It’s an image evoking the Dick Tracy era. Since 1977, the cartoon profile of a man wearing a fedora hat has been painted on the garage of Dorene Schulz’s former home at 244 Marengo Ave. at the intersection of Washington Street in Forest Park.
It’s a caricature of her father, Gerhardt Spaltholz, who was born in 1910. The drawing was based on a sketch made in 1957 by a colleague named Marczek at Beverly Signs on the South Side of Chicago. It was said to have been drawn while Spaltholz was waiting in line for a paycheck. Spaltholz kept the sketch in his basement workshop for 20 years. When he bought a new overhead garage door in 1977, he carefully copied the sketch image onto the door. At the time, his children reportedly teased him and told him neighbor kids would pelt it with tomatoes.
But Schulz, who now lives in Naperville, recently noticed the image was freshened up with a sharpened outline and coat of paint.
“I always come back to Forest Park with my husband and we enjoy a hot dog at Parky’s and drive around the 200 block of Marengo,” Schulz said.
“I noticed the garage had been newly painted and the picture touched up. I wrote to the people living in the house and thanked them over and over in a letter for not painting over the picture,” Schulz said.
Perhaps influencing the decision to leave the picture alone is an admonition — also painted on the door — that reads: “WARNING: Damaging, Marring, Defacing, Disfiguring, Destroying, Ruining or Demolishing Property makes you subject to ARREST.”
The property was purchased this spring by new owners Kathryn Leep and Matthew Corrado, who have installed new fencing and a pergola. Schulz dropped by and showed Kathryn an old Review article from 1987 about the garage and the image.
“I asked her to let me know if she was planning to paint over it because I want a chance to take a picture with my children and five grandchildren in front of it,” Schulz said.
Who is the man in the fedora?
Gerhardt Spaltholz worked as a sign painter for 66 years and specialized in detail work with gold and silver leaf paint.
“It’s a lost art with computers now,” his daughter said.
“He painted the wording on the doors of lots of Oak Park and Forest Park businesses like Forest Park National Bank,” she added.
Where did her father paint signs? Schulz rattled off a list of old-time Forest Park businesses: Peaslee’s Hardware (now Schauer’s), Schmitt’s Bakery (now Kay’s), Homer’s restaurant (now a parking lot) and American Wilbert Vault Company.
“He also painted the gold leaf on all the ambulances and firetrucks,” Schulz said.
Son of a German immigrant, Spaltholz married Ruth Winkelmann, who grew up at 7421 Washington St. in Forest Park, Schulz said. The couple had two sons and a daughter and lived in Forest Park for 35 years. Ruth died in 1986 and Spaltholz moved to Naperville with his daughter before passing away in 1990.
Schulz visited the family house this spring as it was being remodeled and was delighted when Leep offered to give her a tour.
“There was one of my father’s old signs hanging on the wall in his workshop in the basement,” Schulz said. Leep returned the sign to Schulz, who had it framed.
The garage door portrait has been a landmark for many years. The house’s former owners, Craig White and Glen Tribble, told the Review in 1987 the portrait came in handy when giving directions to the house.
The new owners are pleased to find out the story behind the garage.
“Although we were going to paint the door,” Kathryn Leep said in an email, “it now seems like a piece of Forest Park history that we should maintain.”