Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ambridge Today: The American Bridge office is coming down, Part 1


American Bridge office building,
 uncredited photo,
1924 Centennial Souvenir Program
No one told me. Even though my family and friends who still live in the Ambridge area knew, no one thought to tell me that the American Bridge Company office building, abandoned and allowed to deteriorate since the mill closed in the early 1980s, was in the process of being demolished.

So I was shocked when, at the end of a mid-November visit to Ambridge, I drove down 4th Street, turned onto Park Road, and saw signs that demolition was in progress.

The first thing I couldn't help but notice was the bright yellow excavator in front of a gaping hole in the 4th Street wing with rubble at its base. "Oh my god! They're tearing down the office!"

American Bridge office building,
4th Street wing,
 Park Road side,
excavator, hole, and rubble,
November 20, 2013
copyright Nancy Knisley

I parked the car and hopped out with my camera. Realizing that that afternoon might be the last time I'd ever see the sadly neglected building, which now had "Demo" spray-painted on its exterior walls, I took a series of photographs; the photos in this post are a sampling of those I took that day. I plan to post more later.


American Bridge office building,
central section,
Park Road side,
November 20, 2013
copyright Nancy Knisley

Since the office was simply part of the fabric of daily life in Ambridge when I was growing up there, I'd never given much thought to the building's history, except I'd guessed that it was old, older than most the the buildings in town, but not as old as the Harmony Society's buildings in and near Old Economy. Since the mill was built in the early 1900s, I'm assuming the office was also built about that time. [Update 12/02/13: reader Richard Rotondo alerted me that the journal The Iron Age, Vol. LXXIV, August 4, 1904, issue, has a history of the construction of the American Bridge Ambridge plant and states that the "handsome office building" was started in March, 1903, and occupied by the time the article was written in 1904.]

The office was never an elegant building. It was, as one of my friends said, "utilitarian." The large, three-story, H-shaped, red brick office housed the clerks, engineers, draftsmen, and other white collar and professional staff needed to keep the massive mill for which the town was named, and once the largest structural steel fabricating plant in the world, humming.

Although not architecturally showy, the building was "Ambridge." Like the men and women who worked in the Ambridge mills, it wasn't fancy; it was sturdy, practical, and unpretentious. And it was the first building people saw when they turned into town at the "Welcome to Ambridge" billboard at the intersection of Ohio River Boulevard and 4th Street.

I had no real connection with the office except that my dad worked in the American Bridge mill. But I had an emotional connection to it.

American Bridge office building,
Park Road entrance,
trash and debris on steps,
November 20, 2013
copyright Nancy Knisley

To witness signs of the building's neglect and abuse for 30 years, and now, the beginning of its undignified demise, made me sad.

American Bridge office building,
deterioration of roof-line,
south side,
November 20, 2013
copyright Nancy Knisley

American Bridge office building,
rusted fire escape,
Ohio River Boulevard side,
November 20, 2013
copyright Nancy Knisley

American Bridge office building,
vine-covered exterior corner of central section and 4th St. wings,
Ohio River Boulevard side,
November 20, 2013
copyright Nancy Knisley

American Bridge office building,
entrance,
mattress at bottom of steps,
Ohio River Boulevard side,
November 20, 2013
copyright Nancy Knisley

American Bridge office building,
entrance,
Ohio River Boulevard side,
November 20, 2013
copyright Nancy Knisley

American Bridge office building,
left post and spherical cap,
bottom of steps to entrance,
Ohio River Boulevard side,
November 20, 2013
copyright Nancy Knisley

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