Looking Back - Whiting in 1959
By Frank Vargo September, 2019
“Number please,” the operator said. “Let me have Whiting 1234. I want to check what’s playing at the Hoosier tonight. Thank you,” the woman replied. “You’re welcome. I’ll be happy to connect you in a moment.”
Sixty years ago, the people of Whiting had no dial or push button telephones. Some businesses and homes had phone numbers with three or four digits and a letter (2464J). Many homes had party lines where you had to wait for your neighbor to end their conversations before you could get the operator to ask “Number, please.”
Going back in time sixty years, we can see how things might have taken longer to happen, but life was much more simply lived. Many of the things that were part of Whiting in 1959 are still here, whereas many other things, like the voice of a real live person connecting your phone call, are gone forever.
To take our trip back in time, I used the pages of our then local paper, The Times-Grafic, which was published by the Ben Franklin Press. The paper cost 10 cents and was published weekly.
The January 1, 1959, issue printed this banner on its front page: “Things will shine in ’59.” “Ike” was president of a pretty prosperous and peaceful country. There was still the Cold War and the Russians were ahead of us in the space race with their launching of Sputnik, but most Americans were happy to be living in a mostly peaceful world. The turmoil of the 1960s was on the horizon, but no one could have seen or imagined what was to come. Most Whitingites went about their lives going to work or school while most women were taking care of their home and family, as they were “stay at home moms.”
Standard Oil Company had recovered from the devastating August 1955 fire and they were an even more profitable business. Their workers were making good wages, which many families deposited in their hometown banks. These included the American Trust & Savings Bank, State Bank of Whiting and the Bank of Whiting.
People were not only saving, they were spending too. 119th Street was filled with businesses that promised to fulfill the wishes of men, women and children eager to spend some of their households’ hard earned money.
Women could chose to visit one of at least eight Whiting beauty shops for National Beauty Salon Week held from February 8 -14 that year. These shops included Adele’s Beauty Salon, The Beauty Nook, Dolores Beauty Shoppe, McCeary Beauty Shop, Andre’s Beaute Box, Belles Beauty Shoppe, The Hoosier Beauty Salon, and of course Rudolf’s House of Beauty. For groceries, they could shop at the A & P or the National Food Store where they could get S&H Green Stamps to fill up their books to turn in for various items. A Jewel Food Store was located at 1755 Indianapolis Blvd. Another food shop that billed itself as “Whiting’s Fastest Growing Super Market” was Weiner Foods on the corner of New York Avenue and John Street. Of course there were still dozens of small mom and pop corner stores, although their number was steadily declining.
Ladies could shop at Anne’s Linens, Brown’s Women’s Apparel, Marcie’s, and Josephine’s to name only a few of the stores that catered to women. Another favorite place to shop was Curosh’s. Many husbands would ask Bill Curosh, the owner, to help them pick out a gift. Why? Bill would either remember the wife’s correct size or he would look it up in his file, to help out the men buy the right-sized garment. Women might look longingly in the windows of some of the jewelry stores including Gansinger’s, Aronberg’s and W.R. Siltanen’s.
Men could shop at Winsberg’s, “The Store for Men,” which was celebrating with a 57th Anniversary Sale with ties at 69 cents each and pajamas for 95 cents. Lewin-Wolf had dress shirts on sale, 2 for $5.50. Glenn Shoes, Whiting Shoes, Big Ben Shoes, and H & M Shoes had footwear for the entire family.
Other stores which carried merchandise of interest for the entire family were Neal Price’s, Seifer’s and of course Sherman’s Indiana Supply.
Children enjoyed going “uptown” with their parents if they could stop at both J.J. Newberry and F. W. Woolworth dime stores. Both had plenty of toys to look at as well as fresh popcorn. They had to stop at the Whiting News Company to purchase some sweets from their great selection of penny and nickel candy. If they were good and it was late spring or summer, their parents might drive them to Cathcart’s Dairy Queen or stop at Zesto on the corner of 119th and Calumet Avenue for ice cream. Movies could be seen at the Hoosier or at the 41 Outdoor Theater on Calumet Avenue.
In 1959 in Whiting, you could buy furniture, appliances, TV’s, radios, records, lumber, hardware, sporting goods, gifts, gadgets, gas, flowers and much more. In fact you could even purchase a new car at France Ford, Ciesar’s, or Swarthout Chevrolet without leaving the Whiting or Robertsdale area.
This is by no means a complete listing of the stores and businesses that were located in Whiting/Robertsdale in 1959. Many more are not mentioned, but they all played a part in making our community a great place to live.
Even though most of those businesses are long gone, many of the buildings are still here, occupied by other people trying to make a living while providing services to the people who still call Whiting their home.