History, Photography

South Bend in the 1980s

I’ve written a lot about my hometown of South Bend this year. It’s because my parents have sold the house I grew up in and are retiring in Indianapolis, where both of their children and all of their grandchildren are. This is moving week! I’m excited to have them much closer by and am looking forward to things like weekend whole-family dinners.

But I’m feeling a sense of loss as well, because no more will I have a firm connection to my hometown. I left home almost 30 years ago, but it’s always been centering to know that Mom and Dad were still where I left them. I really could go back home.

I’m in Indianapolis because this is where the jobs in my industry are. But I love and miss my hometown.

And so when I scanned all of my old negatives recently, I felt wistful when I found a few photos that I took around town.

This first one is from the spring of 1985. I intended to shoot a whole roll of film of scenes of town, making a record of my hometown before I went off to college. But after I shot this one photograph I felt so self-conscious that I shot no more. I feel some compassion for my introverted 17-year-old self, but wish I had found the courage to complete my mission because wow would it be great to have those photos today. The one photo I took is of the building that housed the WSBT stations (TV, AM, and FM). WSBT moved to a huge new facility in neighboring Mishawaka several years ago.


I don’t remember now why I was in Howard Park that summer. But I was, and I had a thoroughly crappy camera with me. The park is on the river and gives this good view of the Jefferson Blvd. bridge.


I didn’t really appreciate that bridge then, but I do now, and I’ve photographed it several times in the past several years. Here’s a 2009 photo showing the restoration this beautiful four-span concrete-arch structure received in about 2001.


Also in 1985, I photographed the high school I attended. It was evening and the sun was beginning to set. I was just about to graduate.


This building no longer stands. A new Riley High School was built behind it in the late 1990s and this building was demolished. Tennis courts occupy this land today.


In 1988, I finally found some of that courage to walk around downtown with my camera. I shot about half a roll of film but wish I had shot five or six rolls. Here’s a shot of the river and downtown from just north of the Jefferson Blvd. bridge.


The East Race is a narrow downtown waterway that connects with the St. Joseph River on both ends. It was filled in during the 1960s, but was excavated and reopened as a recreational area in 1984. I rafted down it once, just after I graduated high school.


Here’s the scene from around the way a bit. You can still raft and kayak the East Race during summer weekends.


That day I walked onto the Colfax Ave. bridge and took four quick photos in series, capturing the river, the Century Center, and the Marriott Hotel. After digitizing them recently I combined them into a panorama in Photoshop Elements. Click it to see it larger.


I so very wish I had photographed all of the sites of my childhood back then. I’d love to have photographs of Miami Village, a strip near my home with banks and restaurants and a Burger Dairy Store and Brant’s five-and-dime with a gleaming stainless-steel soda fountain. I wish I had photographed Cira’s, a five-aisle grocery four blocks away from home where Mom sent me for milk when we ran out, and its neighbor across the street, Hans-Burkhart Pharmacy, where I used to buy film for my cameras.

Alas, these were mundane, everyday scenes. It never occurred to me that thirty years hence I would feel almost desperate for a connection with those places that made up the fabric of my young life.


16 thoughts on “South Bend in the 1980s

  1. Christopher Smith says:

    I enjoyed reading this, it often the mudane that we miss the most because it’s the mundane that makes us feel secure and comfortable.

  2. charles stump says:

    Good pictures. In 2009 i joined a group about growing up in my neighborhood. Im so glad to see all the photos people post because i didn’t take enough pictures myself. Now i have a digital camera and i always seem to take to many. Maybe years from now i will be glad i did.

    • Despite wishing I had photos from my childhood neighborhood, I still haven’t learned to take lots of photos of the mundane now! I assume that when I’m in my 70s I will wish to connect with my 40s.

  3. Mandy Kadar says:

    Really enjoying the stories from South Bend. Not sure how often we will get to see you up here now. :(

    • It’s definitely going to be less often, because visiting my parents was my #1 reason to come north. But perhaps I need to find new reasons.

  4. It is funny how I once often felt that the best things to take photos of are the things that were not in my ordinary life. Then as I got older the photos that I came to value the most were the ones of ordinary things.

  5. Hello. I was born and grew up in South Bend. I still come by during the summers to visit my parents who live in Mishawaka. As a kid in the 80’s I remember all kinds of things that were downtown, for example I remember when the Marriot Hotel was just starting to be built and the drugstore and other shops like Hallmarks being downtown and the older South Bend Library. I will admit I do like the direction South Bend is taking in these last 8 years.

    • I have those memories too! I remember the holes all over downtown, too, in the 70s. I miss some of old downtown, like the Osco Drug store and the Hallmark store. But I agree, the trend is positive.

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