Silent Movies to Malls; Teens Hang Out

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Using an old-fashioned slideshow rather than a computerized PowerPoint presentation, Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter recently led more than a dozen folks down memory lane to places teenagers hung out, from 1900s Greene Square Park to 1980s Westdale Mall.

"I think you’ll find it fascinating to see the similarities of teenagers through the decades."

Always, it seems, parents feared their teens would find trouble.

Take early silent movies houses. Ten had opened in the city of 35,000.

"Many times," Mark laughs, "the principal at Washington High School had to return students from the balcony of a theater."

That’s when Washington was Cedar Rapids’ only high school, located adjacent to Greene Square Park where kids began to hang out in the late 1800s. The high school was similar to college today, in that it had fraternities and sororities and prepared students for a working life.

But, with the 1915 opening of Grant High School, the coming of "talking" movies and the proliferation of the automobile, the teen landscape changed dramatically. Segregated hangouts at the YMCA and YWCA gave way to new swimming pools, soda fountain counters at drugstores, ice cream shops, dance halls, drive-in diners and movies and yes, the malls.

Wanda Anderson, 84, of Cedar Rapids, in the audience for the presentation at the Carl & Mary Koehler History Center, was 16 when she worked at Krebs Dutch Girl Ice Cream at First Avenue SE and 29th Street Drive.

"It was a social center," she says. "I really enjoyed it."

She also hung out at the YMCA’s "Keen Teen" and Club 19, beside the Paramount Theatre, to play pingpong, pool and dance to records.

Real dancing came of age at Danceland. Of particular note was "Ma" Dougherty, a sheriff’s matron who worked as a bouncer.

"If you were out of line," Mark says, "she’d pick you up and throw you down the stairs."

Dorothy Ramsey, 88, laughs at the recollection. "I was told, ‘Slow it down. That’s when the jitterbug started. But, she was a dear one, too."

Lindale Plaza became a hangout in the ‘60s, too, but was usurped, at least temporarily, when the enclosed (and now nearly vacant) Westdale Mall opened in 1979.

"It was actually Westdale which killed downtown, not Lindale," Mark says, "which is quite ironic."

From walking in a park to skating on ice to swimming in the Ellis Park pool that opened in 1941 to bowling and yes, even underage sneaking into bars, Mark shows that Cedar Rapids has had plenty of places for young people to gather.

"Hanging out with friends was always the teenage thing to do."   

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