Thanks for Asking | Oct. 21, 2010

answering your questions to the very best of Frank's considerable ability

Frank Smoot |

I pass by the old firehouse off Vine several times a day. What’s the deal with the building? It’s awesome! Will it go for sale?
Thanks for asking! It is awesome! The city built Fire Station #9 (now 2010 6th St.) about 1963 on what was then the lot surrounding Kruschke Concrete. It served and protected until about 1998.

There is a spark of hope for your potential new pad (if that’s why you’re asking): almost exactly two years ago, the city council amended its budget to “relocate the existing storage operation [Frank sez: ‘file storage, I think’] … and offer the property for sale for redevelopment by May 1, 2009, or as soon as possible thereafter.” I’d say it’s “thereafter” any time now.

I hear someone was bitten by a brown recluse?
I had to call-in to the health department on this one. Someone there does remember maybe, could be, an area firefighter being bitten some years ago – but, really, you’ll be OK: only two specimens have been recorded in Wisconsin in the past 25 years. If folks are bitten in our fine state, they’ve either just come from somewhere, or know someone who has.

Because the brown recluse loves hiding in furniture, boxes, bedding, clothing (just loves hiding, period; it’s, um, reclusive), people might relocate with one or bring one back from vacation. It’s also long-lived, can survive months without feeding, and the female brown recluse needs to mate only once to produce offspring throughout her life. But, for now, the top of its normal range is a band running along the southern parts of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

I went to The Sea Horse for a birthday party, and that uncorked a myriad of mysteries about what forms that place has taken in the past. What is the true history of The Sea Horse?
It was 1964, North Clairemont, Town of Union. Gary Dean’s father – whose first name I don’t know, so we’ll just call him Mr. Dean – built the Sea Horse Inn. Built the whole building himself with real brass portholes, a hand-crafted ship named the Sea Queen, fish tanks, salad bar, dioramas of the underwater world. He also designed a wishing well and a “Chinese rock garden” outside. (Why “Chinese”? Who knows?) During the day, he kept building; at night, he bartended. Mrs. Dean served as hostess.

This was, of course, the day of the supper club, and we had several on what were the outskirts of town. Wally’s Chalet, which didn’t look much like a chalet; Stafne’s, serving the best popovers ever made in these parts; the White House, with its three-inch-thick steaks and stiff highballs. No one makes a rusty nail like that anymore. Mr. Dean was also catching a larger wave, as it were. In this era in the Midwest, no one seemed to be afraid of a cheeky themed restaurant. Trader Vic’s opened in Chicago in 1957. The Kahiki opened in Columbus in 1961.

In 1976, the kids (Gary and Helen Dean) took over. Helen finally sold the Sea Horse to Sheilah Radack just two or three years ago, after it had spent some 40 years in the family. I haven’t been in there in years, but it used to be pretty swank in a campy way. Offered a lot of romantic “dinner for two” specials, sirloin and the like. Weirdly, I don’t remember it specializing in, you know, seafood …

Got a local question? Send it (17 S. Barstow St.) or email it ( and Frank will answer it!  Frank has lived in Eau Claire for most of the past 41 years. He is an editor and researcher at the Chippewa Valley Museum, which is open all year just beyond the Paul Bunyan Camp Museum in beautiful Carson Park. You should go there.