The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Features December 1, 2006

The Lives Behind Gibsonís Bakery and the Apollo
Building Relations: 36 E. Lorain, Hobbs House (left); the Apollo theatre (middle); 55 Union, Broadwell-Lay House (right). 

Some of Oberlin’s well-known businesses such as Gibson’s, the Apollo and The Oberlin Inn have flourished under a number of different owners, with far-reaching effects on the town’s residents and the College. 

Display cases inside Gibson’s feature colorful pastries, confetti-sprinkled cookies, sugary donuts and other such delicious goods. But before this one-of-a-kind bakery and store stood victoriously on its own, it had a long-time competitor: The Oberlin, also located on East College Street.

The Oberlin, also known as Hobbs Restaurant, opened after William Dayton Hobbs bought a half share of the Preston Bakery & Restaurant in 1894. A familiar College student spot in the 1900s, the establishment is mentioned in the song, “Way Out in Old Ohio” by John Prindle Scott: “My roommate and I are going down to Mister Hobbs’ to have a piece of pie.”

In addition to the food industry, Hobbs built the Apollo Theater’s building in 1913 and the former Rex theater at 51 S. Main, currently home to Yesterday’s Ice Cream Shoppe and Quizno’s. He eventually retired from the food business, but soon took on managing The Oberlin Inn, founded the same year as Oberlin College in 1833.

Hobbs and his wife, Gertrude, lived on 36 East Lorain Street, Hobbs House, built in the late 1880s. The two-story home is classified in the Queen Anne style with some asymmetrical angles and irregular floor plans. Notable features include a bay window on the second floor above the front door, a two-story circular tower and an off-center brick chimney.

Hobbs’s daughter Nessie Lucille graduated in 1911 from Oberlin High School and in 1916 from the College. She worked as a physical education teacher and spent a few years as an instructor at Oberlin. Before she moved to California, where she passed away in 1977, she worked as a manager of The Oberlin Inn, taking after her father.

Upon construction of the Apollo and Rex theaters, both businesses came to be owned and operated by George Broadwell. Broadwell is known for bringing the first modern gas station to Oberlin in the 1930s when he and a friend, George Jackson, built their business on S. Main, where Midas now stands. Going into the gas business, the two were more than prepared as previous owners of the Auto Livery and Taxi Service, a taxi stand and filling station on the other side of the street on North Main Street. Originally called J & B, the pair revised the name to Janby since the letters ran together.

Broadwell was married to Lucinda and had one son, George Peake Broadwell. The Broadwells lived at 55 Union Street in the Broadwell-Lay House. The two-story home is in the American Foursquare style, aptly classified with its square floor plan and low pyramidal roof. Its original stone steps and chimney are still in tact.

Carrie Broadwell-Tkach OC ’06, is a direct descendent currently residing in Oberlin. Her grandfather, Howard, was cousin to George Peake and nephew to the older George. Howard resided on 45 Union from 1930 to 1948, with his grandparents living in the house in between. Although city directories are missing from 1973 to 1978, Howard confirmed that Lucinda resided at 55 Union Street until she passed away in 1978.

The actual Apollo building sits on 19 East College Street and screened the thriller Thor, Lord of the Jungles, a silent movie from 1913 directed by Colin Campbell on opening night. The theater is a cinematic gem with a curtain that opens and closes over the movie screen and a marquee in the front, features particular to older movie theaters. In the Art Deco style, the theatre seats approximately 850, and has experienced only a few owners over approximately a century.

Broadwell sold the Apollo to Ira West in 1917; some owners came and went, and in 1928, Clevelander Jerry Steel became the owner. Steel fought in France during WWII and worked various positions in film, including a stint at Warner Bros. Even during the depression, the theater survived under his care. It was later renovated for more space and in the 1950s, the neon-lighted triangular sign that can be seen today was built.

The Steel family still owns the Apollo, which screens movies twice a night; the movie changes weekly. As for Gibson’s, it has managed to survive as a small, family-owned business despite large chain store corporations, providing a wide variety of goods downtown. 


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