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13 December 2005

Memory -- it's like magic

The small city where I did most of my growing up decorated the main street for Christmas with beautiful, golden angels.  It was dubbed "The Avenue of Angels."  Some of the angels, hanging from street lamps, had golden horns lifted to the heavens, while others bowed their heads in prayer.  At main intersections, four angels would drape gracefully from each corner, in tinselly gowns twinkling with light, horns raised, to meet in the middle.  Oh, they were beautiful!  They eventually got old and decrepit and were replaced with a tacky display that was billed as "The Avenue by Candlelight."  Never in a million years would the candles hold a candle (if you will) to the angels.  When the garish candles finally bit the dust, they were replaced with another version of angels.  These new angels are not nearly as graceful or beautiful as the originals, mind you, and they're a little too brassy, but they're a vast improvement over candles.

Back in the day, people would actually go downtown to shop, bustling in and out of stores, shops, and boutiques -- even in winter!  There were places called "department stores" and "dime stores" -- lots of 'em -- with well-known names that you'd find in nearly every town -- Penney's, Sears, Woolworth's, Kresge's (other, bigger names in other, bigger cities) -- and most had lunch counters or restaurants right in the store!  In our area, there was a regional department store called the H.C. Prange Co.

Prange's occupied a six-story building and had a five-level parking ramp.  I have distinct memories of being in the parking ramp at Christmas time with my mother at the wheel -- bumper-to-bumper from top to bottom following an afternoon of shopping.  My mother would be damned if she'd let anyone squeeze their car in front of hers!  More often than not, she had five, tired little kids in the car, so I really can't blame her for wanting to keep moving forward.  Prange's exterior holiday decor was a very simple and elegant tree made from many strands of large, white lights strung from the top of the street-level canopy all the way to a large, brightly lit star at the roofline.

The store windows came to life with mechanically animated displays -- spinning, swinging, twirling elves, gingerbread men and forest animals, for example, cavorting in sets filled with piles of fake, glittery snow.  There was music piped outside and the sidewalks were filled with shoppers.  "City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style, in the air there's a feeling of Christmas..."  Once upon a time, those words rang very true.  But, oh, those windows!  That display!  It seemed to go on and on, but always ended too soon.

Inside the store was an "Enchanted Forest."  On either side of a roped off path, there was more of the same animation that sparked the front windows, and towering, white trees -- lots of branches -- more piles of snow and millions of lights.  It was truly enchanting!  The destination was tucked away, out of sight 'til the very end, though perhaps a glimpse would be caught along the way -- a little hit of red in all that white, heightening the anticipation to just this side of unbearable...

SANTA CLAUS!!

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I recently learned that those animated displays have been restored and are on display at a historical museum in the city where Prange's had their headquarters.  I smell a road trip...

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Typepad wouldn't let me post my pictures today.  This has nothing to do with the pictures I have and I don't have any pictures of this, so thought I'd try to see if a thousand words (more or less) could paint any sort of picture.  Hopefully, full and living color will return tomorrow.

Comments

You did paint a pretty picture - and brought back memories of sitting in my little city's downtown at the lunch counter of a dept. store with my Mom. In downtown Toronto to this day, The Hudson's Bay Co. store still puts on a big window display but it's never the same as those memories of viewing it when you are wee and looking up.

You brought back memories of shopping downtown before the malls took over as the place to go. We loved the windows decoarted in special ways and the lights all over the place. Too bad this is only a memory in most places around the country. Thanks Vicki!

Sounds beautiful! These days the shop windows are so commercial it's sort of sad. Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories!

You brought back memories of my parent's hometowns where I spent a lot of time. They called the 5 & 10 the 'Fivey' --- I still do use that term every now and again! My parent's also had a running joke about whose home town had better Christmas decorations, with both of them proclaiming their own hometown God's Country (the towns were 7 miles apart)

Hey Vicki,
You brought back great memories of my brothers and I going into Boston with my mom to see Santa at Jordan Marsh and the Enchanted Village. We went to Boston becasuse my mom told us that they had the REAL Santa and all the other store Santas were just helpers. And the city Christmas decorations? Well, I grew up in Brockton, MA, and they had this giant bell at the main intersection downtown. One Sunday after church it was particularly breezy and while we sat at the traffic light the giant bell fell. One our car. We weren't hurt and it's very funny to remember but I think my dad was really pissed! Thanks for reminding me of all of this!

Oh! I can really see those angels and the animated displays! In Berkeley, we had Hink's. Windows full of magic and Santa Claus on the mezzanine floor. He'd listen to your christmas list and give you a button with his picture that said, "Hinks is MY store!"

I grew up in a town like that too. It was tasteful and beautiful. Now it's all glitz and glitter. Thanks for the memories.

This brought memories of going shopping downtown with my sister and mother. We'd catch the bus, transfer to another bus which let us off at the corner of Olive and 7th Street. Lunch was at the restaurant in the Woolworth's at 8th and Olive. Famous-Barr (our main department store) had windows decorated much as you describe but one special window was at one of the 6th Street corners ... a multi-tiered display of trains, trains which whizzed through mountains and across bridges and through towns. Even if you never played with trains you stood entranced at that window. Inside the store, on the 11th floor, was an auditorium where there was a free entertainment. Then you went to see Santa. Two blocks over on Washington Avenue was Stix, Baer & Fuller, another department store. They, too, had the decorated windows but the real thrill was the train you could ride through the toy department. Not to be missed was Scruggs, Vandervoort and Barney up at 9th and Olive. In addition to their decorated windows, they had a puppet show inside. I will never forget seeing the Three Little Pigs and the wolf holding his bottom and saying "Oooo, it's hot" as he bounced up and down out of the chimney. In addition, the city put up big walk-through Christmas cards in the park which ran from 14th to 12th Streets along Market Street. I'm so glad I was a child who got to enjoy all these joys of Christmas. BTW, if you do a road trip to visit your memories, can you let us know where it is? I might have to make a road trip to visit it too since there is no such place of my memories.

Thank you - you've conjured up a wonderful picture, even without any photos, hope you do get to do your road trip!

Wow - thanks for bringing back happy memories of the special before Christmas trip into the city to see the Myer windows. They still do them, a different theme each year, more and more commercial each time. But we'd look at the windows and I'd be gobsmacked by the clever way things moved and I'd cry and run away from Santa (he scared me!) and we'd have lunch in Coles cafeteria, with a bowl of chips and an amazingly solid jelly square as dessert (green for me! Jello to you!).

Wow. Thanks for the memories. We used to go to downtown Indianapolis when I was young for the Indiana Implement Dealers' Association fall meeting (my grandparents were involved) and afterwards would go look at all the store windows. L.S.Ayres and such. It was fun. I haven't thought about those trips in years! Thanks, Vicki.

Dearest Vicki, I grew up with those H.C. Prange's windows! Because their headquarters were in SHEBOYGAN! If you decide to do the road trip thing, please let me know, maybe we could meet and do lunch?

Our Prange's was a local landmark, which tragically burned down when I was in grade school. I was eating dinner with a friend's family at the Sheboygan Yacht club (no yachts there, just modest sailboats, grin) just a few blocks away. We ran over to watch the fireman try to put it out. I have a photo of the 3 story building engulfed in flames. My mom's-best friend's-husband went missing that day. They found his bicycle there next to the building and think he may have been the only fatality of the fire, though his remains were never found. Prange's rebuilt, only one story, and was bought out by Younkers while I was employed by them my junior and senior years of high school. I was one of Prange's last hired employees. Those window displays are precious to everyone that saw them, we take our kids to the Sheboygan Historical Museum every Christmas so they can grow up with them too.

Thank you for posting about something that brings back so many memories for me!

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