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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Do you know this place?

Teatro del Lago
It would be no surprise to me,  if you don’t recognize this image.  But I do.  It's a wonderful memory from my childhood days growing up in Kenilworth.  It's the Teatro del Lago.  

The Teatro del Lago no longer exists.  It’s gone the way of all the other little independent movie theatres along the North Shore.  It was a favorite haunt for those of us who could walk to the theater and see the latest films.   

The owner was pretty strict and made sure that the films were family friendly.   Although, one of my favorite family stories is when my brother disobeyed my mother and went off to see Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?  My mother would have none of it and walked right into the theater and pulled him out.

Across the plaza from the Teatro was San Pedro’s.   It was the “fancy restaurant.”  Going out to dinner at San Pedros was a very rare experience.  My dad didn’t like eating out and he certainly didn’t like eating out at an expensive place.  I remember the menu being pretty special. 

Sometimes after we had been swimming down at the beach, Dad would take us for an ice cream cone.  Right there across the street from the Teatro and San Pedros on Sheridan Road was our favorite spot: the Dairy Bar.   Sometime in the mid 50s it was renamed Peacocks.   From the Dairy Bar, we could see the ruins of a previous era and beautiful shoreline beaches.

Where were we?  Well technically we were in Wilmette, but we always called that little area, No Man’s Land.   When both Kenilworth and Wilmette incorporated, they left that 22 acres of land unincorporated.   It wasn’t until 1942 that Wilmette was able to add that parcel of land as part of its corporate limits.

During the last 150 years, this little piece of land has been a suburban retreat, an early Prohibition-era series of roadhouses, hotels, and now apartment buildings with a Spanish styled shopping area.

The story I always heard was that during Prohibition, No Man’s Land was a port for unloading liquor, which came down from Canada, through the St. Lawrence Seaway and Lake Michigan.   I don’t know if that’s true.  But what I do know is true: while the rest of the North Shore was pretty dry and tame, this little area was anything but dry during the Roaring 20s.  

During the Depression many of No Man’s Land buildings disappeared.  The Miralago Hotel burned down in March of 1932.  Wilmette and Winnetka refused to respond when the fire was initially reported. Wilmette had previously withdrawn fire protection from No Man's Land and shut off their water supply. Evanston responded and had just controlled the fire when Kenilworth police turned off the water to the hydrant being tapped. Consequently, the fire intensified and engulfed the area. Kenilworth relented and turned the water back on and Wilmette and Winnetka joined the effort, but it was too late to save the Miralago.

I just remember there being ruins of the Breakers Beach Club. 

We were all very sad when it was announced that the Teatro was going to be torn down to make way for a new Jewel.   And then Peacocks disappeared as new apartment buildings went up along the lake front. 

In 1960, the first apartment building went up at 1440 N. Sheridan Road.  
1440 Sheridan Road, Wilmette
For next 10 years apartment buildings were added and the beautiful lake views disappeared along No Man’s Land.   In total, six apartment buildings were built during that decade.    


A convenient gas station was torn down in the early 1990s to make way for a final apartment building to be built at 1618 N. Sheridan Road.

These building units vary in size, design and price.   Most are condos – some co-ops.   Some units have been updated and are amazing, while others are pretty dated and need a facelift.  In either case the views are spectacular and the location is fantastic.  
You can walk across the street to Plaza del Lago to get lunch at Convito Italiano or to get coffee at Starbucks.   There are cute stores as well as the Jewel.  No Man's Land is not too far from downtown Wilmette or the Linden stop for the Purple Line on the CTA.  

I know it’s prime land and progress moves on.  The apartment buildings added much needed housing for folks wanting to remain in the area, and downsize out of their family homes.  A lot of my parents' friends have lived in these buildings -- and now some of my friends are making the move as well!

But I miss the No Man’s Land of my childhood.  It was a beautiful and mysterious area -- and a lot of fun.