The Golden Age Of Elyria
Author Marci Rich, age two in period costume for Elyria's quasquicentennial parade in 1958 [photo reprinted from "Looking Back at Elyria: A Midwest City at Midcentury by Marci Rich/The History Press 2019]
“The postwar economy was booming. Industry was just percolating along. Elyria was a huge factory town and I think that was part of the reason why the economy was so robust,” Rich said.
Born in 1956, Rich recalled an Elyria where the factories and the city’s downtown were busy There was a mix of locally owned department and grocery stores, boutiques and restaurants, and movie theatres that served a steady stream of customers.
1958 parade in front of C.H Merthe Company department store [photo reprinted from "Looking Back at Elyria: A Midwest City at Midcentury by Marci Rich/The History Press 2019]
During the city’s bicentennial in 2017, Rich, a free-lance writer, wrote a series of pieces about Elyria’s history for the “Chronicle-Telegram.” Those stories led to the feature-length series “Look Back Elyria” and eventually grew into her new book “Looking Back at Elyria: A Midwest City at Midcentury.” (The History Press)
In “Looking Back at Elyria,” Rich digs into the city’s history, ranging from the founding of what became the M.B. Johnson School of Nursing to popular spots like the Paradise Soda Grille, an ice cream shop that was known as “the Pit.” Along the way she recounts the day then Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy motorcade passed through the city in 1960 as well the searing affect the Vietnam War had the community.
Candidate John F. Kennedy in downtown Elyria in 1960. Congressional candidate J William McCray is seated at right [photo reprinted from "Looking Back at Elyria: A Midwest City at Midcentury by Marci Rich/The History Press 2019]
While much of the book is a nostalgic trip down Elyria’s memory lane, Rich didn’t shy away from examining the problems that beset the city, including racial tensions and the economic downturn that caused Elyria’s decline.
“We’re now considered now a legacy city because, in the 21st century, cities like Lorain and Elyria have fallen on hard times. We're not into manufacturing the way we once were,” Rich said.
Rich describes in detail the opening of Midway Mall in 1966, an event she described as a “sea change” in the city’s fortunes.
“The Midway Mall was a beautiful place when it opened. We had a Higbee's, a Sears, a Hough Bakery. There were shops. It just it was phenomenal. Everything was under one roof. However, the downside is the wonderful little shops in downtown Elyria, one by one by one, had to close their doors. They could not compete. It was a huge change. You could see, because people who worked downtown would go shopping at their lunch hour and soon, there weren't as many shops,” Rich said.
Writing “Looking Back at Elyria” has allowed Rich to see her hometown differently.
Cascade Park's spiral slide, June 1955 [photo reprinted from "Looking Back at Elyria: A Midwest City at Midcentury by Marci Rich/The History Press 2019]
“As you're writing and researching and learning about a place you thought you knew, you're finding you didn't really know it at all. Part of the joy of writing this book was I really felt ‘now I know Elyria.’ I grew up there. I thought I knew it. I really didn't until I started as an adult to look back. Now I know Elyria” Rich said.
Author Marci Rich, ideastream's Dan Polletta [Dave DeOreo/ideastream]
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