A Tour of Cedar Falls
(as we knew it in the '50s)
by Rita Craver Congdon
Tonight, we are going to take a look back at the Cedar Falls that we
knew as we were growing up. This is going back forty, forty-five, even
Those of us who went to elementary school here went to Lincoln, Cedar
Heights, or Minor Schools. Of course there were some that went to the
other school system"
, that school associated with ISTC, but they really
didn't count as far as we were concerned. As I recall, we considered
them snobs. From our elementary schools we came together as a class in
seventh grade, attending the Cedar Falls Junior High and then on to Cedar
Falls High School.
I am going to ask you to picture in your minds the Cedar Falls we knew
Junior High Neighborhood
Let's start with the area around the junior high. Remember the old
building--condemned as unsafe, so the high school was built--and they
put the junior high students in the old condemned building. It sat on
Twelfth and Main Streets. Have you forgotten the "
and the "
stairways? The tunnel that connected the main building to the gym?
Having to go outdoors to get to the classes in the annex? How about
the auditorium on the third floor, the floor creaking, groaning, and
moving when we had assemblies?
Let's explore the school neighborhood. There were the stores where we
bought all of the necessities: Hart's, Meinders, and Roger's store across
Thirteenth Street. Candy, pop, gum, and school supplies were what we
mostly purchased. We hassled the store owners, except most of us were
on fairly good behavior at Hart's. If we weren't, our parents heard about
We would walk to Washington Park for our football games. The seating was
limited, no bathrooms, and one drinking fountain. If we overused the
drinking fountain we had to go back to school for bathroom facilities.
In the same area was the swimming pool. Remember that wonderful, huge,
frigid pool? It was about a city block in diameter with a sand bottom.
We shared the pool with the fish and frogs ands other critters that the
annual spring high water brought into the pool. How many of you took
swimming lessons there? You could also take canoeing lessons in the pool.
I don't remember the water being chlorinated, just freezing. I know I
used to go through at least two swim suits a season, as I would wear the
seat out going down the slide. I was never a good enough swimmer to get
to the turning board in the middle of the deep area.
This was the era when the town whistle blew at noon, 1:00 PM, and
5:00 PM. When that whistle blew, I had fifteen minutes to get home or
I was in trouble.
Washington Park was the golf course and the Country Club. Not being from
a golfing family, I rarely had occasion to venture there, but I do
remember the "
a wooden bridge built on barrels that
moved when you walked or ran across. I think I might have caddied for
Richie in high school.
The things that I have just mentioned are mostly gone now. The school
site is the Cedar Falls Recreation Center. There are tennis courts
where we played and watched the football games. The neighborhood stores
are no more. And, our swimming pool is now a huge coal pile for the
utilities. Washington Park exists as a golf course, when it is not
Two of the major attractions for kids downtown were the Regent Theater
and the Recreation Center on 2nd and State Streets where we attended
Remember Teen Time? We would go in packs of girls or boys. The first hour
the girls stood on one side of the floor and the boys stood on the other
side. After about an hour the girls would dance with each other and the
boys would shove and elbow each other. Then around a half hour before the
dance ended, a few couples would get brave enough to dance with a member
of the opposite sex. A fun time was had by all.
The Regent Theater was our only indoor theater. Those of us who spent our
childhood in Cedar Falls remember Bill Schneider and the occasional
Saturday morning movies. The admission was usually so many bottle caps
from the Day or Brunskill Dairies, or so many empty tin cans. There
would be a series of cartoons and then a feature show, maybe Roy Rogers
or some other western. Between the cartoons and the main event there
would be prizes awarded, usually for the persons who brought in the
most bottle caps or tin cans. There was always a sing along, and four
hundred kids would scream "
John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt"
at the tops of their lungs. As we grew older the Regent
was the place to take a date for a big night on the town. Probably a
good share of us received our first kiss at the Regent, either sitting
in the balcony or in the last row of seats on the main floor.
Also, in the downtown area were the city hall, post office, the police,
and fire departments on Third Street. Remember as kids in grade school
visiting these facilities. The fire department had a real brass pole the
firemen really slid down.
The two main grocery stores were Kitchen's and the A & P. There were a
couple of meat markets in addition to the grocery stores. The first
was the huge
Piggly Wiggly store on State Street. We
thought it was the most wonderful place, and so BIG! Today it would seem
very small, but we were impressed at the time. The Lawn City bakery
good as you walked by, and had the best pumpernickel bread
in the world! There was the Busy Bee and Cole's Cafe, and, of course,
the Maid Rite.
You could shop for clothing at Apparel Art, Smart Shop, Kerwin's and
Israel's. You could buy notions, fabrics, and other assorted dry goods
at Willoughby's. There was the Firestone Store that always had the most
wonderful train display in the window at Christmas time. The two hardware
stores were Coast to Coast and Johnson-Christensen, and they smelled
wonderfully like rubber and metal. Woolworth's was the "
had a wealth of interesting things for kids of all ages. We waited
anxiously for the day after Thanksgiving to see the latest toys displayed
for the holidays. Ben Franklin was just down the street in the next
block and also had a wealth of goodies. For electronic repairs, Boege's
or the Philco Store could serve you. This usually entailed finding the
right bulb that was burned out in your radio or rewiring small appliances.
When we were finished shopping, we could go to Baker's or Potter's Polar
Pantry for ice cream. Baker's was THE place to go, but Potter's was the
only place to get sugar cones, so that was a drawing card. If you didn't
feel like ice cream you could go to Berg's or Hieber's and sit at a real
soda fountain. You could pick up a prescription or cough drops, buy a
handkerchief, and sample the perfume while waiting for your cherry Coke
or your lime phosphate. When your shopping was finished and you had had
your goodies to eat you could go to the old armory and bowl a game or two.
Times change. Of all of the places I mentioned, few remain. The Regent
is now the Oster-Regent Theater, saved from demolition by the Cedar
Falls Community Theater and now a live-production facility. The police
department, city hall, and the post offices are still in the downtown
area, but in different and much larger locations. If you are in the
downtown area at the right time and on the right day, you just might
find Boege's still open for business.
What did we do for fun besides making our own with our friends--potlucks,
slumber parties, and impromptu get-togethers? We had a lot to choose from!
We could canoe or boat on the Cedar River. If your family did not have
their own craft you could rent one at Olson's Boat house. You could picnic
at Island Park--if it was not underwater. Remember the amusement park
there, and the very mini zoo? Josh Higgins Park was another
picnic-hiking-boating-fishing-swimming facility. We have already talked
about the swimming pool, but an alternative was swimming in the river
or the sand pits.
There was always cruising the strip in Waterloo, driving around endlessly
for hours looking for action, and occasionally finding some. The price of
gas was not high. Remember when $1.00 would buy three gallons of gas, not
half a gallon?
The Paramount Theatre was the most elegant place to see a movie, with
that gorgeous dividing staircase to the balcony. You could also see a
flick at the Waterloo Theater, Strand Theater, or even at the Iowa
Theater by Penney's. (As I recall, the Iowa Theater was usually a last
resort in movie going.) In the summer there was the Hillcrest Drive-In,
the Starlite, or if you wanted to travel all the way to Waterloo, the
Sky View. Remember how we would pack a dozen kids in a car on the special
rate carload nights?
Before or after a big night on the town we always stopped at one of the
food drive-ins. The A & W, Dairy Queen, Jersey Freeze, Frigid Zone, and
Pink Elephant each had its own specialty. Young ladies served us at the
car, and usually they were good friends of ours. Henry's Hamburgers was
the first big chain, besides the A & W, to come to town, and you had to
to place and get your order. That began the end of the carhop
Miniature golf was fun, if you could stand the bugs! We always seemed to
choose a hot and humid night to play, and those big bright lights
attracted millions of insects. The go-carts were fun, too.
For the young ladies, shopping was as popular as it is with girls today.
If downtown Cedar Falls did not satisfy our needs, we would venture forth
to Waterloo. Before we could drive, we took the trolley from Fourteenth
and Waterloo Road to the bus depot in Waterloo. We would pick up friends
from the Cedar Heights area as the trolley trolleyed down Grand Boulevard.
At the end of the day, we would catch the trolley at the depot and
trolley back home with packages from Black's or Penney's or various
other stores. We could never afford to eat at Black's Tea Room, but ate
at the lunch room in the basement cafe. They had the best hot fudge
sundaes! At the end of the line, somebody's father would meet us and
deliver the rest of us to our respective homes.
Not many of the fun places we frequented are around any more. Josh
Higgins is now George Wyth State Park, and is a vastly expanded and wonderful
place. Island Park is still around, and still underwater
part of the time. No amusement park or zoo, though. The Hillcrest is
one of the few surviving drive in theaters anywhere in the country. The
Dairy Queen is still on 18th Street, but a couple of years ago moved
next door and now have sandwiches and indoor seating. The miniature golf
course and go carts are still on Airline Highway. All of the other places
are no more.
I lived close to Overman Park, and never missed the band concerts. Of
course we never listened to the music, but is was a good excuse to get
together with friends and then go for a treat to Baker's or Potter's.
If those of you from out of town are still around on Tuesday night, go
to Overman Park and enjoy the band concert. Yes, they are still going on,
and they attract hundreds of people. Kids run around, parents chase them,
teens ignore the music; nothing has changed. It is truly a bit of
small-town Americana that is alive and well in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
The 4th of July used to be celebrated with fireworks at the cemetery
overlooking the Cedar River. High on the bluff the sparkles would reflect
on the water, and we thought it was truly spectacular. There were always
a few set pieces on the ground. I remember the Statue of Liberty and the
American flag being popular pieces, and they were shown every year. Of
course, we never saw the whole display at the same time, and they burned
unevenly. By the time the Statues of Liberty's base was lit, the torch
was out. Today the 4th of July fireworks are held at Birdsall Park on
Twelfth Street. There was only farm land there forty years ago. Today
there is a golf course.
Many of you toured the high school this afternoon. Did you notice any
changes? Of course it is in the same location as always, but is about
four times larger than when we attended. Remember how excited and scared
we were to go to the big building? At least there was not an up and down
stairway. We all found our lockers and classrooms. We thought that we
were pressed for time getting from class to class, but now the kids have
so much more area to travel! We didn't have a computer lab; we had a
typing room. We didn't have a computer listing of all of the materials
in the library. We had a card catalog and Miss Bailey. But, we got a
good education with the most up-to-date materials available at the time.
I could go on, and on, and on, but I won't. These are just a few of my
memories of the Cedar Falls we knew. I hope it has jogged some of your
memories. It doesn't seem like forty years have passed. Our lives have
changed from being carefree kids to responsible adults. We now care for
aging parents, if we are lucky. We have put, or are putting, our own
kids through college, financing weddings, thinking about retiring, or
babysitting our grandchildren. (If you have an hour ask me about my
three wild and wonderful grandsons!) But when we have the opportunity
to get together like this, we are taken back a few years, and the "
make us all kids again. Let's spend the rest of the
evening being kids and remembering.
by D. Goldberg
Recited by Tom Davis
Reflecting the resiliency that I learned from many of my classmates during my three years at CFHS."
Quit, give up you're beaten"
they shout at me and plead
There's just too much against you now,
this time you can't succeed."
And as I start to hang my head
in front of failures face
My downward fall is broken,
by memory of a race
And hope refills my weakened will
as I recall that scene
For just the thought of that short race
rejuvenates my being
A child's race, young men, boys
How I remember well
Excitement sure - but also fear
It wasn't hard to tell
They all lined up so full of hope
Each thought to win the race
Or tie for first, or if not that
At least take 2nd place
And fathers watch from off the side
Each cheering for his son
And each boy hoped to show his dad
That he would be the one
The whistle blew and off they went
Young hearts and hopes on fire
To win, to be the hero there
Was each boy's desire
And one boy in particular
Whose dad was in the crowd
Was running in the lead and thought -
my dad will be so proud
But as they speeded down the field
Across a shallow dip
The little boy who thought he'd win
Lost his step and slipped.
Trying hard to catch himself,
his hands flew out to brace
Amid the laughter of the crowd,
he fell flat on his face
So down he fell and with him hope
He couldn't win - not now
Embarrassed, sad, he only wished to disappear somehow
But as he fell his dad stood up, and showed his anxious face
Which to the boy so clearly said - get up and win the race
He quickly rose no damage done,
Behind a bit that's all
And ran with all his might and mind,
To make up for his clumsy fall
So anxious to restore himself,
to catch up and to win
His mind went faster than his legs -
he slipped and fell again
He wished then he had quit before -
with only one disgrace
I'm hopeless as a runner now,
I shouldn't try to race."
But in the laughing crowd he searched,
and found his father's face
That steady look that said:
Get up, and win the race."
So up he jumped to try again
Ten yards behind the last
If I'm going to gain those yards,
I've got to move real fast"
Exerting every thing he had,
he regained eight or ten
But trying so hard to catch the lead,
he slipped and fell again
He lay there silently,
a tear dropped from his eye
There's no sense in running any more -
3 strikes - I'm out - why try?"
The will to rise had disappeared,
all hope had fled away
So far behind, so error-prone,
I'll never go all the way
So what's the use"
, he thought,
I'll live with my disgrace."
But then he thought about his dad,
who soon he'd have to face
the echo sounded low,
get up and take your place
You were not meant for failure here,
get up and win the race"
With borrowed will, get up it said
You haven't lost at all
For winning is no more than this
To rise each time you fall
So up he rose to run once more
And with a new commit
He resolved that win or lose the race
At least he wouldn't quit
Three times he'd fallen, stumbling
Three times he rose again
And now he gave it all he had
And ran as though to win
They cheered the winning runner
As he crossed the line first place
Head high and proud and happy -
No failing, no falling, no disgrace
But when the fallen youngster crossed the line - last place
The crowd gave him the greater cheer
For finishing the race
And even though he came in last
With head bowed low, unproud
You would have thought he won the race
To listen to the crowd
And to his dad, he sadly said:
I didn't do so well."
To me you won,"
his father said.
You rose each time you fell"
And now when things seem dark and hard and difficult to face
The memory of that little boy, helps me in my race
For all of life is like that race
With ups and downs and all
And all you have to do to win -
is rise each time you fall
Quit, give up, you're beaten,"
they still shout in my face
But another voice within me says:
Get up and win the race!"
|Barb Bruch Herman
||Jane Brue Havighurst
||Marlys Christensen Smith
|Sally Clark Lane
||Mary Cole DeBoom
|Rita Copeland Justis
||Margaret Cranston Meyer
|Rita Craver Congdon
||Charlotte Dillon Schuler
|Becky Flieder Thompson
|Jackie Gaden Heeney
||Judy Garth Estabrook
|Roswitha Giesen Marold
||Judi Guralnik Ingis
|Jeanne Hagenson Langan
||Nancy Hanneman Murty
||Jo Hedeen Schrock
|Natalie Jennings Thatcher
||Pam Johnson Hinrichs
|Richard E. Johnson
||Peggy Jones Bickert
||Sonja Madsen Kung
|Phyllis Meyer Kuehl
||Charlene Miller Poppy
||Karen Mulgrew Schultz
||Kit Nichols Poeschl
||Barbara Phenix Mahigel
|Pat Rhode Brandenburg
|Jennifer Schlicher Breyer
||Sharon Schmidt Juhl
||Pat Shannon VanOort
||Marilyn Stoddard Gordon
||Judy Trowbridge Klein
|Kay Voorhees Balke
||Sue Wells Bescher
Please send updates to: Sam Coleman