Memorable days of the 1960s, hanging out at Leon’s Pizzeria
An advertisement in the 1961 Hannibal telephone directory features a photo of the delivery van for Leon’s Pizzeria. Submitted by Robert Spaun.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy was inaugurated; Bonanza was popular with television viewers; the U.S. launched the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba; President Kennedy established the Peace Corps; a wall was constructed dividing East and West Germany; and Fritos were first introduced.
Also in 1961, activists and civil rights groups banded together en masse to end legal segregation and expand voting access. (USA TODAY)
In Hannibal during 1961, Harvey Leon Clark - an Air Force veteran of the Korean Conflict, operated a restaurant at 1700 Market Street, featuring both in-store and on-the-go pizza.
For the next decade and a half, Leon’s Pizzeria and its successor, Taco King, would not only satisfy the appetites of its West End clientele, but would also contribute to a cache of fond and lasting memories.
A recent discussion on Facebook’s “Growing up in Hannibal” site brought together memories of broasted chicken, the juke box, the delivery van, and the staff and management who made this restaurant a Hannibal favorite.
Let’s turn the hands of the analytical clock, back to the days when a rotary-dial telephone was attached by wire to the wall and Hannibal’s telephone prefix was ‘Academy 1’; when popular new car models included Chevy’s Impala, the Buick Skylark, the Dodge Dart, the Ford Falcon and the Rambler American; when those car radios were tuned exclusively to AM stations; when rolling down a car window required a bending of the elbow; and when boys touted flat top hair cuts and girls wore dresses to school.
While we’re back in time, let’s take a peak into the restaurant at 1700 Market Street which served such memorable food for so many years.
The building itself was narrow along Market Street, but long on Houston Street. Brick on the exterior, the two-story building was constructed circa 1896, and for the first dozen years, served as a neighborhood saloon, operated in succession by: Charles A. Westerheide in 1897, and then by William Schweitzer, Joseph M. Ruoff and Alfred G. Andris. Finally, John Schweitzer operated a saloon at this location from 1907-1909.
The building served as McNamara’s Bargain Store in 1911, to be followed by long-time tenants, Julia and Bessie Lavoo, milliners, from 1914-1925 and beyond.
When the Clark family operated the restaurant, booths lined the interior walls.
Harvey Leon Clark, born in 1932, was the only son of Harvey M. and Mabel McLaughlin Clark. Living at Philadelphia, in Marion County, Mo., as a youth, he moved with his family to Hannibal when still a teen.
As a 14-year-old, circa 1946, Leon Clark worked as a clerk for P.M. (Pink) Snyder’s neighborhood grocery store, operated out of the Snyder’s home at 2514 Chestnut Street. Leon lived nearby with his parents, at 101 S. Levering, in the lower level of a house in which the upstairs fronted on Broadway. Leon’s father, Harvey, worked as a foreman for White Bear Lime Co., and later went into business with his wife, operating the Clark Rest Home at 408 Rock Street.
Carolyn S. Taylor of Hannibal, Leon Clark’s niece, remembers how her family rallied together in the operation of the pizzeria. It was her grandparents, Harvey M. and Mabel Clark, who transitioned the restaurant from Leon’s Pizzeria to Taco King, circa 1967. Carolyn’s aunt, J. Rae Bell, eventually took over operation of the restaurant, and lived for a time upstairs. “My mother (Margaret A. Taylor) cooked there and made the pies,” Carolyn said.
Steve Sorrell posted on Facebook: “Across the street was Eugene Field School. I remember playing (Anne Murray’s) ‘Snowbird Song’ on the jukebox at Leon’s while waiting on my broasted chicken order.”
Jamy Branham recalled on Facebook: “I worked at Taco King a couple of years while in high school with my friend Dwayne Bush. We had some times there. Rae Bell was the owner. Dwayne’s mom Edna managed at night. We were open till 2 a.m. on the weekends.”
Clyde Priest posted on Facebook that he worked at Taco King during part of 1970 and 1971.
And Don Ross has memories of Leon Clark’s nickname: Meatball.
Harvey M. Clark died in 1975, and his wife, Mabel, died in 1998.
Leon Clark died in 1993 in Kissimmee, Fla., where he had worked as a supervisor in the Epcot Center computer office.
Three of the Clark daughters: A. Margaret Taylor, J. Rae Bell and Bonnie Jones, died within three months of each other in 2014.
The sole surviving Clark sibling in 2021 is the youngest of the siblings, Marilyn Clark Truber, who was born circa 1938.
Leon’s Pizzeria was located at 1700 Market Street, in the building on the right. Note that West End Cleaners was located two doors to the west, Levering Hospital was located just beyond the cleaners. to the east of Leon’s Pizzeria, across Houston Street, was the Market Street fire station. This photo was taken by Otis Howell of the Hannibal Courier-Post in 1957. The buildings have since been demolished. Steve Chou collection.
Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.firstname.lastname@example.org Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com