Saturday, October 29, 2016

Anthony Wayne Elementary School

Ambridge's Anthony Wayne School was built at the corner of Lenz Ave. and 21st St. in 1928 - 1929 by the then-overcrowded Ambridge and Harmony Township School Districts. The two districts shared the cost of construction, as well as maintaining and operating the school until 1932, when Harmony Township built its own school, Highland Elementary.

Anthony Wayne appears to be still under construction in the photo below. The original plans for the stately, white brick school building were for 15 classrooms, a playroom, a reading room, and an office. Anthony Wayne was the last elementary school to be built in the Ambridge Borough.

Anthony Wayne Elementary School
Daily Times supplement?
August 10, 1929
Louis Vukovcan Collection

I know some people seeing that photo might say, "That's not Anthony Wayne School. The building looks nothing like that."

True, the current Anthony Wayne building doesn't look like the school in the 1929 photo, but it did before an extensive 1965 renovation.

The 1937 snapshot of Anthony Wayne School below belonged to my grandmother, Mary Gause.

Anthony Wayne School
May 18, 1937
credit: Mary Gause

My grandmother also owned my uncle Peter Gause, Jr.'s class photo, taken in front of Anthony Wayne School. I'm not sure of the grade. In May 1937, he would have been 9 years old.

Class photo
Anthony Wayne School
May 18, 1937
owned by Mary Gause

The photo below shows the Anthony Wayne building that I remember from my growing up years in the 1950s and early 1960s, when I frequented its playground and attended the summer playground program. The front doesn't look any different than it did in 1929 or 1937.

Anthony Wayne Grade School
Daily Citizen
June 25, 1954

With the 1965 renovation came new enhancements like a school library, the first in an Ambridge elementary school, and a cafeteria, I believe another first. A new multipurpose room with stage, showers, lockers, and toilets was heralded as not only a step-up for the school, but also as a place for community activities.

Anthony Wayne School renovation
Beaver County Times
November 6, 1965

Times caption:
ANTHONY WAYNE SCHOOL - Work on the renovation and enlarging project at Anthony Wayne Elementary School, Ambridge, is moving on schedule. Work is expected to be completed in time for the start of the 1966 - 67 school term. Children are attending classes at the building while improvements are being made. The size of the building will be about doubled when the project is completed.

Anthony Wayne Elementary renovation
Beaver County Times
November 20, 1965

Times caption:
SCHOOL RENOVATION PROJECT - Work is progressing on the Anthony Wayne Elementary School Renovation and enlarging project in Ambridge. The capacity of the bulding will be doubled when work is completed. The project is expected to be completed before the 1966-67 school term starts next September. When completed, the new building will contain 19 classrooms, two kindergarten rooms, a library, cafeteria, principal's office, conference room, waiting room, clerical office, itinerant staff planning room, counseling room, health suite, two teachers' lounges and an instructional planning center. The new library will be the first one for an Ambridge elementary school.

The renovated school looks nothing like the original building. It's hard to believe that it's the same school.

Anthony Wayne Elementary School
November 20, 2013
credit: Nancy Knisley

Anthony Wayne Elementary School
November 20, 2013
credit: Nancy Knisley

As a result of declining school enrollments in Ambridge, the school district closed the other elementary public schools--First Ward, Second Ward, Fourth Ward, Harmony, Liberty, and Park Road--over a number of years. Anthony Wayne, the last remaining public elementary school in the borough, was closed in June 2004. Ambridge elementary students now attend Harmony Township's Highland School. No public elementary school currently operates within the Ambridge Borough.

The Anthony Wayne building remains. During the 2005 - 2007 school years, it was used by the Quaker Valley School District when two of its elementary schools were being renovated. Since 2014, building has been leased to the Watson Institute, which provides education services and programs to children with special needs.
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Many former Anthony Wayne students and staff members remember my mom, Agatha (Gay) Bohinsky, who worked as a "lunch lady" at the school for many years before it closed.

My two strongest personal memories of the Anthony Wayne School's playground are: the tall metal sliding board that would burn your butt when you used it on sunny days; and the time a group of boys took my younger sister's new bike from her while we were there. The boys eventually returned the bike, thanks in no small part to my dad arriving at the playground. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Ambridge memorabilia: American Bridge Co. playing card

This vintage playing card, featuring Ambridge's American Bridge Co. plant, was part of a deck illustrated with prominent Pittsburgh area scenes and buildings like the Pittsburgh Post Office and the Pittsburgh Exposition Buildings.

"American Bridge Co., U. S. Steel Co."
playing card
circa 1905

The person from whom I got the card described the deck as "Souvenir Playing Cards," manufactured circa 1905 for the May Drug Co., which was a well-known Pittsburgh pharmacy chain. If that date is right, the card shows how large the plant already was by the time Ambridge was incorporated in 1905.

The footbridge in the foreground allowed steelworkers to cross the train tracks and passengers to access the train platforms.

Here's the back of the card:

Playing card back

A picture of the "Fort Duquesne" Block House--the still-standing Fort Pitt Block House--is centered on the back. The City of Pittsburgh seal is on both sides of the Block House.

The tartan pennant at the top is that of the Carnegie Technical Schools, the predecessor to Carnegie Institute of Technology, currently Carnegie Mellon University.

A University of Pittsburgh pennant is at the bottom.

The two other pennants have City of Pittsburgh seals.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Fire destroys Moose Lodge, former Grand Hotel, 1937


Moose Lodge fire
1300 Merchant St.
September 19, 1937
courtesy John Dunn collection

Many of us remember when the Moose Lodge occupied the building that is now Franzee's and Javy's Banquet Hall at 1300 Merchant St. But that wasn't the original Moose Lodge at that location. This was:

"Moose Club,"
Economy Centennial Souvenir Program, Economy of Old and Ambridge of Today,
1924

That building had started its life as the Grand Hotel, built in 1903, by Frank Workman of Rochester. The hotel was cited in a Real Estate Trust Co. sales ad in the May 15, 1906, Pittsburgh Press as an example of the "high class" buildings being built on Merchant St. at the time.

Real Estate Trust Co. ad, excerpt
Pittsburgh Press
May 15, 1906

The ad begins:
This Modern Hotel at Economy-Ambridge Typifies City's Progress. 
The Hotel Grand, picture above, is located at Merchant and 13th Streets, in the Economy part of Economy-Ambridge. As may be seen from the picture, the building is a brick 4-story structure and is far ahead of hotels usually built in industrial towns. It is an example of the high class of buildings that have been erected during the past two years along Merchant Street, the remarkable business avenue of Economy-Ambridge. The growth of this street in modern business buildings is without parallel in Western Pennsylvania. No frame structures are allowed and every building erected has been a substantial contribution to the appearance of the street and to the improvements of the community.

Grand Hotel
Economy PA
postcard dated June 30, 1906

During Ambridge's early years, the Grand Hotel/Hotel Grand was one of the three large hotels in the northern part of the current Ambridge Borough that was still called Economy; the other two were the Ambridge Hotel at the northwest corner of 8th and Merchant Sts. and the Old Economy Hotel on the southwest corner of 14th and Merchant.

The September 20, 1937, Ambridge Daily Citizen, described the building as "long a landmark and once a thriving hotel." The paper went on to say, "The place was operated as a hotel and bar with varying success until the advent of national prohibition. At the time it passed into the hands of the Loyal Order of the Moose, its present owners."

The Daily Citizen wrote of the fire:
Starting on the fourth floor of the old structure about 3:30 p.m. fire, fanned by a stiff wind, ate rapidly through the dried wood of the building, completely gutting the third and fourth floors before firemen of three communities--Ambridge, Sewickley and Leetsdale --brought the flames under control. Almost 20 people were driven out of neighboring houses by danger of fire spreading.
It took seven hours for firefighters to get the flames under control.

Moose Lodge fire
1300 Merchant St.
September 19, 1937
courtesy John Dunn collection

The Daily Citizen reported:
Thousands of spectators jammed the streets as firemen fought the blaze, adding traffic congestion to the general confusion....Police worked feverishly to hold back crowds from the burning building as fire-warped walls crumbled and fell to the street below. 

Moose Lodge fire
1300 Merchant St.
September 19, 1937
courtesy John Dunn collection

The occupants of an adjoining house--Michael Kentsler,* his wife, a son, and ten roomers--had to vacate the house for the night because of concern about fire-weakened walls collapsing. Firemen pulled down the building's badly damaged wall on the Merchant St. side as a safety measure the night of the fire.

Fire-damaged Moose Lodge
1300 Merchant St.
September 19, 1937
courtesy John Dunn collection

Fortunately, at the time of the fire, the building was vacant except for the Grand Restaurant, owned by Gus Kellas, on the building's ground floor. While the fire itself didn't reach the restaurant, it was severely damaged by water, smoke, and falling debris. The Grand Restaurant later moved across the street to 1231 Merchant.

I don't know if the cause of the fire was ever determined.
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There was some discrepancy in the reporting about the fire. For example, the September 20, 1937, Daily Times reported that the fire had started on the third floor at 7 P.M., and that the volunteer fire departments of Baden and Fair Oaks also helped fight the fire.

*Spelled "Kensler" in the Daily Times article. I don't know which spelling is correct.

Even though the Grand Hotel/Moose Lodge building was gone long before I was born, I have a special fondness for it, and previously wrote about it in my February 24, 2014, blog article "Ambridge History: The Grand Hotel and the Moose." If I hadn't done some research trying to find out about the building shown in an old undated news clipping, I might never have caught the Ambridge history bug.