Thursday, August 15, 2013

Blast from the past: Penney's ad 1961

Enjoy this blast from the past--a July 5, 1961, Beaver County Times ad from Penney's at Northern Lights.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool, Part 2: Getting there--the trek to the pool

This is the second in a series of posts about my favorite summer spot, the Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool. Upcoming posts will offer more memories including: the bathhouse, the pools, the snack bar, and working there.  

Before you could enjoy an afternoon at the pool, you had to get there. And for many of us, that was quite a trek.

The pool was, to put it mildly, inconveniently and inaccessibly located: In what was then Ambridge Borough Park (now Walter Panek Park). On the top of a high steep hill overlooking 22nd Street. High above a town that was basically one big hill rising from the Ohio River--or a number of medium-sized hills, stacked one above the other, depending how you looked at it.

True, there was a road that entered the park, part way up the 24th Street Hill.* If you were driving up the hill, you made a right turn into that road--a narrow, winding, bumpy road that, if I'm remembering correctly, the borough "paved" with tar and chips.

Yeah, about that "driving"...

If you had asked an adult to drive you to the pool, I dare say that you'd get an incredulous look and "If you're too tired to walk, you're too tired to go to the pool."

And, as a practical matter, most of us came from one-car families (or a no-car family), and that one car had probably been driven to work by a parent. Or if the car was parked at your house, parents had much better things to do than to drive their kid(s) to the pool. Even when we were old enough to drive, very few of us had a car or even regular access to a car.

So we walked.

I started walking from the 1500 block of Beaver Road. The walk along Beaver Road wasn't really so bad for the first six blocks, even though I often wished that the street were tree-lined to provide shade, especially on really hot days.

Then, I passed Walnut Street and had to climb up that really steep hill that was such fun to ride a bike down, but not so fun to trudge up on a hot summer's day.

Then another five blocks. Finally, just past 22nd Street, there was an alley that intersected Beaver Road. If I made a right turn, walked up that alley, made another right turn, walked a bit, then I could see...

The Steps.

124 steps.**

Onward and upward.

You'd think we'd be too exhausted to swim after the climb, but you'd be wrong. Maybe it was the smell of the tar wafting from the parking lots that perked us right up. Or maybe we were so eager to get into the pool we didn't realize we were tired. Or maybe we just were in really good shape from walking everywhere. And climbing lots of steps.

There were also shortcuts through the woods. One path led southwest-ish down the steep, wooded hill, across a small stream, and ended at Walnut Street, not far above Beaver Road. I took that path once in a while, but since that route lacked parental authorization, I always felt a bit guilty when I did.

Kids walked much further than I did; some walked from Valley Road, at least a 3 1/2 mile trek.

We walked, because if the choice was between staying home or walking miles, literally, to the pool, the clear choice was walking, because the pool was the best fun you could have on a hot summer's day.

Next: The bathhouse.

*I learned just two years ago, while looking at a map during a visit to Ambridge, that the road I'd always known only as the "24th Street Hill" had a name: Breitenstein Road.

Until a private fly ash landfill owned by Gabriel Sacco was opened in ravines near the park's boundaries in the late 70s, the entrance to the park road was aligned somewhat differently than it currently is. That landfill closed in 1988.

**There is some disagreement on the number of steps. 122? 124? Perhaps someone who still lives in Ambridge could volunteer [their grandchild] to climb the still-existing steps and provide a definitive answer.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool, Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts about my favorite summer spot, the Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool. Upcoming posts will offer more detailed memories including: getting there, the bathhouse, the pools, the snack bar, and working there.

Ah, childhood and teen-hood memories of years of many long, happy summer days spent at the Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool.

The sights: the big, yellow brick bathhouse; sunlight reflecting off the water in three pools and lots and lots of concrete; girls in one-piece or very modest two-piece swimming suits; girls and women wearing ugly, detested swim caps*; men and boys in short (by today's fashions) swim trunks.

The sounds: children laughing; children screaming; water splashing; lifeguards' whistles tweeting; KDKA radio blaring top-40 hits over the tinny, sound-distorting speakers mounted on light poles; transistor radios playing stations cooler than KDKA.

The smells: chlorine, Coppertone, wet clothing, musty towels, hot tar, french fries being deep fried in the snack bar.

For part of the day, we'd lay contentedly on small beach towels laid on hot concrete. For part of the day, we'd be in the pool, playing, swimming, or just standing in the water cooling off. And when we got a bit older, part of the day would be spent strolling around the pools, hoping that the boy or girl we had a crush on would notice us.

And all the while we'd be socializing with friends or talking with siblings, and in those days before we were warned about sun exposure causing skin cancer, and we were not yet worried about developing prematurely wrinkly skin, trying to get as tan as possible as quickly as possible. There were no SPF sunscreens then. Only lotions to promote a "deep, dark tan" or a homemade mixture of baby oil and iodine that reputedly made you darker, quicker. but probably just stained your skin.

And usually, we were at the pool without parents or other adult supervision. All day.

Of course, when I was very young, I went with my parents to the pool. Usually on the hottest Saturdays or Sundays of the year, when the pool was packed with people, and you could hardly find a spot in the baby pool to pretend to swim in.

I don't exactly remember when my mother started letting me go to the pool with my younger sister or a friend, but it seems I was perhaps 7 or 8 years-old. And the people running the pool didn't mind that we came without someone to keep an eye on us. Can you imagine a parent these days letting an elementary school age child go to a public pool by themselves? And the pool allowing those children to come without an adult?

I'm sure the admission prices, which seem unbelievably inexpensive now, were still a financial stretch for some of our parents: the Beaver Valley Times of July 17, 1958, announced that half-price season passes were available: Children in grades 1-6: $2; Children in grades 7-12: $2.50; Family passes for families of any size: $6; adults: $4. Season passes, not a daily admission fee. Swim lessons for children were free, although there was a $0.50 registration fee. I haven't yet found out what the daily admissions fee was in '58, but in 1969, children paid $0.25 per day to swim**.

But before you could do anything at the pool, you had to get there...

Next: Getting there: the trek to the pool.

*Girls and women were expected to wear swim caps because long hair clogged the pools filters. That was through the early 60s. Then boys and men started to wear longer hair, and there was a rumor that boys and men with long hair would also be required to wear swim caps. But then, I guess long hair was no longer a problem for the filters, because no one had to wear swim caps anymore. Unless they wanted to. But no one did.

**Beaver County Times, May 13, 1969