Jack Pine (Jack Anderson) R.I.P.

Jack Pine (Jack Anderson) R.I.P.

By Mike Leifheit

By Mike Leifheit

I’m sitting at my little end bar at the Irish Rose. Frank Schier, editor and publisher of The Rock River Times, is sitting at the bar eating Sole Almondine. I say, “Would you care if instead of doing my regular column, I write something about Jack Pine?” Frank says, “That’s a good idea. I was thinking about writing something myself, but I don’t know if I’ll have the time.” We had both just attended the memorial service for Jack (actually Jack Anderson) at the Fred C. Olson funeral home Tuesday night.

That being decided, I began to think about what it was that I wanted to say. I first met Jack at Charlotte’s Web. That was the music and entertainment center that Bill and Karen Howard gave to the city of Rockford. It was the most wonderful gift anyone ever gave this city. There has been nothing like it since. It had a vibrancy and a magnetism that would be impossible to duplicate. Out of it came the New American Theater. Out of it came the Old Rock River Cafe. Out of it came John Berry and all of his wonderful artwork. Out of it came Jack Pine. When I left Rockford to work in California in the late ’70s, it was my only regret. I felt like something was finally happening in my town, and I was deserting it.

Jack was officially the lightman; unofficially, he was head visionary. And it was for his vision that he became known. His last big project was the Kegel Harley Davidson building. That was his proudest moment. I can remember walking up the stairs to the Front Page, and Jack would be there. Always a little edgy, cocky, some would even say arrogant. But cockiness or arrogance is not as offensive when someone can back it up, and he did, in spades.

I think I was responsible for providing him with his first total design project. I hired him as a carpenter along with Jack Burton, to do a remodel of what was then the Prime Cut Restaurant in Loves Park. I had been approached by Jerry Dal Pra and Dick Provi to participate in the rejuvenation of that restaurant property. It was a tremendous opportunity. I called it Rosalita Malone’s, and it was to be a blend of my favorite food, Mexican, and my heritage, Irish. We had Irish whiskey and Irish beer. We had handmade tacos and enchiladas. Sabina, who became famous at El Rebozo on Eleventh Street, made all our salsas.

In the beginning, I planned a simple redoing of the space. Then Jack got involved. One night at the apartment where I was living with a woman friend, under the influence of too much wine and some very fancy hand-rolled cigars, Jack talked me into doing much more. There was a huge octagonal window in the front of this apartment, on the second floor of this old house on Penfield. It was as tall as I was. The full moon was shining through this wonderful window as Jack pirouetted and pointed into the air. Jack was a small man, and the window framed him. The moon lit him like a spotlight.

He was describing his vision, and this was the first time I had seen him like this. He whirled in the moonlight like a leprechaun, describing the molding for the ceiling. It was to be made of mahogany, with an inlay of Cocobolo wood and pine alternating in a dot dash, dot dash pattern. And as he described it, he alternately pointed with his finger, and then did a side slash with his hand. The windows, which were square, were to be sandblasted into arches, with three lines above them, and as he described the lines, he drew them in the air with his finger, each one higher than the last. The bar was to be surrounded with wood that was carved into an Aztec pattern. The bar top was to have the inlay of an eagle holding arrows in his talons and a flag in his beak.

Of course, all of this cost money, a lot of money. Dick and Jerry, my partners, were pretty patient. They caught the enthusiasm. Jack only knew his art. He brought many talented people into the project; many of these people came from the Charlotte’s Web. Among them were Christy Julin, who did a faux finish stone wall in the back room so realistically that the lady from the health department asked us to patch the crack in it. We laughed about that for days. Her brother, Jim Julin, along with Jack Reed, made beautiful tabletops out of old bowling alley from the State and Madison building.

Times were tough, and the squeeze was on. I was squeezed between the money partners and the artist. Jack knew only his art. The money partners, while they appreciated the art, were in it to make money. I just wanted to finish the job and get open. Jack was feeling the pressure. He called me at three in the morning, waking me from a sound sleep. He had just crashed his brand-new truck into a phone pole. He said it was my fault. I quietly listened to him as he ranted at me over the telephone. My woman friend was amazed at me. She couldn’t believe my patience; she knew my Irish temper. I told her I just wanted to finish the job.

The partners and I met with Jack. We owed him money. He had forsaken his own wage in order to entice us to complete his vision, but a line had to be drawn. We had to cut things short and get the doors open. We paid him in full. He went on a vacation, but he came back for the opening of the restaurant. The concept was mine, but the restaurant was all Jack from his father’s beautiful handmade bar stools to the copper ceiling over the fish tank mounted in the wall next to the single booth. It was the first thing you saw as you entered.

I have lived to see many of these design elements copied in other local restaurants. I always smile to myself when I do. Jack and I didn’t talk for awhile. Jack was like that; so was I in those days. But he didn’t stay mad forever. We became friends again. He always had an opinion. Sometimes you didn’t like it. But when he gave you a compliment, you were extremely happy because you knew you probably really deserved it.

The last thing we did together were the market pictures for the Irish Rose web page. We shot at the market and had lunch in Greek Town. Jack couldn’t eat anything solid. I ordered him Egg Lemon Soup. He had just returned from the hospital. They had removed his voice box. He couldn’t talk, but he still managed to flirt with the Greek bartender. My ex-wife, Robin, had a similar experience. Jack waved his arms and pointed and communicated so vividly through animation that she forgot for a moment that he couldn’t speak.

I often walk into the Irish Rose half expecting to see him sitting at the last bar stool, the one by the big old power house lamp. Goodbye, Jack. We’ll miss you.

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