Downtown Hammond in the 1950s....

 

"Downtown Hammond was a vibrant, happy place with a wide variety of stores. Customers and store clerks engaged in friendly conversations as items were purchased. People were not in a hurry, because they were enjoying the shopping experience. There was a spirit of optimism among the people who worked and shopped downtown. Going downtown was an uplifting experience.

Downtown was big enough, and downtown was small enough. It was big enough to have a fine array of stores and many things to do, but it was small enough that one could feel comfortable there. Downtown was clean, and downtown was safe. It was a place that all were proud of....
 

 

Without question, the very heart of downtown Hammond was the intersection of Hohman Avenue and Sibley Street. On the northwest corner of this intersection was Walgreen’s, with the Parthenon Theatre in the adjacent building on the north side of it. On the southwest corner and running the entire length of the west side of the 5200 block of Hohman was the Goldblatt’s store. Across the street from Goldblatt’s were FW Woolworth, Schiff Shoes, Rothschild’s, and Jack Fox and Sons. The northeast corner of Hohman and Sibley was home to the Penny’s store.

The 400 block of State Street, the home of Minas’, was probably equally as prestigious as the 5200 block of Hohman. Minas’ was the flagship establishment of that block, but there were other large stores as well.

There were two theatres downtown, the Paramount and the Parthenon. Walgreen’s and Woolworth’s had lunch counters that served burgers, fries and fountain drinks. Downtown was much more than just a place to shop: it was a place where friends met to have lunch, or to take in a movie, or to just “hang out.”

It was a pleasant place to just walk around and “window shop,” especially during the Christmas season, when all the city streets were adorned with decorations, and the store windows were alive with displays depicting scenes of the season. Some displays at Goldblatt’s were even animated. It was so easy to feel the Christmas spirit when you walked around downtown Hammond, taking in all the decorations and displays with your breath steaming and your cheeks turned a rosy red from the crisp winter air. The sounds of Christmas music and the ringing of the Salvation Army Santa Claus’s bell filled the air, and all around you were happy, smiling people doing their Christmas shopping.

Downtown was a place where the teenagers cruised slowly in their cars with their windows rolled down on summer nights. The girls walking along the sidewalks would pretend to be offended when the boys in the passing cars whistled and whooped at them.

During business hours, scores of people walked the busy sidewalks. There was something downtown for everyone, and you could see people of all ages stepping proudly along the sidewalks in front of the stores. The people walking through the downtown area were happy people.

The stores stayed open until 9:00 PM on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays. They closed at 5:00 PM the other nights, and, of course, the stores were closed on Sundays. The Parthenon Theatre kept different hours than did the stores, as one would expect, and showed a late movie beginning at 9:00 PM each night.

The downtown stores were wonderlands, with aisle after aisle of merchandise attractively displayed. Friendly and knowledgeable clerks helped the customers with their selections. The toy departments were fantasylands and were almost too much for a little boy to handle.

Shopping was a personal thing back in the fifties and the sixties, the glory days of Downtown that I recall.

As you walked through the revolving door at Minas’s, you would be greeted with a friendly, genuine smile from the nearest Minas employee. In the summertime, passing through that revolving door would be like going through the Pearly Gates. You had immediate relief from the sweltering heat of the street, and in the soothing, cool air of the store was a heavenly scent that defied description. What was the source of those wonderful scents that wafted through the ancient department stores in those days?

The Minas store had an elevator with an operator to get you to the floor of your choice. The operator wore white gloves and always had a warm smile for you. She would always be polite and professional in her demeanor. You always felt that you were appreciated as a customer at the Edward C. Minas Store.

Minas’s carried quality merchandise and offered it at a fair price. You could find items cheaper at other stores, but you would be compromising on quality by buying them instead of the Minas merchandise.

Whereas today we seem to shun personal contact when we buy things, even to the point of shopping on the Internet, back in the days when downtown Hammond flourished, people enjoyed the experience of interacting with the store clerks, the elevator operators, and even the parking lot attendants.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, even parking your car would often involve human contact, depending on where you parked. Most places charged a reasonable fee for parking and had parking lot attendants to take in the money. Many people knew my dad because of his work as the superintendent of the parking garage and of the outdoor parking lot for the Edward C. Minas Company. Dad took his turns in the booths at the garage, and he met thousands of people as he collected their parking fees. Like the other Minas employees, Dad had a smile for the customer and always had time to chat a little. Customers were made to feel very special at Minas’s: they were truly appreciated by all of the store’s employees.

Today we are only interested in buying things quickly, easily, and at the lowest possible price. We live in a Wal-Mart world. No wonder downtown Hammond died.

My trip downtown on July 20, 2005, was one of the saddest experiences in my fifty-six years of life. The mighty and noble Goldblatt’s building is gone. The Walgreen’s building and the Parthenon Theatre next to it are both gone. The cherished Minas store is gone. The buildings that remain are only partially occupied, with many of the windows covered over. It seemed that at any moment I would begin to hear the whistling of the wind and the banging of shutters, while tumbleweeds scurried down the empty streets, as in the movie scenes of old western ghost towns. There is no more retailing in downtown Hammond. There are no more customers, no more clerks, and only an occasional pedestrian walking the once bustling streets.

None of us ever dreamed that downtown Hammond would become the desolate, forlorn place that it is now. We loved our downtown, and we thought there would be no end to its glory.

Some say that the traffic congestion due to the many railroad crossings and heavy train traffic is what killed downtown Hammond. People were tired of being caught by slow moving trains, they reason. Others say that the decline in the steel industry and the subsequent layoffs spelled the death of downtown Hammond. The opening of shopping malls in the outlying areas drew the customers away from downtown. Whatever their reasons, the shoppers preferred to shop in those malls rather than to go downtown, and so, downtown Hammond died.

I hope that this brief story about my beloved downtown Hammond will make people realize what a wonderful place it was. Maybe in some way it will help us to hold dearly to things that we cherish and not be so quick to leave them behind. Our society is becoming more and more impersonal. The human interaction that was so much a part of life in downtown Hammond is all too rare these days.

Tom Johnson
HHS '67

   

Our thanks to Tom Johnson for sharing his memories of growing up in Hammond, Indiana during the 50's and 60's...

 

 

 


 

  Hohman - 1940s   Hohman - 1950s   Hohman - 1960s  

These images and the web pages are maintained by Richard Barnes, HHS'59.

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