OGDEN — Museums hold many mysteries in their files, and one in Ogden’s Union Station involves a very large shoe.
About 500-EEEEE. Two stories tall, wide enough for Paul Bunyan, it stood at 1911 Washington Blvd. in Ogden, right where Bingham Cyclery is today.
Union Station Archivist Lee Witten said the two pictures he has of the shoe are pretty much all he knows about it.
One picture says the building is the “Old Shoe Tavern” and shows it covered in snow, surrounded by cars of 1930s vintage. We can confidently date this picture to December 1938.
The other identifies it as “Modern Cleaners.” The date of 1946 is written on that picture.
Witten said people who have come in asking about the shoe remember it as having been a cafe. Witten would love to know more, but because Union Station’s primary focus is railroad history, not large footwear, he has never had time to dig further.
The Standard-Examiner, hoping to fill this gap, spent a day digging at the Weber County Library. Old Polk City directories and newspaper files yielded the bare bones of a fascinating business history fraught with struggle, illness and failure.
Anyone who can fill in more gaps, or who knows the ultimate fate of the building, is asked to call Charles Trentelman, 801-625-4232. All this history will be added to Union Station’s archive so at least one gap can be filled in.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: There is no evidence any old woman and her many frustrating children ever used the shoe for a home.
Anne and Gerald Fleming, of Uintah, built the shoe — it looks like a high-top sneaker or hiking boot — in 1935 to be a restaurant.
The 1930s were a time when businesses tried to lure the motoring public by being unique or odd. Giant ducks, milk bottles or Indian tepee motels were the norm, so why not a shoe, complete with an elf poking his head out the top?
The Flemings got national notice. A picture of “Ann’s Shoe Tavern” appears in the February 1936 issue of Modern Mechanix.
The picture caption says, “Fashioned after the famous Mother Goose rhyme, a giant boot has been converted into a restaurant by Mrs. Anne Fleming of Ogden.
“Its unusual shape attracts many visitors, few of whom can resist stopping for lunch or dinner.”
Apparently, too many could resist. The 1938 Polk Directory, compiled in 1937, shows the building “vacant” and Gerald Fleming working as a car salesman.
The next evidence of activity is a series of ads in the Standard-Examiner on May 27, 1938, showing “Ye Old Shoe Tavern” open under new management. The ads don’t say who that management is, and there is no news story of the event.
The ads offer “sizzling steak dinners, Italian spaghetti, Bar-B-Q spare ribs” and even curb and umbrella table service.
Whoever that was, they didn’t last long. A classified ad on Dec. 13, 1938, mournfully says, “Must sell Old Shoe Tavern because of illness.”
As this is the last time the building has that name, which matches one of Witten’s pictures, it is December of 1938 when that picture was taken.
The May 12, 1939, edition of the Standard-Examiner shows it was bought by Don V. Piggott. He opened the place up as “Don’s Old Shoe Tavern” and told the newspaper, “I am glad to be going into the lunch business and feel that with the support of my many friends I will be successful.”
These late depression years were hard, and Don needed more friends. The 1940 directory shows the business, again, as “vacant.”
But not for long.
The 1941 directory has Fred Anderson and his wife, Virginia, operating “The Shoe Cafe.”
Another failure. The 1942 directory shows no restaurant, only a mechanic named Marion E. Hummell living at that address.
This is where a plan of the building would be useful. Did Hummell live upstairs in the laces? Was he living amid a restaurant’s abandoned tables and chairs? No clue.
Not until 1948 is the shoe a business again: Modern Cleaners, a dry-cleaning establishment. This is Witten’s second picture. The date on that picture — 1946 — indicates this business lasted a couple of years at least, but ultimately failed to clean up.
The 1951 directory shows that Mrs. Ellice Pigeau, former deli manager at a local grocery, is now operating the shoe as an eatery again.
No name of her restaurant is listed — even the restaurant index only shows her name, but either her name was enough, or Mrs. Pigeau served good food, because she operated until 1955.
That was the year her husband, Eugene, a truck driver, died. Mrs. Pigeau was 66 then, and apparently decided to retire.
The 1956 directory shows the shoe had gone back to being a dry cleaner, this time as an outlet for Model Cleaners, a business that is still around.
And there the trail ends.
Both Eugene and Ellice Pigeau are dead. The Ogden City Cemetery shows Mary Ellice Pigeau died in 1973 and was buried next to Eugene.
A call to Model Linen on Friday found nobody old enough to remember the old shoe. Call back on Monday, we were told.
Meanwhile, if you know, give us a call at 801-625-4232.