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If these walls could talk: 620 Lake Shore Drive

January 2, 2014

ABOVE: Smoke billows from the old coffee shop on Lake Shore Drive in Oct., 1978 as firefighters battle the blaze. Note onlookers watching the fire from the roof of the Lakeview Tavern at left.

-- CULVER HISTORY CORNER --

In the last installment of our ongoing series of "virtual" walks through the historic buildings of Culver, we began an effort to sort out the mix of buildings and entities which, through the years, occupied the space which is now home to the Lakehouse Grille, which today is numbered 620 Lake Shore Drive.

The businesses at the locale ranged in number from 618 to 620, to 622 in the past, with the one still existant entity from nearly 80 years back being the former Lakeview Tavern (the main subject of our last installment), though today it's connected directly to the Lakehouse by way of a 1999 construction project.

As reported in that last installment (whose title unfortunately misrepresented the 600s as 200s!), part of today's 620 Lake Shore Drive apparently started life as a dry goods store circa 1922, but became best known as a bowling alley until its demise by fire in 1978.
The bowling alley sat east of the Lakeview Tavern and just to the east of the tavern, at 622 Lake Shore Drive, was the popular coffee shop, which was lost to fire the same day.

The large, two-story coffee shop structure (its second floor contained apartments) occupied what was listed as an empty lot on the 1908 Sanborn fire map, though the 1924 map lists some entity existing there -- it just doesn't identify what.

A circa 1922 photograph shows the future coffee shop, albeit with what appears to be block or brick siding in those days. Judi Burns' Maxinkuckee history website suggests the building was, at least for a time, F.G. Solomon's department store, a prominent one in town in the 1920s.

The identity of the old building as a coffee shop was apparently in place by July, 1928, when the Culver Citizen reported that Mrs. E. A. Thessin "purchased the Coffee Shop which is located opposite the depot." Two years later, Thessin would take over management elsewhere of the Home Restaurant from Mrs. Lura Baker, departing the coffee shop at the same time.

In Jan., 1944, the Citizen reported that "Mr. and Mrs. Howard Warner have sold the Coffee Shop to Mary Carrothers and Catherine Kowatch."

In May, 1952, Mrs. Tom Hagle and Mrs. Floyd Triplett became joint proprietors of the business, though in Feb., 1960, Mr. and Mrs. David Laffoon of South Bend purchased the Coffee Shop "from Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Triplett and took over the management of the restaurant."

However, Lavina Triplett and Pearl Onesti (who with husband Pete was long associated with the Lakeside grocery store a few doors east, where Rideon Bicycles is located today) jointly operated the coffee shop during the 1960s. By the 1970s, Pearl alone managed what was officially by then known as the Lakeside Coffee Shop (she ended her association with the grocery store in Oct., 1975).

The business suffered smoke damage in the early 1970s when a fire, which according to former bowling alley owner Jim DeWitt had started in the coffee shop kitchen, affected the two buildings' shared wall. Neither suffered major damage at the time.

Around that time, Pearl Onesti refurbished the restaurant, adding a brick facade to the lower level.

The Oct. 26, 1978 Culver Citizen described the five-alarm fire which finally destroyed both coffee shop and bowling alley as having been observed by "thousands" of onlookers (some, visible in the accompanying photos, watching from the rooftops of buildings quite nearby!) and burning fiercely for over six hours starting around 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 22.

An Argos fireman was rushed to Parkview hospital in Plymouth for smoke inhalation, and it was briefly feared the massive blaze would devour the buildings to the west, including the Lakeview Tavern, Hansen's, and the El Rancho Theatre. The flames were fought from the tavern rooftop and Plymouth's snorkel lift, and Culver firemen stayed through the night to keep the blaze from reigniting. Damage was estimated at a quarter of a million dollars.

The coffee shop space remained a vacant lot for around the next twenty years.

In the late 1980s, a small bait shop at part of today's Lakehouse site was opened under the management of former Culver town marshal Richard "Woody" Woodward, by 1990 known as J & B Bait & Tackling.

In his Easterday Construction blog online, Easterday owner Kevin Berger describes the small, block former bait shop building as "a small white building with an orange roof sitting on the site of the former bowling alley (at that time the adjacent Lakeview Tavern was under separate ownership)."

Easterday was tapped by Larry and Joette Surrisi, who had been operating the Edgewater Grille at the site since 1997, to construct the considerably larger building which currently houses the Lakehouse Grille.

In the old bait shop structure, recalls Berger, "The Edgewater Grille sign only partially covered the old sign on the roof that said 'BAIT.' There were only a few tables because of the limited space, but the business was brisk."

Surrisi had operated successful restaurants in Indianapolis and was working in the publishing industry in Chicago when the bug bit him to move to Culver, where he became part of a wave of fine dining options sprouting up in the mid-1990s here.

Construction began in September of 1999 on the new building, and in Dec., 1999, the Surriris took over the old Lakeview tavern, or Lakeview Lodge as it became known.

Berger writes that the greatest challenge in the construction of the new structure was the request to keep the kitchen open as long as possible during the work.

Architect Brent Martin partnered with Berger and Surrisi to design the new, wood-framed structure, whose facade was intended to reflect the community by mirroring the brick in use in the train station - depot across the street.

"Mr. Martin," added Berger, "proposed the tower on the (southeast) corner to serve not only as an anchor to the structure,  but as a metaphorical lighthouse tower since it sits at a bend in Lake Shore Drive."

With phase one complete, the restaurant closed briefly to allow the relocation of some of the kitchen equipment. The old bait shop was torn down to allow phase two, during which the Lakeview was incorporated into the endeavor.

Fountains were added to the corners of the raised dais along the west wall to create a pool and waterfall effect, Berger explains, though the "occasional splatter made them difficult to use when the adjacent seating was occupied."

The restaurant was so popular, Berger noted, "that the owner petitioned the Town to make changes and add a crosswalk to handle the pedestrian traffic from the parking areas across the street."

In June, 2003, the late Ralph Braun took over actual ownership, with Surrisi eventually moving on to launch the also popular City Tavern a few blocks west of the Edgewater. Dan Bickel took on management at the Edgewater in Aug., 2008, though in March, 2012, the business' new (and present) owner, Mark Damore Jr., was announced.

The son of Original Root Beer Stand owner Mark Sr., Damore rechristened the restaurant the Lakehouse Grille, reopening it in May, 2012 with some interior (and relatively minor exterior) changes to reflect its new identity.

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“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.

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