If these walls could talk: 614 Lake Shore Drive
“Culver History Corner” is a semi-regular feature sponsored by the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver. whose quarterly newsletter is also sponsored in The Culver Citizen.
We're once again on the move, strolling through the historic buildings of Culver in our continuing series of looks at the history of said buildings. It's a short walk from our last entry, Culver's longtime movie theatre, to the store next door at 614 Lake Shore Drive, which many longtime Culverites will recall as "Hansen's" or simply "Clara's."
When Clara Hansen, the longest-lived proprietor of that building, passed away in October, 2012, it signaled the end of an era.
Ironically, the present owner's last name is also Hansen, though Diane is no relation. She has also made major improvements both to the interior and exterior of a longtime commercial space doubtless occupied to accommodate the busy traffic from the many passenger trains which began stopping at the depot at today's town park back in 1883.
Clara's restaurant, of course, came many years later. In fact, it was home to an empty lot into the 1920s.
The early years of the building which would eventually bear the Hansen name are largely shrouded in mystery, due largely to the manner of reporting in earlier editions of The Culver Citizen, which almost never bore building numbers (such as 614). Instead, most business locations were identified with the ever-helpful, "Opposite the depot," or "west of the depot," or "on Main Street."
Obviously 614 Lake Shore Drive was "opposite the depot," and any number of possible businesses mentioned or advertised in the pages of the paper. We'll likely find the missing link in directing us to a more complete history of the building at some point, but suffice it to say, by 1946 it was the Hollywood Cafe or sandwich shop. Its opening was announced as taking place April 6 of that year in the pages of the Citizen, though by Sept. of 1947, a fire of unknown cause had damaged the building, though clearly not severely,
According to Judi Burns' Maxinkuckee history pages, the establishment was "was (said) to have featured a horseshoe shaped bar (and) began to decline when the owners remodeled and updated, and the management changed to rules to the dress code that was allowed to come into the establishment."
Apparently the building sat empty between 1947 and 1959. But in April of `59, the Citizen announced that, "having been vacant for nearly 12 years, one of Culver's most desirable and spacious locations at 614 Lake Shore Drive, across from the Town Park, is now occupied by Hansen's Home Improvement Service, which will be owned and operated by Mr. and Mir. Win Hansen."
Hansen's Bait and Sportsman's shop would occupy the space for the next 40 years.
Born and raised in Plymouth, the former Clara White and her husband Winfred came to town to stay in April, 1957, though she was a stranger neither to Culver nor its people by then. Winfred was an avid fisherman, so Culver visits were nothing new to the couple.
“It was just like coming home,” Clara said in an interview with the Citizen a few years before her death. “I don’t think there was anybody in Culver I didn’t know. We spent about every weekend in the summer on the lake anyway.”
Originally, Hansen’s was a bait and sportsman’s shop, but Clara’s regular cooking there for her family led to customers suggesting she make enough they all could have some, so the business expanded to include serving food.
The Culver Citizen, in fact, briefly had an office sharing space with Hansen's during the 1980s, as evidenced by the photo on this page.
When Win died in 1998, the sporting goods, bait and fishing, hunting supplies, and hardware business were slowly phased out, leaving the restaurant as the sole business.
From 1999 to 2008, the business was best known simply as Clara's Restaurant, with its familiar west wall lined with coffee mugs, pictures of Culver’s past, awards and articles about the business and Clara herself.
Over those years especially, the site was the place to stop to rent the Lions Club depot across the street (of which Clara was in charge) besides exchange stories, gossip, and pleasantries with Clara herself.
Clara's closed its doors in 2008, and the following year, Clara put the building up for sale.
Clara Elizabeth Hansen, a longtime, active member of Culver's Lions Club and VW Ladies Auxiliary, age 89, died on October 23, 2012, and while the current "Hansen" hasn't yet specified what business the storied old building will next be home to, it seems a safe bet it's poised to begin a new century of business in Culver's "uptown" business district.