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Road trip: If this old Indiana courthouse could talk

May 04, 2011|By Chris Erskine | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
  • Lake County Courthouse, in the county seat of Crown Point, Ind., is where silent star Rudolph Valentino was wed.
Lake County Courthouse, in the county seat of Crown Point, Ind., is where… (Chris Erskine / Los Angeles…)

Crown Point, Ind. — I stumbled across a little Hollywood history recently in one of those great old county courthouses that are as common as corn in the Midwest. This one is in Crown Point, Ind., an underpromoted and lively little town of 23,000 on a well-traveled stretch of I-65 between Chicago and Indianapolis.

Silent film star Rudolph Valentino got hitched for a second here (I'll explain later) in the old Lake County Courthouse, where the marriage license hangs today in a cafe and ice cream parlor named in his honor.

The license, from March 1923, hangs by the register and has Rudy’s name and that of his bride, Natacha Rambova. It  dates back to the time when Crown Point allowed quick marriages the way that Las Vegas does today. The framed license is a few steps from a neon sign that says "Actors pay in advance." 

It was just another quirky footnote to the heartthrob’s life. A year earlier,  for example, he and Rambova had also wed in Mexico, according to one fan website, which said U.S. authorities later jailed him on charges of bigamy, since he had not been divorced a full year, as required by California law.

In any case, the enormous, red-brick courthouse is worth a pit stop as you travel south from Chicago. Dedicated in 1880,  the Romanesque building is home to more than a dozen little shops offering antiques, clocks, stained glass and all sorts of country artifacts.  It is the centerpiece of a traditional and relatively vibrant Midwestern town square edged with cafes and more shops.

In 1973, the old building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  A museum in the courthouse details the area’s rich history. Some may recall Crown Point as the place where John Dillinger escaped jail in 1934 using a gun carved out of wood.

By the way, in my estimation, Indiana ice cream is the best in the land. Stop by  Valentino’s for a scoop and judge for yourself ($2.50 ).

Info: Lake County Historical Museum, (219) 662-3975.

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