Tuesday - March 22, 1994 – The News-Star
Tell it like it used to be
Longtime residents remember sweet days gone by
We all get a little sad when we think back to how things “used to be.”
Movies were better, ice cream was richer, shopping was more fun.
And we wish our favorite places would stay the same forever.
Unfortunately, many Monroe businesses have folded through the years, but the memories of those long-gone places live on.
The News-Star asked readers to write in or call us about the places they miss the most.
From those, we can gather that two of the most popular places were the fancy old Paramount Theater and the Palace department store, which boasted Monroe’s only elevator for years and years.
But there are plenty of other places that bring back memories – The Italian Village and Rendezvous restaurants, the Francis Hotel and the Toddle House and more.
Following are results, first of phone calls and then letters, from readers.
Sarah Yarbrough was a child when her parents ran the Toddle House on Louisville Avenue during the mid 1950s.
“It was a 12-stooled dining room,” Yarbrough said. “We could only serve 12 people at a time. We served homemade pies – chocolate cream, banana cream, apple and coconut custard.”
The boarded up, dilapidated building – once so spiffy with its cooper awning and blue-trimmed windows – was finally demolished a few years ago.
Speedy and Edith Price, who ran the Toddle House until 1957 (it closed down in the early ‘60s), also served, “hash brown potatoes that were chunky with paprika over them and always flipped eggs in the air,” Yarbrough said.
“Everything was fresh,” Yarbrough said. “Police officers always knew they had a place for a cup of coffee at night time. We were open 24 hours.
“Mama worked at night. Dad worked in the daytime. “
Betty Calhoun of Gilbert well remembers the night Monroe’s grand new hotel – the Francis Hotel – opened its nightclub at the top of the building. She and her husband, Lannie, were part of the entertainment that night.
“It had a tall wall around it, and whirls of beautiful shrubbery and flowers all over the wall,” she said. “The dance floor was wonderful. They had a wonderful band. You had to make reservations. The ladies wore beautiful evening gowns. It was very highbrow.”
Betty had played piano at Nashville radio station WSM, where she met her future husband, a singer, who from Gilbert.
Together, they performed live on a Monroe radio station several times, and were invited to entertain at the Francis nightclub while the big band took breaks.
“We went on three different times through the night,” she said. They’d roll the piano out and put the spotlight on it. He’s start out with something slow –he had a voice like Gene Autry. And maybe the second time it’d be something jukey.
“Then they’d push the piano off,” she said. “We did it about a month on Saturday nights only.”
“The club was really very swank.”
Going to the movies has always been an exciting adventure to me. The enveloping, cool darkness of the theater mixes with the exciting anticipation of being transported along as an active participant in the magical world of Hollywood.
However, the ambience of today’s movie houses couldn’t compare to the mystique of the Paramount movie theater that was located in downtown Monroe. Torn down in the 1970s, it had been the meeting place of twin city residents for 49 years.
It was fashioned after the great opera houses of Europe. Its tattered elegance had long been ignored when I started going there.
I always felt a great desire to go exploring. Many times, I did.
A large balcony extended across the back of the room with a wife double staircase in the center. Down each side were upper and lower boxed seats. Grimy fingerprints and peeling pain covered the delicate ornate wood trim that edged the balcony and boxed seats. Crimson velvet curtains covered the stage and were always drawn to reveal a huge white screen just before the movie started.
Partitioned off at the foot of the stage was a deep, dark orchestra’s pit, along with a small corral built for a pipe organ.
Tiny lights lined the aisles to that people wouldn’t trip, although they really weren’t bright enough to be of much help. The upper level of boxed seats was closed off, but the lower level was accessible. These alcoves were empty, now. The old seats had been torn out. They were partitioned off by old, dingy, pale green curtains that held a moldy smell.
Yes, it was worn; it was tattered, old and stained. But it had the beauty of a grand old lady that had seen finer days. It had a flirty mystique that to this day makes me wish I cold go back for a visit.
I most miss the stores where I used to window shop during my lunch hour from Steam Laundry where I worked from 1948-1952.
As a newlywed, I was able to compare prices and make purchases within my limited budget. Since I didn’t have a care, the walk during lunch gave me exercise. I would stop by a small cafeteria (Hemphill’s or Hemmingway’s) by the old Charlie’s Café on South Grand for some of their famous Irish Stew or roast beef sandwich and music from the jukebox at your table.
The Palace, Paramount Theater, Boudaux (Bodan’s) Drug Store, Morgan & Lindsey’s, F. T. Woolworth, Grant’s Lerners and several more nice jewelry stores no longer around were frequent stops on my lunch hour downtown. I firmly believe the convenience of parking in the shopping centers was what killed our beautiful downtown district. It’s too bad someone like Donald Trump with untold funds and an open mind didn’t come along and turn downtown into a giant shopping mall by connecting everything with a covered walk.
I was married in 1949 and have seen many changes take place in Monroe, but the downtown area should have been preserved, for what we once had was unique. I attended Ouachita Parish High School and my husband attended St. Matthew’s School. My two sons and I delivered papers for The News-Star-World from 1967-88. I have been very aware of the constant changes taking place all over Monroe.
I would like to see someone take charge of the buildings on South Grand Street next to the river. The Bicycle Shop was a favorite spot when my children were growing up.
I didn’t intend to make this so long, but I tend to get nostalgic when I reminisce about the “good ol’ days.” Thank you for asking opinions of your readers.
Mrs. Joseph R. (Mary) Massart
Some of my favorite places in Monroe which are long gone:
1) The Palace department store, which always carried lovely clothes and other things. They also were never too busy to help you find just what you wanted, and it was never a madhouse like at the mall. I cried when it closed.
2) Along the same line, don’t forget Silverstein’s. Mr. Silverstein himself even went under his counter to get me a pair of hose to wear to church when nobody else in Monroe would. He told me to get a couple of pairs, but I said, “No, I only want one pair for church.” (We had to wear socks to school during World Ware II.)
3) Then there was Fink the Tailor, who made me a beautiful coat from some Scottish tweed that my husband sent from Scotland. I still wear it sometimes.
4) Of course my husband enjoyed the semi-pro baseball, and I believe even one of two of our Rocky Branch boys played there.
5) The Paramount Theater was so much more than these modern-day “hole-in-the-wall” theaters in the mall. There were many beautiful shows and other programs there.
Nothing will ever seem the same since downtown is gone. I still go there whenever possible, but it is sad to go now.
Delores G. Hollis
Fond memories of bygone days of downtown Monroe, you bet . . . I managed the Paramount and Delta Theaters in the middle ‘50s.
Of water running into both theatres whenever it rained hard, and putting out sand bags.
Of marquee that ran into the sky with 7 watt bulbs on both sides, and having to change them.
Of false fronts on the Paramount made from aluminum foil and merchants mad at me when the sun hit on them, and of contests held on the sidewalks of both theatres.
Of a new manager’s office in the Paramount that had just been made from the old men’s restroom.
And of “Tex” (Roper) with his cowboy hat and toy guns, getting all of our young patrons in line on the sidewalk on Saturday mornings. E. R. Edwards
My favorite was the Paramount Theater. When we were young that was the place to go on dates in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s before I joined the Air Force.
Before the performances, this big organ would rise out of the orchestra pit and Don Brittmoser would play the introductory. The lights would go on, the balconies were full.
When there was a vocal program, Guy Corley, a dapper sort of individual who was always dressed nice, would be the announcer.
The chandeliers were great. Tickets were around $25. When it was lighted up it was really something. It was our favorite place to go. They’d have the Randolph Hearse news reels. The big curtains would come up and down. For us it was quite a thing.
I remember Tom Mix, the cowboy, and his pony came once.
After I retired from the Air Force within the last 30 years, they tore it down. I managed to get by there while the contractor was there. I conned him out of two pieces of marble that was outside. I even made a coffee table out of it for my wife (Jean).
My wife and I, before we married, would eat at the Green Mill on Walnut Street. It was run by a couple of brothers, one named Vic, and it was just a booth and a few tables, just home cooking. It was reasonable; we could probably eat for $1 for the two of us.
As for shopping, I imagine the Palace Department Store was the nicest. My mother worked for the Palace for 21 years. The drugstore there that everyone went to was Walgreen’s.
And there were the Buckhorn and Midway bars right on DeSiard Street. You could always drop in and shoot pool, have a beer.
Monroe was a thriving place back then. Downtown DeSiard was crowded every evening, and especially on Sundays after Church.
I remember coming to Monroe from Union Parish on Saturday morning by a small bus line. This was in the ‘40s after World War II. Saturday was the only day the bus came to Monroe. It was a treat to come to town to shop, maybe eat lunch at Primos or Woolworth’s, both on DeSiard.
The Paramount had a good movie on Saturdays, too. It didn’t cost much to get in to the movie. Popcorn was cheap, too! What a treat for us with a limited amount of money.
In the late ‘50s, Bodan’s Rexall Drugs on DeSiard and Jackson was a good place for the young generation of school children to hang out for a cherry Coke or a cherry nectar. Cost: a big nickel. Mmmm, they were good.
The Palace was an elite place to shop. There were lots of other stores on DeSiard – Kress, W. T. Grant, Walgreen’s – which had one corner of what is now the 141 Building now – a hat shop. Field’s and many more. Central Bank only had one building, at the time on DeSiard Street. And there was Ouachita Bank.
Troy & Nichols was located on Harrison and Jackson, across from the Francis Hotel, which is now a senior citizen’s complex. I’m now a resident there.
In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, two of my children danced on the roof of the Francis Hotel, both having graduated from Ouachita Parish High School. It, too, at one time was on South Grand Street. Now it’s the Grand Plaza, another senior citizen complex.
Then there was Bond’s Bakery at Harrison and Catalpa. They had some luscious bakery goodies.
I also remember the A&W Root Beer Drive-In on Louisville in the ‘60s. It was a treat to get a good root beer float there.
Later, I remember getting a treat of some sort – Sunday, banana split – at the Seale Lily Ice Cream Parlor. This was in the late ‘60s. By that time I had grandchildren working there a few hours on weekends.
Have lots of good memories of living in Monroe in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s.
Mrs. Viola L. LaValle
I know what DeSiard Street and most all of Monroe looked like back in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. I tell my family that was the best years of my life. I was a teenager in 1940 and from there on there’s no telling how many times I had been all the way down DeSiard Street, almost to “five-points.” Ha! I didn’t go down there very many times.
My family lived in the country, starting in the early ‘40s. You know back then, Saturday was a big day for all of us and other farmers. People would get up early and go to town and stay all day. If you were going to buy groceries or anything you’d have to get it in on that day because there was no going into town until next Saturday. People enjoyed that day; you’d meet up with your friends and neighbors and everyone seemed so happy-go-lucky. No worries even though most of us lived in shacks in and around Cheniere, just a spot in the road now. We’d catch a ride to town or walk a few miles and get the bus that came to Cheniere from West Monroe.
A few times we came to town in a wagon. All roads were gravel then, but we didn’t care how we got there, just that we got there. We had to work in the fields and at home all week but Dad didn’t make us work on Saturdays. We scrubbed floors and raked yards that day or on Friday if we were going to town the next day. We dare not say do so and go on Sunday. Dad said that was the day to rest.
We never had money to spend but we started going to Monroe. Maybe we might have a nickel for a Coke but most times we went to look and pass the time. After our first trip to Monroe, we went over there every Saturday. When we got across the old traffic bridge, you hit DeSiard and that was town. People hurrying, scurrying and enjoying themselves I tell my family. I’d like to see DeSiard Street again, just like it was in my young days.
I guess at one time or anther I was in just about all the stores. I know of some of the places, about where they were, but I can’t think of the names, but here are some. Right after you got off the old bridge and hit Monroe, there was the old Western Union on the right and Lane Wilson Feed and Seed on the left. Mom and I went there a lot to see beautiful flowers and things they had. I remember the Palace. I had a cousin who worked in the shoe department there. Woman’s Shop, Franklin’s women’s clothing, J. C. Penney’s, Sears roebuck, Capitol Theater, Paramount Theater, Kress Department store, Woolworth’s Department Store, Butler’s Shoes, Baker’s Shoes (my cousin was a manager there and he still works for Baker’s in Chicago), New South Drugstore, Fields, The Style Shop (brought my wedding dress there), Peacock Jewelry, R&A jewelers, Gay Clothing. All those you mentioned in the paper, I knew where they were.
One little place I remember so well; I was 16, going to Ouachita Parish High School close to Howard Griffin “Land O Toys.” Every day at dinner I’d walk to town and go on DeSiard to a little Coney Island joint that sold what they called fast food now. Sometimes I’d just have a nickel and bought a Coke and did without lunch. Hamburgers and hot dogs were about 10 or 15 cents, but I wouldn’t have that, but I’d spend the our looking around in all the stores, then go back to school by 1 p.m.
When I was 18, the first and only job I ever had was in Morgan Lindsey’s 5 & 10 Cent Store. Made a little over $2 a day. Started regular right after Christmas and on Saturdays my pay envelope would have a little over $12 in it. Can you imagine that? That seemed a lot to me, because I never had money to spend. I know I’ve gotten carried away but I love remembering the good old days. It would be a joy to see Monroe once more, like it used to be. I spent lots of happy times there. Thanks for letting us oldies speak out!
Mrs., Eloise Simons
There were two businesses in Monroe that I really miss. The first was the Candy Kitchen in the 500 block of DeSiard Street. You could buy a big brown bag of scrap candy for 10 cents. The scrap was left after the candy was cut to size. You could also buy a triple scoop of ice cream for 5 cents, three different flavors if you chose.
Nickels and dimes were hard to come by, but Mr. Gus Kokinos never let a child leave crying because his parents couldn’t come up with the money.
The second business was in the 100 block of South Grand. It was a walk- or dance-a-thon. Couples would dance, walk or run, day and night, till there was only one couple left standing. They would be the winner. Every family had a couple they were pulling for, and would go back each night, if they could come up with the admission fee, to see if their favorites were still on the floor.
Thomas A. Semmes
I really miss the entire downtown area of Monroe, circa early 1960s. I could name t old businesses I miss the most.
My first choice would have to be Woolsworth Five-and-Dime. I can recall the old canvas awnings that were across the front of the building. There were many photos taken in the “instant” photo booth right inside the front door. You could get a strip of four black-and-white photos for a quarter, and it was always fun to see how many people we could get into that booth.
I can also recall the “cheap” cosmetic counter where you could buy lipstick, rouge, powder, cake mascara and many more neat items for less then $1. “Evening in Parish” cologne was very popular with the teen-age girls. The jewelry counter was always full of charm bracelets (I wish I had the Elvis charm bracelet!), birthstones rings, ID necklaces and strings of fake pearls.
I can also remember the candy counter where the candy and nuts were in glass bins, and you could buy an assortment of candy for as little as 10 cents a bag. The grill and soda fountain always had enticing aromas coming from it. They made the best hamburgers, fries and malts (the milk shakes and malts were made from scratch). A piece of homemade pie and a cherry coke were always delicious.
Woolsworth’s was a really great place to go. It had something for everyone. The new discount stores do not have the magic of the old five-and-dimes.
My second choice would be the old Walgreen’s Drug store, located at the bottom of the Bernhardt Building. He had our special booth in the fountain/grill. We even talked the “soda jerk” into concocting a fountain drink we called the “Suicide.” It was a combination of almost everything from the fountain.
Thank goodness for the “good old days” of downtown Monroe. They will always hold pleasant memories in our hearts. The new mall cannot bring back the magic of old downtown Monroe!
For many years I owned and operated the second largest demolition company in the Southeastern part of the United States.
Service Demolition Company did all the wrecking work in Monroe for almost 30 years.
Keller Bros. Bar, The Jewish Temple, The First Methodist Church, The old Post Office (and health center), Monroe Room and Board, Monroe Meat.
We took all of the insides out of the Virginia Hotel, the Francis Hotel and the Bernhardt Building.
There are stories associated with each of the above which are absolutely fascinating. You see, the wreckers uncover hidden things, things witch were hidden in walls, behind tubs, in floors. Things which those hiding them never expected to be seen again.
Behind a tub in the old Francis Hotel we found a whole sheaf of letters, 17 in all, which were written by a single woman in Fordice, Ark., to her married lover, named “Big Bob.”
Example: “Dear Darling Big Boy; I saw you this weekend when you were going to the store. Of course, you had your wife with you and I couldn’t speak to you. Oh, darling, I wanted to talk to you! Sweetheart, I love you and I miss you so much. When will you leave Louisiana and come home?”
The letters were written in 1927, but I refuse to let the names be known. The characters would be 70, 80 yeas old, but the names will never be revealed.
Old “Big Boy” had dug out the putty in a 4-inch long slot behind the tub, and pushed the letters in there after reading them.
We demolished the old First Baptist Church in Bastrop. In the attic we found an empty carton of Schlitz Beer bottles. While demolishing the church we found $3.32 in change.
We left there and demolished the old First Methodist church in Monroe. Under the platform which held the choir and pulpit, we found six empty ½ pint bottles of Gateway Whiskey. We also found a total of 18 cents.
So, the wonderful man who had pastured the First Methodist Church visited the site frequently. One day, with him and four or five other spectators, I told him this store.
“Pastor, we wrecked the First Baptist Church in Bastrop, and then this, the First Methodist Church in Monroe.” “We found out a lot about Methodists and Baptists.”
It simply goes to show that the Baptists arenot tight with their money, but the Methodists drink more expensive booze.
The story drew laughs from many people.
R. B. Martin