From Mechanic's Grease to Sudsy Brews

Posted by Anita on July 31, 2019

(written by Anita Doering, Archives Staff)

Joseph S. Arenz, a German immigrant, was involved financially with the retail automotive industry in its infancy in La Crosse, although he is best remembered as the founder of the Arenz Shoe Store at 323 Pearl Street established in 1903.  Arenz’s nephew, John G. Weihaupt, made the leap in 1913 from the horse and buggy era into the automobile business, including retail sales and repair, by remodeling his father’s blacksmith shop at 217 South Front Street.  It was rebranded as the Arenz-Weihaupt Company. 

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Business was apparently booming by selling the Detroiter and the Marathon vehicles, so much so that John S. Arenz decided to build a new garage and sales building at 306-310 4th Street South in 1916. The area had been largely vacant except for a saloon and a dwelling.  The lot was located across the street from Market Square which was a very desirable location at that time.

 

Despite the business partnership, Joseph S. Arenz had a larger interest in the property than the business, owning the property at least through 1935.  When city water service was added, the plumber noted that it was intended to be used as a garage and saloon, perhaps suggesting that people could go to the saloon for a brew and sandwich while waiting for their car to be repaired. Unfortunately, Prohibition put an end to those thoughts by banning the sale and consumption of alcohol across the country until December 1933 when the law was repealed.

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A photo from a local World War I booklet, May 1918. Notice the Arenz name above “public garage” was tampered with on the photograph and the Rybold-Kenyon name was cleverly added by the advertising art department on the photograph as well.  This was done all before digital photographic software! Also note the single gas pump located on the sidewalk on the south side of the building.


A La Crosse Tribune article published in 1916 gave credit to Weihaupt, Arenz’s nephew, and his partner Martin Rybold for the design and layout of the space: "This…new garage on South Fourth street…when completed, will be one of the best appointed garages in the state.  The lower floor will be given over to the storing of private cars, while the second floor will be used to display new cars and as a [repair] shop.  The cost of the building and the site combined will be $25,000." 

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An undated photograph of the Ladies Auxiliary of the B.R.C.A., thought to stand for Brotherhood of Railway Carmen of America, likely taken at a Labor Day parade.  The [Jorgen] Jensen’s Shoe Repair Works in the background was located at 304 So. 4th Street in the 1919-1922 city directories.


World War I interrupted life in the United States, and it affected car sales, labor, and the availability of men on the home front.  Weihaupt left La Crosse to join the armed services in 1918 and the company essentially dissolved.  When he returned from the U. S. Army, he and another soldier, Myron D. Savage, teamed up in 1919 to form a partnership called Weihaupt-Savage focused on the automobile industry.  They located their business in Weihaupt’s previous space.  City directories bear out that automobile related activities occupied both sides of the building (308 and 310 South Fourth Street) through 1934.

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Featured above, ads from the original Popcorn Tavern, La Crosse Tribune, 1934

December 1933 was the official end of Prohibition, and the Popcorn Tavern under the ownership of Joseph W. and Mayme Wiltinger was started at the 308 address location.  Joseph Wiltinger was the son-in-law of Joseph S. Arenz.  Mayme (Arenz) Wiltinger was the daughter of Joseph S. and Elizabeth Arenz. After her husband’s death in 1952, Mayme continued to run the Popcorn on her own for a few years but continued to own the property into the 1960s, thus continuing the family ownership of the property from 1915 until that time.  Mayme died in 1969.

 

The late 1930s saw an end to the car or garage business in this building, and saw a rise in the entertainment industry.  By the outbreak of World War II, the Pla-Mor Bowling alley was located in back of the store fronts and used the address of 306 South 4th Street while the 310 address and storefront was space for the Kewpee Lunch and the Sullivan (later Weihaupt) roller rink.  Eventually a Kroger Company grocery store was located in the south storefront until 1958, while Pla-Mor continued in that location until 1966.

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Photograph above from the Howard Colvin collection, Mss 125 at the La Crosse Public Library Archives, circa 1961

Kroger was replaced by the Great Surplus Stores, Inc., which occupied the 310 address from 1958-2000.  Since then, a variety of businesses have been located there, and the space is currently vacant.

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Returning to the 308 address, most notably the home of the Popcorn Tavern, Merle and Elizabeth Fitzpatrick bought the business and then later the building from the Wiltinger estate.  During the 1960s, the Popcorn was often referred to as Fitz’s Popcorn Bar.  The story is that David Parisey, a UWL graduate then living in Madison, returned to La Crosse for a short trip and wound up buying the place from Fitzpatrick with some friends in 1972.  David “Pear” Parisey and his wife Karen Knudson were married in La Crosse in 1976 and the couple has been sole owners since 1987.  The tavern is currently (2019) undergoing a complete remodel all the way to the floor joists and wall studs.  Live music will soon again fill the Popcorn’s walls.


You can come to the La Crosse Public Library Archives to read a fuller history of this building.  If you have photographs of La Crosse you'd like to share with the Archives, please contact us at 608-789-7136 or via email archives@lacrosselibrary.org.