Myers closes temporarily
Around the corner and up Milwaukee from the Beverly, Janesville's oldest theater, the Myers, closed temporarily on Sunday, October 20, 1957, according to a Gazette article subtitled, "Vital part of city for 87 years." 195 A number of details are reported incorrectly including when the Myers was destroyed by fire (1889 not 1888) and reopened (1891 not 1889).
Drive-ins and television took their toll on downtown theaters. From four fairly large options in the forties, Janesville's main shopping district was left with just the Jeffris.
Carefree youthGrowing up in the Janesville of that era, my youth was, in many ways, idyllic and carefree. I was too foolish and self-centered to understand how unfriendly the times were to African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and other minorities; people such as the Vietnamese trying to free themselves from Colonialism; the environment; homosexuals; women; the non-religious; and others in the United States and around the world.
We Putnam Avenue kids crossed the Jackson Street Bridge on the way to and from Wilson Elementary School and, just east of the Monterrey Bridge, saw what some think led to the county being called Rock. Evidently the feature's true name is Big Rock, though I wasn't aware of that until recently. All of us fifties Wilson pupils called it Blackhawk Cave.
It isn't a cave, really, just a hole carved out of a tawny sandstone outcropping by high, roiling waters much earlier in the area's history. Speculation is it marked an easy-to-ford stretch of river and was known to Native Americans for centuries, maybe millennia, before Europeans arrived.
Downtown Janesville was a busy place well into my teens, especially on Saturdays when it seemed most of the county "came to town." Main and Milwaukee Streets were packed with shoppers. Woolworth's Dime Store, on the south side of Milwaukee Street and west side of the river, was a gathering spot for teens and adults. Many bought bags of popcorn to feed the noisy mallards from a railing on the sidewalk near where the bridge spanned east.
Bostwick's, Dorothy's Record Shop, and Star Billiards with its multiple flavors soda fountain and even more exotic displays of girlie magazines were magnets for older grade-school-age boys and teens. We cruised into Star for the phosphates and flavored cokes, but a trip to the bathroom toward the rear of the place—where men played pool—so we could glance at glossily bosomy magazine covers was mandatory.
As grade-schoolers, my friends and I—and lots of other kids—walked to and from matinées at the Jeffris on Sunday afternoons. I believe showtime was 1:30. Usually, none of us had change for more than an All-Day sucker or an unbuttered box of popcorn. Getting there and back was half the fun. A home near the theater with various concrete creations embedded with broken glass appealed to us. We also crossed Spring Brook on Beloit Avenue, enjoyed throwing rocks into the stream, and fantasized about all the whoppers that had to swim just below the surface but that we never caught. One year we discovered a honey bee nest in a hollow tree not far from the bridge.
America's surging postwar economy matched the nation's booming, postwar birth rate that gave my generation its name. Soon, more people were able to afford automobiles.
Janesville was a major beneficiary of the Automobile Age, having had a Chevrolet factory from 1923 until the General Motors Assembly Division plant wheezed to a close in 2009.196 At the same time, the automobile led to major changes. The first was the sign-of-the-times Wisconsin Department of Transportation bypass that was built around the city in 1952.197
It re-routed Highway 14 from its path west on Racine and north on Washington to a loop around the northeast end of town.
With growing numbers of automobiles, parking became a challenge. In November, 1957, a ramp198 able to accommodate 244 cars199 opened on the corner of Wall Street and Parker Drive, about a block north of Milwaukee. Changes inside the structure reduced capacity to 206 after the first year. Parking on the lowest level was five cents per half hour; upper-level parking was five cents per hour.200 I remember my family talking about and visiting the modern parking structure when it was new.
Roberta came out in 1935201 and Bringing Up Baby, 1938,202 but the
term War Bonds203 was not used until after the December 7, 1941,
attack that led the US to declare War on Japan, Germany, and
Italy before the year was out.204 Dated attractions might
indicate the Myers was having trouble paying its way.
Click for larger image.
Myers Theater, December, 1956.
Photograph by Jerry McCullough.
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Click for larger image and
Woolworth's seemed to me to be the heart of Janesville on Saturdays,
from the late fifties through the sixties. Alan Dunwiddie, who res-
ponded to my Finial Beverly Theater appeal, was president
of the Merchant & Savings Bank. Postcard purchased on
ebay. Click for larger image and more.
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