Personal, Stories Told

Brant’s and South Bend’s Miami Village

In the early 1980s I was a teenager living with my family on the south side of South Bend, Indiana. I lived in a real neighborhood, with plenty of shops and other businesses within walking distance. My favorite of them was Brant’s. In days gone by, Brant’s was known as a five and 10 cent store, or a five and dime store, or just a dime store. These were the dollar stores of their day — everything was a nickel or a dime. But their day had largely passed by the 1980s, and stores like Brant’s were more commonly called variety stores. The only thing you might still get for a nickel or a dime in them was a piece of candy. But nothing Brant’s carried was particularly expensive. It was a fine store to visit when you were on a tight budget.

Brant’s centerpiece was its gleaming stainless-steel soda fountain and counter with six stools. You could get a light lunch there, a hot dog or a grilled-cheese sandwich and a cup of soup. I did that from time to time, always the grilled cheese and bean-bacon soup with a Coke. They still made Cokes by squirting syrup in the bottom of the glass, filling it the rest of the way with soda water, and stirring. That was a throwback even then. They also made Green River sodas, a sweet lime drink. But for me, the soda fountain’s crowning glory was the milkshakes, hand dipped and mixed. I drank dozens of them over the years. Make mine chocolate, with extra malt.

I often went with my brother, who loved root beer. One day at the counter he asked if it were possible to make root beer double strength, that is, to use twice the syrup. “Of course,” was the answer, and they made him one. After that, he ordered one every time we went in. He became so well known for his double-strength root beer that every time we visited, while he shopped they’d make him one and leave it on the counter for whenever he was ready for it.

Like all five-and-dimes, Brant’s carried all kinds of miscellaneous stuff in its handful of aisles. For example, Brant’s was the only store on the south side that carried photo corners. They are little black paper pockets, backed with lick-and-stick adhesive. You place one, moistened, on each of a photo’s four corners and then press the corners onto paper. Regular photo albums were crazy expensive on my meager allowance. But at Brant’s I could make affordable photo albums out of three-fastener cardboard report covers, three-hole notebook paper, and photo corners.

Brant’s also had a postal station inside. I had pen pals in other countries, and we used to make mix tapes for each other. I packaged them up and took them over to Brant’s, where owner Ray Brant always took care of me. He’d weigh the package, look up the rate, take my money, affix the postage, and make sure the letter carrier picked it up.

That was another thing about Brant’s: it was a family business. His daughters and I’m pretty sure even his wife (who drew the image at the top of this post) all worked there. The whole family came to know the many kids who came in. They tolerated all of us kids very well. My brother and I were good kids who never caused trouble. Sometimes they’d chat with us briefly at the soda fountain — once Mr. Brant shared his snack of string cheese with me — and they always let us linger over our browsing well beyond the time we needed.

I loved going to Brant’s and headed there anytime I had a little money. A Coke was just 35 cents, so it didn’t take long to save up for a trip. I even had my first date at Brant’s, at age 13, taking a sweet girl to the soda fountain for lunch. But even as long ago as the early 1980s, stepping inside Brant’s was like stepping into 1965. It was clear to me even at that age that Brant’s was a holdover from a different time.

Brant’s was part of a larger community of businesses known as Miami Village, named for the street they were all on. Here’s a photo with Brant’s in it, next to a barber shop and what I remember being a little bar. Judging by the cars, this photo was taken in the 1980s.

The History Museum (South Bend) photo

Miami Village was just a mile from my house, a short bike ride or a long walk away. This composite photo from about 1975 was taken just north of Brant’s in the same block, on Brant’s side of the street, looking south on Miami Street.

Composite of two The History Museum (South Bend) photos

Miami Village offered bars and restaurants, banks, dry cleaners, gas stations, a dairy store (a convenience store before anyone coined the term), a public library branch, a hobby store (where I bought the plastic model cars I put together in those days), and more. In this north-facing photo from abut 1975, the gas tower looms over the village. It stored coal gas used to heat homes, and was a South Bend landmark for 60 years.

The History Muesum (South Bend) photo

The south end of Miami Village was anchored by Buschbaum’s Pharmacy. I used to go in there to buy MAD Magazine and candy. This photo is from the Blizzard of 1978.

Sourced from a South Bend group on Facebook

Miami Village started to slowly decline after I moved away from South Bend in 1985. For years it seemed like every time I went home to visit, more businesses had closed along this strip. Brant’s held on for a long time, through the late 1990s or early 2000s if memory serves. By then Mr. Brant was ready to retire, and he couldn’t find someone interested in continuing his business.

Today, the only Miami Village businesses still operating since the 1980s are a pub and, of all things, a lamp shop. The library branch is still open, too. Other businesses have moved into the old spaces. I hate to say it, but they’re not of the same caliber as the businesses they replaced. A wig store has operated out of the Brant’s building for many years, one of its plate glass windows replaced with an ugly piece of particle board.

At least Miami Village was still great at a time when I’d earned enough autonomy and had a little money, and could enjoy it.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
South Bend Motel

South Bend Motel
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2009

I grew up a mile or so away from this motel and its neon sign. I saw it a lot while I was growing up, and its neon was usually in disrepair. It made me happy to find it lit and fully working when I visited my hometown this day.

If you’d like to get more of my photography in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe.

Photography

single frame: South Bend Motel

The South Bend Motel sign, lit.

Image
Photography

The Jefferson Boulevard bridge in South Bend

For weeks now I’ve been sharing my photos of bridges in my Tuesday/Thursday “single frame” series. I’ve wanted to share one of the beautiful Jefferson Boulevard bridge in my hometown of South Bend. But I couldn’t choose just one. So I’m sharing a bunch of photographs of it in this post, to wrap up the series.

Jefferson Blvd. Bridge, South Bend
Yashica Electro 35 GSN, Fujicolor 200, 2012

The Jefferson Boulevard bridge was built in 1906, carrying one of downtown South Bend’s main east-west streets across the St. Joseph River and forming a gateway with the east side of South Bend.

Jefferson Blvd. Bridge, South Bend
Yashica Electro 35 GSN, Fujicolor 200, 2012

You can walk right under two of this bridge’s arches on a pedestrian trail that runs along both sides of the river.

Jefferson St. bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730, 2009

When you do, you can see the telltale signs of the formwork that held this bridge’s concrete in place while it cured.

Jefferson St. bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730, 2009

MIT-trained South Bend city engineer Alonzo Hammond designed this bridge. He used a cutting-edge construction technique known as the Melan arch, in which solid steel arch ribs, rather than iron rebar, were used inside the concrete.

Jefferson St. bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730, 2009

490 feet long with four spans, with a deck 51.8 feet wide, it handled a twin-track street railway as well as vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Today the streetcar tracks are long gone. Hammond’s bridge easily handles two lanes of traffic in each direction, bracketed by sidewalks.

Jefferson Blvd. bridge from Howard Park
Minolta SR-T 101, 50mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor PF, Ferrania P30 Alpha, 2018

Hammond configured the east approach of the bridge to complement recent improvements in Howard Park. which is on the right in the photos above and below. I made the photo below from a onetime railroad trestle now used by pedestrians on the river trail system.

Jefferson St. Bridge, South Bend
Yashica Electro 35 GSN, Fujicolor 200, 2012

I’ve photographed this bridge more than any other. I enjoy its design and its setting. Every time I’m downtown in South Bend with a camera, I wind up around the bridge looking for a new angle.

Jefferson Blvd. bridge
Minolta SR-T 101, 50mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor PF, Ferrania P30 Alpha, 2018

But mostly, I like to shoot the bridge up close to consider its delightful details.

Jefferson St. bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730, 2009

Sometimes the morning or afternoon light plays beautifully on its sides.

Jefferson St. bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730, 2009

I made this photo from the LaSalle Street bridge one block to the north. It shows the orange di Suvero sculpture and shallow man-made waterfalls. It also shows part of Island Park on the right.

Jefferson St. bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730, 2009

I made a similar photograph the first time I shot this bridge, on a downtown photo walk in 1988. At that time, the bridge was a dull brownish gray. It underwent a restoration in 2003-4 that strengthened it to serve another generation, and brought it to its current creamy hue.

Jefferson Blvd. bridge, South Bend, 1988
Kodak VR35 K40, Kodak color film, 1988

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Stories Told

Summer’s denouement

(originally posted 9/14/08) During my 1970s kidhood when schools started after Labor Day as God intended, my mid-August birthday always meant summer was beginning to end. By then, the afternoon sun was at its hottest and most intense, the annual August dry spell began to toughen and dry all that had been green, and the street lights switched on earlier to send everyone inside for long quiet evenings with our families and our TVs.

The dozens of children all up and down Rabbit Hill, as our parents nicknamed our prolific neighborhood, always sensed these changes. We squeezed in as much play as we could before time ran out. One fellow down the street, thinking he was Mickey Rooney in Babes in Armsalways organized and directed an end-of-summer show, an extravaganza that nobody would come and watch because everybody was in it. I would push to reach the new tree-climbing heights my brother and his best friend had mastered weeks before, heightening their schadenfreude when I would inevitably fall, have the wind knocked out of me, and make that loud but hilarious sucking noise that only sounds like death is imminent. Somebody would connive their mother into have a big running-through-the-sprinkler get together at which gallons of Kool-Aid were served. Several kids sold lemonade or toys at a family garage sale to raise money for Jerry’s Kids. The chubby fellow who lived where the street curved sang his slightly naughty rhymes more often (“In 1944/My father went to the war/He stepped on the gas/And blew out his ass/In 1944!”). And then came the telethon, which was on almost everybody’s TV, and we all knew it was over.

Summertime children on Lancaster Drive

On the day after school started, we could still play war in full army gear in the wide easement behind the houses, ride our bikes and Big Wheels up and down the hill making siren sounds as if we were a horde of ambulances and police cars (imagine 20 children doing this on your street!), play endless Red Rover in the freckled girl’s front yard, and watch the four-year-old girl next door eat sand with a spoon (oh, if her mom only knew). But we didn’t, hardly. We lost our enthusiasm. It was time to button ourselves back down and return to school-day routines.

Rabbit Hill conditioned me well; I still recognize and lament the signs of summer’s end. Kids have been back in school for weeks already. The grass hasn’t grown much lately because of the annual dry spell. My air conditioner has been off more days than it’s been on; it was even too chilly the other morning to drive to work with the window down. I’ve crammed as much outside time as I can into these days to enjoy their freedom, but the end is in sight. Shorts will soon give way to long pants and short sleeves will give way to long sleeves. I’ll be in a windbreaker with a rake in my hands, collecting my trees’ deposits. The snow will fly and I’ll be hunkered down at home. I still feel restricted, buttoned down, in fall and winter.

Here’s hoping for a long, warm Indian summer first!

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Faith, Vintage Television

Channel 16, Father Hesburgh, and the Prayer for Peace

Kids today don’t know how good they have it, with Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network delivering animation to their living rooms 24x7x365. During my 1970s-80s childhood, we got cartoons on Saturday mornings and for an hour after school, and that was it. My brother and I liked animation so much that we’d rise early on Saturday morning to not miss a single show.

We started on Channel 16 because they aired the Japanese anime Battle of the Planets right after sign on. Channel 16, WNDU-TV, was our local NBC station. We had no idea how unusual it was that it was owned by the University of Notre Dame. All we knew was that during sign-on they played a recording of University President Father Theodore Hesburgh reading of the Prayer for Peace of St. Francis of Assisi.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

I heard that recording so often that even today I can recite most of this prayer from memory. I haven’t heard that recording in 30 years until someone recently uploaded a 1985 sign-off that included it. Here it is!

I wasn’t raised in the faith. What I saw of Christians as a kid tended to repel me. (Here’s a story about how.) But hearing Father Hesburgh read this gentle prayer on those Saturday mornings gave me hope that perhaps somewhere people lived their faith in these ways. That’d be a faith worth following. When I sought God, I looked for him in people this quiet and humble.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
State Theater

Tree blocking the State Theater sign
Minolta SR-T 101, 50mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor PF
Ferrania P30 Alpha
2018

Memo to cities everywhere: stop planting trees near your downtown walkways, as they block clear views of your classic architecture and signage!

This theater in my hometown of South Bend needs an owner and a profitable purpose. It is one of the last two remaining theaters of many that South Bend used to have; read about them here. And see a photo of this theater from when South Bend replaced its main street with a disastrous pedestrian plaza here.

Film Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

single frame: Tree blocking the State Theater sign

.

Image