On September 15, 2007, one of my oldest friends and I went in search of the original alignments of US 31 in Indiana from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site back then, but am now bringing those articles over to this blog.
We spent a lot of time in South Bend on this trip because it is our hometown. I covered the north side of South Bend here and downtown here. On the south side, southbound Old US 31 followed Main Street (covered here), and northbound followed Michigan Street. This post covers the northbound route.
Heading north from Chippewa Ave., after passing a large church and some empty storefronts, Michigan St. and its surrounding area becomes predominantly residential. This map shows the many houses along the route.
The South Bend Motel stands at the corner of Klinger St., advertising its clean rooms.
Its leaning neon sign lights up every night. (I made this image on a 2009 visit.)
I stopped a few blocks north at Woodside St. for a photo of the road and its three wide lanes. And now please take a walk down memory lane with me, as my childhood home is four blocks east of here. These are part of my old stomping grounds.
The street sign in the photo says “Woodside Av.” The old embossed street signs all said “E Woodside St” until the city replaced them all several years ago. Inexplicably, narrow Woodside became an avenue in the process.
This grocery store was called Cira’s in my day. It had maybe seven aisles. The prices were higher than the chain supermarkets, but the meat counter was well respected. Its primary advantage to my family was that it was close enough by that Mom could send me for milk if needed. The bars across the windows are a recent addition, and it saddens me to think that a business in my old neighborhood needs them.
Across the street and a block north at Oakside St., this banquet facility used to be Hans-Burkhart Pharmacy, Hans Haus Restaurant, and the Ranita Bar and Grill, from left to right. I bought candy, MAD Magazine, film for my cameras, and the occasional pen or pad of paper at Hans-Burkhart. The owner was the pharmacist, and he barely tolerated the kids who came in, so I was sure to be quick and quiet when I shopped there.
In the 1980s, I walked this block every day because it was at the far end of my paper route. I always liked this house with its barber shop on the lower level. I was pleased to find the shop still operating.
The shop’s little pole was motionless. My dim memories say it stopped spinning sometime in the late 1970s. It seems strange today that thirty years ago you recognized a barber shop by its pole, though even then poles were starting to disappear.
Here’s the view from Oakside Street north. The tall building in the distance is South Bend’s tallest building, and it’s in the heart of downtown.
Leaving memory lane and driving north on Michigan St., I found another one of those strange US 31 shields in front of a used-car lot. The block-style numbers remind me of those used on the embossed cutout shields originally placed on US highways after the system was created. I’ve never seen shields like these anywhere but in South Bend, though. The combined “Business North” sign is also a South Bend creation; the standard is to have separate Business and North signs.
This building about a mile north on Michigan St. just south of Indiana Ave. used to be a Bonnie Doon drive-in. Imagine a day when the locked gate was gone, the sign’s first two parts still read “Bonnie” and “Doon,” and you could get a great tenderloin and wonderful made-in-South-Bend ice cream here. At one time, Bonnie Doon locations dotted Michiana. I think only one Bonnie Doon, on the Lincoln Highway in neighboring Mishawaka, remains.
Sadly, South Michigan St. is best known for blight. Here’s a map from Indiana Ave. on the south to the north split. The worst blight is between Indiana Ave. and Western Ave., which is where Michigan Street curves into St. Joseph Street.
This northbound photo is taken from just south of Sample St. State Road 933, which used to be US 33 before it was truncated at Elkhart, joins US 31 here.
Notice how the signs have seen better days. It’s amusing how the state just plastered small SR 933 signs over the larger US 33 shields. “Staduim A&C Center” (which refers to the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center at Notre Dame) signs like this one have been posted around town for as long as I can remember, at least back to the 1970s. I would not be surprised if most of these Stadium signs are originals.
While there has been some new construction, like the sprawling Juvenile Justice Center…
…the razed blocks and the boarded up buildings team up with the liquor stores and strip clubs to give the near south side its unfortunate ambiance.
A few active churches still stand on South Michigan Street, providing a necessary counterpoint.
The Victory Bar’s sign is a landmark close to downtown.
So is the Hope Rescue Mission’s often-photographed neon sign.
This Greek Orthodox church building anchors its block.
Just before Western Ave., Michigan St. curves to the east and becomes St. Joseph St., Michigan St. continues beyond the trees and across Western Ave., as this photo shows. I’m told that St. Joseph St. was a glorified alley before it was rebuilt to handle US 31 traffic.
As Michigan St. becomes St. Joseph St., the beauty of South Bend’s downtown returns.
Shortly after rounding the curve, the Century Center appears on the right. Built in the early 1980s, it was an early home to the Studebaker National Museum. My high school’s drama club held its plays and musicals in its auditorium, making the Century Center a second home in those days for my thespian pal Brian.
Quite a bit of the Lincoln Highway was torn up to build the Century Center and other city projects along the river here. A 1916 city map I have on hand says that the Lincoln Highway used to connect with Washington St. as I’ve drawn it in green on this map. The Century Center is the series of buildings at the green line’s north end.
Across from Century Center is the Marriott Hotel, its flat facade facing St. Joseph Street.
As old US 31 heads north from the Century Center and the Mariott Hotel, at Colfax Ave. towards LaSalle St., it curves to meet the old Michigan St. alignment. On the left in this photo you see the Morris Performing Arts Center, which was shown more extensively in the article about Old US 31 in downtown South Bend. On the right, out of the photo, is the St. Joseph River.
Let’s take one last look at South Bend before we depart. The St. Joseph River hugs St. Joseph St. just north of the Century Center. This photo, off the Colfax Ave. bridge, is of the Century Center’s back yard. The orange girder structure is Keepers of the Fire, a 1980 abstract expressionist sculpture by Mark di Suvero. Its erection was controversial to the tune of, “The city spent taxpayer dollars on steel beams painted orange?“
Next: We finally leave South Bend and head to Lakeville and La Paz.
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