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Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Rustic Manor

From 1947 to 1987, Victor and Marian Trybom operated the Rustic Manor Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge in Gurnee, Illinois to delighted patrons.

One of the earliest views of the Rustic Manor Restaurant shown on a postcard, 1950
Located at 4660 Grand Avenue, Gurnee, IL. Teich OCH1557

Detail of Rustic Manor sign from a retouched photo by the Curt Teich Company, 1950. Teich OCH1557

Victor Trybom (1895-1981) was born in Michigan to Swedish immigrants and farmers, Olaf and Sara Trybom. Marian Trybom (1903-1991) was born to Polish immigrants Anton and Mary Kotarski.

Victor and Marian were married in August 1923. By 1930, they were living in Gurnee, Illinois with their children Marjorie and Marvin "Moe," along with Marian's brother and sister. They gave up work on the family farm to find new opportunities. Victor found steady work at the Pacific Steel Boiler Factory in Waukegan. 
Victor Trybom's World War II Registration Card showing his home address and occupation, 1942.

After working in factories for over a decade, the family did not want to continue with the unfulfilling and labor-intensive work. As it happened, a property became available in Gurnee that was the answer to their dreams. 

In 1946, Warthen "Kelly" Kimball (1879-1963), the U.S. Postmaster of Gurnee had retired. In addition to his government job, Kimball and his wife Helen used part of their house to run a lunch room that sat 50 customers. They wanted to sell the property and move to Miami, Florida. 

In January 1947, the Tryboms purchased the property and shortly thereafter opened the Rustic Manor in the former Kimball home on the northeast corner of Grand Avenue and Kilbourne Road. 

The Tryboms added 15 additions over the years to create a sprawling, pine log frontier outpost-style structure that reflected the popularity of the American Frontier and Old West. During the late 1940s and beyond TV westerns and movies were hugely popular.

Postcard of the Rustic Manor showing its frontier outpost style, 1951. Teich Postcard 1CK1422

Rustic Manor entrance, 1965. Teich Postcard 5DK1527

The Tryboms' vision for their supper club had deep roots in their childhood memories of Iron River, Michigan. The "rustic" feeling of their restaurant evoked the frontier of the Upper Peninsula with its forests and black bears, and where it's believed they sourced the pine logs for the building. 

The western theme continued inside. The Rustic Manor was known for its taxidermy animal displays. In particular, there were mounted wall cases with chipmunks and gray squirrels in different scenarios, wearing clothes and playing cards. (I wish I had a photo of that!)

Black bear and raccoon in tree beside a waterwheel and waterfall, 1959. Teich Postcard 9CK62

One of the first things you encountered on entering the restaurant was the waterfall (above) that was so loud you couldn't stand next to it and talk. My family would toss a penny or two into the pool, and then step aside to wait to be seated. Even though the sound of the water was overpowering, the environment this created made you feel like you were on an adventure.

Postcard of dining room with moose head, circa 1955. Teich Postcard. 

I often went to the Rustic Manor with my grandfather, who was especially fond of ordering the "Poor Man's Lobster." This was broiled white fish that came with hot melted butter served over a lighted candle. As a ten-year old, I thought that was fancy eating.

Rustic Manor menu cover with black bears, circa 1960. Art by Marian Trybom. Dunn Museum 2012.24.31

A page from the Rustic Manor's menu, 1968. Dunn Museum 2005.3.1

Rustic Manor drink menu, 1968. Dunn Museum 2005.3.1

In September 1986, the restaurant suffered severe damage when the Des Plaines River flooded. It was the worst flood in nearly three decades. The damage was so extensive in the region that Gov. Jim Thompson declared Gurnee and surrounding communities a state disaster area. 

The Trybom family rallied to clean and restore the restaurant. They re-opened on Christmas Day, 1986.

On the morning of January 9, 1987, disaster struck again when a fire gutted the restaurant.

Photo courtesy of the Gurnee Fire Department, 1987.

The fire was believed to have started in the barbeque pit from hot coals. Chief Dada of the Gurnee Fire Department was quoted in the Kenosha News that the fire caused "special problems because the restaurant had been expanded many times over the years and in some places had three roofs... [the] fire was traveling between the roofs making it extremely difficult to find." 

The back-to-back disasters were heartbreaking for the Trybom Family, the local community, and loyal customers. 

Initially, rebuilding was not allowed, because the property was located on a designated floodway. Through the State of Illinois, the designation was changed to “floodplain” to allow for the building project. However, the costs of a new building quickly dimmed that possibility, and the building was razed and the land sold.

Eventually the property was donated to the Village of Gurnee and dedicated as the Esper A. Petersen Foundation Park.
"Welcome to the Rustic Manor... Where Santa Claus arrives every Christmas with gifts for the Children." 1959. Longtime Gurnee residents, Alonzo and Cynthia Potter gave the family's sleigh to Marian Trybom to use in this display.
Teich Postcard 9CK61

In its 40 years of operation, the Rustic Manor became a landmark and the Tryboms' tradition of good food and hospitality never wavered. Now, decades since it closed, the sentimental longing remains for those lucky enough to have experienced the Rustic Manor.

Post updated 1/6/23

- Diana Dretske 

Bess Bower Dunn Museum, Archives, Libertyville, Illinois, 
Lake County, Illinois Maps Online 
"Happy New Year" advertisement, Kenosha Evening News, December 30, 1949. 
"For the Kids," Chicago Tribune, December 24, 1971. 
"Donors Mix Charity With Hearty Appetites," Chicago Tribune, October 10, 1982. 
"Cozy Inns That Will Warm Up Winter," Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1983. 
"Worst Flooding in 26 Years Hits Suburbs," Chicago Tribune, September 30, 1986. 
"Fire Guts Rustic Manor Restaurant," Kenosha News, January 9, 1987. 
"Family Restaurant Brings Back Memories," Lake County Journal, October 29, 2015
Warren Township Historical Society, Images of America: Gurnee and Warren Township. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Paramount Pictures Search for the 'Panther Woman'

In 1932, Paramount Pictures held a talent contest in search of a leading lady for their film, Island of Lost Souls, the first screen version of H.G. Wells's novel The Island of Dr. Moreau.

The search for Lota, the Panther Woman, brought Paramount to the Midwest, where young women in Illinois and Indiana vied for the role. Contests were conducted by the Publix-Great State Theater Corp., and sponsored locally by the Waukegan News-Sun and Genesee Theatre in Waukegan.

On August 10, 1932, Miss Leona Bloom of 845 Ash Street, Waukegan, polled 5,320 votes to win the "right to represent Lake County" in the Panther Woman screen tests in Chicago. Leona Bloom (left) as pictured in the Waukegan News-Sun, August 11, 1932.

Miss Bloom received a two-day trip to Chicago where Paramount's screen and vocal tests were conducted. She stayed at the Hotel Sherman where accommodation was reserved for the contest winners by the Publix Theater Corporation. In addition, Miss Bloom received a porcelain miniature with an 18-karat gold plated frame.

Postcard of the Hotel Sherman at Clark and Randolph Streets, Chicago by the Curt Teich Company, 1942. The postcard caption reads: "One of the largest hotels west of New York, with 1,600 rooms, beautiful new dining rooms, elaborate banquet and convention halls." (CTPA 2BH323).

Photo of the young women competing for the title of "Panther woman." Pictured are: Leona Bloom, Waukegan; June C. white, Danville; Eleanor Wilke, Hammond; Sally Mansfield, Aurora; Wilma Jacobson, East St. Louis; Lillian Satterlee, Elgin; Eleanor Manning, Decatur; Margaret Stahl, Chicago Heights; Louise Pfund, Bloomington; Lavonne Long, Rockford; Ada Sellers, Alton; Kathryn Harney, Peoria; Lavette Carlson, Kewanee; Evelyn Gray, Joliet; Margaret Martinson, Michigan City, Indiana; and Mildred Huckins, South Bend, Indiana. Photo from the Chicago Daily Tribune, August 14, 1932.

The young women were taken to a Chicago studio for screen tests. The films were then sent to Hollywood for the executives to choose their new leading lady.

Ultimately, the studio's choice was Kathleen Burke (1913-1980), a dental assistant from Chicago. Pictured above in a publicity shot for her role as Lota, the Panther Woman.

Poster for Paramount Pictures' "Island of Lost Souls" starring Charles Laughton as Dr. Moreau, Richard Arlen, Bela Lugosi, Leila Hyams, and Kathleen Burke, which opened 80 years ago this month in December 1932.

While filming the movie, Miss Burke's boyfriend from Chicago, Glen Nelson Rardin (1902-1987), often visited the set. The studio took issue with their leading lady going out with Rardin, claiming the "midnight snacks after working hours" could affect her acting.

Burke and Rardin married in February 1933, and divorced in November 1934.

Her success in the "Island of Lost Souls" led to many more screen appearances, most notably as the leading lady in "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (1935) opposite Gary Cooper, and "The Last Outpost" with Cary Grant (1935).

Her final film role was in 1938, but she continued acting until at least 1940 when she played the part of Rebekah in the Biblical radio drama, "Light of the World."

I have not been able to find what became of Leona Bloom after her audition. If anyone knows, I would enjoy hearing from you. I imagine she got married and had a family, and perhaps wondered how life would've been different (for better or worse) had she been chosen as the Panther Woman.