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World's First Dairy Queen Gets Landmark Status

JOLIET, Ill. (STMW) - The first Dairy Queen store received local landmark status Tuesday, which should help people realize Joliet's importance in the birth of the ice cream giant that today has 5,900 locations in the U.S. and 21 other countries.

Being home to the first Dairy Queen is not a well-known fact in the City of Steel and Stone.

"People are shocked when you tell them," said Tony Contos, executive director of the Joliet Area Historical Museum. "They say, 'Where is it located?'"

It's downtown at 501 N. Chicago St., but the building houses a storefront church today.

The sign on the storefront now reads: Jesuscristo es el Senor The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. But at a grand opening in June 1940, it read: "Dairy Queen The New Frozen Dairy Product."

Other than that, the storefront does not look dramatically different. The brick structure on Chicago Street was already 45 years old when Kankakee native Sherwood Noble used it to sell his newly concocted soft-serve ice cream.

The Kankakee connection has created a regional dispute in small talk over the years between Jolietans and Kankakeeans as to where Dairy Queen was started. They're both right in different ways.

"It was developed in Kankakee, but the first actual store with the Dairy Queen name was here," said Bob Nachtrieb, a member of the Joliet Historic Preservation Commission that sought the landmark status. The Joliet City Council approved the landmark status Tuesday.

Nachtrieb's version is confirmed in the company history on the Dairy Queen website.

People at the Dairy Queen corporate headquarters in Minneapolis think the landmark status is "a fabulous thing" and have requested that the official ceremony take place next year during warm weather, which will be more conducive to eating ice cream.

That's the plan, said Nachtrieb. And Dairy Queen has even suggested that Sherwood Noble's two daughters will be happy to attend the ceremony.

There will be a bronze plaque attached to the building storefront to commemorate its place in Dairy Queen history, said Barb Newberg, a planner for Joliet.

"That will make it more visible to the traveling public and tourists that may be traveling around the Route 66 corridor," Newberg said.

There has been interest in years in making the building's Dairy Queen history more prominent because Joliet attracts many Route 66 enthusiasts. Not only is the city along the historic highway route, but the Joliet Area Historical Museum has a Route 66 welcome center.

The museum doesn't have a display on Joliet's place in Dairy Queen's history, but it is working on it.

The history of Dairy Queen at that site still remains somewhat of a mystery.

Nachtrieb said while the June 22, 1940, grand opening is documented, it's not clear how long the place stayed a Dairy Queen. The historic preservation commission does know that by 1954 the North Chicago Street building had become home to Stefanech Lawn Mowers Sales and Service. In later years, it would be a Harley-Davidson shop, a furniture store, and a plumbing, heating and air conditioning business. The building is now owned by John Georgouses.

It's not that surprising that the Dairy Queen history had become dim. But local people who learn about it can still be delighted at the discovery.

Nachtrieb said the historic preservation commission sought landmark status after hearing from Mike Hainzinger, a Joliet Junior College instructor who had found out about the city's connection to Dairy Queen history.

"He had learned that the building was the original Dairy Queen and said that ought to be landmarked," Nachtrieb said. "I had to agree with him."

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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