Present and former residents may feel free to contribute some of their memories of the West Park area.
LaVerne Landphair Buch Remembers
When West Park was Farms and Dirt Roads
By Gary Swilik
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Looking at the busy streets of our neighborhood today it's hard to imagine things any differently. We know West Park was once farms and country roads but the past often doesn't seem real. Mrs. LaVerne Landphair Buch, 92, has no such problem. She lived here when much of the city was open fields with an occasional barn still dotting the landscape.
In 1850 LaVerne's great-grandfather Frederick A. Colbrunn settled in West Park, then known as Rockport Township, and served as the local justice of the peace for over twenty years. He built the old Rockport Driving Park at the northeast corner of Lorain and Rocky River Drive, once one of the best known horse racing tracks in Cuyahoga County.
LaVerne's grandfather John Alber married Emma Colbrunn and came to Kamm's Corners in 1894 where he was a master carpenter, grocer, and farmer. He grew fruit trees on the north side of Lorain, a strip now dominated by commercial buildings. Albers Avenue, the short street running behind Walgreen's Drug Store parallel to Lorain, was named for him.
The Alber Family bought an old farmhouse, the "red house," which had been built in 1825. It was situated about where the Arcade Tavern on Lorain Avenue is presently located.
"My grandmother Emma Alber began selling meals to the men at the Rockport race track on the other side of Lorain," says LaVerne. "I have a picture of my grandmother and her daughters, including my mother Ruby, on the front lawn of the red house in their aprons."
LaVerne, the daughter of William C. and Ruby Alber Landphair, was born in 1915 in a house on Wooster Road in Rocky River, Ohio. The home burned down when she was only three months old. A neighbor saved Mrs. Buch by throwing her from a second-story window to rescuers below.
LaVerne's parents then moved to West Park which was still an independent city with its own city hall, fire department and police force. They lived in Kamm's Terrace on Rocky River Drive just south of Lorain, built in 1909 by Oswald Kamm for whom Kamm's Corners is named. The Terrace building was later converted to offices and still stands today.
"My father, William Landphair (right), started out as a farmer with an elementary school education," LaVerne tells us. "He went to business college downtown and ended up working as a salesman for the Clawson and Wilson Company, a dry goods wholesaler on St. Clair Avenue. In 1915 he opened his own store." The first Landphair Dry Goods store was on the south side of Lorain in the storefront now home to the Intercontinental Tailoring Shop at 17109 Lorain Avenue just east of Rocky River Drive.
"My mother used to drop us off at my father's store," remembers LaVerne. "The basement had no floor at the time. My sisters Genevieve, Ardis, and I would go down there with our pails and play in the dirt all day long. We also used to catch pollywogs in a small river that ran behind the store where Albers Avenue is now."
Later the Landphair Dry Goods store moved one door east to 17025 Lorain in the Alber Building. "My grandfather John Alber owned the building," says Mrs. Buch. The Scuba West diving equipment store now occupies the space where the second Landphair's Dry Goods was located.
"Dry goods refers to clothing and material," LaVerne explains. "My father sold house dresses, stockings, needles and thread, men's shirts, pants, underwear, socks, and ties. The big thing was yard goods, the material people needed to make their own clothes."
"The professors from Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea would come to my dad's store every year to order long underwear," LaVerne chuckles. "The college was not well heated at the time and they needed warm clothes. My dad sold the professors long underwear every year right up until the time he sold the store."
In about 1917 the Landphair Family moved from Kamm's Terrace to their own home at 3837 West 160th Street where Laverne grew up. Houses were still scarce and LaVerne had an unobstructed view of the West Park Fire Department on Lorain Avenue over 300 yards northeast of her backyard, a span now filled with four rows of homes and buildings.
Meanwhile Landphair's Dry Goods remained a neighborhood institution for 33 years. "My father liked people and people liked him," says LaVerne. "The store was a friendly place where kids would come in after school just to sit and talk. It didn't make big profits but my father had enough to buy whatever we needed. That's really what he was interested in."
William Landphair kept his store until 1948. "My father was still in good health," explains LaVerne, "but decided he was old enough to retire. A business from the east side, Landy's, wanted a location in this area and bought the store from my father. He enjoyed his retirement. He was very busy with the YMCA and Kiwanis."
Mr. Landphair was active in the YMCA for three decades, leading the effort to establish the first local Y in 1930 and build the new West Park-Fairview branch in 1957. He was a charter member and president of the West Park Kiwanis, a member of the North Star Masonic Lodge, and trustee and treasurer of the West Park Congregational Church. William Landphair passed away on July 22, 1960, one of West Park's most widely known and respected community leaders.
LaVerne's late husband was professional artist and sign painter Charles F. Buch who she married in 1937. "He painted the big signs for Valley Furniture and Shreibman Jewelers at Kamm's Corners," LaVerne says with a hint of pride. "He worked for Rappaport Studios. They did all the signs for the old Hippodrome Theater downtown."
"Our first home was in the Alber Apartments in the same building with my father's store. We built our house on Story Road, around the corner from where I was born, and moved here in 1940. So I lived in West Park for most of the first 25 years of my life and still live only minutes from all the areas I remember from my childhood."