The gathering place had always been an important element of the Madison Park neighborhood. Adults engaged in talking politics, storytelling or spreading rumors. 

For instance, someone saw a sailor leaving a house at 4:30 a.m. We grew up fast, overhearing adult conversations, but by today’s standards, not fast at all. 

 

Like the big kids

Memories of musty smells and creaky floors at J. J. McGilvra Elementary School flicker to the forefront of my brain every now and then. Those flashes remind me of how, during World War II, we students had to pull together to make sense of what war meant. 

Despite this ominous contemplation, one thing could kick-start our moods. When school let out we walked quickly to the Broadmoor Café (where the Bank of America is now), our favorite gathering spot, and sip Green Rivers with as many as six straws and check out the big Wurlitzer jukebox to see if there were any new tunes. There was a new one every month or so to boost morale. 

The café was filled with conversation, music and laughter. We felt welcomed there since it was a slow time before the few dinner patrons appeared. In that time, we spoke of how hard some classes were, who had a crush on whom and laughed about the funny parts of the day.

The café owner used to read the “Lonely Hearts” column, and when he saw the ad “Lonely older wealthy lady looking for companionship,” he was off to Alaska. 

We were forced to find a new location — minus the Wurlitzer — and landed at the soft ice cream shop a couple of stores east of the Broadmoor Café. 

Soon, that business bit the dust, too, leaving our too-young-for-primetime group to wait it out until we could join the adult factor at the lunch counter at the Broadmoor Pharmacy (where Pharmaca now stands).

Fresh strawberry sodas — which took forever to prepare, with the crushing of the berries, the adding of the soda, the ice cream, nuts, whipped cream and the cherry on top — were shared by two or three of us. 

Unfortunately, our prior lively conversation had now been quieted by the adult conversation around us about the war, which usually revealed too much for our young ears.

Nowadays, when I walk into Pharmaca, I can still see that lunch counter that occupied the west side. It seemed so big then.

 

Coffee breaks

When we joined the workforce later, the gathering place was often next to the office — and, of course, there was the proverbial coffee break. The essential “cup of joe” became the social habit of the day. 

Madison Park offered a few hangouts in years past for local folks to get a pick-me-up and meet some friends. Herman Stohl’s bakery was very popular, especially on Saturdays, as was Eggs Cetera (where Cactus is now), with its communal breakfast table.

A small coffee cart opened on the corner of 41st Avenue East and East Madison Street in front of Bert’s grocery store in the mid-‘80s. It offered all kinds of drinks with a state-of-the-art espresso machine and, at the same time, provided a quick gathering place for many catching the bus. 

It was short-lived due to Tully’s Coffee moving into the Lakeshore Deli building. Competition would be tough and the future was beginning to look dim in general for the lowly coffee cart.

Tully’s was a like a living room: very comfortable and welcoming. The table on the west side sported 10 to 12 retirees who discussed current events and politics, but never religion. On the east side sat a fun-loving group of coffee lovers who celebrated birthdays and discussed life in the Park. Northwest Airlines flight attendants met there every Thursday for a few years. 

It was a sad day when brown paper covered the windows. Whatever would happen to the various groups?

On my way to the gym the other day, I stopped into Starbucks, just a few doors up Madison Street. There, with several tables pulled together, sat one of the groups. These were new surroundings, with different conversations, but it looks like a new home has been found. 

It’s not a good thing to see small shops close, but it seems to be survival-of-the-fittest in this day and age. 

Always fearful of big business coming to Madison Park, we’ve remained unique, with a small-town feel, offering a host of shopping and eating choices. 

RICHARD CARL LEHMAN is a longtime Madison Park resident. To comment on this story, write to MPTimes@nwlink.com.