of the West Park
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio
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by Gary Swilik
If you grew up in the 1950s or 60s building those great old plastic model kits from Revell, Aurora, and Monogram, a trip to Jack's Hobby Castle at 4147 Rocky River Drive will be delightfully familiar. This narrow shop, with the old fashioned wood floor and shelves piled high with boxed models, will instantly bring back memories of earlier times when building models was as popular with young boys as video games are today.
The Hobby Castle is not, however, a museum. The latest model kits, paints, tools, Matchbox and slot cars, trains, flying rockets, books, magazines and supplies are all available in this living piece of West Park history that has been making memories for hobbyists of all ages for over forty years.
Hobby Castle is the creation of the late Jack W. Springer who was born in Lakewood, Ohio, in 1918. He developed an interest in model airplanes at an early age and soon turned his hobby into a business. By 1940 he had opened "Jack's Hobby and Model Supply Company" on Detroit Road in Rocky River, Ohio, sharing space with his parent's wallpaper and window shade store.
"My father got into the business due to his interest in free flight airplanes," explains Jack's son, Mike. "Large ones with 5 or 6 foot wingspans made of balsa wood with gas engines that would travel for miles before landing. They would launch them in fields and chase them in their cars. It was this passion that launched his first hobby shop."
The original sign from Jack's first store can be seen high on the wall inside Hobby Castle to this day. (Click sign photo to see today's interior.)
During World War II Jack served in the U.S. Army as a Sergeant attached to British forces in North Africa. He was at the Battle of El Alamein in 1942, and saw General Erwin Rommel - the "Desert Fox."
"Dad was on a reconnaissance mission," says Jack's son, Mike Springer, "and spotted an oncoming column of tanks and half tracks, including Rommel standing by his car watching the advance. As he often told patrons at the store, he could have taken a shot at Rommel but it would have been suicide and he could not have gotten back to report the advancing enemy troops."
After the war Jack kept his hobby store on Detroit Road open until the early 1950's. He also went to work for General Motors not retiring until the early 1970's. He opened the Hobby Castle on Rocky River Drive in West Park in 1961.
Originally the shop was located a few doors further south but moved to its present location in about 1970. The distinctive castle-shaped sign (made from a piece of aluminum pool siding) helped make the store irresistible to neighborhood kids!
"I bought many monster and car models, and toys like Frisbees and yo-yos, at the Hobby Castle," remembers Chuck Witt, now of Hilton Head, SC. "What a distinct memory for me. The big glass window with the models displayed. Wooden floors and cramped quarters stacked floor to ceiling with model boxes. Jack, the owner, was always helpful."
Scott Ferrell, of Cleveland, has "wonderful memories of Hobby Castle! I used to buy my Matchbox cars there for 49 cents. I remember great times with my dad, going to Bearden's on Saturday for lunch and walking across the street to Hobby Castle to get my monthly Matchbox car."
"I was a frequent patron of Hobby Castle," says Al Tuskes, who grew up in West Park and now does makeup and special effects for major Hollywood films like STAR TREK, MEN IN BLACK II, and HULK. "It fed my model rocket habit during junior and senior high. I rode my bike to the shop on a monthly basis. I recently visited the Hobby Castle again and it felt like a familiar friend."
Everyone seems to have fond memories of Jack W. Springer as well. He was always ready to help hobbyists with good advice and turned many customers into friends with his generosity. If a customer was a few bucks short it was not unusual for Jack to accept a little less than the sticker price, closing the sale with a cheerful," Well, what have you got for me?"
Long-time customer Jim Ross, of Cleveland, still buys his model airplanes at Hobby Castle. "Jack always made me an offer I couldn’t refuse," Jim chuckles. "If he saw I really wanted something, he'd lower the price until I just had to buy it."
"My father did not run the store as a business in the strict sense," says son Mike. "He did it for the pleasure of the hobby but, most of all, he enjoyed the human side. Even when he lost his wife in 1993, we knew he needed the store because it was his other love - his love of people."
Jack W. Springer continued operating the Hobby Castle until July, 2000, when health problems forced him to stop. He passed away a few months later at the age of 82.
Today the Hobby Castle is run by Jack's son, Mike, who also maintains a separate full time job. When Mike can't make it into the store his daughter, Stephanie Springer (left), takes over. And no business in West Park can boast of a more cheerful, knowledgeable shopkeeper!
The Springer Family philosophy prevails. "We do our best to carry all the new items," says Mike, "but customers have been coming in since they were kids because it's also a place to talk, hang out, and share things."
The family's busy schedule has limited store hours to Friday afternoon and all-day Saturday but this neighborhood institution is going strong. The wonderful old castle sign is faded a bit but still lets you know you've found "Scale Modelers Haven."
Stop by on a Saturday and you will likely find the Hobby Castle crowded with old and new customers discussing modeling issues and offering each other advice and guidance. And that would please Jack W. Springer very, very much.
Update: December 14, 2012 ... Mike Springer, son of Jack W. Springer, passed away from pancreatic cancer on December 1st, 2012, at the age of 62. He owned and operated Hobby Castle from 2000 to 2012, continuing the tradition started by his father, who opened the store in 1961."
We heard from Edward J. Skerness, of Westerville, Ohio, who expressed his condolences to the Springer Family: "I'm sorry to hear of Mike's passing . . . What a shame that a gentleman who continued his father's legacy went so quickly. Rest in peace, Mike. You did a service to the hobby community. "
Whenever I'd go into Hobby Castle, I was treated as part of the family. . . the creaking of the old wooden floor held a magic that will never be replicated. Mike shared advice, encouraged stories from his customers, and appreciated the memories of days gone by. I still have the box of the Athearn Soo Line Caboose I bought at Hobby Castle. Is it different than the other Athearn kits I built? No. Is the experience different? Yes. I was proud to buy from a friend."
Memories of Hobby Castle
I was six-years old in 1972 when my family moved to the west side from the Southgate USA area of the east side. It did not take long for my father and I to discover Jack Springer's Hobby Castle on Rocky River Drive. And what a find!
On Saturday’s we would spend hours looking at the mountains of goodies crammed into Jack's shop. There were models floor to ceiling, with more stuff behind the stuff in front. It was the first place my mother let me go by myself. That alone gives it a special place in my heart.
Jack was always so nice. He would help me with whatever I was doing. From picking the right color paint, to choosing new foam tires for my slot cars, he was there. I would sometimes just sit and talk with him all day. And yes, Jack told me the World War II Rommel story, too.
In the summer of 1980 I was making my almost daily trip to Hobby Castle on my prized Led Zeppelin motor cross bicycle. I parked it out front, went inside and took a look around. When it was time to go, I walked outside and my bike was gone!
I ran in and told Jack what happened. He told me to call my dad, then locked up the shop and drove me around the neighborhood looking for my bike. We drove up and down streets and around blocks but found nothing. Jack drove me to my house, the whole time telling me not to worry. He said the next time I was in his shop I could pick out a model on the house.
As we pulled into my driveway, there was my bike! My father had done the same thing we did but he got lucky. Jack stayed for a beverage and then went back to the shop. Jack and I were friends before that day but now he was truly a special friend.
I continue going to Jack’s to this day. I still have model planes, trains, automobiles and tanks that I bought there. It gives me a warm feeling every time I walk in the door. My cousin comes up from Columbus just to go there. I cried the day I found out about Jack’s passing, like I am now. Certain times of one’s life are special, as are the people and places we encounter along the way. I am a better person for knowing Jack Springer.
---- Rev. Dean J. Kohler, North Olmsted, OH. 15 September 2009
I'm 56 years old and I first went into Jack 's Hobby Castle back in the early 50s. Car models, airplanes, you name it, I built them all! And all were bought from Jack's.
---- Mike Sollenne, North Olmsted, OH. 09 November 2008
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Charles C. Chaney
30 December 2015