Colony Shopping Center

On the morning of January 12, 1944, two employees of Colony Bowling Alleys were cleaning pins with naphtha and a wood grinder when sparks set off an explosion. One of the men ran to No. 23 engine house and turned in an alarm. It took five hours to bring the fire at the Colony Shopping Center under control.

It was one of the biggest fires in Toledo’s history up to that point, and it was the first in a series of fires that plagued Toledo’s first “suburban” shopping center where Monroe Street met West Central Avenue.

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The Colony burns on January 12, 1944.

Fireman James P. Fakeheny, 30, of No. 17’s engine house, lost his life when he was pinned in a basement by a slab of concrete. Twelve other firefighters were injured as well as two patrolmen and a civilian. Damage was $504,200: a lot in those days.

The next day, Mayor Michael DiSalle called for an investigation of the city’s fire code after Fire Chief Fred Schlorf declared the fire was one of the most difficult he had ever fought because of the building’s construction.

“Most of the ceilings on the stores had some kind of corrugated paper to deaden the sounds from the bowling alleys,” the chief was quoted as saying. In addition, the walls between stores did not extend through the ceiling, so cross timbers carried the fire “with a speed firemen could not cope with,” the chief said.

Naturally, “thousands of curious persons milled around the frozen wreckage of the half-million dollar structure throughout yesterday and last night…”

Business damaged included Woolworth’s, Kroger’s, Harry’s Auto Store, Colony Food Market, Colony Bowling Alleys, a state liquor store, Allan’s Dress Shop, Kay Shoe Shop, Fanny Farmer, Balduf’s Bakery, and Dreyer’s Soda Grill.

The Colony opened sometime in or around 1941. It was tough to track down, but I did find a 1941 story mentioning Cleveland realtor Hugo S. DeGroot, “who holds a one-third interest in the new commercial development in Central Avenue, near Monroe Street.” (A link below details the Colony Theater opened in October, 1941, so I settled on that as the most accurate date. It’s not an exact science).

The Colony in the early 1940s. You’re looking at the corner of Monroe Street (left) and Central Avenue (right). Note the Toledo Corporation Limit sign. Photo courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/

The Colony was plagued by fires throughout its lifespan. In 1974, The Cellar cocktail lounge was destroyed by a fire and damaged Harry’s Clothing for Big and Tall Men and Bleckner Music. The Cellar was where the 1944 fire started. Other than fires, The Colony is probably remembered by most contemporary Toledoans as the longtime home of three institutions:

– Brauer’s Delicatessen, located right on the corner of Central and Monroe. For some reason I am thinking bright pink neon on the sign. It opened in 1950 and closed quietly in the summer of 1995 according to this 1995 Homer Brickey article. For almost thirty of those years it was owned by brothers Irwin and Boris Brauer, who catered to the large Jewish population in the West Toledo-Kenwood area. They sold the business in 1978. Irwin died in July, 1980 and Boris died a month later after suffering a heart attack while in the restaurant’s parking lot, where he was serving as a consultant to the new owners (link).

– The Colony Restaurant. I found a lot of information about it, except when it opened and closed. It was always kind of an inside joke, however, that the Colony was a Chinese-owned restaurant that served strictly American food. Jimmy Yee and Eddie Lee ran the restaurant for years until Bessie and Wing Lee took it over in 1968. This 1963 article by Mary Alice Powell cited the restaurant’s French onion soup, noting twenty gallons of it were brewing 24 hours a day, and according to this 1981 review (again by Mary Alice), it was still a class place, which is how I remember it as a child. It was heavily damaged in a 1983 fire.

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Aftermath of the 1941 Colony fire. From the Toledo Lucas-County Public Library’s “Images in Time” website.

And then there was the green neon of the Colony Theater, where I saw a lot of Disney movies as a child. It opened in October, 1941 and closed in July, 1981 according to this story, due to declining attendance. It was pretty well regarded as the first nice suburban movie theater, before Showcase Cinemas moved in a couple miles away on Secor Road (in fact, National Amusements, owner of Showcase Cinemas, owned the theater when it closed). And guess what? It had a fire too, in 1984, but investigators found later it had been deliberately set.

The Colony in what was probably the 1970s, along Central Avenue. Photo courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/

By 1991, the center was nearly empty, and much of it was razed after Toledo Hospital announced plans to build a $5.5 million lab on the site.

Here is a nice but pretty heavily watermarked photo of the Colony Theater from cinematreasures.org.

Update: Finally, on May 30, 2013, two years after this original post, a story in The Blade reported that demolition had started on what was left of The Colony. So The Colony is no more.

A longtime landmark of the Colony area was the Toledo Fire Division’s training tower. That’s it on the left. Photo courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/

13 Comments

  1. For the best corned beef & pickles, we always went to Brauer’s Deli. A few years later a new upstart (Barry’s Bagels) opened and took some of their business. The two main reasons: One, they produced, just like Brauer’s, a quality product consistently. AND two, they were located in a different population sector, which saved many people a longer drive. But BRAUER’S was always a favorite when we shopped the hardware, the Uniform Shop, the movies or at Giha’s for work clothes. Thanks for bringing these good memories to mind!

  2. Scott Jacob

    In 1995 I moved in with my boyfriend at the time who lived in a vintage studio styled apartment above Brauer’s Deli. I thought it was pretty neat living there, after all, the building being such an iconic Toledo landmark and all. My parents grew up in West Toledo, my mother having grown up on Homewood Ave. and went to DeVilbis HS, and my dad grew up on Peak St. and went to Woodward HS. Our family then lived on Algonquin Ave. and I started school at McKinley Elementary in 1974. My parents were always driving around with us kids pointing out this place and that and the things they used to do as kids there and fun stories connected to a certain store owner or particularly colorful character in the neighborhood. The Colony was always a place they talked of with fond memories; having gone on movie dates there and getting chocolates at the Fanny Farmer’s store. My mother’s sister even having worked at Fanny Farmers for a time while she was in school at the University of Toledo. My dad would play pool at some little joint I can’t remember the name of and would frequent Rudy’s hot dogs; his dad, my grandfather, having been a friend of Rudy’s dad as they had grown up together and lived down the street from one another.
    The old Colony building I took up in was like stepping back in time, even though the ceilings leaked, the old wood floors had too many creaks and groans, and we were lucky to get hot water for a shower in the cramped little bathroom with the chrome worn off the faucets and the checkered tile floor coming up in places. But it still had it’s original Art Deco styled plaster cast ceiling fixtures and wall sconces, still painted in their original colors, and the built-in half sized china cupboards with the glass front doors that divided the main room and the little galley kitchenette.
    It wasn’t glamorous, in fact it was kind of roughing it actually, but we would go downstairs to Brauer’s and get a sandwich to go and some egg salad for lunch and it was always real fresh and good, I can still taste it’s slight sweetness and chewy hard boiled egg bits. It was one day we noticed the Deli was closed with a note on the door telling of an upcoming auction. We were sad it had closed but As we frequented many yard sales on the weekends, we tried to attend the auction when it came, but it was open to people wanting restaurant equipment mostly and that wasn’t what we collected. Days after the auction though, the door was open to the deli and we went inside to see the place all torn up and mostly empty. We scrounged amongst the remaining bits that were left and we found four original, robin’s egg blue, Brauer’s Delicatessen menus from the 1950’s.
    Coffee was a nickel, a roast beef sandwich platter was two dollars, soup was fifty cents, etc. It was exactly the kind of thing we liked to collect! On our way out, out of the corner of my eye, in a cabinet on the floor was a stack of pristine, unused Tiedtke’s fresh ground roast coffee bags! I sure as heck snagged those too and was excited to have saved those last remaining vestiges of a beloved Toledo institution.
    We moved out in 1996 and got a big old apartment in a duplex down in the old west end but thought of that apartment there in the colony every now and then. Years later, as I came back to Toledo after having lived in Ann Arbor for many years, I drove by the old apartment only to find it had been demolished a short time before. I’ve come to learn that Toledo is famously bad at respecting it’s built history and being creative with revitalization and preservation efforts, and so it didn’t surprise me much, it was just another good old building with potential but nobody had the creative imagination for it beyond being another parking lot before becoming part of Promedica’s campus.
    In my head are still the memories and stories told by my parents and in my home are framed up the old Brauer’s menus and Tiedke’s coffee bags; two of my favorite Toledo items that still get attention.

    • Duane Bitter

      Enjoyed reading your memories of the Colony & Brauer’s Deli. My wife (now) and I had our first apartment above Brauer’s Deli and The Colony Restaurant in the early 80’s. A great little studio apartment that looked out over the intersection of Monroe & Central, with Gino’s Pizza across the intersection. We planted a flower garden in a patch of dirt outside Brauer’s entrance; still to this day our favorite flower garden of the many gardens we have had over the years since.
      Loved going downstairs to Brauer’s for a Reuben sandwich, cherry cheesecake and coffee. Ginger, who lived in an apartment next to us, always waited on us. Ginger liked to read (and tipple) and would leave little piles of books outside our apartment door after she’d read them. There was a fold-out bed in the wall, which we removed so we could convert the space into bookshelves. A really great little apartment. It broke our hearts when Promedica tore everything down in the Colony, even though we moved to Florida years ago.

    • MjB

      My 2nd apartment was above the the Colony Restaurant, in back about 1/2 way down the parking lot. Year:1971-1972! Floors were pretty wood and I loved the dividing cabinets. It was hot hot in summer! I wondered how the front facing apts survived. Got a used a/c. Largest rats ever in front of stairs by garbage cans…. Oh well. I was barely 21. Put a black light in L. r. Closet and took off doors. Lol. Crazy flush toilet, no shower. And, yes, flowers growing beside building in tiny space.

  3. April Gould

    Is there any way to get the recipe for the roquefort dressing that was served at the Colony Restaurant? I remember how delicious it was and was a very special treat when I was a child.
    Thank you

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