by Joan Phelan, for the East Side History Club
Map from 1941 Madison City Streets dept.
Although I have lived on Dunning Street since 1967, I spent my grade school years on Moland Street, one block north of Commercial Ave, where I lived until 1946 and always thought of that area and Union Corners as the “East Side.”
At the time this area seemed to me to be on the edge of the city, and it was!
Most children in this area went to Emerson School. The Findorff Company began construction of the school in 1918 using bricks from the Gerstenbrei brick yard which was on the corner of East Washington Ave and North Street. The beautiful woodwork is oak and old leaf room numbers adorn the top of the doorframes.
The Eken brothers, Ole and Thomas, owned about 140 acres in the Town of Burke, north of Commercial Ave. There were cows on the Eken farm in the earl 193′s. The big white home of the Eken brothers still stands on the corner of Dexter and Dahle Streets.
The Ekens family home at 801 Mayer Ave. Photo taken in 2010 by Joan Phelan.
In 1927 the Ekens sold some of their land to Midwest Air Transport Co. for Madison’s first airport, subject to the right to harvest the crops.
When the circus came to Madison it performed on the Eken property for many years. I remember sitting on the North Street curb in the summer to see the circus wagons go to the end of North St. where they set up their tents.
In March of 1927, residents petitioned to have the area become part of the city. The state board of health told of the serious unsanitary conditions in the plat due to the low marshy surface of the ground. The drinking water was coming from shallow wells. In July 1927, Madison made Eken Park area part of the City of Madison. In 1943, 40 identical homes were built on Coolidge Street. In 1946 after WWII, 120 homes for veterans-only were built on Myrtle Street.
Frederick Stang and his son Sebastian were market gardeners and owned three pieces of land; one was along Commercial Ave bordered by Oak Street and the Starkweather Creek. Adolph Stang, son of Sebastian, lived in the family home at 539 North Street and operated the truck garden with his brother George. When in grade school my schoolmates and I often cut through the Stang farm from Hoard Street to Johnson Street; the path would later become an extension of Kedzie Street. “Happy” Suzuki, a Japanese gardener who worked for the Stangs, would see us coming and give us carrots and radishes, which we ate after brushing the dirt off.
Stang family home, 539 North Street. Photo taken in 1983 by Wisconsin Historical Society.
Sometimes I walked home from school on North Street and passed three groceries; The Royal Blue [422 North St.], Irene’s [560 North St.], and the Eken Park Grocery [602 North St.]. I didn’t have money to buy anything but my neighbor Ellen Borland usually had a few cents for candy. There was another grocery called the Commercial Avenue Grocery [2633 Commercial Ave.] run by Steve Offerdahl. During WWII many things were scarce but for kids it was bananas. They hung on a hook in the window of the store and when we saw them we would call home to report it.
Another well-known store was the Stevens Supermarket, owned by Rudy Stevens, at 301 North Street. Rudy also opened a restaurant across the street at 2565 E. Johnson St. By the 1950′s he had lost interest in the restaurant end of the business and decided to expand its gift shop into Stevens House of Gifts, which opened in 1961. In 1978 the Supermarket became a restaurant, Stevens Sandwiches, run by his son Robert.
Irene's Grocery, 560 North St. Photo taken in 2010 by Joan Phelan.