Howard: Lost Eras Has the Earth Covered in Weirdness

Howard Stop IconBy Maria Baglien
The Red Line Project

Posted: Monday, March 7 2011

A sign reads “Sticky Tongues for $1.95” over a box filled with at least 25 different varieties of playful, fake tongues.

These choices include a long, skinny charcoal one, a fat rosy one, and a circular tan one. The box sits next to a bucket filled with squeaky mice toys and a facial mask resembling the Egyptian princess Cleopatra.

Not far away, behind the counter is an assortment of different top hats, a donkey’s head, a knight’s mask, an antique dish collection and three clocks, all telling a different time.

“We’ve got the Earth covered in weirdness,” said Charlotte Walters, owner of Lost Eras costume and prop shop, located at 1511 W. Howard St.

Many have already seen some of Lost Eras’ theatre props, costumes, rare items, and antiques. Items from Lost Eras have been used in famous Chicago-based movies such as "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off," "Public Enemies," "The Dark Knight," "A League of Their Own" and "Home Alone."

In fact, a poster featuring "Public Enemies" Johnny Depp sporting a button-down vest, pinstripe pants, a polka dotted tie and a long black and white plaid dress coat, all rented from Lost Eras, stands proudly behind the counter near the register.

Soundslide: Charlotte Walters, owner, talks about Lost Eras:

Walters has owned Lost Eras for nearly 20 years. But store's building was constructed more than 50 years ago by one of Walters’ relatives. Her mother opened a store in 1969 that sold health food and beauty items. Now the store sells “theatre props, costumes, rare items, and antiques,” said Walters.

According to Walters, the building used to be a nightclub known as Club Detour. Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington are some of the performers that were featured at Club Detour. The stage where Basie, Fitzgerald and Ellington still stands in Lost Eras in addition to the original stained glass.

Now, tables and shelves filled with china sets, glazed dishes and ancient silverware block people from getting a good look at the aged stained glass. The sun still shines through the window, however, and bounces off the different delicate items, illuminating the room.

Another room is like the ultimate actor’s closet, holding a costume for every character imaginable. The giant closet is complete with masks, fake weapons, and an entire dresser filled with bowties. There is also a collection of giant heads, including every main character from “The Flintstones,” and three different types of chicken heads. Take your pick.

Then there’s the head of a deer hanging on the wall with a collection of jewelry underneath it. Next to the rack of varied necklaces is a vertical metal pole that is holding a sombrero, a poncho, and a lei of flowers. Beneath this re-creation of mariachi band member without a body is a sewing machine.

To complete the collection there’s a mannequin that is dressed as maid wearing a witch’s hat that has been placed next to a collection of feathers and an old record collection.

Lost Eras 1

Inside Lost Eras, located at 1511 W. Howard St. (Photo by Maria Baglien)

Lost Eras mainly rents items for theatre shows. It has rented to DePaul University, Roosevelt University, Northwestern University and the Goodman Theatre.

Walter ssaid that her customers used to actively purchase antiques from the store but because of the economy, that is no longer the case.

“A lot of people ask us to be on the lookout for certain unusual things they might collect,” she said. She claims that they actively scan eBay for unique items.

When asked what it is like owning a store in Rogers Park, Walters hesitated.

“This was a horrible neighborhood, really rough, weighed down,” she said, “the neighborhood is really getting a lot better, the police have stepped up their efforts to address the criminal element.” 

According to Walters, with Rogers Park becoming a safer community, more people are coming to Lost Eras, even if it just to take a look around.

“We actively purse buying anything weird,” she said.

Lost Eras is entirely owned by family members and friends.

“I didn’t want to sell it, because of the history,” Walters said, “I wanted to keep it in the family.”

Once Walters is finished with the business, she has children that will take it over and continue on the legacy. There is also a Lost Eras in London that is run and operated by one of Walters’ friends.

When asked what her favorite item in Lost Eras is, Walters turns to the poster of Johnny Depp in "Public Enemies."

“He’s wearing our clothes! I think that’s really cool,” she said.

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