Monday, February 24, 2014

Ambridge History: The Grand Hotel and the Moose

I confess that unlike my co-blogger Robert Giles, I was not born a historian. I liked history. In fact, history was my favorite school subject. And I liked to read books about history and was fascinated by Old Economy and the story of the Harmonites who once lived there. But I never felt any real interest into digging into Ambridge's past.

When I grew up in Ambridge in the '50s and '60s, most of the buildings along the Merchant Street corridor looked old to me, so I simply assumed they were built on what had previously been Harmonite farmland. However, if I had thought about how young the town of Ambridge was, having been built after the American Bridge Company came to the area in 1903, my assumptions about what had existed before the buildings were built probably would have been only reinforced, but not because they were old, but because they weren't old. "These buildings are all so young, only about 50 years old. Of course, nothing was there before they were built except Harmonite fields and orchards."

Bottom line: in the '50s and '60s, I wasn't curious about the history of any of the buildings in Ambridge, except when I wondered why the old Divine Redeemer School building at 300 Merchant Street where I went to school, looked more like an old boarding house than a school.* A lack of curiosity I now seriously regret.

Now, I'm often surprised by what I discover as I learn more about Ambridge history.

Take this undated clipping** posted on Facebook by P.J. Shotter:

formerly located at 13th St. and Merchant St., Ambridge."
newspaper clipping, source and date unknown

P.J. asked if anyone knew where the Grand Hotel had been: was it perhaps where Franzee's-Javy's currently is?

I thought, "Wow, that's an impressive building. What happened to it?"

Had the Grand Hotel been near the former Grand Restaurant which once had been located at 1231 Merchant Street? Or had it been on the other side of the street? T
here were no real clues until I found an article in The Daily Times, September 20, 1937. The headline reads: "Ambridge Blaze Razes Building."

According to the article, "One fireman was injured and damage estimated at $10,000 resulted when fire swept through the upper three floors of the four-story Moose temple, Merchant and Thirteenth streets, Ambridge, Sunday afternoon, routing 13 occupants of an adjoining house."

The article noted that "the Moose temple, built in 1903 was almost a complete loss."

According to the article, the adjoining house belonged to Michael Kensler who lived there with his wife, son, and 10 roomers.

The article goes on to say that the four-story brick building not only housed the Moose lodge, but also a restaurant on the first floor operated by Gus Kellas. And importantly, the article mentioned, "The building formerly was occupied by the Grand hotel."

Update 2/28/14: Wonderful postcard of the Grand Hotel:

Grand Hotel
Date unknown

Even after reading the article about the fire, I didn't realize until recently that months before I started looking for information about the Grand Hotel, I'd already come across a photo of the building in Elise Mercur Wagner's Economy centennial book

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

I suspect that after the fire, the Moose built a new lodge where the old one had once stood, but I haven't found anything to confirm that yet. 

I remember the Moose Lodge at 1300 Merchant Street that has been home to Franzee's-Javy's since 1984. As a kid, I went to at least one wedding there, and my grandparents would sometimes take me with them when they played bingo there. 

But, back then, I didn't wonder if another building had preceeded the Moose building. I did, however, wonder why anyone would think hanging the head of a dead moose above the entryway was attractive "welcome" decor.

I don't know when or why the Ambridge Moose left the building. I couldn't find information on whether they closed, moved, or merged with another lodge. But I do know that apparently the Moose head found a new home with another Moose lodge.

* I now know that before 1920, the old Divine Redeemer School was once the Davis Hotel, which explains a lot about that building.

** The clipping came from the collection of Lillian Turney, Ambridge High School Class of 1937, one of the first two women inducted into the Ambridge Sports Hall of Fame. The other woman was Marcella Spahr, a familiar name to about 40 years of Ambridge High School students.


  1. What an amazing photo of something many of us never knew existed.

    1. jd aka john domansky
      the ambridge grand hotel used to be on short corner of 13th st. grand restaurant was on 12th st other side of the street, hotel burned down according to walt wacht ambridge historian & my good friend, moose was a large building set in a little, had wooden flooring & was there a few times. can't remember a moose head there.

  2. Wow, this is one of the first posts I've ever been able to find that mentions The Grand restaurant, which was owned by my great-grandfather Angelos Pournaras, then later taken over by my great-uncle Gus Kellas, who is mentioned in this article. Gus went on to open K&N, which I still eat breakfast at at least once on my trips home. Great blog!

  3. If it wasn't for your Great Grandfather Angelos Pournaras and great-uncle Gus Kellas I wouldn't have been born. Thanks to them! Your uncle Gus hired a 24 yr. old young woman to be a waitress at the new Grand when a man who just got discharged from the Army after being wounded in WWII started coming in regularly to eat. They started dating and about 3 months later got married. About a year later I was born in '46.

    It all started at the GRAND RESTAURANT!

    Bill Senko