Scott Van Leeuwen
Interviewed by Lorrie Rands
17 July 2013
Oral History Program
Weber State University
Scott Van Leeuwen
17 July 2013
Copyright © 2014 by Weber State University, Stewart Library
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Ogden business district since World War II. From the 1870s to World War II, Ogden was a major railroad
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houses flourished as Ogden became a shipping and commerce hub.
After World War II, the railroad business declined. Some government agencies and businesses related to
the defense industry continued to gravitate to Ogden after the war—including the Internal Revenue
Regional Center, the Marquardt Corporation, Boeing Corporation, Volvo-White Truck Corporation,
Morton-Thiokol, and several other smaller operations. However, the economy became more service
oriented, with small businesses developing that appealed to changing demographics, including the
growing Hispanic population.
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Van Leeuwen, Scott, an oral history by Lorrie
Rands, 17 July 2013 , WSU Stewart Library
Oral History Program, Special Collections,
Stewart Library, Weber State University,
July 17, 2013
Abstract: The following is an oral history interview with Scott Van Leeuwen. The
interview was conducted on July 17, 2013, by Lorrie Rands. Scott discusses his
experiences with 25th Street.
LR: It’s July 17, 2013 and we are here with Scott Van Leeuwen in his store on 25th
Street talking about his memories of 25th Street. My name is Lorrie Rands and I
will be doing the interview. Scott, thank you for your time, we appreciate this.
How long have you been here on 25th Street?
SV: 55 years.
LR: What prompted you to have your store here?
SV: I was married when I was 17 years old and I was working at a grocery store out
in South Ogden and the fellow that used to own this store, Abe Rubin, was
looking for a hired hand. My uncle sent me down and I applied for the job and got
it. I was about 17 or 18 years old. He said to my uncle, “I thought I was going to
get a man and you sent me a boy, but I hired him.” I worked for him for about 20
years and then I bought him out and he worked for me for about 15 years. That
was in the late 1970’s.
LR: Was this the store that you worked in?
SV: This actually used to be the China Temple Café. If you look right through this
doorway you can see those guns in that far room, and that was the original Gift
House back there. After the China Temple closed down, we knocked that hole in
the wall and came into this place. This used to be a very popular place as a
LR: Originally, in 1960?
SV: We were all in that little store next door right at 120. We came in here in the late
LR: Why 25th Street?
SV: 25th Street is where Abe Rubin had his store originally and it was a gift house,
that’s why it’s called The Gift House still. He was catering mostly to the people
that were getting off the train. 25th Street was bustling with everybody coming
home from the war and this was Junction City. The trains go north, east, south
and west out of here, so it was a junction point and a drop off spot for a lot of
servicemen. Abe had a sandwich shop and little assorted gifts. He kept it that
way until the war effort ended and then he had to find something new so he
started to make punchboards. Punch boards are little squares with a thousand
punches in them and he would give rifles and pistols away if you got the winning
number. He did that quite successfully for a number of years before I got here.
Then, the federal government imposed a tax that made it impossible to make any
money on it, but he had a lot of sporting goods leftover so he started to sell
sporting goods. He went into fishing and tackle and sporting goods and a pawn
shop. That’s what we are doing today. We don’t do the fishing and tackle
anymore, but we do a lot of sporting goods and a lot of custom made jewelry and
a pawn shop.
LR: Did you ever think of leaving 25th Street and getting into another store?
SV: Actually, Abe Rubin had a couple of kids my age and I just assumed they’d be
the ones taking over the store, so I bought a piece of ground across the street
with the idea that I’d stay on 25th Street and just build my own store. When that
time came near Abe said, “Why don’t you just buy this one?” I said, “I’m sure
your kids wouldn’t like that if I bought the place.” He said, “My kids are too smart
to run this place. You’d do it for free. They’d think they had to make money every
transaction and they’re not going to make a success out of it. I want somebody
that I know to have a stamp on it.” So, I stayed here.
LR: Did you ever buy that property?
SV: I bought it and sold it when the new development that went in with all the
apartments next door. I think I paid 6,000 dollars for it and I sold it for $50,000.
LR: That’s a nice investment.
SV: It wasn’t bad.
LR: What are some of your memories being here on this street?
SV: In the 1960’s, it was an entirely different street than we have today. There were a
lot of dubious characters running around. As you look up and down 25th Street,
you’ll see all these businesses with the name plates on the front that say it used
to be a house of ill-repute or a saloon or a legitimate hotel. Those were all there
in the 1960’s and it was a pretty rough and tumble street. It was the first street in
Ogden because of the railroad and Ogden grew from there. It grew east and got
up to Washington Blvd. which became the major business section. In the 1970’s
they tore down most of the buildings on Washington Blvd. to put in our mall that
eventually failed. That’s where these new developments are coming in now like
the high adventure things that they’ve put in by the river. At that time, 25th Street
had a lot of really interesting people and I remember hundreds of guys and every
guy had a hundred stories. There was just a wealth of people that were in and
out. We had people from all walks of life. Early on, 25th Street was segregated.
The Gift House is one of the very few places where they’d cross the street and
do their business and then walk straight back over to the other side. That was the
first time I’d ever seen anything like that. Eventually, that changed and everything
became a little bit easier later on in the sixties.
LR: Did you get any flack for allowing that?
SV: No, nobody ever said anything to me. As far as the black community in town,
they’ve been some of my biggest supporters. I go to just about every wedding
and every funeral to this day. I’ve told lots of them that I feel like I’m part of the
family. I did have a black guy break in here and steal some stuff one day and half
the community called and apologized for it. I said, “There’s no need for you to
apologize for what someone else did, doesn’t matter what color he is.”
It’s kind of a special bond that I’ve had my whole life and I just love 25th
Street. I tease a lot of people and say, “God, they closed down a perfectly good
cat house and put in an ice cream store.” It’s interesting and I remember one
time they had a meeting for the 25th Street Association and they had an Asian
guy here that was selling bigger than average beers on the street. I went to the
meeting and said, “It’s kind of amazing to me that you’ve got a place that was the
oldest bar in 25th Street and you’ve got a place that used to have a brothel in
there and you’ve got a place that was known for fights and selling illegal whiskey,
but now in 2010 you get mad because there’s one guy selling somebody a beer.
You ought to hire that guy to carry that beer up and down the street so you can
protect the image that you’re living on.” They didn’t think that’s what they were
living on, so that guy isn’t here anymore selling beer.
LR: When the railroad stopped being as busy as they were, did that affect your store
SV: Yes, it did. It affected all of Ogden. The club next door was cashing railroad
checks every payday and if your check was 185.05, they’d keep the change on
the end of the amount whatever it would be. They’d cash your check and then
buy you a beer. Of course, one beer would lead to another beer and then another
and before long they’d made their money back. They were like a bank down
here. They were doing thousands and thousands of dollars of check cashing.
The whole street was alive. I remember in the sixties when you’d look up 25th
Street and look east you could see all these railroad guys coming down in their
bib overalls and long white shirts on their way to work. A lot of them lived in
Evanston and they stayed in different hotels on the street, even in the Ben
Lomond Hotel. When that all quit, it was quite a blow to the economics of Ogden,
let alone 25th Street.
LR: You never thought of moving when it started to go down?
SV: I just hung in here because I’d already had a pretty good reputation. We were
one of two pawn shops in the whole city and shortly after I bought it, the other
one closed down so I was the only pawn shop for a long time and 25th Street
was pretty centrally located. The parking was easy and we had some vacant lots
from buildings they’d torn down. People could get in and get out. I never thought
of leaving 25th Street.
LR: Do you like the way it’s changed and the way they’ve brought it back?
SV: When I got here, 25th Street was not anywhere you’d even want to be seen. We
had a lot of people that would pull up in front, walk straight in here and do
whatever they had to do and turn around and walk right back out. People would
come down here Friday or Saturday nights and just watch the people as they left
the bars. There were drunks walking up and down the street. It was a rough and
tumble street nationally known. You kind of had to watch your p’s and q’s and
know what was going on. Do I like what they’ve done? Well, it’s like everything
else, it’s changed. You get places like Park City and Denver, Colorado that has
their Lorimar Square and you get people that are interested in it. Pretty soon you
have these old buildings that are 150 years old and are architecturally beautiful
that people spend a lot of money to fix them up and make them look historically
LR: There are rumors that there are tunnels underneath the buildings.
SV: I’ve got tunnels in the building right next door. In the next room, there’s a tunnel
that goes east through several stores. As far as having a tunnel that is rumored
to have gone from the hotel Ben Lomond all the way to the train station in the
middle of the road, I never saw anything like that, but I can go downstairs here
and go four or five stores that way without any problems, so there are tunnels.
WJ: Earlier when we came in and asked if we could interview you, you gave us an
example of segregation in the China Temple and I was hoping you could
elaborate a little bit more on that.
SV: Well, I had never seen anything like it. I came from Morgan, Utah and I didn’t
even know a black guy. When I got to go to South Junior High School, we had
about four black guys in our school. One of the guys was a track star named
Eddie Castle. He held Utah state records for running the 100-yard dash and he
was also the president of our school. I’d never seen prejudice and really the only
black guy that I knew was president of the school, so when I came down here in
the early sixties it was disbelief to me. I was sitting at the counter right in this
room and a young black couple with a couple of little kids came in and sat down
in a booth and it was like they didn’t even come in. They weren’t mean to them.
They just didn’t talk to them. I sat there and watched it and somebody said, “They
don’t let black guys come in here,” but there were a couple of them with a couple
of kids and they just waited. Pretty soon one of the guys said to the waitress,
“Pardon me, could we get waited on?” The waitress said, “No, we are not going
to wait on you today, you’ll have to leave.” It was shocking to me, I couldn’t
believe it happened. I only witnessed it one time, but it was pretty well known that
they weren’t to go in there.
In the mid-sixties there was a lot of racial tension in America and we had a
little here. I remember one night I left the gift house and I was parked behind in
the alley and there were 35 black guys down there all in their 20’s. They were
locking arms and they were going to block the traffic from going. Well, at that
time you could go straight down to the depot through the “U” shaped road at Wall
Avenue. When I walked into the club there was a guy sitting there having a beer
and I said, “There are about 35 black guys out there making a human chain to
block all the traffic.” He said, “Watch my beer, I’ll be right back. He went out and
got in his 1960 Oldsmobile and looked at all the guys and they were all looking at
him and chanting. He waited until the light turned green and just went. They
could see he wasn’t going to stop, so they all ran to the side of the sidewalk. He
went down and turned around at the depot and said, “Come on, get back
together.” They went, “Oh, the hell with you,” and just broke it up. That was the
only racial thing I’d ever seen as far as a protest, but it didn’t amount to very
LR: When the Civil Rights Act went into effect, did things change overnight or did it
take a while?
SV: It didn’t change overnight. It had been hundreds of years coming and the Civil
Rights Act made a law that you had to do whatever you had to do. I don’t think
anything in Ogden, Utah has changed very much. I’ve got a very good friend
named Joe McQueen. He plays the saxophone and he’s about 90 years old and
takes a lot of older people out to the doctors and that’s his job. He’s a black guy
who came from the south. He went home and his family said, “Joe, how come
you can live up there with all those Mormons? You’re one of the only black guys
out there.” Joe said, “The only time I knew I was black in Ogden, Utah is when I’d
get up and shave in the morning because everybody treats me very well. We
don’t have prejudices here.” If he doesn’t feel it, then I’m a long ways from it. I
think that here in Utah we were isolated from a lot of that and I think it’s a good
thing. I have lots of black friends and I don’t think any of them have any problems
AP: You also mentioned across the street and along 25th Street there were a lot of
brothels. During the time you came here in the early sixties, there was a big push
for anti-vice for stopping brothels and…
SV: When I got here there weren’t a lot of brothels, but there were some working girls
that would apply their trade walking up and down the street. I think Ogden City
government looked the other way a little bit because it is a hard law. They did
tighten things up after a while. With that kind of trade you always have a problem.
I had a good friend of mine that went into one of the bars on this side of the street
in the eighties and there were a couple of black girls and he said, “They were the
friendliest people I’d ever met in my life. They’d give me a hug and a kiss and let
me talk to them and then all of a sudden somebody roughed me up and threw
me out of the joint. I was kind of ruffled up and I brushed myself off and looked
down and thought somebody lost his wallet.” He reached down and got it to find it
was his wallet and all of his money was gone. They took him in there and shook
him down. If that starts happening you’re going to run into problems and that’s
what happened a lot. They cleaned up the street and got rid of it. Did they get rid
of prostitution? I don’t think so. I think it’s probably somewhere else, not out in
front of my store right now. There were girls that were working girls just like there
are today. You can make it illegal, but it may not work. I think somebody said it
was the oldest profession. I think right after that came pawn brokers.
This street has really cleaned up a lot. 25th Street used to have 8 foot
wide sidewalks so you were always really close to people on the sidewalk. Right
behind the stores was the 25th Street Red Light Alley, as they called it. I
remember when I was a kid before I came to work here, it was a pretty big thrill to
be sixteen or seventeen years old and get in the car and drive up to Red Light
Alley. I think some of the owners of the businesses would have a red lights
hanging up there for somebody to look at. I don’t think they were really
businesses with red lights, but it was pretty exciting when you were 16 or 17
years old to come down here. It was a dark alley and real rough. The electric
wires overhead were really a jumbled mess and it was pretty good to drive up
there and feel like you’d really done something. It was kind of a scary thing, but it
LR: You grew up in Morgan and when you got your job here at the Gift House, did
you move to Ogden?
SV: I was born in Morgan, Utah and that was during WWII. My dad went into the war
effort and he was a counter-intelligence guy so when the war got over he stayed
there. I lived with my mother and grandparents, the Dickson’s, until about 1950.
Then, we moved to Washington Terrace. Washington Terrace was war housing
and my dad eventually became president of the board of directors of Washington
Terrace. It was him and a few other guys that got together and moved all that
housing around and made a real viable city that’s still called Washington Terrace.
They have a big park up there named after him and it’s still a really nice city. He
died when he was 90 years old and I’ve had people coming in here my whole
career that say, “Without your dad, I wouldn’t have had a house.” I’d say, “Don’t
tell me,” and I’d go to the phone and call him up and say, “Somebody here wants
to talk to you.” He was hired on at Hill Field as a GS-3 and when he retired from
Hill Field he was the highest paid guy on Hill Field. Everybody thought Abe Rubin
was my dad, but he wasn’t. George Van Leeuwen was my dad.
LR: So you lived in Washington Terrace and you’d just commute down here every
SV: Yes, it’s about eight miles.
LR: How would you do that?
SV: I had a pretty nice old car, a 1948 Ford that would come down that hill pretty
good. In the summer I’d ride my bike back and forth. I live now in Marriott-
Slaterville and I’m a city councilman out there and I’ve ridden my bike back and
forth from there. It’s about eight or nine miles to my house and with this new trail
system that they’ve done I can ride almost all the way from my house to here on
those trails. It’s a pretty good ride.
AP: As a kid, growing up in Washington Terrace, did you spend a lot of time down
here before you started working here?
SV: I spent very little time here. This store was a very popular store, they had
discount rifles and a lot of ammunition that was cheaper. My dad actually brought
me in here the first time when I was probably ten years old. When I got married
at 17 years old, I came down here and bought a diamond ring for my wife. After a
couple of years, I went to a jewelry store and bought another ring for her and
found out that the one that Abe sold me for 100 dollars was worth more than the
one I paid 600 for at the jewelry store. I’ve had a love for this store ever since I
was a small boy. In Morgan, they had a store called The Valley Implement and it
was like this. It was kind of crowded and jumbled, but to me it was very exciting. I
thought there were two things I wanted to be when I grow up, a cowboy and a
store owner and I’ve managed to do both of them.
LR: Is this something you plan on passing on to your family?
SV: The kids that are in there right now are my grandkids. I have three grandboys
working for me. One just left on a mission to Mexico and my son also works for
me. His daughter keeps the books for us and my wife keeps the books with them.
It’s very much a family business. I’m not going to quit, I’m just going to walk out
one day and not come in as often. Everybody knows what they’re doing and
everyone has a piece of the pie, so it’ll continue to be here long after I’m gone. I
was 16 or 17 years old when I came here and I’m almost 71 now, so it’s been a
heck of a life. It’s been a million-dollars-worth of fun and I’ve made a million-dollars-
worth of friends.
WJ: You mentioned Joe McQueen. Is there anyone else that you’re still friends with
and do you feel that there’s a sense of community with the people who spent a
lot of time down here?
SV: I knew Annabelle Weekly. She was a very popular girl who owned the place
across the street called the Porters & Waiters Club. She was a really dynamic
kind of a girl and a mover and shaker. I couldn’t get into naming names and
remembering names. Willie Moore has been here forever and ever and Eddie
Simone from up the street at the Kokomo Club. These guys have all been here
and been lifelong friends. I’ve known them for 55 or 60 years. I can’t tell you how
many good friendships are spawned from this. I can’t go anywhere any time
without somebody recognizing me. I went to Hawaii not too long ago and I got off
the airplane and knew six guys before I got to the hotel. It’s amazing how many
people have come through here.
WJ: Did you ever spend any time in the Porters and Waiters Club?
SV: I did. I went in there and ate and they had a really nice dinner. It was initially
made for porters and waiters of the railroad. As the railroad phased out,
everybody had to redo their profit base and that meant that maybe we were
going to have a few guys come in and serve lunches and dinners. They had a
really nice dinner over there.
AP: When the railroad left, did you see a significant quick change or do you think it
was a little bit Slower?
SV: I think it was a little bit Slower because they just went ahead and started tapering
things down a little bit more. The Union and the railroad were kind of keeping
everything together, but as management started to trim jobs off the railroad they
started to lose personnel and as personnel moved away it was kind of a slow
movement. They’re running the trains now with one or two people on board when
they used to have a whole crew on board.
AP: So it was over time?
LR: Is there anything else that you can think of about 25th Street and your time here
that you’d like to share?
SV: If I was going to say thank you, I’d have to say thank you to the people that have
made my life a successful life. I’ve been able to devote a lot of time to helping
other people and I’m a city councilman in the city that I live in now and I’m on the
Weber Fire District Board of Directors, so I have a lot to do with Weber County
and fire protection. It’s enabled me to do a lot. Most importantly, it’s the people
and the friendships that we have. Where we’re sitting right here I call the
knowledge center because if you come in here at 9 in the morning there will be
six or eight guys sitting in here discussing politics and the world. One guy told me
the other day, “I came in here because I needed a welder and I knew someone in
here would know where I could get one.” This place has been home to me for 55
years and hopefully it will be home to my kids and then their kids.
LR: It’s almost like a community center in a way.
AP: Do you think that part of that comes because 25th Street has remained the
SV: Well, I think it’s partly the community base, but don’t kid yourself, they’re throwing
a lot of money at 25th Street. Not necessarily the government, but individual
investors have. Property values here have sky-rocketed. There has been a lot of
money spent and there’s going to be a lot more money spent. What I’ve seen
happen is a guy will go in with a dream and he’ll start his business and buy the
store for 100,000 dollars, then he has to remodel it and bring it up to earthquake
code for another 25 or 30,000 dollars, then they’ve got to knock the asbestos out
of it for another 10 or 15,000 dollars so by the time he gets in there he’s over his
head. He opens up a real nice antique store and goes broke. The next guy that
comes in doesn’t have to pay back all that stuff that’s been done so he gets it for
30 or 40,000 dollars and he opens up a coffee shop and he goes broke. Then the
third guy comes in and he doesn’t have to buy as much as the second guy did
and he opens up a restaurant and makes it, but in the meantime there’s been
700,000 dollars spent on the business. Maybe the third guy has enough money
and enough good luck to make it work. It’s hard.
WJ: Do you think that the people who shop down here continue to come down to 25th
Street because they feel an affinity for their community and they want to see their
SV: When I came down on 25th Street originally, you wouldn’t come down on 25th
Street. Somebody would call your mother on the phone and you’d have been in
trouble because it was a rough place. As you go now, it’s a viable street in town
and there are a lot of really fine eating establishments on the street. People are
coming here because it’s 25th Street and they’re coming to see the history and
the historical structures. They’re coming to look around and see what they did. I
came down here last Friday afternoon and had a family dinner, we went to 25th
Street, not because we felt a kinship to 25th Street, but because this particular
place we went is city-renowned and has excellent food and excellent service and
you can’t beat the atmosphere.
WJ: Do you remember any significant buildings being knocked down during your time
SV: All of them. I have pictures of them knocking down the buildings across the street
and the big Heely Hotel on the corner of 25th and Wall. They were beautiful
buildings, but that was in a time when it wasn’t real Slick. I used to own a couple
of buildings but I ran into the same things that the owners of these buildings
faced in order to get it structurally sound and earthquake proof and everything
else. You’ve got to throw several hundred thousand dollars at it. It makes you
wonder if it’s truly worthwhile to get it done. I bought some buildings and paid
them off and sold them and I did very well with them, but it’s one of those things
that you just have to determine what you can do. The historical artifacts and
things down here are amazing and they will keep a lot of people coming.
LR: Thank you, this has been a delight.
SV: Thank you very much.
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