Superman Lives in Highland Park
What started as a retro phone booth turned into a full-blown retro diner in this week's exploration of Highland Park's Craigslist.
Imagine a retro diner. There's a black-and-white checkered floor, a chrome-lined booth, a full soda fountain against one wall, pinball machines, a stand-up popcorn machine, a jukebox, and just in case you want to invite your friends out to the sockhop, a soundproof wooden phone booth.
Instead of serving food, this blast from the past was a theme room taking up 2,000 square feet of Highland Park resident Robert Eiseman's basement.
"It was mostly for my kids," Eiseman explained. "I have four children, and when it came time for sleepovers, they were the most popular kids in school."
Now that his children are grown and he's moving to a new home, Eiseman is dismantling the diner and selling off the pieces. I found his wooden phone booth advertised under "Antiques" on Craigslist.
"I bought it 15 years ago from someone in Lake Forest," said Eiseman. "He advertised it in the newspaper, but today, they say the best way to sell something is Craigslist."
Eiseman wasn't sure where the original owner got it, but based on the solid 800 pounds of polished wood he guessed it once belonged to a classy hotel. Looking at it, this is the sort of thing Superman would burst out of on the second to last page of an old Action Comic, long after Clark Kent did all the legwork tracking a mob boss to a ball thrown at a swanky downtown hotel.
"It's solid wood. If you took it outside it'd ruin the finish," said Eiseman. "It belongs in a real diner, or a nice hotel, or someone else's home."
Stepping into the phone booth is like stepping back in time to an era when talking on the phone meant being physically connected to another person via a wire. The cheerful face of a vintage telephone operator smiles at you from beside the phone itself. While the phone was designed to take nickels, dimes, and quarters, Eiseman retrofitted it so it could be plugged into a normal phone outlet. Once you close the doors, the lights come on, an overhead fan begins to whir, and the quiet interior protects you from prying ears. It makes you wish there were half a dozen similar phone booths on every Metra car into Chicago.
"When they were little the kids used it for hide and seek, but once they got older it was where they want to get some privacy when they talked to their friends," Eiseman said.
The wooden phone booth breaks into five pieces for dismantling and reassembly. Eiseman laughed when asked if he'd ever gone in wearing horn-rimmed glasses and come back out wearing a cape. His only answer was, "That phone booth has seen some great times."
You can check out his Craigslist posting here.