Friday, August 6, 2010

The Blackhawk Restaurant

I've always thought that the strongest nostalgia is nostalgia for things we've never known. When I was born, in 1955, the era of the big band was all but over. I don't drink, smoke, and even though I feel quite comfortable riding my bike through L.A. traffic and standing on the edge of cliffs, I feel so rhythmically challenged, I've never dared to take up dancing. And yet, I've always felt that I've missed out on something in not being around when men and women dressed up and headed off for an evening at the local ball room. This is an interesting group of photos, each found in a Blackhawk Restaurant souvenir photo folder. The picture of the two ladies having dinner is dated "May 3, 1945," so we know that these picture were taken right as the second world war was ending. (Note that the woman on the right is in all three images.) The Blackhawk was in the loop, the business heart of Chicago, and since all three photos are of woman only, it presents two possibilities. These might have been housewives enjoying a weekly get together, or they might have been employed in downtown Chicago. The second photo of the four women has, "Best wishes, Earl Randall" hand written on the margin. It's the final image that really intrigued me. Propped up, in the middle of the table, in it's souvenir folder, the five women are displaying the second photo from this set. The Blackhawk Restaurant was founded by Otto Roth and first opened on December 27, 1920. In 1926, the Blackhawk added a dance floor and hired Carlton Coon-Joe Sanders and the Kansas City Nighthawks as a house band. In 1931, when Coon-Sanders moved on to other venues, a series of acts took up residence at the Blackhawk, including, Kay Kyser, Louis Prima , Mel Torme, and Bob Crosby and the Bobcats. (I've posted a photo of Kay Kyser on 6/8/10 and Bobcat drummer Ray Bauduc on 2/1/10) Big band broadcasts from the Blackhawk were featured on Chicago radio station WGN, and nationwide on the Mutual. There was a telegraph key at the restaurant so that radio listeners could make song requests. In 1944, on the death of his father, Don Roth took over the Blackhawk. In 1952, with a decline in popularity of big band music, he removed the band stand and dance floor, and made "Food the show." Prime rib was hand carved at the diner's table, while other waiters hand made salads in a spinning bowl. The Blackhawk closed in 1984, though a second Blackhawk Restaurant, in Chicago suburb, Wheeling, IL., which had opened in 1969 remained in business until December 31, 2009. In my research I found a postcard from the 1930's that was captioned, "The Blackhawk, the most famous theatre restaurant in the world." As always, more souvenir photo folders can be seen by clicking on night club in the labels section.

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