Debra Christensen in her massage studio at 1718 Sherman Ave.Photos by Ned Schaub

On, Above and Behind Sherman Avenue, a series of profiles, gives our readers the opportunity to learn more about the people and businesses that would have been displaced, and the buildings that would have disappeared if a recent development proposal had not been withdrawn. The proposal called for demolition of about half of the buildings along the west side of the 1700 block of Sherman Avenue in Evanston.

Part 5 in a series

Frank Johnson, Frank Johnson & Co., 1718 Sherman Ave.

He had an office in downtown Chicago, but decided that he wanted an easier commute, so 25 years ago Frank Johnson moved to an office at 1718 Sherman Ave., where he still works. He likes being on Sherman Avenue for the same reasons he has all along – it’s within walking distance of home, inexpensive, and he can walk to most everything he needs.

In his office there are both flat-screen computers as well as older technology and systems like IBM Selectric typewriters and a wall filled with tall vintage filing cabinets. Mr. Johnson is an insurance broker and said he likes selling and servicing insurance policies because he gets to help people with something important to their lives and to their happiness. Two of his four children help him in the business, so it’s a family business to some extent. His daughter is a licensed agent and works with him and his son handles technology. His other two children live in Seattle and Los Angeles.

Mr. Johnson offers a full range of insurance products including life, auto, business and home insurance. He still offers health insurance, although he says that he doesn’t sell or service much of that now because of the ways that healthcare and the healthcare insurance business have changed. He could easily do his job from home, he said, but the insurance companies want agents to have an official office outside the home. Also, he likes working in downtown Evanston and enjoys his office space as well as all that goes on along the block below, like the fire trucks that go “whipping around.”  He said he’s watched the downtown change over the years, including the way liquor sales brought restaurants and diners and pubs and nightlife, which was a big change. “Used to be that in the evenings you could roll a bowling ball down Sherman Avenue, but not now” Mr. Johnson said.

When the threat of development came along, Mr. Johnson was approached by a representative of the development firm, who he said a nice guy. “He came and talked to everyone in the building and said there were plenty of other spaces in downtown. I suggested that if they were going to tear down our building they should give us free rent in the new building,” said Mr. Johnson with a slight smile. “Then I never heard from him again.”

On the coat tree in his office there’s a Cubs hat hanging as if it is ready in case he heads to a game or the Cubs win another World Series. When asked if he is a Cub fan, Mr. Johnson nodded, grinned broadly and began to tell his story of the night they won it last. “I had gone to bed, but woke up to the sound of sirens, jumped up, ran downstairs and turned on the TV.”

Mr. Johnson grew up on the south side of Chicago and then as a teenager in Glenview. He went to New Trier and then Northwestern, where he played football. There’s a black and white photograph of him running down the field during a game, which he explained was an exciting moment that he still remembers vividly.

He said that he’s lived most of his life in this area and likes it. His wife Bonita, now retired, was a nurse at Evanston Hospital. They enjoy living in Evanston’s downtown area but like to get away to their Michigan retreat once in a while. Mr. Johnson talked about his dog named Rosie and likes to bring her along to Michigan. The only problem is that Rosie doesn’t do well in the heat, but Mr. Johnson says he’s got a plan for that. He just bought a pair of new air conditioners and said that he thinks that should “do the trick.”

Debra Christensen, Inner Advantage Massage, 1718 Sherman Ave.

In the office immediately next door to Frank Johnson’s is Inner Advantage Massage, the business of Debra Christensen. “Have you met Frank, my next door neighbor?,” asked Ms. Christensen. “He’s a really great man, who keeps an eye out for me.”

Ms. Christensen knows most of the people at 1718 Sherman Ave. and offered a tour of the building during which she explained who is in each office, what they do and a short story about them or a comment about what makes them unique. She said she likes the community that exists in the building, including the people that manage it and those that keep it clean, who she praised for doing such a great job.

About her own work she said, “We massage therapists don’t fix things. We help you be the best you possibly can be. It’s different every time you come in, but I’m always working to help you reach your goal.” Her father had dystonia, a movement disorder which makes muscles contract involuntarily and causes repetitive, twisting movements. She said that seeing how he was helped by massage therapy is what made her want to become a therapist. But Ms. Christensen said that this is the second career she has loved. Her first was working as a zoologist, which she said is “something you also have to have a passion for, if you are going to do it.”

One of the last students to go through the Chicago School of Message Therapy before it was purchased by a large corporation, Ms. Christensen asked, “Do you know why it’s called Swedish Massage?” and then answered “Because the gentleman who brought massage to the U.S. was Swedish.” She said that massage is still young in this country, that it continues to grow as a profession.

“I don’t offer a spa experience and, by the way, I do not play Enya,” Ms. Christensen said with a smile on her face. She said she appreciates spas, but that her work is more about the changes from inside – the mental and physical, and that its important that people get the specific work that they need as an individual. “I care about my clients desperately and I see about 40 in a week.” She said that because she puts so much into it and sees such a large number of patients she has to take good care of herself and has a strong sense of what she needs to do to be at her best as a therapist.

She also believes that being in the right physical space is important. “I love this building – it came as a gift to me,” Ms. Christensen said, explaining that she didn’t care for the first space she looked at in the building. She had seen and liked another space that had been occupied for a long time by the same person and wasn’t available. She mentioned it to the landlord, Jim Schermerhorn, and on her drive home, after deciding that the available space wasn’t quite right, she received a call from him. He said he had just learned that the space she wanted was going to be vacated. That space is now her message therapy studio.

“They don’t make buildings like this any more, plus it’s got an eclectic group of tenants and is in a great location,” said Ms. Christensen. “The Alley Gallery and Bookends and Beginings did a fabulous job getting the word out and getting us engaged in saving it.”

Ms. Christensen said that if for some reason the Northlight Theater had determined that it wouldn’t or couldn’t move into the 37-story building that was proposed for Sherman Avenue, the developers could have put anything in. “Truthfully, the bright and shiny, the bigger the better is the way that these developments generally go. But people want to come to a downtown with small shops — and we make money here,” said Ms. Christensen. “There aren’t a lot of Evanstons left, there is still time to protect the small businesses – and to keep all of this.”

On, Above and Behind Sherman Avenue, a series of profiles, gives our readers the opportunity to learn more about the people and businesses that would have been displaced, and the buildings that would have disappeared if a recent development proposal had not been withdrawn. The proposal called for demolition of about half of the buildings along the west side of the 1700 block of Sherman Avenue in Evanston.

Frank Johnson, Frank Johnson & Co., 1718 Sherman Ave.

He had an office in downtown Chicago, but decided that he wanted an easier commute, so 25 years ago Frank Johnson moved to an office at 1718 Sherman Ave., where he still works. He likes being on Sherman Avenue for the same reasons he has all along – it’s within walking distance of home, inexpensive, and he can walk to most everything he needs.

In his office there are both flat-screen computers as well as older technology and systems like IBM Selectric typewriters and a wall filled with tall vintage filing cabinets. Mr. Johnson is an insurance broker and said he likes selling and servicing insurance policies because he gets to help people with something important to their lives and to their happiness. Two of his four children help him in the business, so it’s a family business to some extent. His daughter is a licensed agent and works with him and his son handles technology. His other two children live in Seattle and Los Angeles.

Mr. Johnson offers a full range of insurance products including life, auto, business and home insurance. He still offers health insurance, although he says that he doesn’t sell or service much of that now because of the ways that healthcare and the healthcare insurance business have changed. He could easily do his job from home, he said, but the insurance companies want agents to have an official office outside the home. Also, he likes working in downtown Evanston and enjoys his office space as well as all that goes on along the block below, like the fire trucks that go “whipping around.”  He said he’s watched the downtown change over the years, including the way liquor sales brought restaurants and diners and pubs and nightlife, which was a big change. “Used to be that in the evenings you could roll a bowling ball down Sherman Avenue, but not now” Mr. Johnson said.

When the threat of development came along, Mr. Johnson was approached by a representative of the development firm, who he said a nice guy. “He came and talked to everyone in the building and said there were plenty of other spaces in downtown. I suggested that if they were going to tear down our building they should give us free rent in the new building,” said Mr. Johnson with a slight smile. “Then I never heard from him again.”

On the coat tree in his office there’s a Cubs hat hanging as if it is ready in case he heads to a game or the Cubs win another World Series. When asked if he is a Cub fan, Mr. Johnson nodded, grinned broadly and began to tell his story of the night they won it last. “I had gone to bed, but woke up to the sound of sirens, jumped up, ran downstairs and turned on the TV.”

Mr. Johnson grew up on the south side of Chicago and then as a teenager in Glenview. He went to New Trier and then Northwestern, where he played football. There’s a black and white photograph of him running down the field during a game, which he explained was an exciting moment that he still remembers vividly.

He said that he’s lived most of his life in this area and likes it. His wife Bonita, now retired, was a nurse at Evanston Hospital. They enjoy living in Evanston’s downtown area but like to get away to their Michigan retreat once in a while. Mr. Johnson talked about his dog named Rosie and likes to bring her along to Michigan. The only problem is that Rosie doesn’t do well in the heat, but Mr. Johnson says he’s got a plan for that. He just bought a pair of new air conditioners and said that he thinks that should “do the trick.”

Debra Christensen, Inner Advantage Massage, 1718 Sherman Ave.

In the office immediately next door to Frank Johnson’s is Inner Advantage Massage, the business of Debra Christensen. “Have you met Frank, my next door neighbor?,” asked Ms. Christensen. “He’s a really great man, who keeps an eye out for me.”

Ms. Christensen knows most of the people at 1718 Sherman Ave. and offered a tour of the building during which she explained who is in each office, what they do and a short story about them or a comment about what makes them unique. She said she likes the community that exists in the building, including the people that manage it and those that keep it clean, who she praised for doing such a great job.

About her own work she said, “We massage therapists don’t fix things. We help you be the best you possibly can be. It’s different every time you come in, but I’m always working to help you reach your goal.” Her father had dystonia, a movement disorder which makes muscles contract involuntarily and causes repetitive, twisting movements. She said that seeing how he was helped by massage therapy is what made her want to become a therapist. But Ms. Christensen said that this is the second career she has loved. Her first was working as a zoologist, which she said is “something you also have to have a passion for, if you are going to do it.”

One of the last students to go through the Chicago School of Message Therapy before it was purchased by a large corporation, Ms. Christensen asked, “Do you know why it’s called Swedish Massage?” and then answered “Because the gentleman who brought massage to the U.S. was Swedish.” She said that massage is still young in this country, that it continues to grow as a profession.

“I don’t offer a spa experience and, by the way, I do not play Enya,” Ms. Christensen said with a smile on her face. She said she appreciates spas, but that her work is more about the changes from inside – the mental and physical, and that its important that people get the specific work that they need as an individual. “I care about my clients desperately and I see about 40 in a week.” She said that because she puts so much into it and sees such a large number of patients she has to take good care of herself and has a strong sense of what she needs to do to be at her best as a therapist.

She also believes that being in the right physical space is important. “I love this building – it came as a gift to me,” Ms. Christensen said, explaining that she didn’t care for the first space she looked at in the building. She had seen and liked another space that had been occupied for a long time by the same person and wasn’t available. She mentioned it to the landlord, Jim Schermerhorn, and on her drive home, after deciding that the available space wasn’t quite right, she received a call from him. He said he had just learned that the space she wanted was going to be vacated. That space is now her message therapy studio.

“They don’t make buildings like this any more, plus it’s got an eclectic group of tenants and is in a great location,” said Ms. Christensen. “The Alley Gallery and Bookends and Beginings did a fabulous job getting the word out and getting us engaged in saving it.”

Ms. Christensen said that if for some reason the Northlight Theater had determined that it wouldn’t or couldn’t move into the 37-story building that was proposed for Sherman Avenue, the developers could have put anything in. “Truthfully, the bright and shiny, the bigger the better is the way that these developments generally go. But people want to come to a downtown with small shops — and we make money here,” said Ms. Christensen. “There aren’t a lot of Evanstons left, there is still time to protect the small businesses – and to keep all of this.”