Jays Factory

I’ve always been loyal to Jays chips, not just because my name is Jay, but also for the same reason most Chicagoans are loyal to anything (including sports teams)… Jays is an example of an honest, unpretentious, great regional brand. Following an acquisition by Snyders of Hanover, Jays Foods closed the doors on its Chicago manufacturing plant in December of 2007. I know, this was awhile ago… I decided to include this feature after seeing this:
Auction – processing equipment – Jays Foods

Many people were caught unaware of the plant closing, partially because of Jay’s steadily shrinking market share since the early 1990’s. It just couldn’t compete with prevalence of the Lay’s products, and that company’s efforts to gain product placement dominance in big store chains. Also, many chain stores have begun selling other private label brands under their own name. Panera Bread recently pulled all Jays products from it’s store chain to begin selling chips in their own packaging, another devastating blow. Someone needs to give Jays some props, so I decided to do some investigation, to see what I could learn about Jays Potato Chips, it’s founder and this brand’s history in Chicago:

Leonard Japp was the son of a Minnesota railroad worker. In 1921, after graduating from high school, Japp jumped on a moving milk train to Chicago. Once in town, he worked as a lifeguard at the ever-popular Oak Street beach. One of his lifeguard colleagues was a young Johnny Weismuller, who would gain fame as an Olympic gold medalist swimmer, and also as film actor, portraying Tarzan on the big screen. But that wasn’t Japp’s only brush with show business fame. As a boxer, he would occasionally spar with another aspiring boxer named Leslie Townes Hope… Hope went on to stardom after changing his first name to Bob.

In 1927, Leonard partnered with a friend to start a concession business called Japp & Gavora. The basis for the entire business was one truck, from which sandwiches, pretzels and cigarettes were sold. Japp had observed the speakeasy culture in Chicago, and determined that there was an opportunity to sell snacks, since many of the bars didn’t carry any food products. As the business grew, so did the manufacturing operations. A fleet of trucks was purchased, as were frying vats, but the success was short-lived. With the Great Depression came great loss, and the assets of Japps & Gavora were forever lost when their bank went into liquidation.

In 1940, Japp went on to found a newer company called Special Foods, which was launched with the help of some winnings from a lucky bet at a racetrack. The company opened a plant on 40th Street to manufacture it’s own potato chips. Up until this point, the company had packaged and redistributed chips from another chip company, Mrs. Fletchers. Things were in full swing by 1941, when another factor began to adversely affect sales.

Anger over the attack on Pearl Harbor had created a new pejorative meaning for the Japp name, and people were avoiding the purchase of the Japp’s brand. Leonard contemplated changing the company name to “Jax”, but could not when it was discovered that there was already a beer manufacturer by that name. Finally the name “Jays” was settled upon. You may have noticed that the company name has no apostrophe, that is because there has never been a person at the company named Jay. The product dress we know and love today became complete when Jays added the “can’t stop eating ’em!” slogan, in response to Frito-Lay’s “bet you can’t eat just one”.
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Borden Foods bought Jays in 1986, but kept most of the operations the same. It was not a successful acquisition however, and within four years Borden decided to divest. It was at Leonard’s 90th birthday party (in 1994) that someone in the Japp family (it’s unsure who) masterminded the idea to repurchase the Jays name and go back into independent production. Jays was still the most successful chip in the Chicago area, but there were indications that concerns about trans fats and health were adversely affecting the sales of all potato chips brands. Corporate restructuring and newer marketing approaches helped sales for the ailing brand, as did development of the popular Krunchers name, but the national dominance of the Frito-Lay brands made this sales increase short-lived.

Sadly, in 1999 there were the untimely deaths of Leonard’s son, Leonard Jr., and his grandson, Leonard III. Shortly thereafter, Leonard himself died, changing the dynamic of the company forever. His son Steven took over management of the company, but declines in sales and ultimately bankruptcy led to it’s sale to a private equity firm in 2004. Ubiquity Foods was founded, which saw Jays Foods paired up with another snack food company, Lincoln Foods, the makers of Fiddle-Faddle. Despite the launch of “Sweet Baby Jays”, the first new product offering from Jays in years, the steady decline in sales continued, leading to the acquisition by Snyder’s. At least the Jays product will carry on, but this is just another in a string of depressing evacuations from Chicago’s snack food and candy corridor.

Apparently, we can stop eating them.

Kiddieland

Kiddieland, a family-run amusement park on Chicago’s West Side, closed it gates for the last time on September 27th, 2009. After opening in 1929, it operated for a total of 81 years. The last of Chicagoland’s permanent small box amusement parks. It will be greatly missed. The parents of one of my friends rode the Polyp on their first date. The Polyp, for those of you who have never been to Kiddieland, is a green octopus type ride, with faces painted on the front of each car. If you have an interesting story, please leave a comment.

Chicago Fact: giant hot dog statues on rooftops sell a lot of frankfurters
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Not the world’s largest roller coaster, in some ways more scary
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Make a b-line for the rocket. No one wants the bikes.
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A Moser Rides drop tower
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Oh, the swings! Such joy!
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The elation of a bumper car collision
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Who dares to ride the Polyp?
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Get more vertical, on the Saucers:
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Stroller jam in the concession area:
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The thrill of cotton candy, the agony of defeat:
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All the way up the cargo nets:
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…and back down the shoot to ground level:
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Special thanks to my niece Piper, and to Tony’s nieces too…

Buried in a Scrapyard

Andreas Von Zirngibl was a German fisherman, and veteran of the Battle of Waterloo. He purchased a 44-acre plot of land, beside the mouth of the Calumet River for $160. It was here that he lived the final years of his life
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Fishing for sturgeon, herring, perch and Northern pike, he was reported to have caught some fish weighing in at over 100-pounds. Although it was a great pleasure for this fisherman, it was no easy task, for the Battle of Waterloo had left him with only one arm.
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In 1855 he caught a fever, and died shortly thereafter. One of his final requests to his four sons, was to be buried upon this land. Years later, it is now a functioning scrapyard. In the past there was a legal battle between Von Zirngibl’s family and the scrapyard, over the grave site’s need to remain. After a protracted 41-year legal battle, the family finally won, and the grave remains to this day. It was restored in recent years, and it now looks quite nice. But I think it would be nicer if there were some flowers.

Still a scrapyard, and still the final resting place of Von Zirngibl:
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Veteran of the Battle of Waterloo:
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now behind a high steel fence, in middle a metal scrapyard:
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where CTA buses and Jay’s Potato Chip trucks go to die:
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Images 2, 3 and 4:
Courtesy of Southeast Chicago Historical Society
do not use without permission
Images 1,5 and 6:
by Jay Hagstrom

Special thanks to Rod Sellers!

Water Towers

Once part of a local ordinance, water towers are a vanishing species. To disassemble and remove them is quite expensive, but so is having them frequently repainted after they’re tagged with graffiti. Most of the steel frames have been repurposed as microwave towers:

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Kinzie Street

Oh Kinzie, street of never-ending construction;
You Charles Scheeler fantasy, come to life!
You are my favorite secret passageway into Chicago’s downtown…

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Churches

The first church in the gallery below was featured in The Blues Brothers. In the film it was called the “Triple Rock Church”… In actuality, the church is still functioning and well-attended, it’s the Pilgrim Baptist Church of South Chicago. The church recently celebrated its 92nd anniversary. Some of the windows on the front facade and bell tower have been covered over with siding since the filming, but it is still quite impressive in it’s scale and simplicity. If you want to see this church for yourself, head over to 3235 E. 91st Street…


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Friezes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frieze

No, I’m not talking about a Slurpee, or a Frappucino. A frieze is a band of ornament on the entablature of classical architecture. In Chicago, this can take many forms. Here are a few of my favorites. The first picture is of 8500 South Burley. Exterior building shots for the Blues Brothers, “Curl Up & Dye Salon”:

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“What I wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of a house” -E. Hopper

Awnings

With the exception of “Old Glory”, broad stripes vanished for nearly 50 years. Guess what? They’re back! …and who doesn’t love a good awning? They keep us dry on rainy days, and have a happy candy-stripe appearance. Now a rarity, be on the look out for the triumphant return of this old architectural standard. Especially as the city approves more outdoor liquor licenses this summer.

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