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MMD > Archives > October 2008 > 2008.10.05 > 04Prev  Next

Fate of Svoboda's Nickelodeon Tavern
By Art Reblitz

> I am curious about the fall of Al Svoboda's Nickelodeon Tavern
> in Chicago Heights and what happened to the contents of it.

Dear Larry and group,  The short answer is that the original Svoboda's
Nickelodeon Tavern in Chicago Heights moved to Lynwood, Illinois, in
1974, closed in 1982 and the nickelodeons were sold in 1984.

Here's a somewhat longer answer for younger MMD readers who never
visited Svoboda's Nickelodeon Tavern: This amazing place was a large
rambling 1908 tavern building and adjacent structures with many
interconnected rooms packed full of coin pianos, orchestrions, band
organs, music boxes, crank organs, early radios, animated displays,
antique automobiles and numerous other collections.  Over the years,
visitors could see and play over 60 automatic pianos and organs there.
The late Dave Ramey Sr. took care of the instruments from the late
1950s through the early 1970s, with much restoration and tuning being
done from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s when Dave, Tom Sprague
and I were all working there.

Al Svoboda always had dreamed of owning a much larger place with a
street of old-time shops, and demonstrations of blacksmithing and other
early crafts.  Buildings would be furnished with the contents of the
old place and many storage garages nearby.  In 1966, Al and Flo and
their sons Allan and Corky opened "Svoboda's Jr. Nickelodeon Tavern &
Museum" in an existing restaurant and bar building on a large property
near Lynwood, Illinois, moving about a dozen music machines there and
duplicating some of the mechanical gags that had been at the old place
in Chicago Heights.  Al built a large storage building behind the
"Junior," as it was called.

By the early 1970s the neighborhood surrounding the original tavern
began to deteriorate.  The old "Junior" building near Lynwood was
demolished, a large new building was completed, most of the displays
from the old place were moved in and the new business was opened under
the old name in 1974.  The building had a bar room, a large exhibit
room, and a separate arcade.  The bar had only one orchestrion -- the
Seeburg G from the old bar room.  The large room had all of the other
instruments, pitch games, animated displays, Decap organ, and a
rotating gazebo for a Dixieland band and other live entertainment.
Allan and Corky operated the new place, while Al and Flo kept the old
place open as a bar for local patrons.  The big hall and all the other
back rooms at the old place ended up being storage rooms for the many
antiques that never made it to the new place.

The new place lacked the character of the original and wasn't very
successful.  It closed in 1982, Al sold the music machines from then
through about 1984, and died in 1991.  The instruments are now in
collections all over the world.  A few examples include the 92-key
Decap organ and Seeburg G from the big hall (currently in the
Sanfilippo Collection), the Wurlitzer harp (Nethercutt Collection),
Seeburg L Orchestra and Wurlitzer BX (Rider Collection), the last of
five Seeburg Es (Milhous Collection) and the Welte barrel orchestrion
(House on the Rock).

For a comprehensive, fully illustrated 30-page story of Svoboda's
Nickelodeon Tavern, from its opening in 1908 until its closing in 1982,
see my article "Time Went Back at Svoboda's", in the Journal of the
Musical Box Society International, Winter 1989 and Spring 1990.  This
is available on-line to current MBSI members at 
as a part of an archive of 50 years of published articles on mechanical
music.  Non-members of MBSI may view the index to the archive.

A 5-page condensed version of the MBSI article appears in Chapter 10
of my book "The Golden Age of Automatic Musical Instruments," which
also includes the fascinating histories of other early mechanical
music collections like those found at the Cliff House/Sutro complex
(San Francisco), the Bovey Restoration (Virginia and Nevada Cities,
Montana), the Musical Museum (Deansboro, New York), the Eakins Collection
(Sikeston and St. Louis, Missouri), the Mangels Museum, American Museum
of Public Recreation (Coney Island, New York, a collection that
included six Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violinas, among many other things),
Horn's/Bellm's Cars of Yesterday and others.

Art Reblitz

 [ Jim Divoky reports that Svoboda's Peerless Wisteria orchestrion
 [ is currently offered for sale by Tim Trager, and an early Seeburg
 [ Model A nickelodeon from Svoboda's is currently at eBay auction.
 [ -- Robbie

(Message sent Sun 5 Oct 2008, 17:01:54 GMT, from time zone GMT-0600.)

Key Words in Subject:  Fate, Nickelodeon, Svoboda's, Tavern

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