For decades the southeast corner of Cermak Road and Desplaines Avenue was home to the North Riverside Garage, which serviced trucks from the old International Harvester works just down the road in neighboring Broadview.

But after being purchased in March for $715,000, the old truck repair facility at 7929 W. Cermak Road may be transformed into a retail strip by the end of the year according to its new owner, Mary Ellen Scatchell.

A portion of the 60-by-120-foot building was demolished last month, but the main garage building will be retrofitted into four retail spaces. Scatchell, a Westchester resident who works as a Realtor in Berwyn, said she hopes the build-out will be complete by November and that tenants might be ready to move in by the beginning of 2006.

“We’re hoping to enhance that corner,” Scatchell said.

A couple of underground steel fuel tanks were removed from the site earlier, but they were not leaking and didn’t pose any environmental threat to the site. There’s still some need for minor soil remediation, however, reportedly from some leaking 55-gallon drums being stored on the property.

Scatchell said the fenced in area just west of the garage building could be turned into additional parking or a free-standing building could also be constructed there. Although she’s already received some inquiries about the proposed retail spaces, Scatchell said she has not signed or even sought out tenants yet.

“Maybe when we’re three-fourths finished with construction,” she said. “We’re still not certain what needs to be done.”

The corner property at Cermak and Desplaines has had a colorful history. The original brick building, which was demolished several weeks ago, was constructed in 1921, before the village’s incorporation, as a hardware store.

According to Sam Bensfield, whose family owned the North Riverside Garage from 1953 until 2004, the hardware store’s owner was a former railroad mechanic. While the hardware business didn’t fare well, the man found he could make a living repair vehicles that broke down in what was then “the country.”

Eventually, the building was converted into a garage/gas station. Just to the west was a tavern called the Black Bear Inn, where patrons drank in the company of a live black bear, who lived in a cage inside the bar. Legend has it, said Bensfield, that when the bear died, it was buried somewhere on the property.

Joseph Bensfield, who grew up in North Riverside and had helped out at the garage as a boy, purchased the property from its original owner in 1953. Eventually, he purchased the Black Bear property and the tavern was demolished.

Later, the North Riverside Garage entered into an agreement with International Harvester to service the company’s trucks and sell IH parts.

Joseph Bensfield achieved a certain amount of local fame in 1975 when he and his tow truck were called upon to rescue Brookfield Zoo’s legendary elephant, Ziggy, who fell into the moat separating him from zoo visitors. Bensfield had the only tow truck big enough to haul the zoo’s 13,000-pound star attraction from the moat.

Joseph Bensfield died in August 2003 and the garage was shuttered for good in 2004, according to Sam Bensfield, who worked at the garage for 25 years.