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Images detail life along 95th Street in Oak Lawn over past century

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Rick Sorley recalled some special memories as he viewed the opening of “Hitting The Road: An Historic Trip Down 95th Street” photo exhibit Saturday at the Oak Lawn Library.

Sorley looked over the photos at the exhibit on the library's second floor accompanied by his son, Rick III.

“I grew up in Oak Lawn and there are a lot of memories here,” said Sorley. “I was telling my son about the Branding Iron Restaurant. My dad proposed to my mom there.”

The photo exhibit features photos from Oak Lawn's past along 95th Street dating back to when the community was called Black Oak. Photos include the original Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church from 1891. Other photos feature the first Oak Lawn Village Hall from 1918; the Harnew Service Station, 5250 W. 95th St., from about 1930; Behrend's Hardware Store at the northwest corner of 95th and Raymond Avenue in about 1912; Premo's Ice Cream from 1987; and the Branding Iron, 4200 W. 95th St., from 1960. The Branding Iron, once a popular restaurant in Oak Lawn, closed in 1988.

Included in the display is the entrance of Kiddyland at 95th Street and Pulaski in 1950; the Coral Theater near 95th and Cicero in 1984, shortly before it was demolished; and Christ Community Hospital, which opened in 1961.

The project took about 16 months to complete, said Kevin Korst, local history coordinator at the Oak Lawn Library.

“We had a lot of help and so many of them contributed so many photos,” said Korst, who has written one book on Oak Lawn's history and another on the 1967 tornado that ravaged the village. “It took about three weeks to actually put it together.”

Over 100 photos can be viewed at the exhibit, which includes a video. One older image included a photo of Wilhelm and Wilhelmina Brandt posing near their tavern 5137 W. 95th St. Wilhelm operated a blacksmith shop. The Brandts were members of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Korst said an interesting period in Oak Lawn history was the development of the annual Round-Up Day Parades down 95th Street that began in 1949. The first parade was a modest affair that included a few bicycles, a couple of cars and about six merchants on horseback. The parade was part of a three-day event that was held in September that grew dramatically in the 1950s.

The event and parade eventually drew vast media coverage at the time, including live broadcasts by WGN-TV.

“Jack Brickhouse was the master of ceremonies one year,” said Korst. “The parade was about six miles long and I believe even went into parts of Evergreen Park. This event drew thousands of people from everywhere every year.”

The two-hour parade at its height featured over 500 horses, floats, marching units, horses and buggies, covered wagons, high school bands and a drum and bugle corps. The first parade was allegedly a result of the Oak Lawn Chamber of Commerce delving into the village's past in which it was once referred to as “Horse Thieves Hollow.”

The Round-Up Days derived from those stories that Korst said was more legend then fact. The first parades were held in conjunction with National Safety Day. Since there were several riding stables just west of the village, it was decided that riders and their horses from these stables were to participate in the parade. The event became a source of community pride with local businesses contributing to the event.

In 1953, one published report referred to the Crippled Creek Gold Mine, in which residents would try their luck “panning” for gold. Spectators would dig for “nuggets” that contained a prize or merchandise donated by members of the Oak Lawn shopping district.

The parade became a victim of its own success, said Korst. A Golden Jubilee parade was held in 1959 to mark the village's 50th year. The Round-Up Day events went on hiatus but the parade was discontinued in 1960.

“It was just becoming too complicated,” said Korst. “It was amazing how many people would show up for the parade. It just got too expensive and too big. Just imagine that at this time a community of 10 to 15,000 people held a parade that drew as many as 10,000 people. We have had many parades since, of course. The Round-Up Days just ran its course.”

Korst said the exhibit will be up for a year. It will be replaced by an exhibit focusing on the 50th anniversary of the Oak Lawn tornado. Another display will be set up for the 1967 blizzard that also occurred in 1967.

“We are going through interviews, written and audio, and hundreds of photos,” said Korst. “We have a lot of work to do.”