Kathryn Vrooman's Fairyland Ballroom
When well-known Chicago-area modiste Kathryn Vrooman held the grand opening of her remodeled “fairyland ballroom” shop at 1023-25 Lake Street in Oak Park, Illinois, on March 12, 1936, it was perceived by the community as an avant-garde and unusually modern addition to the shopping district. On its facade it had a completely glass-and-metal framed front window design, side-access glass door, and black vitrolite moldings with “Vrooman” etched in glass and silver relief. While these all-glass storefronts are commonplace today, it was extraordianry for 1936. This was state-of-the-art design, and the first of its kind in the area.
Clients entered Vrooman’s establishment through a push-bar door, another design marvel in a world of doorknobs. They then crossed over a white rubber mat with the Vrooman name etched in red letters and into a circular mirrored rotunda of a lobby decorated in shades of grey, red and coral. The curved walls - there was nary a corner to be seen! - allowed clients the unrestricted ability to examine every display mannequin in the shop’s windows. Electric strips, which in 1936 were the very latest lighting devices, were used to individually highlight each garment in the windows of the shop. The interior was luxuriously decorated with furniture in muted red frames and was air conditioned throughout.
But just who was the woman behind this modern marvel of design?
From the Oak Park Oak Leaves Newspaper, October 19, 1929
Kathryn Hope (Groesch) Vrooman was born in 1887 in Chicago, Illinois. At the age of seventeen Kathryn married Lloyd Irving Vrooman and very soon after her marriage she began working in the wholesale department at Marshall Field. She worked at Marshall’s for seventeen years and rose in the ranks to become their assistant buyer before she decided to strike out on her own.
Kathryn Vrooman, 1914
In 1924 the Vroomans moved from Chicago to Forest Park, Illinois, where Vrooman became the proprietor of the Kay-Vee Dress Shoppe in the Masonic Temple Building on 7511 Madison Street. The shop featured Vrooman’s own designs in coats, dresses, and wraps.
Her designs quickly drew a wide and appreciative clientele, for in just six years she added 7511½ to her Madison Street address, expanded into millinery and ready-to-wear, and opened two more shops in Oak Park: Kathryn Vrooman Women’s Ready to Wear at 25 S. Marion Street and Kathryn Vrooman’s The Little Shop in the Carleton in the Carleton Hotel on 125 Wisconsin Avenue.
1930s Kathryn Vrooman Label from the Label Archive.
Vrooman was also very active in the Chicagoland fashion world. Vrooman was known for hosting fashion shows and was the driving force behind the first style show of its kind at the Ascher’s Forest Park Theater in 1924.
By 1933, Vrooman had relocated her shop to the 1023-25 Lake Street address which was renovated into the art deco marvel. Her designs in bridal wear, sports dresses, morning frocks in prints and solid colors, and jacket ensembles earned her rave reviews and a stellar reputation, so much so she continued to expand in the Lake Street area and acquired a large amount of property. Her style influence and name recognition may not have extended far outside the Chicago area, but she was still a woman doing quite well for herself in the fashion industry.
Tragically, all of her success was short-lived. On February 19th, 1949, at the age of 61, Wrooman was involved in an auto accident in Henderson, Kentucky. After spending eleven days in a local hospital, she succumbed to her injuries.
Heilman, Edith. “Style Show Makes Big Hit At Aschers; Beautiful Apparel.” (13 September 1924). Forest Park Review [Forest Park, IL], p. 1, Retrieved 12 Jul 2021 via Newspapers.com.
Vrooman, Kathryn. Death Certificate. "Kentucky Death Records, 1911-1965," database, FamilySearch, image 1880 of 3064. Office of Vital Statistics, Frankfort.