Still Stirring Shit Up: Sonoma Seniors Protest Managment Change

Seniors protesting at Burbank Heights. Marylou is bottom right, seated on walker.

Seniors protesting at Burbank Heights. Marylou is bottom right, seated on walker.

(note from Penny: a small plumbing issue in my mom’s apartment was willfully neglected by management and turned into a three month long nightmare. Instead of calling in a clean up service to deal with a wet carpet, ASAP, they moved my mom out, closed the apartment up, and left it for 5 days. What should have been a simple clean up turned into a 15K mold remediation nightmare, with my mom being displaced into a studio apartment for almost three months. This is but one incident in a long list)

 

Sonoma West Times and New, June 24, 2015

by Tony Landucci, staff writer (used with permission)

List of complaints denied by landlord

A broken hip was the last straw for residents at Burbank Heights and Orchard Apartments Senior Housing in Sebastopol. In May, an elderly resident negotiating a newly replaced door in the senior housing complex’s community building fell and broke her hip. The fall, coupled with concerns about management, led to a picket line and protest by more than two dozen residents of the facility on Wednesday, June 17.

The morning picket line was formed at the center’s board of directors meeting, which was held at the community building near the center of the apartment complex. Residents gathered to block the front entrance with signs displaying grievances such as, “Hire Competent Staff” and “No More Missing Paperwork.”

At the heart of the complaints by residents of the senior community apartment complex is a distrust and lack of confidence in management and the temporary Burbank Heights Administrator, Jill Niebuhr. “She is not mature enough for her role and does not have the training and temperament to deal with seniors and residents,” said Lauralee Aho, a resident who helped organize the protest.

Owned by two local churches, management of the senior housing complex has been in the hands of Christian Church Homes of Northern California for about three decades. The non-profit organization runs 55 properties on the West Coast. Burbank Heights and Orchard is one of two in Sebastopol.

Residents accuse CCH management of losing paperwork needed for residents to get, and keep, subsidies that allow them to afford their rent, including Section 8 housing assistance. However, Niebuhr, in a formal statement, said that no paperwork has been lost and that “Due to an unanticipated employee leave of absence, there have been some delays in processing paperwork but CCH has worked to mitigate this issue.”

“Occasionally, it has been necessary to request updated supporting documents when CCH is in the process of completing certifications. While this may give the impression that the documents have been lost, the truth is HUD requirements dictate certain documents, which have time limits, be updated to reflect the most recent circumstances regarding an applicant seeking affordable housing,” Niebuhr said in the emailed statement.

On the picket line, last week, the group chanted, “Broken hip, how many more – CCH, fix that door,” calling attention to the double door leading to the main community building. The door, on the back side of the community building, was recently replaced in a larger renovation project and residents said the doors are no longer ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) compliant. Judith Kinsey, the Resident Representative on the Board of Directors, said that the door in question does not need to be ADA compliant because the building’s front entry fulfils the requirement, but adds that it is an often-used entry and would be more user-friendly with an ADA compliant door opener.

The old door had an electric powered automatic door opener that allowed residents to push a button to gain access the building. The newly replaced doors do not have this feature and residents believe that this led to the injury of their neighbor, who is currently back at home, at her apartment, in recovery. Niebuhr said that the old door was not automated but that “we are currently taking steps to install an automated door as soon as possible.”

In addition to the door, Aho said there are a number of other issues and problems that developed as the property went through renovations.

While landscaping was being removed, ground level lighting for a few walking paths was removed and replaced with solar fixtures. According to Aho and Kinsey, the lights that now illuminate a small but heavily used section of the maze of paths that lead to the community building, cast a “star pattern” that some residents find disorienting. Kinsey and Aho said that vision and mobility issues are made worse by the pattern cast by the small lights and some residents are afraid to walk after dark in the area where these replacement lights are, at the hub of the apartment complex.

“As you get older your sight isn’t all that great and I know people that do have (vision impairment) that are very afraid to walk over there at night. It has a star effect – it’s very pretty – but totally useless when it comes to trying to see that sidewalk,” said Kinsey.

According to Niebuhr’s statement, “CCH is seeking bids for the replacement of these lights as well as repairing lights on one of the buildings.”

In addition to the lighting, Aho said that a recently paved path that connects several apartment buildings to the community building has no railing despite being somewhat steep. Aho said residents with mobility issues avoid the path because it feels too steep to safely ascend or descend. “We have just learned about the issue regarding the connector path between Buildings M and L. We have dispatched CCH maintenance staff to review the situation and take needed steps to resolve the problem,” said Niebuhr in the statement.

Some residents also said that management had taken months to sort out damage from broken sewer pipes and mix-ups with paperwork that left one woman wondering if she had a place to live at all.

Shira Hadditt said that on Martin Luther King Day, this year (Jan. 18), the sewer backed-up into her apartment causing it to flood. According to Hadditt, it took several hours for a plumber to arrive and she was temporarily moved to a studio apartment while hers was cleaned up. However, Hadditt’s apartment was sealed shut for the three-day weekend with the heater running, causing mold growth, including her clothing, furniture and other possessions. The damage was cleaned up and Hadditt was reimbursed for cleaning costs. She said she spent about two and a half months in the studio apartment while her one bedroom apartment was cleared of mold and repaired. Hadditt said she believed management would have left her in the smaller apartment.

“They would not have done anything if my daughter had not got on the phone three times a week,” Hadditt said.

Burbank Heights’ management sent out a letter addressing concerns about turnover in management positions but the letter said nothing about last week’s protest.

About the change in staffing, the letter read, in part: “It is our hope that the community will welcome management staff member(s) and seek a genuine opportunity to connect with this person.”

 The letter presumably refers to Niebuhr but no names appear in the letter.

“We hear the concerns voiced by residents and appreciate their patience as we take steps to address current challenges,” Niebuhr said at the end of her statement.

The press was not permitted to attend the board of directors meeting, nor were residents, who are represented by Kinsey, who is elected by the residents of the community.

In spite of the complaints about recent events, residents say they are happy with their home and their community. For example, a farmers’ market was set-up in the community building just after the protest.

Kaddish Poem

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July 17, 2015

The old woman looks at the calendar. A frightened child, barely 14 years old, cries within the old woman.  Crying because both the old woman and the sad little girl remember that Friday, July 17th is the day and date her mother died so many years ago. Images, sounds and smells, faces and touch surround the old woman. She finds words, words melting into childhood remembrances, twisting and turning, becoming a poem. The old woman is me, sending the poem into the ether, releasing the child for all times.

THE SCREENED PORCH EVENING

The heat of the summer day
settles down on the evening with a crush.
The child chills her thighs
against the cool of the red clay tile floor.
She chews the end of her pigtail.
Waiting.

The Grandmother sluffs the porch swing
with her slippers
back and forth
back and forth
Waiting.

The Grandfather smokes
Between-the-Acts miniature cigars
hiding,
hiding behind the
Saturday Evening Post.
Waiting.

Cicadas cry from the oak trees.
Waiting.
Lightning bugs flash a signal
an alarm
Waiting.

The screen door slams open.
The Father, immobile in the doorway,
“The waiting is over”, he says.
“She’s gone.  7:15 tonight”.
He collapses into the arms of
the Grandmother, his mother.

“She’s gone”.
The Child’s Mother.
My Mother.

I stretch my legs, my arms
my chest, my cheek.
Finding the cool comfort of
the red clay tiles.
The cicadas cry.
Lightening bugs glitter.
Only me –
Alone.
Chewing my pigtail.

Friday, July 17, 1942

More Words on Racism

More Words on racism

(Letter to the Editor the Press Democrat didn’t print.)

I am fascinated by the ease with which us folks living north or west of the old Mason-Dixon line manage to blame racism on Confederate flags, South Carolina and the cops.  Racism is ubiquitous – that means it exists in every possible nook and corner of this land.  And it won’t go away until we look at our White selves, look at what we hide behind:  “I’m not racist.  I don’t say the N— word”, or “I’m not racist.  I support the NAACP”, or “I didn’t know our jails are filled with 60%+ African-American men”, or “I didn’t realize the median White net worth is 13 times more than African American’s”, or a whole bucket full of denials on the part of us White folks.

Wake up!  Look at the current voter restriction laws in many states.  Visit a court room to see first hand how justice is dispensed.  Take a look at red-lining in most cities.  Go to the library.  Read Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”.  Learn what’s happening around you – and  act.

Black lives matter.

Dear Mr. President:

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June 25,2015

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave
Washington, DC NW

Dear Mr. President:

Words are not enough to show my appreciation, praise, and respect for your right-on statement on racism. How we white folks righteously hide behind using the word “nigger” and make believe we  aren’t racist. Huzzahs for your candor! I support you one hundred percent plus. My words of praise come from an eighty seven year old woman, raised part Southern Belle and part Jewish Princess who has spent a large part of my political and social life understanding my background, understanding and owning my role in white privilege and white oppression.

Mr. President, you inspire me.

With all good wishes, I am

Sincerely yours,

Marylou Shira Hadditt

Sebastopol, CA 95472

PS. For twenty years, back in row ’60’s,  I lived at 1030 E 50th Street, around the corner from your present Chicago home.

 

Breslaur’s Department Store

Breslauer’s Department Store

Stevie and Gus Breslauer , of Breslauar’s Dry Goods, were like Ted Anderson, a Hyde Park institution. Their dry goods store was a classic period piece with bare wooden floors, 1910-counters and glass cases. Merchandise stocked hither and yon but Stevie, like Ted Anderson, knew where to find exactly what a customer needed. She always remembered customers, and their children, by first names. She was the female spirit of the Hyde Park Business and Professional Association. Always cheerful at their weekly Tuesday meetings – ready to offer any and all comers a generous dry martini.

In the 1960’s, Breslaur’s joined other Hyde Park merchants moving to a locally owned and managed shopping center at 53rd and Woodlawn. Now called “Breslauer’s Department Store”, the shop was a good deal more orderly, with proper dressing rooms instead of a curtained off area, modern show cases, yet retaining the postal substation.

On a trip to Chicago in 1978 I stopped to visit former clients from the Kimbark Plaza. Harry Weinstein and the “G” brothers had retired, Gabe’s Men’s Wear was no more, Ted was out for lunch but his right hand man, George, remembered me.

I walked into Breslauers, asked a sales clerk if Stevie were around, giving my name. She walked to the back of the store, Stevie enthusiastically called , “I’ll be right out” She came “right out”, with some physical difficulty: She had a stroke and was struggling with a walker. Her warmth and generosity had not tarnished. . We talked, how did I like California, did I know Gus was gone? and so on. “Oh, excuse me,” she said, like old times when i was selling an ad. I watched when Stevie approached the customer, hobbling along as if the walker didn’t exist. “May I help you”? she greeted then turned briefly to me, waving her arm, “It’s good to see you, Marylou.” Come back later when I’m not busy.” — like the old days.

Hyde Park Federal Savings

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Hyde Park Federal Savings

In 1960 Hyde Park Federal was the first savings and loan in the United States to make loans on a non-discriminatory basis.

It was also among the few S & L’s which came into being from grass roots community action. In Hyde Park -Kenwood, the heart of innovative urban renewal planning, it was impossible to obtain a residential mortgage. If you were white, no Chicago bank would give you a mortgage because your home was on the same block with an African American family. If you were African American, you couldn’t get a mortgage on your home because of the color of your skin.

Tenacious Hyde Park and Kenwood families met together as they had so often done in the past – moderate income whites and African Americans raised sufficient money to open a viable savings and loan., They succeeded to the extent that other Chicago Area S & L’s saw Hyde Park Kenwood as a good place to invest. HPFS’ Board of directors was representative of the several racial, ethnic and religious groups in the community. The savings & loan opened 1961.

The following pages were designed to show a diversity of patrons of Hyde Park Federal. These ads- an idea of Bruce’s that I ran with- emphasized savings, illustrating this by what material item, as well as money, was saved. I dare think that Nancy Hays and I enjoyed researching and photographing these pages more than they brought in savings dollars. But fun it was and to this day, the pages are a bellwether of how Hyde Parkers think.

Hyde Park Federal ads, including one which won a coveted “”Hermes” award from the Chicago Federal Advertising Clubs, ran for two years. The series came to an abrupt end when Paul Berger-( the president of the board, ) learned his large lake front apartment was being converted to a condominium. He did not want the conversion, thus instituted a different series of ads protesting the “condominiumization” of Hyde Park.

I understand that today 80% of Hyde Park apartments have been
“condominiumized”.

 

Marylou says, ” the Feb 23-March 2 issue of NewYorker celebrates their 90th birthday of publication and is a great fun issue to read.”

(click on the images for a full size version)

Hyde Park bathtub lgs

Holiday Greetings

Dear Friends,

I am sharing with you what has been the happiest, most fulfilling holiday gift season I’ve ever experienced. I wrote my children and grand children that this year I was not buying material gifts but wanted to make a donations in their honor to an organization/group/event they cared about. The response I got was amazing. The gift was three-fold: for me, for my loved ones, and making a small difference in the world. Look at the logos, check the links below… it’s an exciting list… maybe you might be inspired for next year.

I wish you a fruitful, healthy, and satisfying 2015.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 9.49.43 AM

Penny and Craig: – a legal organization fighting the  use of Wild and Scenic River Corridors  for “megaloads” – trucks the size of the space shuttle taking equipment to the Tar Sands. http://fightinggoliath.org/

Ben: – “de-Worm” is one of several initiatives of Evidence Action. It costs about 30cents to clean parasites from children of India. http://www.evidenceaction.org/#about

Forrest: – gifts of computer games to children in hospitals, homeless shelters,‘  http://www.childsplaycharity.org/

David – A group connecting with National Forest Service to give inner city children a summer in the wilderness. http://wildlinkprogram.org/

Lucia, Mark & Ryan Savage and Steve: ACLU – always there fighting for our civil rights and justice  https://www.aclu.org/

Willow: Youth Equine Alliance – Teen girls in Arizona who are saving the wild horses and burros from becoming dog food.h ttp://www.windwildhorse.com/windblog/2013/11/20/youth-equine-alliance-campaign-to-adopt-wild-horses/

Gyelse & Nile – For purchase of a bus to take sixty Cambodian children to school every day. http://www.indie.gogo.com/projects/let-s-get=tiny=toones-a-van-for-christmas

Judith: Sebastopol teens learn cooking and preparation of nutritious meals for persons with serious and /or life threatening diseases. http://www.ceresproject.org/

Grandma (from Ben) An anti-racism training and education program. http://collectiveliberation.org/

Wage Peace

Wage Peace ~ Mary Oliver (2001)

Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing
blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion
and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen
and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening:
hear sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools:
flower seeds, clothespins, clean rivers.
Make soup.
Play music,
learn the word thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the out-breath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious.
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Don’t wait another minute.

Yahrzeit

Yahrzeit

Dateline: July 10, 2014. Sebastopol

One week from today is my mother’s Yahrzeit (the anniversary of her death), July 17th.

My mother died seventy-two years ago. I has just turned fourteen. I am now eighty-six. I still miss my mother. I have a quilted flower picture hanging on my bedroom wall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA For several months now, when I casually give a quick glance at those quilted flowers, for just an instant, they turn into the formal portrait  of my mother and me. Then, just as suddenly as it became Mom and me, it reverts to its reality, being a quilted picture my daughter Penny made for me. This happens over and over again, and quite unexpectedly so. 

Bootsie and Sophie c.1939

Bootsie and Sophie c.1939

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve only had two dreams about my mother in all these seventy-two years that she has been gone. Recently, a rather passing fancy of a dream about which outfit I wanted and which outfit she wanted for me. She won. A statement of the brief times we had together.

In 1981, another dream, an important dream, came to me as a gift. In this dream I was an undefined age – somewhere between teen and middle age. I tip-toed into mother’s room in Atlanta’s Georgia Baptist Hospital. She appeared gray against the hospital’s white sheets. Tubes dribbled liquid into her almost skeletal arms. Two months ago, she had a massive cerebral hemorrhage, a severe stroke, (She was forty-one). I sat on the side of her bed. She handed me her sterling silver monogrammed hairbrush (SMH – Sophie Manes Holzman) and I began to gingerly, tenderly, sweetly remove the tangles from, what she called, her salt and pepper hair, circling her face on the pillow with her own kind of halo. I lay down the brush, picked up a washcloth and stroked her face. The grayness I’d seen when I entered the room faded into a soft rosy glow. I kissed her forehead.

She opened her eyes, smiled at me and spoke: “Now I can die.”

Only those adults who were children when their mother died can understand the life-long impact of the death a parent. I went from an A student to a C- student, Mother wasn’t there to tell me I was smart. Only Dad and Grandma to tell me I was pretty.

Mother wasn’t there when I fell in love the first time, nor when I graduated from high school, nor when I married. Mother wasn’t there when my son was born and I was frightened. I didn’t know what to do. Mother wasn’t there to show me. Mom wasn’t there to applaud when I received an award or to give me her favorite recipes or show me the nuances of making a home.

One time she really was there. In 1966, I was rushed to Michael Reese hospital with pneumonia in both lungs. I was told I barely made it through the night, That night I well remember: floating down the long hospital corridor. By the swinging doors at the end of the hallway, stood my mother, dressed in her favorite blue damask hostess gown. Waiting for me. I pleaded with her. “I don’t want to desert my children the way you deserted me.” She took my hand and guided me back to my hospital bed, tucked me in with a kiss and disappeared.

Maybe this is why every so often I see her in those quilted flowers. The flowers momentarily become both Mother and me in a formal studio portrait. Her silent voice says to me: “I am here. Ready to be with you when your time comes..

Marylou's daughters: Lucia, Penny, Gai

Marylou’s daughters: Lucia, Penny, Gail

WHEN SERVICE RANG A BELL: Sam Bell Shell

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Gasoline cost 19 cents a gallon.

Chicago’s public broadcasting station WTTW has just begun. A former University of California-Berkeley professor of criminology was elected Sheriff of Cook County in a freak reform movement. The largest supermarket in the US was being built by the Hyde Park Co-op, a consumer-owned corporation. Laura Fermi, the widow of the man who invented the atom bomb, started the first clean air anti-pollution campaign and Early Wynn was pitcher for the White Sox World Series winning team.

The year was 1959.

All of these people, and more – some famous, some not – bought their gas, oil and car service from Sam Bell – a guy who changed his last name to rhyme with his Shell service station.  Sam’s and his gas station became a famous institution in the annals of Chicago urban renewal. He began his long association with Shell Oil as an accountant in their Loop offices. Unhappy with a desk job, he talked his way into a service station franchise. Sam located his Shell station at the northern end of Hyde Park- Kenwood at an intersection of two arterial streets with access and egress to the Outer Drive, Chicago’s lake front freeway. He had a fully equipped service station with three service bays, two gasoline islands, an inventory of tires, batteries, parts and accessories – with plenty of parking. Sam was compulsive about cleanliness. A grease spot was acceptable, but a rolling bottle cap was taboo.

Bell attracted drive-in customers with a bright red and yellow sign, “Buy Shell From Bell” showing the Shell logo superimposed on a bell. He joined and supported the local civic and business organizations: Lions Club, Kiwanis, Kenwood Chamber of Commerce, Hyde Park Business and Professional Association. His photograph appeared regularly in Hyde Park Herald news stories showing Sam as champion fund raiser for the YMCA, Boy Scouts, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cancer Prevention, etc. Sam was attentive to these ‘extra curricular’ activities from his desk, leaving the station for an occasional business luncheon or to attend all the White Sox home games. An ardent fan, he had box seats at Comisky Park. I, a mother as well as an ad rep for the Hyde Park Herald, was among numerous customers who presented Sam with a brand new baseball seeking signatures from the White Sox winning team Since nearly all the players were Sam’s regular customers. The autographed ball was delivered within a week to a delighted boy or girl.

Sam’s rules for service: never let a customer drive away without having his front and rear windshield cleaned, always check the oil, radiator and battery water; always check the tires. If a child were in the car, he or she was given a “Buy Shell from Bell” balloon. If one of Sam’s “boys” forgot any of these things, he got a thorough reprimand if not probation.
“This is not a filling station,” Sam yelled across the drive. “This is a service station. That’s service, S-E-R-V-I-C-E”. he spelled with a roar.
“Both windshields. Front and back. Got it?”
“Check the tires and water. Got it?”
“And every kid gets a balloon . Got it?”
If one of the “boys” didn’t get it, they weren’t at Bell- Shell very long. Sam had a record of the lowest turnover in personnel of any service station in the Midwest.

The Bell-Shell logo was ubiquitous on Sam’s give-aways: ice scrapers, matches, balloons, charge slips, service orders, shirts the “boys” wore. He managed a service station and that meant service: He kept a file to remind customers when they were due for an oil change, new tires before the tread wore thin or when battery warranties were almost up. He was a top-notch sales person but he was also a warm and caring mensch.

One blustery snowy January day I was in Sam’s office, just off the service drive, waiting for enough time to talk about his ads when we both looked out the window to see a new Cadillac trying to manipulate its way along the icy streets toward the station. Barely missing a telephone pole, skidding past a parking meter, an impatient driver pulled into the station, demanding gas in a hurry. Sam reached for his jacket, left the office with a hurried “excuse me”, and headed toward the sedan. He chatted with the driver through a slight opening in the window. Pretty soon, Sam motioned one of the boys over, whispered something, then invited the customer into the office to warm up with a cup of coffee while snow tires were installed.

The first time I met Sam had been on a similar freezing day. I’d recently joined the staff of the Herald and was getting to know new accounts – who they were, what they required. I was beginning to get a feeling for different kinds of merchants – the kind who was undecided and who took a great deal of time trying to figure out if they wanted an ad, and if so, what merchandise would they put in it. There was the passive- aggressive kind who would welcome me warmly, then immediately become busy with anything that wasn’t an ad, full well knowing that my job was just to be patient – forever, if necessary. There were the efficient ones who knew exactly what he/she wanted, what an ad should say, how it should look; Sam, who was always busy, knew precisely what he wanted in his Firestone ads: always his picture and the Buy Shell from Bell logo. It took time to get it all together. He would start a sentence, run out on the drive, come back, almost finish the sentence before he ran out on the drive again, only to return and complete his thought – as easily as if there were never an interruption. Sam was like an eight-armed Shiva.

There were times when Sam, or his boys, appeared to be literally, angels. If one were a Bell-Shell customer, they didn’t fool with AAA emergency service. AAA took five to six hours to come out and recharge a battery on a cold morning. Sam took at most an hour and a half. On just such a cold morning, my 1951 Plymouth wouldn’t start and I had the pre-school carpool that day. I called Sam – all four phone lines were busy. When I finally reached him, he told me he couldn’t possibly get to me for over an hour. He was really backed up. “But listen,” he said, ” if you can’t find anyone to pick up the kids, call me back”. Which I did. “Okay, okay,” he said, probably holding the phone with one hand and ringing up the register with the other. “Don’t worry,” his voice rushed. “Just tell the school to pin addresses on the children and I’ll send one of the boys over in my car.” Like Sam said, “we give service – S-E-R-V-I-C-E”

I get a lump in my throat whenever I remember that beastly cold day and the wiry little man (Sam wasn’t tall by the tape measure, but miles high by the heart) seeing that my kids and all the other kids got safely home. He was like that, not just for me, but all his regular customers. We were his family. Oh, he could get angry and he had a temper, but the edges were soft and tender, I either didn’t notice or forgot. Once he grew angry with me, not over advertising – he was always pleased with the Herald – but because I had brought a bottle of Scotch for the boys for Christmas. Sam rightfully blew up and made the boys return the whiskey to a sorely embarrassed me.

Sam Bell - windbagsSam’s photograph appeared in all his ads next to his “Buy Shell from Bell” logo. This self same photograph, in connection with one civic group or another appeared at least bi-weekly in the Hyde Park Herald. If there were ever to be a prize for the most photographed person in Hyde Park surely Sam Bell would win. Late one evening, after putting the paper to bed, my boss, Bruce Sagan, looked at the previous week’s sixteen page Herald and guffawed. Sam’s picture appeared four times: once in his ad, once with the YMCA, once for the Lions Club, and once for the Chamber of Commerce. “I think we ought to do a series of full page ads with just Sam’s picture on it”, I suggested in jest. Bruce could take the silliest of ideas and make them sail. “Hey”, Bruce said, “that’s a great idea. We can start off the series with some big-shot -like the Southeast Chicago Commission’s Julian Levi. We could picture him blowing up a Buy Shell from Bell balloon, with a headline that read: “Hyde Park Windbags gas up at Sam Bell’s.” After we finished laughing, we simultaneously said, “well, why not?” We knew it was not politic to ask Levi, who probably wouldn’t have admitted to being a wind bag anyway, so Bruce himself volunteered to be the windbag.

Bell Shell Tunes UpOur second ad showed Sheppard Lehnhoff, first violist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, getting a tune-up while Sam held battery leads to the fiddle. This particular ad also publicized a local chamber music concert.

Rus Arnold, a Hyde Parker and professional photographer, knew the ins and outs of photographing service stations and, an added asset, previously had worked for Shell. In a short while, Sam Bell’s ad pages became a community project. Organizations who wanted publicity for an event would call Sam or me, pleading for an ad. “Sam, we’re having an exhibit at the Art Center, can you give us a plug?” We placed a local artist with her easel and her palette filled with motor oil in the middle of Bell’s drive. The caption: “Painting with oils at Sam Bells”, For the Kenwood Annual Open House, we posed Sam at the station as a welcoming committee to two little girls with their a doll house. We had strict guidelines: each person (identified in ads with a Shell Credit Card) and had to be a bona fide credit card holder and the organization had to be not-for-profit.

Bell Shell - cookingWe – sometimes my family, sometimes the Herald staff, or sometimes Rus – had a great time inventing relevant and amusing ads. My favorite page regrettably, had an extraordinarily poor press run. One cold, snowy December day, my colleague, Ellen Shira, and I dressed up in choir robes, placed aluminum halos on our heads to pose with Sam in his Buy Shell from Bell uniform and cap. Sam held an oversized book, the cover of which read:, “Hyde Park Herald Angels Sing Season’s Greetings at Sam Bells.”We kept the series going three years, every other week, thinking up clever headlines. It wasn’t easy. Often quick-minded Rus saved the day, with Johnny-on-the-spot creativity, like the time it rained on an American Cancer Society shoot. Rus handed me the proof sheet, with his suggested caption: “Sam Bell Rains Support for cancer”. The photograph showed everyone under umbrellas.

 

The series ran until Shell refused to share costs anymore – Sam could not afford full pages without the help of the parent company. I made a special appeal to Shell national office for continued cost sharing which they refused. Even though a third of Sam’s customers had left the area, his total charge customers had increased by 40% – in part with new people moving into Hyde Park and in part with expanding his base within the community. In 1961, three years after the termination of the series, the first thing our new across the street neighbors wanted to know was, “where is that gas stations everyone says is so great?”.

The city planner maps and the claws of urban renewal bulldozers attacked Sam’s station. The street was to be re-routed, making it more efficient. A group of Hyde Parkers testified before the Planning Council urging that Sam remain at his present location and that the street be re-routed otherwise. Sam was, they felt, an important community institution. An uncomfortable compromise was reached. Sam was allowed to remain at his old location only until a new site could be found. Neither Sam nor the community knew at that time that Mr. Buy Shell from Bell was obligated to accept, without question, whatever location the city offered. Soon demolition began on the two main arteries which intersected at Sam’s corner, 47th Street and Lake Park Avenue. Streets were blocked first by demolition, then by construction. Furthermore, motorists never knew which streets would be open when. Sam lost customers when people changed their driving habits. Within a year, Sam was offered a temporary location: a contractor’s-type trailer adjacent to where his new station would be. It was heated by a kerosene heater, Sam had one gasoline island, only one service bay and parking space for a few cars. Worst of all, the site was in the middle of the block, making left turns in or out almost impossible. Only the vision of his new station under construction on a lot next to the trailer kept Sam going. He lost some of his “boys” because he didn’t have the service business to keep them. Faithful customers often had to wait in line. Sam’s former “Buy Shell from Bell” station was a pile of rubble.

That winter was as bitter as Chicago winters can get – especially as near to Lake Michigan winds as is Hyde Park. Snow, freeze, melt, snow, ice melt and thus the cycle went. Sam had difficulty getting snow plows on and off his drive. With his reduced crew of boys, he couldn’t keep up battery charges as he had once done. Bad times fed one another. Sam had a heart attack. A year and a half after Sam vacated his 47th Street and Lake Park location, he moved to his new permanent quarters. Despite the mid-block location and only two service bays, Sam opened the new station with fanfare. Members of civic organizations, elected officials, important people and neighbors all came. Sam’s small office was filled with flowers. Champagne flowed. Many people who had changed their gas buying habits, returned. Some did not. Sam tried to keep his old verve, but friends and loyal customers sensed a slowing down of energies.

Six months later, while greeting a customer Sam had a second heart attack. He never recovered. For a while, Sam’s son, Dennis, took over the station, but Dennis preferred indoor work. The station was sold.
I am sure that Sam is up there somewhere, at the Pearly Gates, watching as the angels come down to earth.
“Hey, you can’t let that angel out without polishing her halo.”
and
“Hey, be sure you preen those wings before you leave the Pearly gates.
“Remember, this isn’t just any old gate. This is the Pearly Gate to Heaven, where things are always done right.
“ Got that, Heaven. H-E-A-V-E-N !”