Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Prince Theatre Building

Prince Theatre Building
600 block of Merchant St., East (even numbered) side
courtesy Jeffrey Snedden

This wonderful photo of Ambridge's Prince Theatre Building came from Jeffrey Snedden, the writer of the "Histories and Mysteries" column in the Beaver County Times. Ambridge's Dollar General store and its parking lot are now where this building once was.

Although the long-closed theater auditorium, which was behind the row of storefronts on Merchant St., was razed in 1991, the storefronts remained for a number of years, but were gone by 2008.

In the photo you can see the Prince Theatre's marquee and entrance to the theater at 638 Merchant St., as well as the stores that lined the theater's facade. To the theater's right is Maynard's Jewelry, 628 Merchant St. On the theater's left is a storefront that says "Children's Wear." That would have been Stork's Nest, owned by Sally Rubenstein, wife of Ambridge High School's legendary football coach, Moe Rubenstein, 650 Merchant St.

That sliver of white on the far right of the photo was Timney's Appliances, 612 Merchant St., razed in July 2013. Its location is now also part of the Dollar General building.

On the second floor of the building there's a sign advertising "Signs of all kinds" and at the far end, another sign for "Guardian Loans."

Right now, I can't say with confidence what businesses were in the three storefronts to the left of Stork's Nest at the time the photo was taken, but I think I see a barber pole between the last two. If I can later confirm what those businesses were, I'll update this post.

New information about the Prince Theatre.

Here's some information I learned about the Prince since my blog post about the theater on April 30, 2016. To put the new information in context, I recommend you read that earlier blog post as well as this one.

The Prince was opened in late 1919 by G. W. Prince and at that time, it was managed by Marcus (Ben) Nadler who later owned the theater. In January 3, 1920, The Citizen announced that the Prince would temporarily close, but planned to give occasional performances. No explanation for its closing was provided.

According to the April 21, 1923, issue of the Pittsburgh Moving Picture Bulletin, the Prince had been "closed for the past two years," but was scheduled to reopen on Sept. 1, 1923, after Ben Nadler remodeled and enlarged the theater from 450 to 700 seats.

It's not clear to me yet whether the planned 1923 remodeling was ever completed or perhaps delayed, or if the theater was remodeled again three years later, or torn down and replaced.

In August 1925, S. P. Nadler (not Ben Nadler) announced on behalf of the Ambridge Amusement Co. that it would tear down the then-existing Prince Theatre and replace it with a "modern building" the following spring .(The Citizen, August 5, 1925)

But then, the April 16, 1926, Citizen reported that remodeling, not a demolition, of the Prince had begun. The theater would be 25 feet longer, 14 feet higher, and a balcony added. After the remodeling, which would cost about $85,000, the theater would seat about 1500. The theater would be closed for several months until the work was completed.

The reason the theater may have closed in 1931, as mentioned by Mike Kubek when reminiscing about working at the Prince in a 1989 Beaver County Times article, remains a mystery yet to be solved.

When I wrote the original article about the Prince, I didn't know if the theater ever re-opened after 1950's record-breaking Thanksgiving snowstorm. However, based on the photo, the answer is "yes, it did."  Maybe. The posters on the theater announce that the theater was showing Werewolf of London, originally released in 1935, and The Phantom of Paris, originally released in 1942 as The Mystery of Marie Roget. Those two movies were re-released as a double feature in 1951 according to several sources. But I'd feel more confident if I could find confirmation of the information in one of the 1951 local papers.

[Update August 5, 2019: Jeffrey Snedden found and sent to me the local newspaper reporting I was hoping to find, confirming that the Prince reopened in 1951. I'm always grateful for your help, Jeffrey.

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 21, 1951:

End of update]

And while I still don't know exactly when the Prince closed, I know that it didn't survive beyond 1951 thanks to the December 15, 1951 Billboard Magazine which said the theater had become a Timney's store annex.

I also am still seeking information on when the Prince Theatre building was razed. I do know by 1980 it was a vacant lot.

Part of the photo at the top of this post was published in a Beaver County Times article about old Beaver County theaters, April 30, 1978. The caption accompanying the photo said it had come from the collection of Al Tomaszewski. That cropped photo was in my April 30, 2016 blog post about the Prince.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Ambridge's Bank St. homes

Some Bank St. homes
"Housing conditions in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, home of the American Bridge Company"
Arthur Rothstein
Library of Congress

Homes were built along the northern bank of Big Sewickley Creek in southwest Ambridge from Ambridge's earliest days, before "Bank St." existed.

At some point between 1911 and 1917, Ambridge constructed Bank St. between those homes and the bank of Big Sewickley Creek. The new street ran parallel with the 100 and 200 blocks of First St. and was connected with First St. via the driveway to the Borough's garbage incinerator and dump. When Bank St. was built, the driveway became an extension of Maplewood Ave.

In the aerial photo below, the arrows indicate the location of the Bank St. homes. West (toward the Ohio River) is at the top of the photo. You can see an American Bridge Co. building near the very top. The street running vertically with vehicles parked on it is First St.  Merchant St. is the street that runs horizontally above the triangular shaped building. Park Rd. is the uppermost horizontal street; Ohio River Blvd. hasn't been extended into Ambridge yet, although it may be under construction. In the left bottom corner, you can see a vehicle about to leave Beaver County and drive across the bridge over Big Sewickley Creek to Allegheny County. You can see more of the creek in the upper left as it wends itself towards the Ohio River, flowing under a railroad bridge, then under the railroad tracks between American Bridge and the rest of Ambridge.

Aerial of Ambridge's First St. neighborhood
U.S. War Department
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Now, although Ambridge still has a Bank St., the homes are gone, razed, along with First St.'s former homes and businesses, in the name of renewal and redevelopment.

Bank St. sign
September 28, 2014
credit Nancy Knisley

The following undated photos are from the late Louis Vukovcan's collection of historic Ambridge photos. The notes on the photos are his. The photos are courtesy of Stacey Brock.

As you can guess from the photos, Ambridge's wealthier residents didn't opt to live on Bank St.

"Left End Bank Street"
(closest to Ohio River Blvd.)
circa 1970
Louis Vukovcan collection
Used with permission

You can see a bit of the American Bridge plant on the far left background.

"Left End Bank St."
circa 1970
Louis Vukovcan collection
Used with permission

A view of Bank St. looking towards the northeast. The arrow points to what was then Maplewood Ave. between First and Bank Sts. I think the other notation says "Truth Home Bank St."

A northeastern view of Bank St.
circa 1970
Louis Vukovcan collection
used with permission

Unfortunately, the note on the left side of the photo is cut off at the top, and I'm not sure what the note above the three story tenement says.

"Right End Bank St."
circa 1970
Louis Vukovcan collection
used with permission

Google maps and Ambridge Borough disagree on what the road that connects First St. and Bank St. is currently called.  The Borough says Bank St. now intersects with First, at least on the street sign.

Street sign at the intersection of First and Bank Sts.
looking east on First.
September 28, 2014
credit Nancy Knisley

Google maps says it's still named Maplewood Ave. Here's the most recent Google maps satellite view of the First and Bank St. areas.

Google Map satellite view showing Bank and First Sts.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Ambridge's Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Sears, Roebuck and Co.
653 - 655 Merchant St.
Daily Citizen
August 25, 1954

Ambridge's Sears, Roebuck and Co., opened in 1931, was the first Sears in Beaver County. The store was originally located in "modest rooms adjoining 817 Merchant St." In 1934 the store acquired additional space nearby. (Daily Times, April 9, 1937)

Then in 1937, Sears leased an even larger location in the Fraternal Order of Eagles Temple at 653 - 655 Merchant and moved there. (The Eagles purchased their current location at 401 Maplewood Ave. in 1948.)

Here's that beautiful Eagles building, built in 1923, shown in the 1924 Economy Centennial program book.

Eagles Temple
653 - 655 Merchant St.
Economy of Old and Ambridge of Today
June 1924

The Ambridge Furniture Co., and later Reichart's Furniture, had occupied the Eagle's building before Sears moved into it. Unfortunately, I don't have any description or photos of what the facade looked like when those businesses were in the building, but according to a news article, the black shiny trim shown in the first photo above was added when Sears moved in. Other changes made with the Sears move were larger display windows and new entrances. (Daily Times, April 9, 1937)

Sears leased three floors in that building; the Eagles retained space on the upper floor. The basement and first floor were used by Sears for sales and display; the second floor was for business offices and storage. This Sears primarily sold "hardgoods." On the first store shoppers could find hardware, electrical equipment, washers, sweepers, radios, and sporting goods. The basement was the floor for plumbing and heating supplies, stoves, paint, and farm equipment, still an in-demand line of products for area farmers. The only clothing the store routinely carried was work clothes. But just about anything else a shopper might want could be ordered from the wide range of items in Sears' legendary catalog and later picked up at the store.

When Sears moved into 653 -655 Merchant, it also opened an auto service building behind the store in the rear of 650 Maplewood Ave.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. ad
Daily Times
April 9, 1937

Over the years, the Ambridge Sears store pretty much stuck to selling the same types of merchandise. But it did add newly popular items from time to time:

Sears ad for TVs
Beaver Valley Times
July 5, 1951

And I guess there was always a demand for "memorial markers." But they weren't anything I expected the Ambridge Sears catalog department to be advertising.

Sears ad for tombstones
Beaver Valley Times
March 24, 1951

Sears also offered home remodeling services like roofing and siding.

Sears roofing service ad
Beaver Valley Times
October 1, 1951

Here are two of the ads Sears ran during Ambridge's Golden Jubilee celebration in 1955. I know some people will say, "Wow, look at those prices!" But don't forget how much lower wages were in 1955 too:

Sears "Old Fashioned Bargain Days" Sale ad
Beaver Valley Times
June 29, 1955

Sears "Old Fashioned Bargain Days" Sale ad
Beaver Valley Times
June 29, 1955

And during the Christmas Season, the Ambridge Sears always had a Toy Town where you could tell Santa, in person, which of the toys you wanted:

Sears Toy Town ad
Beaver Valley Times
December 6, 1957

I'm including this 1957 Sears sale ad because I think it's the most unsettling business ad I've come across so far during my Ambridge history research.

Sears "Operation 'H-Bomb' Sale!"
Beaver Valley Times
May 28, 1959

I know some people now believe that Sears moved to Northern Lights when the shopping center opened in 1956 - 57, but that's not true. Sears remained in Ambridge until mid-October 1963, one week before it opened the new store the company had built on the far northwest side of Northern Lights where Giant Eagle is now. That new store was a larger department store that carried a more extensive line of merchandise than the Ambridge store had, including: clothing for women, men, and children, shoes, white goods (linens, towels, drapes), housewares, furniture, jewelry, cosmetics, perfume, and candy. Plus there was a snack bar.

The Ambridge Sears "Removal Sale" was held not only in its store, but also at a "storeroom" at 639 Merchant St., "next to Isaly's."

Sears "Removal Sale" ad
Beaver County Times
October 18, 1963

The year Sears after moved out, Bargain Furniture Mart, which already had a small store at 651 Merchant, expanded into 653-635. It was Bargain Furniture that remodeled the facade of the building by covering the lower front with a white "chipped ceramic" and the upper floors with the trendy-in-1964-green corrugated steel that still covers the building. Bargain Furniture also added the big 37 1/2 foot sign, the largest in Ambridge, that originally spelled out "Bargain" on lighted four-foot blocks.

I'm sorry about the quality of the photo below, but it's the only photo I currently have of the exterior of Bargain Furniture Mart's 653 - 655 Merchant St. store. You can see its smaller store to the left with the "Sale" sign on the window. That store became Bargain Furniture's Early American furniture showroom.

Bargain Furniture's new building with new facade and sign
653 - 655 Merchant St.
Beaver County Times
October 15, 1964

I hope to write about the businesses that occupied 653 -655 Merchant, both before and after Sears was there, in a future blog article. Watch for it.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Ambridge memorabilia: Slovenski Narodni Dom token

Slovenski Narodni Dom token
credit: Al Travis

Al Travis said he found several tokens like this among his late father's possessions. They're from Ambridge's Slovenski Narodni Dom (S.N.D.), also sometimes called the "Slovenian Auditorium," "The Slovenian Club," or "the triangle building."

If you lived in Ambridge from the late 1940s through the early '70s, you probably remember the triangular S.N.D. building at the intersection of Merchant St. and Beaver St.

Slovenian Auditorium
120 Merchant St.
Daily Citizen Trade Area Directory

Al said, "I think they were used when someone had bought you a drink, but you already had one. Not certain though." Does anyone know for sure of the tokens' purpose?

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The opening of the Ambridge Borough Pool

Pool side of bathhouse
Ambridge Borough Pool
Borough Park
Daily Citizen
May 29, 1942

Such a joyous and long-anticipated event. The newly constructed Ambridge Borough Pool was opening!

Opening day was Memorial Day, Saturday, May 30, 1942.*  The formal dedication of the pool would be later, on July 12, 1942.

The caption under the above photo says:
The new Ambridge Community pool, under construction for several years will be opened to the public tomorrow. Built at a large cost it is the most complete in this section of the state. Facilities are in keeping with the wide expanse of water. In other words the accommodations are ample. Another view of the pool can be seen on page 10.
Here's the other view:

New Ambridge Borough Pool
looking south from diving pool end
Ambridge Borough Park
Daily Citizen
May 29, 1942

The opening was announced in a full page ad in the May 29 Daily Citizen at a time when newspaper pages were huge! The ad featured the graphic at the top of this page, the pool photo immediately above, and the following:

The Daily Citizen of Monday, June 1, 1942, reported that the first person to enter the water had been John D. Davis, a borough painter, who had taken a swim ten minutes after midnight on "Friday" (but it's not clear whether this meant Friday or Saturday morning). He was followed by over 1,300 other people that first weekend--after the pool actually opened--the majority of them children.

The children of Ambridge, as well as some adults, had been waiting for so long for a public pool in Ambridge.

In the early 1920s, the Ambridge Playground Association had sponsored a pool on the 800 block of Duss Ave., near where the Junior High School was soon to be built. But that pool had been short-lived.

Frustrated waiting for another public pool to be built, in the summer of 1938, the children of the First St. neighborhood built the iconic Dead-End Pool in polluted Big Sewickley Creek. That pool was also short-lived, quickly closed and drained by health authorities. But that action led to a protest march by the children, leading to a bond issue for the purpose of building a new public pool being approved by voters in the November 1938 election.

Construction of the new public pool began in early 1939 by the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.), the federal program that provided jobs for the unemployed on public works projects across the U.S.  Built on property now known as Walter Panek Park, construction wasn't completed until 1942. (You can see photos of the very early days of the pool's construction by clicking on the link at the beginning of this paragraph.) The photo below shows how far construction had gotten by 1941.

Ambridge Borough Pool
circa May 1941
credit: Edmund Silla
photo courtesy of Jay Silla
 used with permission

Then finally...finally!...the new pool was finished and opened for swimming, despite the entry of the U.S. into WWII the previous December. Such an exciting day!

The July dedication ceremony featured the presentation of the pool to the Ambridge Borough by a W. P. A. representative, a Navy seaman speaking on the benefits of water sports, and a swim meet.

The Ambridge pool was the source of summer fun and fond memories for swimmers, and non-swimmers, from Ambridge and nearby communities, for several generations. But increasing maintenance costs needed by the aging building, combined with lack of funds to repair and upgrade the pool, eventually led to the pool's not opening in the summer of 1991. That year turned out to be beginning of the neglected pool's long, slow, ugly death, despite several proposals to reopen it.

The pool was demolished in 2009.

You can see more photos and read more memories of the pool by clicking on "Swimming pool" in the "labels" menu on the left.

* Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30 for decades until it was moved to the last Monday in May in 1971.