By Nancy Allen
A part of Mercer County history is gone as the former South Bay restaurant on U.S. 127 south of Celina was torn down Wednesday.
Crews from Rockford Construction Services (RCS), Celina, used large construction equipment to knock the 1960s-built concrete building down to a pile of rubble.
RCS bought 18 acres of land off the east side of U.S. 127 surrounding the restaurant and former South Bay Motel, and another six acres off the west side of U.S. 127 in late 2001. The motel building was torn down in March 2002.
Nellie Culver, 83, Celina, said she has many fond memories of the restaurant, where she worked for about four years in the 1960s.
“It was always busy when I worked there because New Idea was still going good and Reynolds,” Culver said. “The businessmen would come up here for meetings and stay at the hotel.”
Culver said the original owners were the Wannemacher family from Celina. Ferd Wannemacher and his two sons, Orville and Virgil, ran it, she said.
Ferd Wannemacher apparently modeled the restaurant after one he saw somewhere in Indiana. Longtime Celina resident Dick Geist, a former Daily Standard newspaper editor, said the restaurant’s codeacteristic-looking roof with pointed edges that jutted out from the walls of the building was called the uniroof design.
There were always homemade pies and specials every day — just good food, Culver said. She remembers the cooks frying up batches of fried green tomatoes for businessmen who would frequent the restaurant’s bar in the evenings. They called it a “delicacy,” she recalled laughing.
Culver recalled one time when members of the Guy Lombardo orchestra ate at the restaurant.
“I know I waited on him and the tips were good,” she said.
Culver said the restaurant was frequented mostly by working people and families. Couples with young children would stay the weekend, eat at the restaurant and swim in the pool. The restaurant also was a favorite spot to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries.
In the early 1980s, when the business was owned by Wayne Bean, Culver recalled a fire in an apartment at the motel that killed a truck driver. The motel and restaurant closed shortly after.
RCS spokesperson Konnie Rutschilling on Wednesday said company officials originally thought they could use the restaurant building, but later decided not to. Company officials still have not decided how they will develop the site, she said. RCS President Randy Bruns said in a 2001 story that they intended to develop the site either commercially or residentially.
“Initially they thought it was a very interesting structure and there was a part of history with it,” Rutschilling said of the restaurant building. “I think they just reevaluated it.”
Rutschilling said RCS officials plan to construct a model home on the six-acre parcel off the west side of U.S. 127 some time this spring.