A New Culture
The war, the depression and other events of the beginning of the 20th century had a huge effect upon Akron. Cultural shifts created by prohibition created the gangsters of the 20’s and 30’s, and many of them made their homes in the city. Most notoriously, Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd made his hideout home in Akron. He was famously caught by Akron police in March of 1930, and the police station still houses Pretty Boy memorabilia to this day. Another important development of the time was created by two alcoholics looking for a solution. Akron resident and local businessman Bill Wilson together with Dr. Robert Smith (Dr. Bob) founded Alcoholics Anonymous in Akron in 1935, and the program still has its world headquarters in the city.
The Car Culture
This shift in culture created an explosion of new ideas and new businesses that sprang up in the city, many of which are still open today. Some of the staples of this city were formed during the early and mid-20th century, and these still form the backbone of the community. One such establishment was conceived when an Italian immigrant moved to the city with his family in 1908. Frank Alexander had an unbelievable talent for selling and repairing automobiles, and so he fit into the culture of Akron perfectly. He worked through his teens and early 20’s at local car shops, learning more and more about the trade. In 1928, he bought what was a failing automobile shop and made it his own. Alexander Body and Fender has been passed down through more generations of Alexanders since then and has continued to grow. It is still family owned today and is one of the largest and most trusted car repair locations in Ohio.
Another result of the automobile culture was conceived a few years later by an unlikely source. With the multiple car races in and around the city, many children began to form their own versions of the events. In 1933, a photographer for the Dayton Daily News put together an impromptu boxcar race for 19 local boys. Little did he know at the time that this would generate so much interest and eventually grow into the Soap Box Derby. The official program would begin in 1934, and now is famous around the world. The championship finals are held every year in Akron and provide great opportunities for fun, entertainment and practical learning for thousands of children.
The Places that Feed Us
Of course, in any growing city, the residents will need places to eat, and brilliant entrepreneurs will capitalize. Akron is the home of some of the best and most innovative restaurants in the nation, many of which have been here for decades. One such restaurant has grown into a regional powerhouse in the hamburger industry. In 1933, Wesley “Pop” Swenson sold his delicious burgers to hungry patrons from the back of his station wagon at Buchtel High School. Then in 1934, he opened the first of what would become Swensons Drive-In and was able to sell to people in station wagons. A second location was opened in North Akron in 1952, and Swensons still serves its famous burgers to Akron today
In 1937, the Mary Coyle Ice Cream and Candy store began serving the sweet tooth of Akron on Exchange Street and would later expand to five more locations. In 1967, a 15-year-old named Michael Tresco began working at the store and learned all about great food service. In 1973, he opened Michael Tresco’s Italian Restaurant in Akron. He was only 21 years old, but the quality of his food and service has enabled the restaurant to last and grow ever since.
Other, more recent establishments have also grown into staples of the Akron culinary culture. Ken Stewart’s Grille first opened in 1990 and still offers the best local fine dining experience in the area. Another great local Italian eatery, Luigi’s Italian Restaurant has been a family-owned and family-friendly place for great food since its inception.
Sports and The Square
The Akron Pros were the first professional sports team in this great sports area. They were also the first ever National Football League Champions. Since then, the area has been maligned for its lack of championship, until Akron gave birth to one of the best of all time. LeBron James was born in Akron in 1984. His talents were clear, even as he played for St. Vincent-St. Mary in high school. His travels since have been well documented, but Akron has always been his home.
Quaker Square is one of the most history-rich locations in all of the city. It is located in downtown Akron on what was once the original location of the Quaker Oats mill. Since being a mill, the location has been a factory, a silo, a hotel, a shopping center and is now owned by the University of Akron. The entire history of this wonderful city can be summed up in the transformations of Quaker Square and all that it represents. LeBron said it best:
“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.”