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Augustine’s Restaurant in Belleville was synonymous with haute cuisine

Augustine’s restaurant in the 1960s.
Augustine’s restaurant in the 1960s. News-Democrat

Q: Was there an old Augustine’s Restaurant before they built the one on Centreville Avenue and where was it? For the life of me, I just cannot place it.

J.K.L., of Belleville

A: You can’t place it, because there wasn’t one.

The 1955 Belleville City Directory listed Ralph Augustine as manager of the Belleville Elks Club while Tony and Charles Augustine helped manage the Tony Bonnelle Canning Co. at 600 Lebanon Ave. At the same time, a Mrs. Martha Augustine for a decade had been managing a tavern at 923 W. Main St., which most recently housed Maxwell’s/Flamingos.

But that all changed in 1956, when Ralph Augustine built and opened a restaurant that would become synonymous with haute cuisine at 1200 Centreville Avenue in Belleville. The tavern changed owners the same year. Three years later, Ralph’s brothers Paul, Charles and Tony all bought ownership interests in the posh eatery.

For years, the business flourished and expanded. In 1962, Ralph built Augustine’s Motor Lodge next door and sold his share in the restaurant the following year. When Charles died in 1966, Paul and Tony ran the restaurant until Nov. 1, 1972, when Paul bought out Tony and became sole owner. In the late ’70s, the restaurant even hosted Belleville Boxing Club cards, and Mr. A’s Discotheque opened.

Then, after a brief court fight, Ralph wound up buying back the restaurant from Paul in early 1983 for between $1 million and $2 million. Just over a year later, former Illinois Lt. Gov. Dave O’Neal bought the restaurant, hotel and 18 acres behind the building for $4 million. O’Neal soon announced a $1.5 million facelift — including $800,000 for the restaurant — and rechristened the complex as Augustine’s Convention Center.

But after 30 years of satisfying the taste buds of area diners, Augustine’s Restaurant quietly closed its doors for the last time on Jan. 20, 1987. O’Neal said the place had been in decline before he bought it and that he had no restaurant experience to help turn it around. The money drain was hurting the rest of the convention center, so he shuttered it.

“It was rated the best restaurant in Southern Illinois,” Geraldine Waldrop said when her brother Paul Augustine died in 2006. “There’d be times when people were waiting in line on Illinois 15, and we’d have to close so we could wash dishes and open up again.”

When Ralph Augustine died in 2008, the final original family tie to a generation of swanky dining in the metro-east was gone.

Q: Do you know if AARP will have the CPAs this year at the Programs and Services for Older Persons (PSOP) center in Belleville? Usually they have a notice in the paper, but I have not seen one this year. I’m sure many other seniors are wondering, too.

Betty Doss, of Belleville

A: Good news, Betty: The fine folks at PSOP are eager to make taxes less taxing for seniors again this year if you’d just give them a buzz to set an appointment.

Tax aides there have been giving their calculators a workout since the start of the month, and they’d be glad to help you if you’d call 277-5511. Appointments are available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays through April 15 at the center, 201 N. Church St.

But that’s just a handy spot for Belleville residents. There are nearly two dozen sites throughout the metro-east ready to help other seniors tackle their annual headache, from Alton to Waterloo and east to Centralia and Greenville. I don’t have room to list them all here, but you can find a map and all the details on each site at www.aarp.org/applications/VMISLocator/searchTaxAideLocations.action.

And while I have your attention, may I remind you again to please hang up on scammers claiming to be Internal Revenue Service agents. A few months back, I found such calls three days in a row on my own answering machine at home, threatening me with arrest if I did not call back and ante up my overdue taxes post haste.

Please do as I did: Ignore them. The IRS never threatens arrest over the phone nor will it ask for a certain form of payment such as a Moneygram. Why would the IRS have to ask for your Social Security number when they clearly have it already? If you must double-check to sleep easy, call the legitimate IRS number: 1-800-829-1040. I’m just amazed that thousands of victims already have forked over more than $26 million in this fraud. Don’t add to the totals.

Q: Will Lysol kill the MRSA bacterium?

J.M., of Belleville

A: It may be one of the most feared bugs creeping around hospitals, prisons, etc., these days, but Reckitt Benckiser says methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is no match for its disinfectant products.

According to it www.lysol.com web page, Lysol kills a wide range of nasty viruses and bacteria, including flu and cold viruses, herpes simplex, hepatitis A, rotavirus, salmonella, E. coli — and MRSA.

Today’s trivia

What Oscar winner for best picture has the oldest historical setting?

Answer to Sunday’s trivia: When Israeli native Chaim Witz took a sixth-grade teaching job in New York, he told Parade magazine in 2012 that he dreamed of becoming “this great emancipator of free thought and education.”

“But then, of course, you enter the corporate world, and I was not allowed to bring in Spider-Man comics and teach the kids that you can be a pimple-faced teenager that the cops don’t like and the bad guys don’t like, but you can still become Spider-Man, which to me is more inspirational than teaching a Puerto Rican kid in Spanish Harlem about Jane Eyre, a rosy-cheeked white girl in England. That didn’t connect.”

After just months on the job, Witz was let go. But in the early 1970s, Witz would connect with millions around the world when he changed his name to Gene Simmons, painted his face and co-founded the rock group Kiss with Paul Stanley. Today, Kiss is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — and Simmons, the 66-year-old son of a mother who survived Nazi concentration camps, is an honorary board member of Little Kids Rock, a national nonprofit that works to restore and revitalize music education in disadvantaged U.S. public schools.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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