Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A treasure trove of Pontiac's history

Back in March, a Waterford Township woman shared with us a historical treasure trove of images from Pontiac’s past.

Eula Hornbeck, 91, recently shared a photo book showcasing Pontiac in 1928, which included attractions and future developments such as renderings of the Riker Building.
Hornbeck said she wanted to share these photos to show that Pontiac used to be a bustling city where people spent their weekends shopping and socializing.
“I’ve showed this (book) until it’s fallen apart,” she said. “It’s really old. I’ve shared it with a lot of people just to show them what the town looked like at one time to see the difference. I like Pontiac.”
She said a typical Saturday in Pontiac was spent all over the city’s downtown.
“We used to go to Pontiac, go into all the stores, walk around, then we’d have lunch at Neisner’s,” she said. “They used to serve lunches at the counter, we used to go in there to eat, then we’d go to a theater. That was a highlight of our day.
“We used to practically live there in downtown Pontiac,” she added. “We liked it so well.”
Of the multitude of department stores and shops downtown, one of them stood out for Hornbeck and most other residents who wanted to save a dime, she said.
“We liked Simms the best, that was a nice store,” she said. “Everybody bought their cigarettes and tobacco there because it was cheaper. It was sort of a budget store. It had everything.”
Hornbeck received the book from her late husband, Don, almost 30 years ago. She moved to Pontiac from Highland Park when she was 11 years old, almost 80 years ago. She said most of the sights in the book were around when she first arrived in the early 1930s.
“I remember most of these pictures and most of these buildings because I was young when I came here,” she said. “I'm 91 now, so they’re antique just like me.”
Hornbeck remembers working at places such as Federal’s, the Oakland County Tuberculosis Hospital and the Fisher Body plant before it shut down in the 1980s.
Hornbeck primarily blamed the increased popularity of large suburban shopping centers for the decline in Pontiac’s downtown area, a prevalent belief contributing to the demise of the iconic American Main Street.
“I saw them one by one go down,” she said. “Like the theaters, one would go down and then a little while later another one, then another one, then another one, and with the stores, one would close up and then another one.”

—Andrew Kidd

The Oakland Press wants readers to share old photos of their favorite places while growing up in Oakland County. Make sure to include the location of the picture, the year the photograph was taken and the names of any people in it.
Mail your photos to The Oakland Press c/o Andrew Kidd 48 W. Huron St. Pontiac, MI 48342 or email them to yourpics@oakpress.com. Selected pictures will be featured in the print edition of The Oakland Press.

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