Moving buildings can make it difficult to follow history
By Marlene Cook
LANSING, Ill. (December 6, 2022) – If only walls could talk! They might confirm or deny the many stories surrounding the property at 3325 Ridge Road, currently known as Jack’s Sports Pub and Eatery.
Our story begins in 1913
The earliest historical data about that property tells about a small grocery and meat market owned by Ed “Butch” Horn. In 1913, Horn was one of the first to purchase and install a refrigerator plant in his business. In addition to being a business owner, Horn was a confectioner, a boxing manager and trainer at Calumet Memorial Park in Calumet City, and director of a boxing club in Riverdale, Illinois. He lived on Oakwood Avenue in Lansing, and his unusual phone number was listed as 1289Y4.
Things get confusing in 1916
Around that time St. John’s School, known as “the German school,” was located on Wentworth Avenue just south of Ridge Road. (An apartment building is there today.) The school building was put up for sale in 1916, and Horn bought it and moved it to Ridge Road on the lot just west of his grocery store.
Horn transformed the new building into Lansing’s first movie house and was showing silent films by 1917. He was in the movie business for only one year when he sold the building to Anthony Koselke. The building then became known as Koselke Theater, and Koselke continued to feature silent movies. Records show that Mrs. Elizabeth Winterhoff and Miss Gertrude Busack — both prominent family names in early Lansing — played piano during the shows.
What about the school?
The original St. John’s School had been built in 1893 just north of the St. John Church building, which had been dedicated 10 years earlier in 1883. After Horn bought that school building and moved it to Ridge Road, a new school building was constructed on the Wentworth Avenue site. The new building provided two classrooms on the first floor and a hall and kitchen in the basement. Until April 1923 the school conducted only seven grades. All students wishing to go further with their education transferred to the public school system.
Those buildings served the congregation for 68 years until members built a new edifice at Wentworth and Randolph Street in 1951.
Meanwhile, back on Ridge Road
It is not known how long the building that was moved to Ridge Road continued to serve as a theater. Nor are there records of how long Ed Horn’s grocery store lasted. Newspaper articles and ads from the time provide clues indicating that after the theater and the grocery store, several other businesses rented space in either 3323 or 3325 Ridge Road. (The two addresses were intermingled often.) For example, the Fruit Store — the first store Martin Rispens opened — was in one of the buildings for a time, until Rispens moved across the street in the 1920s and changed his business name to Rispens Seeds. Lansing Liquors — established by Sidney Fried in 1938 — was also in that location, even through several changes in ownership. The Lansing Journal newspaper office operated from 1931 until 1949 in the former school building. And K-D Sports Shop, formerly of Hammond, Indiana, was at that location from 1951 to 1955, selling everything from boat motors and clothing to records and toys. In 1955 K-D Sports Shop moved down the street to 3265 Ridge Road (near today’s Lansing Sport Shop).
The legend of the old blackboard
There are many different stories circulating about the two buildings and the people who worked in them. The story gaining most of the attention is about a blackboard. Some claim that behind a covered wall somewhere inside the Jack’s building hangs a school blackboard. Some even say there is writing on it dating from 1916. Former Jack’s owner Jeff Keister, however, claimed the blackboard story is an urban legend. He referred to a photograph of the school that looks as if there are windows on all sides. “No blackboard wall,” he pointed out, adding, “At that time blackboards were on a stand, and the board flipped so it could be used on both sides.”
However, Lansing Historian Paul Schultz, whose mail carrier career took him along Ridge Road, said he saw the blackboard in 1970 or so. As Schultz was walking his route, a friend stopped him and said, “You have to see this.” They went to the Jack’s building, which was at that time in the midst of complete renovation. Schultz recalls entering the building and seeing the blackboard wall.
Dwayne Schultz (no relation to Paul) attends St. John’s Church and has always heard about the blackboard but has never seen it. He also remembers that a former St. John’s principal heard there were books in the attic of the former school building and was given the opportunity to look for them, but found none.
The legend of the old printing press
Paul Schultz also said he’d heard that in the basement of Jack’s remain cement slabs that once anchored a printing press of the first Lansing Journal. It was 1931 when the first Lansing Journal newspaper office occupied the space. Journal Founder Carl Wulfing had some experience in the printing industry, but when the Great Depression limited the printing work available, he decided to start his own business. With one typewriter in his inventory Wulfing rented an office on Ridge Road — and some sources say that office was located in the old school building. On July 1, 1931, he published the first edition of the Lansing Journal using a printing press at a Hobart, Indiana, newspaper where he had once worked. Sometime along the way, Wulfing gained a printing press and began printing the Journal under the name of Lansing Printing Company. He continued working from that address until 1949.
Lansing Tap and the Ridge Room
In the meantime, William Last and his wife Rebecca bought the building at 3325 Ridge that is now Jack’s. On September 19, 1947, they opened Lansing Tap, a small cocktail lounge serving sandwiches and offering nightly music on the Hammond X66 organ.
In 1955, Last acquired the building next door and expanded his business to include a white-tablecloth restaurant named the Ridge Room. Contractors that helped create the Ridge Room included Myers Heating, Scott Draperies, Lansing Plumbing, Oak Glen Electric, Rainbolt Decoration, Frank Plantz, and Cipolla & Zarante Floor Covering.
In 1970, the Lansing Tap underwent another massive remodeling — that was when the blackboard was allegedly discovered.
When William Last died in 1975, his son Bill and his wife Cheryl bought the business and continued to operate as Lansing Tap and Ridge Room until 1984. By then the older patrons who had enjoyed the more formal service had dwindled, and the Lasts felt the need to attract a younger crowd.
Bill was a high school teacher and coach at Bishop Noll High School in Hammond, and Cheryl had been holding down the fort at the restaurant. Attempting to draw the younger crowd, they remodeled again and renamed it Benchwarmers Sports Pub and Eatery. In 1996 Bill retired after 29 years of teaching, and Cheryl retired from the kitchen duty. They had hired managers to relieve the burden of working so many hours, and for a short time they turned the kitchen into “Sports Burrito,” which they advertised as a festive Mexican setting. In 1997 they leased the kitchen to Paul Boeck, and it became Paul’s Sports Grill.
The building became the property of Jeff and Jake Keister in 2010, and they renamed it Jack’s Sports Pub and Eatery. In 2016 Jeff remodeled again, taking down the front facade and discovering the original neon sign that had spanned the length of the building in the 1950s. Keister restored the “Cocktail Lounge – Ridge Room” sign, and it once again brightly invited patrons to come in to wine and dine.
The business has again been sold. Wall Street Capital, LLC and CEO Matt Ahmeti purchased Jack’s as well as the Bakers Square building down the street. Their plan is to slowly transform the longtime bar into a new Bulldog Ale House location, without closing during the remodel. Lansing residents have expressed hope that the new owners will retain the local history, as confusing as it is.
Author’s note: In attempting to document information about the school move and the businesses surrounding it, I uncovered many truths, half-truths, and untruths. For example, one Times story written in 1992 claimed the old German school was built on Ridge Road and the first teacher lived upstairs. That is not the way it was. Through the years other businesses have rented space in either of the two buildings, and eventually the two buildings merged to become one. I did reach out to the new owners of the building to attempt to verify some of the stories, but they were not available. The writing above represents my best attempt to unravel the somewhat tangled facts I could find, and produce an accurate record of this part of Lansing’s history.