Jay Pollak

Jay Pollak grew up in Northbrook in the 1940’s and as an adult, lived and practiced law in Northbrook. He served as the attorney for many years for the Northbrook Historical Society. Both his mother and father were active in the early development of the Village of Northbrook and have been honored with a room…

Recorded on June 14, 2013. Length: 30 Minutes.


JH: Good Morning.  Today is June 14 and welcome to Northbrook Voices, an oral history project sponsored by the Northbrook Historical Society and the Northbrook Public Library.  My name is Judy Hughes, and I’m pleased to welcome Jay Pollack, who has lived and worked in Northbrook.  Actually, he came when he was just a little boy and has been here since about 1940.  Jay has a law firm in town now and for many years, served as the attorney for many years for the Northbrook Historical Society.  It’s a pleasure to welcome you here.

JP: It’s nice to be here.

JH: Jay, do you have any idea what brought your parents to Northbrook?

JP: Well, I think they really came looking for more room.  I was the first child born and they were living in the city on Elmdale Avenue, and I think they came here looking to have a lot more space than they had living in the apartment.

JH: And did they buy a house here?

JP:  No, of course, I wasn’t privy to a lot of that decision making, but they bought I believe either the lot or contracted with a builder to build a house at the corner of Center Street and what was then Third Street, which is now Greenbrier.  They built the house – a mansard roof house on the southwest corner of that intersection.  Center Street at that point jogged and still does jog to the north of the 100 feet and then continues east.  But at that point, it was the corner of those two – that intersection.

JH: Ok, so you spent all of your growing up years here?

JP: Yes, I grew up in Northbrook when they built the house, we moved to here in 1940 or 1941 and I left when I got married and wasn’t gone more than a couple of years when we came back to Northbrook.  Most of my adult life has been in and around Northbrook.  I shouldn’t say my adult life, I should say my life.

JH: Alright – and where did you go to school?

JP: I started at that time, my parents sent me to Wolf School on Sanders Rd. which was called the Farm School.  It was where HFC is, I believe, now.  It wasn’t very large, but they did have bus service.  I know I got picked up by the bus at Walters and Greenbrier every morning.  I was there for six years.  When I became a 7th grader, I went to Northbrook School because our Farm School didn’t go any higher than that.  So I went to the Northbrook School, which is now the Crestwood Senior housing and I was there for my 7th and 8th grade years.  At that point, when I graduated from 8th grade, there was no Northbrook high school.  That’s a whole different story, that I’m not really that versed in.  In any event, there was no high school and my father basically made a decision that I should go to New Trier as opposed to, if I recall correctly, Palatine High School.  The school district was providing bus service to that high school, but he decided I was going to New Trier and so that’s where I was.

JH: Ok, just to clarify, there was a small high school here that was in a non-high school district, so people here had a choice to go to whatever high school they wanted.

JP: Yes, that is correct.  Because of the way the high school was, we had our choices.  And, so my dad made, I didn’t make the choice at 14 or 15 or whatever I was at the time – so he made the decision, and for the first two years I was there, the school district paid the out of town tuition.  They didn’t have to participate in paying any out of town tuition.  That changed by junior year in high school when Glenbrook opened.  Many of the kids that were from Glenview and Northbrook left New Trier at that point and went to Glenbrook.  I was one of the few, I think that did not do that.

JH: Ok, I want to go back to Farm School for a little bit.  You said it was a small school out on Sanders Road.  Can you explain what Farm School was?

JP: There certainly was not a lot of direct education that one thinks about.  We would have school in the morning and in the afternoon; usually there were farm projects that each class would participate in.  I remember as a 6th grader, we, the whole 6th grade – there were about 15 of us I’m guessing, but about 15…we raised a calf and even we raised it to the point that it was taken to the slaughter house and butchered.  I can’t remember if we all got some meat from that or not, but those are the kind of things that happened there.  In the early morning when we get to school, there were chores that had to be done before school.  There were feeding the chickens and other animals that they had there – it all doesn’t sound like much education, but looking back at it, it was an extraordinary experience.  We had kids from Highland Park, Glenview, Northbrook – there was probably others that I do not recall.

JH: And who ran the Farm School?

JP: The Farm School was run by two women by the name of …. Can’t remember, one of them was Wanda Grienhasen and the other was Leddy Johnson .  I don’t know the history of them in terms of why they started this, or how they started it, but they were the owners basically of the school.  I also remember that there were teachers from Antioch College in Ohio that would come and be, I guess, student teachers, in effect.  My recollection is that Antioch College was a  pretty liberal college and so these – the students that would come were not surprised at how our – how they ran the Farm School.  Because it wasn’t run like most schools are run today or were run then.

JH: And you say looking back, you received an excelled education?

JP: Well, I think I did.  It was certainly not the usually kind of education, like most kids, but looking back on everything I’ve experienced since then, I … yes, I think I got a good education there.

JH: And you went on to college and you became an attorney.

JP: Yes, after I graduated, from New Trier in the spring of 1955, and I went to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  Was accepted there and went there for four years.  Graduated in the spring of 1959 and then went, was accepted to Northwestern Law School and went to Northwestern for three years and graduated from Northwestern in the spring of 1962.  At that time, you had to face service, Army, Navy – you had to face that as part of your growing up and you had to spend time in the services.  I was able to be affiliated with a based post office school – Army division and I did regular boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood, and then was assigned somewhere else, but I only served six months active duty.  As did a lot of people in my position, we had student deferments all through high school and college – not high school – college and law school, and once that deferment was up because of graduation, the armed services were standing at the door waiting for you.

JH: And that was at the time where other people were being sent to Viet Nam.

JP: There was Viet Nam, there was more importantly Korea was also very important and while I was in basic training, is when the Bay of Pigs happened.  Of course I was just in a basic training company and at that part, we probably didn’t know one end of the rifle from the other, but our Sergeant was riling us up and trying to feed us stories that we were on our way to Cuba.  I was fortunate in all this experience that I was the oldest young adult in the unit – after graduating law school, I was 26 years old, and these kids were 17 and 18 and the Sergeant could really sell them a bill of goods and had them scared.  I didn’t buy it.

JH: Let’s come back to Northbrook and talk about the Northbrook you knew growing up.

JP: Growing up in Northbrook, it was a real rural town.  I remember we have a picture somewhere where standing at the corner of Center St. and then Third St. where our house was, you could see all the way to Dundee Road.  There were no houses – there was nothing.  It was just prairie.  Dundee Road at that time was two lane.  In fact, in my recollection, if you looked really close, you could see the old clay pit which was at Lake Cook Rd. where they made bricks.  So, and at that point, the streets were all had numbers for names, there was First Street, Second Street, we lived on Third Street – the street next to that was Fourth and Western Avenue was the only street that didn’t have a number.  I think because at that time – my time in Northbrook there as a youngster, I think that was probably the western edge of town.  As the town got bigger they changed the names to the streets – that as I say, when they built Greenbrier Grade School, they changed the name of the street to Greenbrier.  Growing up, I walked and rode my bike everywhere.  Certainly, there was – there were streets, but transportation for kids in those days was bicycles.  And, the town itself was pretty small.  There was Little Louies used to be at an old, old building on the North side of Walters and there was a shoe store – a shoe-maker in there.  He probably fit the name of a cobbler better than anybody I can imagine.  And that was kind of the end of the downtown village.  There was across the street before the Village Green was, became the Village Green, there was a building where a man made bows and arrows.  A lot of us kids would just go over there on an irregular basis and watch him make what he was making.  There was always saw dust everywhere – it was something I remember – I don’t know where he sold his products, but he seemed busy all the time.  Northbrook was small and rural.  We had – I can remember my mother when one – I have two younger brothers – when one of us would get sick, she would call the pharmacist and – day or night – and at that point, the pharmacy and the drug store was right next to the railroad tracks on the north side of the street.

JH: Was that the Village Apothecary?

JP: No, the Village Apothecary was on the west side of the railroad tracks, this was on the east and it was run by Tom Adams.  My mother could call Tom Adams any time of the day or night and he’d come down and open up the store to get her what she needed.  It was a typical drug store – had a counter, and he made the soft drinks and sodas..

JH: So a soda fountain counter…

JP: It was a classic soda fountain and he ran that too!  And it was the entire building that is now split up into a restaurant and I think

JH: The American Legion..

JP: I think the American Legion is there now and there may be a stylist – a hair stylist.  But that whole building was the drug store and there wasn’t much else to downtown.  The other side of the street, Culligan Water Company took up some of that space on the other side of the street and was their home office for several years until they ran a plant out on Shermer Road.  But the town was small, there was – I can’t remember the name of the saloon, it was long before it was called the Cypress and long before it was called the Landmark.  It was run by at one point, I don’t know how many owners there were, but at one point, it was run by Don Werhane and I don’t know whether the story is true or not, but the drug store – I’m sorry, the hardware store down the street was owned and run by a fellow by the name of Bernhardt, I think, Wally Bernhardt, and he had an extraordinary floor on this hardware store and it was the typical kind of hardware store where you could go in and ask for a particular little thing and somehow he would find it.  The floor was extraordinary, it was some kind of wood floor and it had been there, it was so old that the knot of the wood would stick up and the floor would be worn out.  Anyway, the story always was, whenever he would sell something, he would run down the street to the saloon and use whatever he got to buy himself a drink.  That was Northbrook in the 40’s and 50’s.  I didn’t pay too much attention to the growth, but that was something my father did.  He was deeply involved in the growth of Northbrook from the time I was just getting out of – well actually before I got out of high school, he was the Village Magistrate – I was never sure what that was, he was in charge basically of the traffic court in the area.  He also had the power to marry.  I can only remember one marriage, and it took place in our dining room.  Couldn’t tell you who they were, but I think I was a witness.  But he was the Village Magistrate for a number of years and then he ran for Village President in the mid-50’s and lost on his first attempt and then the fellow that was the Village President, I think either the term was up or he was appointed to a commission in the Cook County and there was another election and my dad won the election.  And he was Village President for three full terms from I think 1957 to 1969.  That could be close, I’m not sure that’s exact.  It was from my perspective, I was always in and out of town because he was first elected in ’57 and I was off to college in the fall of ’55.  But summer times and other times, you know, we kept close tabs on what he was doing and what were his major projects during his term.  I would say there were two really major projects that he was most proud of.  One was being the first town not on any lake or contiguous water way to have water directly from Lake Michigan.  Through some of his contacts, people he knew, he was able to negotiate, I would say the Village, but he was certainly involved, he was able to negotiate an easement from Lake Michigan across parts of the golf course that I think is the Lake Shore Country Club, across the Botanic Garden and originally, I don’t know if it is true these days, but originally the way they got the easement from the Botanic Garden, they gave them free water.  It wasn’t treated, it was free water and then of course, the water went to the water plant where it was treated.

JH: So it was during his term that the whole idea of Northbrook having its’ own water plant and getting its’ own water from Lake Michigan came about.

JP: Exactly.  Before that, the Village was buying water from Glencoe and I would – my recollection again was that the service was not all that great.  Sometimes we had water, and sometimes we didn’t.  Sometimes we had water pressure, sometimes we didn’t.  I think that was also true when we got our own water.  As I recall, we had a lot of people complain about the water pressure on the western part of Northbrook.  But that is one, I’d say, of the major items that he felt most proud of.  I think the second was the underpass at Cherry Lane.  They had originally wanted to put the underpass at Shermer, but it turned out, it was felt, that there were too many businesses affected by creating an underpass there.  Curiously enough, I still remember this, and I don’t remember who it was, but because he wanted to put the underpass originally at Shermer Road, one of the business men in town called him a communist.  He never paid much attention to that, but I do recall that it was, we kind of chuckled about it around our house.  But they finally decided that the place to put it was Cherry Lane and having a access for the fire department to get around the railroad tracks was a huge advantage to the village.  There were other things that obviously he was involved in – the Village grew mightily, I would say, from the time he was Village President until he left in the late 60’s and the people that he appointment to the Plan Commission and the people who worked with him on the Village Board, really created Northbrook as it is today.  Obviously, Northbrook is a lot bigger than it was then, but the foundation of the Village, I think, was expanded at that time.  I don’t want to take away from the people who were involved in the village in the 20’s and 30’s and even the 40’s, but after the war is when Northbrook exploded and they did a pretty good job of organizing things and not having Northbrook be created in chaos. 

JH: Absolutely.  I don’t want to forget your mother.  Your mother was active in the community as well, wasn’t she?

JP: My mother was active mostly as a result of my father cajoling her to become involved.  But yes, she was mostly involved with the library.  She was on the first library board when it was created and she spent much, much, devoted a lot of time to the library in its’ early days.  But, having said all that that she was involved, she was the rock at home.  She was the foundation of our growing up, our growing up being my two brothers and I.  My dad was not home every night because of his obligations with the Village.  My mother was.  She was a typical mother of those years that kept all three of us in line. 

JH: Amazing.  Do you have a favorite memory about Northbrook?

JP: I don’t have anything that specifically stands out as to one thing.  I was telling you about how I, what I thought of Northbrook in the early years.  One of the things I didn’t mention – the answer to that is that I don’t have a favorite thing – because there is just so many.  You know, growing up here, it was an experience going on every day.  I remember that the skating pond was originally where what is now the senior center is…that was the skating pond. 

JH: Now that’s in the Village Green Park?

JP: In the Village Green Park…

JH: That’s now the Park District Park, not the senior

JP: That’s right, but at the time, as I recall, that building, I remember it being called the youth center and in the basement of that building, was the warming house for the skating park that was out behind it.  And that was hand flooded every winter.  There was no Zamboni kind of machine, it was just flooded and stayed that way all winter.

JH: Well, Jay, we’re almost at the end of our interview.  Is there anything you’d like to tell people about your Northbrook?

JP: Well, my Northbrook is gone.  And the new Northbrook that we have today, with its’ problems is still a wonderful place to be.  There are lots of concerns about commercial buildings and so on, but Northbrook is still a wonderful place to be and everybody that is here, regardless of complaints, should be proud of it.

JH: Do you want to say something about the library here?

JP: As I drove up today for the interview, I was – it was extraordinary for me to see the edifice that is now the Northbrook Library.  It is magnificent, in my opinion, and the facilities and the – what it produces for the Village, I don’t think a lot of people understand what the Northbrook Library has to offer.  I would hope they would – I don’t know how it can be spread out – spread to the villagers, but it is an asset that, in my opinion still goes not unused, but used far less than it should be.

JH: Your mother would be proud….

JP: You took the words out of my mouth.  My mother would be extraordinarily – first of all she wouldn’t believe what a structure that has – that it came to be and she would be very proud of what services it now provides the Village that nobody ever thought would be available.

JH: And your parents have a room her named..

JP: Yes, when my dad retired as Village President in 1969, I think, they had a dinner for him and one of the wonderful things that was done at that time was the naming of the room in this building – the Pollak room.  It is something the Pollak’s are all very, very, proud of.  My grandchildren live in Northbrook and they are…one of the top things on their list is to come and see the room

JH: Well, Jay, thank you so very much for participating in Northbrook Voices – your memories of life in Northbrook will add a unique perspective of the history of our Village.

JP: It’s been a pleasure to be here.