed over to the Grand Leader, the ‘other’ department store and walked inside. I confess I did that mainly to watch the tangle of pneumatic tubes guiding their cash carrying capsules to the 4th floor. Only Grand Leader had this system and it was fun to watch, especially during this busy Christmas season. Technology at its finest...then.
The walking and the watching has made me hungry so I cross the street once more and enter Murphy's store where I ordered and ate one of their pork barbecue sandwiches. Although Murphy’s was noted for their donuts, the pork barbecue sandwich was just as good.
Leaving Murphy’s by way of the Wayne street side, I looked to the left and was taken in by the bright display of the marquee of the Paramount movie theater. The Paramount then was just one of the downtown theaters. The others included the Riley, Jefferson, Palace, the Capitol, and of course, the Emboyd. I had a special thought for the Emboyd as it was opened in April, 1928, the same year and month of my birth. It was called the Emboyd and named after Emma Boyd, a wife of one of the owners. Today it’s called the Embassy and due to the hard work of volunteers, is the crown jewel of art deco and the only remaining original movie theater in downtown Ft. Wayne. It has become the shining star in downtown Ft. Wayne.
Back to the '40s. Continuing walking I’m headed for THE department store and one that is noted for its Christmas displays. Wolf and Dessauer, noted fondly then as W&D. I ease my way through the crowd surrounding the display windows and am gratified to see yet another grand effort to put Wee Willie WanD on animated display celebrating the Christmas spirit. These displays attracted large crowds every season. As I walk around to the Washington street side I am illuminated brightly by the huge incandescent sign of Santa and his reindeer driving his sleigh down the wrong direction on one way Washington street. To get a better look, I cross the street stopping under the neon animated sign of the men's store known as Two Legs. I am temporarily distracted by the view of a neon walking pants but then I again look at the wonder of the amazing collection of colored lights that has made W&D famous.
I have almost forgotten. Since I was always fascinated by Lionel trains, I cross back over Washington street and enter W&D’s I enter this sublevel room and watch the largest dynamic display of Lionel trains that I’ve ever seen. Many models of trains, all running on long and complicated displays of track, switches, and crossings.
I could watch for hours but I must leave.
My tour is complete. I could stop at Morris’s malt shop, just a left turn and half a block down Calhoun Street, for a delicious malted milk but I need to catch a street car back home.
Here comes a number 11 Beltline streetcar that will take me back to Broadway and Taylor street and I board it as the organ sound of “Silent Night” from the Lincoln Tower fades out. Once again, I'm indulging in the generous heat from under the seat of the soon to be obsolete street car. The shushing of the snow is now intermixed with a freezing rain. The night is lit up by the occasional blue arcing of the trolley burning the ice from the overhead power line. However, a relaxing and comforting ride after a night on the “Christmas town.”
A past downtown Fort Wayne Christmas revisited. Good memories.
Wayne A. Doenges is a resident of New Haven.