Rick Drozd remembers the Saturday routine, going with a friend to the Electric Theatre for a matinee and afterward to Wakely's Orange Bar for an orange drink and a hot dog.
From there, the kids made their way to Katz Drug, there to flip through records selling for 10 cents a pop, a huge collection of 45s. Then to Kresge’s and Woolworth’s to see what those stores had to offer.
“My dad gave me 50 cents to go to the show and a quarter spending money,” the St. Joseph man recalls. A nice afternoon could be had for less than a dollar in those days.
Mr. Drozd admits liking the St. Joseph that once was, a place of grand structures with artisanal adornments and 15-cent limeades where you got to keep the glass.
Not that he feels displaced in the modern world. Not that he cedes himself to nostalgia. Instead, the retiree finds a pastime in preserving, image by image, the way St. Joseph looked and the way its citizens lived.
His website — stjosephmemorylane.com — contains more than 5,000 photographs that give life to bygone days.
There’s the Benny Witt Bakery on St. Joseph Avenue and the original Ben Magoon’s Delicatessen on South Eighth Street. There’s the Black Angus Motel on the North Belt Highway and the stone structure that once stood as the centerpiece at Bartlett Park.
This accidental archivist of community pictures likes the then-and-now comparisons, showing what once was next to what now is.
“I even show if there is a parking lot there,” he says.
Former owner of a computer business, Mr. Drozd began this compilation in 1999. He once oversaw a bulletin board system called Dragon’s Lair, doing all the programming himself and getting heavy traffic.
The arrival of the Internet strangled the BBS and, in 1999, the St. Joseph native began learning HTML code to put together the Memory Lane project.
Why? “Nobody else was doing it,” he says.
The early pictures focused on the Downtown of an earlier day. Mr. Drozd holds an opinion, unambiguously expressed, on why that part of the city went the way it did.
“I was so upset over urban renewal,” he says, referring to the 1970s-era project to revitalize Downtown, with numerous buildings demolished in the process. “Some of them were trash, but there were a lot of beautiful buildings.”
He cites the Red Cross Pharmacy, housed in a triangular building at the intersection of Frederick Avenue and Francis and Ninth streets. The diagonal avenue, which ran all the way to Eighth Street before 1972, got cut short in the planning, a municipal parking lot now occupying that space, and the razed pharmacy never relocated.
As a teenager, Mr. Drozd worked as a bus boy and dish washer in the Hotel Robidoux. He especially likes discovering photographs of that one-time community icon.
“Your jaw drops when you see these beautiful rooms. It was the most magnificent hotel you would ever see,” he says. “That and the City Auditorium were the two biggest losses in St. Joe.”
His initial website, 12 years old, got wiped out when his page host chose to discontinue its service without notice. From backed-up material, he reformatted the site and now hosts it with a provider in Australia.
The collection of photographs builds upon itself, with viewers becoming the primary contributors of as-yet undisplayed pictures. Visitors to the site live all over the United States, usually one-time residents who remember St. Joseph as it once appeared.
In his home office, below a poster of a Harley-Davidson (motorcycles being another of his interests), Mr. Drozd looks through some new submissions, bits of the past in black-and-white images.
They summon the memory of places now gone. In photographs, at least, they enjoy a measure of preservation.