Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Ambridge Hotel

The Ambridge Hotel which once stood at the northwest corner of 8th and Merchant Streets was, in its day, one of Ambridge's landmark buildings, and one of its most photographed. The hotel, built in 1905, the year Ambridge was incorporated, was also one of Ambridge's oldest non-Harmonist buildings.

Ambridge Hotel,
1910-1920s era?
Original source unknown

The photo above came from Baltimore County History online. Unfortunately, I could not find the original source or date of the photo. Note the electric poles and wiring. It's hard to tell, but I think there are street car tracks on Merchant Street (the street with the car).

[Update, June 5, 2014: The snip below came from Ohio Architect and Builder, May 1904:

The text reads: AMBRIDGE, PA., April 5--Semple, Crawford & Gibson, 847 Linden avenue, Pittsburg, have been awarded the contract for brick work on the three-story brick hotel to be built for W. H. Reed, of Braddock, from plans drawn by C. E. Willoughby, Bank for Savings building, Pittsburg. General contract was awarded to Martsolf Bros. Cost. $12,000.]

Here are some postcards of the "Hotel Ambridge" from the same era for comparison.

"Hotel Ambridge" postcard

I cannot tell if the postcard above is a tinted photo or a drawing, but I know that it dates from the 1910s. Note no electrical poles or wiring.

"Hotel Ambridge" postcard

I also cannot tell if the above postcard is a tinted photo or a drawing. Note the streets look unpaved, but there are streetcar tracks on Merchant Street. The lot next door is clearly vacant, and you can see the houses on Maplewood Avenue.

"Hotel Ambridge" postcard

This postcard, also from the 1910s, does appear to be a photo. It shows the same poles and wiring as the first photo does, plus the backs of homes on Maplewood Avenue.

"Hotel Ambridge" postcard

Now compare the postcard directly above with the previous photo and postcards: no electrical poles or wires, but a stop light. And a nice sign on the building not apparent in any other drawing or photo of the hotel that I've found. This postcard appears to be a drawing, not a photo, and I'm always wary of the accuracy of these kinds of postcard drawings which tend to "pretty up" scenes. I'm not sure of the date of the postcard. From the cars, maybe early 1920s?  The postcard also shows a good view of the back of 800 Maplewood Avenue which is now an Anglican Church office.

The Old Economy-Ambridge Sesqui-Centennial Historical Booklet says that the Ambridge Hotel was "formerly know as the Grand Hotel," but I have found nothing to confirm that, and I have my doubts.

There was a Grand Hotel in Ambridge, which I wrote about in my post "The Grand Hotel and the Moose," but it was on 13th and Merchant Streets, where Franzee's-Javy's currently is.

Every source I can find refers to the hotel on 8th and Merchant Streets as either the Ambridge Hotel or the Hotel Ambridge, including this mention of the building while it was still under construction in The Metal Worker, Plumber, and Steam Fitter, Volume 64. September - October 1905.

The note says, "Chandley Bros., Beaver Falls, Pa., were the successful bidders on the new Ambridge Hotel at Ambridge, Pa."

According to an article about Beaver County libraries on Beaver County History Online, on "August 6, 1920 the Ambridge Hotel became the new home of the Ambridge Free Library." Later, the library moved to the beautiful Laughlin Memorial Library on 11th Street.

The hotel was advertised in travel guides as a good place to stop while traveling on the Lincoln Highway, which at one time went through Merchant Street, at a time when roads and cars were slow, and drivers had to make overnight stops on a road trip of any length. For $1.25, why wouldn't you get a room with a bath? Or was a room with a bath the "up"? (h/t to my co-blogger Robert Giles)

Hotel Ambridge ad,
Automobile Blue Book 1920 Standard Road Guide of America

But the opening of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and other more direct routes surely must have made an impact on the hotel's business.

Here's an ad from 1956:

Ambridge Hotel ad,
The Daily Citizen Trade Area Directory

The building already wasn't looking very appealing, and over the years, the interior of the hotel became dated and worn.

[Update May 5, 2014: The large sign on the second floor above the main entrance was that of the Sportsman's Bar and Grill. Update: January 27, 2016: Fats Domino appeared for a week at the Sportsman's in November 1953.]

Ambridge Hotel,
late '50s?
photo courtesy of Ambridge Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Tile City on ground floor of Ambridge Hotel,
Beaver County Times,
July 30, 1964

Tile City was the main tenant in 1964 when the decision was made to raze the aging hotel to make room for a much better business for the property--a Boron station. Yay? Looking at the above photo makes me think of an aging actor who, despite formerly having been a star, now takes wretched roles in tacky movies just to survive.

[Update January 27, 2016: Here's another photo of the hotel. While it's undated, I believe it may have been taken shortly before the hotel was razed. The Tile City signs are gone, but some of the "Moving" ads in the windows appear to be the same ones as in the Times photo above. Thanks to Jackie Vukovcan for allowing me to put this on the blog, and Maria Notarianni for borrowing and scanning the photo for me.]

Ambridge Hotel
Louis Vukovcan collection
photo courtesy of Jackie Vukovcan
used with permission 

The building was razed beginning in August, 1964. In an article announcing the razing, the Beaver County Times said:
In the horse and buggy days, residents of the lower valley stopped at Ambridge Hotel overnight while traveling to Pittsburgh. It lost its reputation as one of the area's better hotels many years ago.
Here's a photo of the razing in progress:

The razing of the Ambridge Hotel,
September 1964
photo courtesy of Bob Mikush, used with permission

The Boron station was built, but also has since been razed, and the corner is now a gravel lot next to Mikush Maytag Home Appliance Center which is now at 811 Merchant Street, the former location of Jay's Floor Covering.

Here's the latest Google street view of 8th and Merchant Streets where the Ambridge Hotel once stood:

8th and Merchant Streets, northwest corner
Google street view

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Eighth and Merchant Streets, 1922

8th and Merchant Sts, Ambridge
Source unknown
Courtesy of Laughlin Memorial Library archives
used with permission

The above photo shows the intersection of 8th and Merchant Sts. in 1922, looking south towards the 700 block of Merchant. The photo was probably taken from the old Ambridge Hotel which at the time was across 8th St. from the bottling works mentioned in the photo's caption:
EIGHTH AND MERCHANT STS. as the intersection looked in 1922. On the right old timers will recall the bottling plant which was destroyed by fire.
In 1922, the large building on the left side of the photo was the Martsolf Furniture Company. Later, it was the site of Caplan Wholesale Grocery Company. The building was razed and is now part of the 8th St. CVS parking lot.

I do not know when the Ambridge Bottling Works, identified by the painted sign, on the right side of the photo was destroyed by the fire mentioned in the caption.

Note the streetcar tracks.

I do not know the original source of the photo. The caption would indicate that this is a post-1922 newspaper clipping. The newspaper and date of publication were not identified in the library archives.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What came first: the chicken or the feed?

20 Baby Chicks Free,
Wall's ad,
The Daily Citizen, May 1, 1959

On May 2, 1959, Wall's feed and seed store at 507 Eighth Street gave the first 75 purchasers of 25 pounds of Larro Surechick, a chick starter feed, 20 free chicks. But "bring your own container."

So, even if you didn't already own chicks, Wall's would give you 20, and as you raised them, you'd return to Wall's (hopefully) to buy more chicken feed. Clever marketing.

It wasn't that uncommon back then for Ambridge area folks to raise a few chickens on their property.

I still remember the sharp smell of what I supposed was fertilizer in the Wall's building.

The Wall's business has closed, but the building remains. I don't know what the building is currently being used for or what's planned for its future.

Former Wall's feed and seed store building,
507 Eighth Street,
June 23, 2013

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Anderson's Candy store

I have been a chocoholic for as long as I can remember, and for that, at least in part, I blame the Anderson's Candy store.

Anderson Candy ad,
The Daily Citizen Trade Area Directory,

As a child growing up in Ambridge, I always thought the Easter-time windows at the Anderson Candy store at 529 Merchant Street had the most wondrous displays.

The windows were filled from front to back with homemade chocolate Easter candy: bunnies from small to enormous, eggs filled with a variety of goodness, chicks, and ducks. And for those who were more religiously-minded, but yet didn't think eating a chocolate cross was disrespectful, Anderson's had those too. Milk chocolate, white chocolate, and I seem to recall "pink chocolate"--not sure what that was. Was there usually a huge popcorn bunny too? I think there was.

Anderson's Homemade Candies ad,
Beaver Valley Times,
March 11, 1954

I always looked forward to finding some Anderson's candy in my Easter basket. Well, in truth, I looked forward to some Anderson's candy anywhere at anytime. Still do.

Eating Anderson's Easter candy was how I learned what fine chocolate tasted like, and it wasn't like that less-expensive, waxy, chocolate-flavored Easter candy from other stores. 

According to the Anderson's Candy website, the Ambridge store dates back to 1915 when Harry and Mary Anderson and their children worked not only making and selling candy, but also serving ice cream and fountain drinks. 

When Harry died in 1962, one of his sons, Harold, took over the business. Harold's widow, Goldie, has continued operating the business with her daughters and grandchildren. 

At one time, you could stop in and watch the candy-making at the Merchant Street store.

And back in 1953, Anderson's offered to mail candy "any place in the world." While you can still mail-order candy, the Anderson's shipping area now seems to be limited to the continental U.S.  Sorry, Alaska and Hawaii, my sympathies. And, look, currently, orders of $100 or more ships free! I know I wouldn't have any problem putting together a $100 order.

"The Home of Sweets"
Anderson's Candy ad,
Beaver Valley Times, October 3, 1953

The ad above also gives store locations on Franklin Avenue in Aliquippa and in Sewickley. I don't know when the Aliquippa and Sewickley stores closed, but in January, 1969*, Anderson's announced the opening of its second location--Anderson's Candyland--in Baden at 1010 State Street, not far from the Northern Lights Shopping Center. The Baden store became Anderson's main retail store. And, at the same time, most of the candymaking operations were moved to Baden.

"Now with 2 convenient locations"
Anderson's Candyland ad
Beaver County Times, January 31, 1969

Many of us who grew up in the area remember selling Anderson's chocolate bars as fundraisers for school groups, sports teams, and other organizations we belonged to. Selling Anderson's candy was easier than selling almost any other product.

Anderson's Home Made Candy store,
Merchant Street, Ambridge
March 30, 2014

I was delighted to see the Anderson's Candy store was still on Merchant Street when I visited Ambridge. Right now, the store is "closed for vacation." Since no formal announcement of the store's closing has been made, I am hoping that the closure is truly temporary and that the store will be reopened before my next visit. Anderson's Candy was one of the few long-time businesses left on Merchant Street, and if it closes permanently, I'll miss it. Going to the Baden store doesn't evoke the same memories that the Ambridge store does.

* The Anderson's website says the Baden store was opened in 1964. I don't know why.

Monday, April 14, 2014

WMBA big bunny ad

WMBA ad,
Win a Big 6' Easter Bunny,
Beaver County Times,
March 31, 1965

In 1965, WMBA radio--1460 on your dial--held a contest for a "Big 6'" Easter Bunny. Could a six foot bunny not be "big"?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ambridge Recreation Center

The Ambridge Recreation Center,
Maplewood Avenue near 8th Street,
late 1960s?
photo courtesy of Betty Lazorisak, used with permission

The Ambridge Recreation Center once stood on Maplewood Avenue near 8th Street, back-to-back with the Park Road School building. 

The building originally was the Second Ward School, built in 1904, shortly after Ambridge's first school, Fourth Ward School, was built at 16th and Church Streets. The schools were twins; both schools used the same architectural plan designed by Else Mecur Wagner, who later compiled the 1924 Economy Centennial Souvenir Program, Economy of Old and Ambridge of Today. A photo of the Fourth Ward building and a brief history of Ambridge public school buildings can be found in the blog post "Early Ambridge public schools: then and now."

The school building was converted into the rec center in 1956. On June 8, 1956, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about the Rec Center opening in the article "Youth Center From Old School." Here are the three photos that accompanied the article:

"This is grand," the seniors agreed as they tripped
the light fantastic in the renovated basement.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
June 8, 1956

Three borough employes put up the sign
above the door.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
June 8, 1956

Pretty Maureen Cooney tries her hand at
shuffle board as boys and girls look on.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
June 8, 1956

Lillian Turney, 94, currently a Harmony Township resident, attended the school on Park Road when it was the first Ambridge High School. She recalls a tunnel running between the high school and Second Ward School. She says the tunnel was later closed off because "kids were 'fooling around' in it." Tsk. Scandalous!

According to The Daily Citizen Trade Area Directory (1956), "Ambridge's first recreation hall was built at 10th and Melrose streets in the early 1920's. It was used for boy scout meetings and similar affairs." I do not have any further information about that building. As of yet, I do not know when Second Ward was closed and converted to a recreation center, but Second Ward is not on the list of Ambridge schools in the directory.

Dances were held at the center. I believe my sister's Brownie troop met there. Rec programs included basketball, pool, boxing, and weightlifting classes. Shooting classes using 22 caliber competition rifles were held in the basement. I'm wondering, given the culture at the time, if girls were allowed to participate in those (at least then) male-centric activities. And if not, what activities were offered for girls, other than craft classes?

During summers, the center was one of the locations for the Ambridge summer playground program. I was the assistant playground leader there in 1969 and leader in 1970. The programs would run for two and a half hours in the morning, and two and a half hours more in the evening, and offered a variety of sports and arts and crafts, the favorite of which always seemed to be weaving pot-holders. Ambridge moms with kids in the summer playground program didn't need to buy new potholders for years. In addition, the program offered organized games, and a neighborhood carnival planned, designed, and run by the kids. I seem to recall that the money raised at the carnival was used to go to the now-gone White Swan Park towards the end of the summer.

I've also been told that kindergarten classes were held in the rec center in the 1950s, as well as first and second grades when Park Road School became overcrowded with elementary age baby boomers.

In addition, nursing program classes of some kind were held there, but I don't know when or who ran them. [update 6/17/2014: The nursing program was the Ambridge School of Practical Nursing.*]

A former student at St. Veronica High School says that when he went to that school, the students walked to the rec center for gym classes. However, most of the exercise apparently came from the walk to and from the center, as he says that he didn't get much exercise playing pool.

Although enrolled in Divine Redeemer, I also went to fifth grade in the rec center during the 1959-60 school year, when the old Divine Redeemer School at 300 Merchant Street was condemned. I remember a large central stairway and rooms with glass panels that had the names of local organizations like "Ambridge Lions" painted on them. I've always wondered if the organizations met in those particular rooms or if they just sponsored them. If anyone knows, please leave a comment.

I really liked going to school at the rec center since it had a playground, while at Divine Redeemer, we played on the steep Third Street hill or the unkempt dirt lot behind the school. I was really sorry when the following school year, we returned to the old Divine Redeemer school building (hopefully not-condemned at that point) for one more year before the new school was built next to the convent.

According to the Old Economy-Ambridge Sesqui-Centennial Historical Booklet, compiled by Normal C. Young in 1974, the rec center was razed in the summer of 1972.[Update March 4, 2015: Although the Old Economy Sesqui-centennial Historical Booklet says the rec center was razed in the summer of 1972, the school board was still discussing demolition bids in September 1972. The caption for a photo of the building in the Beaver County Times, November 23, 1972, said that demolition was slated to begin that month and was expected to be completed by mid-December. See the photo at the blog article "Second Ward School, Ambridge's second public school."]

The photo below shows the location of the former rec center. The brick building is the rear of Park Road School. The paved parking area in the foreground is where the rec center once stood.

The parking area that once was the location of the former Ambridge Recreation Center,
Maplewood Avenue near 8th Street,
March 22, 2014

The photo of the old rec center came from Betty Lazorisak. I never met her but spoke to her over the phone when I was trying to track down the owner of the photo, which I'd seen in the 2013 First Street Reunion book. I was supposed to visit Betty during my March trip to Ambridge to hear about her 18 year stint as president of the Beaver County Women's Bowling Association and scan some of her old photos and printed memorabilia. She died unexpectedly on March 14, five days before I arrived in Ambridge.

* [update June 17, 2014: The Ambridge School of Practical Nursing was a Beaver County program overseen by the State Board of Nursing Examiners. Classes had previously been held at Anthony Wayne Elementary School until renovation of that school started in 1965, when they were moved to the Rec Center. The state board was not happy with the move, claiming facilities in the Rec Center were "inadequate" and that the rec building had been "condemned," which Ambridge authorities denied. The state board wanted the program moved to Freedom. The controversy was covered by the Beaver County Times in a number of articles in late 1965 and early 1966, including December 1, December 10, January 7, and January 20. Finally, the state agreed to keep the program in Ambridge until 1967. I haven't yet discovered the ultimate fate of the program.]

[update September 14, 2015: I posted a new article with more information, plus photos of a School of Practical Nursing pin and of graduates.]

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ambridge Today: The rubble that once was the American Bridge office building

The last of the American Bridge office building on 4th Street and Park Road was razed in February. So I was rather concerned to see that rubble from the building, in some places, good-sized hills of it, remained on the lot when I was in Ambridge at the end of March. And I've been told it's still there.

American Bridge office building rubble,
March 22, 2014
copyright Nancy Knisley

American Bridge office building rubble,
March 22, 2014
copyright Nancy Knisley

American Bridge office building rubble,
March 22, 2014
copyright Nancy Knisley

American Bridge office building rubble,
March 22, 2014
copyright Nancy Knisley

American Bridge office building rubble,
March 22, 2014
copyright Nancy Knisley

American Bridge office building rubble,
March 22, 2014
copyright Nancy Knisley

It seems to me that the rubble is a worse eyesore than the old building was when it was still standing. And more of a hazard too, especially since there is no fence to keep people out and the rubble in.

The rubble contains bricks, both single ones and sections, concrete slabs, and sharp pieces of wood and metal, plus other debris. I was told that a huge, deep hole--I'm guessing the office's basement--was near the Ohio River Boulevard end of the property. 

I also was told there were two "No Trespassing" signs on the 4th Street side of the lot which, I suppose, some expert determined would be enough to deter unauthorized people from stepping foot on the property. I never saw those signs since I was standing on the Park Road side where I saw none posted. 

And it looked like other trash had been dumped on the property--unless American Bridge had a time machine that allowed it to possess a CRT computer monitor 30-some years ago.

Trash with the American Bridge office rubble
March 22, 2014
copyright Nancy Knisley

Isn't leaving the rubble there for so long allowing pollutants to wash off the property when it rains or blow around in the wind? Aren't the people in charge of things in Ambridge concerned about rats proliferating, or mosquitoes breeding as the weather gets warmer? (If it ever gets warmer. That didn't seem to be happening when I was there. Snowed three times and was unseasonably cold.)

Such an ugly entry into Ambridge.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ambridge Easter Egg Hunt

Ambridge Annual Easter Egg Hunt ad,
Daily Citizen, March 24, 1959

Ambridge once held annual Easter egg hunts at Ambridge Borough Park. I remember going once with my dad when I was quite young. I found only one cracked egg--real colored hard-boiled eggs were used. I was so very disappointed I almost cried, and I threw the cracked egg back where I'd found it. We never went again.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Ambridge Soap Box Derby

Twin Trailer entry,
Ambridge Soap Box Derby, 1960

A note on the back of the photo says:
Twin. Trial Day. This was a few days before the final day. We called the final day "D" day. You either have it or you come back and try again next year.*

Since the Western Pennsylvania Soap Box Derby Fun Run is being held on 14th Street today, and the Derby will be held there on June 7, it seemed like a great time to post some photos of the 1960 Derby. 

Ambridge held its first Soap Box Derby in the mid-1950s--so far, I've been unable to find the year, so if you know, leave a comment.

Ambridge Soap Box Derby parade, 1960
500 block of Merchant Street at 6th Street corner

Note on reverse:
This is the parade for the soapbox derby. I [Walter Kasper] was parade chairman. The parade came down Merchant St. to Eighth St. Up 8th St to Duss Ave. This is were [sic] the races started.

Behind the parade car are G.C. Murphy, Father & Son shoe store, and S&S Shoes. Streetcar tracks are still visible on Merchant Street.

Ambridge Soap Box Derby, 1960

Note on reverse:
Jack Dunn and I [Walter Kasper]. Soap Box Derby. July 4, 1960. Picture taken 3rd & Merchant.

The races were big events back then. Organizers held a kick-off event with refreshments where racers could register. Before the race, there was a parade--and not a tiny one. In 1974, 64 units were expected to march in the parade which began at First and Merchant Streets and ended at the old high school on Duss Avenue.

On race day, thousands of spectators would turn out to watch the cars roll down 8th Street and cheer the racers on. 

Kasper Funeral Home entry,
Ambridge Soap Box Derby, 1960

Note on reverse:
Richard Gutowski and I [Walter Kasper]. 1960. Soap Box Derby. This was my 2nd Entry in the Annual Soap Box Derby. Richard was a semifinal winner.

"The Flying Coffin,"
McCabe Funeral Home entry,
Ambridge Soap Box Derby, 1960

note on reverse:
The Ed McCabe Funeral Home entry (The Flying Coffin)
This is just trial runs, so the boys can see how their car operates. From here they make minor adjustments.
1. Sam Piccinini
2. Walter Panek (Mayor of Ambridge)
3. Walt Kasper ramp boss
4. Made the Ramp
Car did not win the derby.

Ambridge Soap Box Derby, 1960 **

note on reverse:
This is the starting ramp of the contestants who are participating in the soap box derby. The starter has just given the release for the two cars on the ramp. I [Walter Kasper} am looking down to the finish line.**

Back then, the racers--boys only until 1972 ***--would build cars of their own design and materials, so the race was not only a test of driving skills, but also engineering, as well as the wallets of the racers' parents or sponsors.

Enthusiasm for the event seemed high through the early '70s, although even in 1972, the derby director, Fred Loedding, warned that if Ambridge didn't register at least 50 racers, it would lose its franchise. Still, the Derby Committee had plans to build a permanent track in Economy Park. 

But then, interest of the boys and girls, as well as sponsors, fizzled.

The last year the "Ambridge Area Soap Box Derby" was held was 1975. Local interest had waned. Beaver Falls and Ellwood City discontinued their derbies, so instead, the "Beaver County Soap Box Derby" for racers from all of Beaver County as well as Allegheny and Lawrence Counties, was held in Center Township.

In 2009, through the efforts of Tom Patrician, a member and former president of the Ambridge Area Chamber of Commerce who fondly remembered the derbies of his youth, soap box derby racing came back to Ambridge.


* Although all the photos in this article are courtesy of Bob Mikush, the current owner, the notes on the photos appear to have been made by the late Walter R. Kasper, then the owner of the Kasper Funeral Home at 547 Eighth Street, now Kasper-Hahn Funeral & Cremation Service. All photos are used with permission.

** Note the Gabor Electric building which once stood on the southeast corner of 8th Street and Duss Avenue. The lot now appears to be used as a yard for the house on its right.

*** Girls competed in the national soapbox derby for the first time in 1971. I'm sure that race organizers had a perfectly rational reason why only boys could race before 1971, I just can't figure out what that reason might have been. Were girls incapable of building a car before '71? Were girls unable to steer a racer until '71? Was racing unsafe for girls before '71? Did girls suddenly develop an interest in the derby in '71? Or was racing one more thing girls weren't allowed to do because [insert not-a-good reason here.] 

I note with satisfaction that once girls were allowed to participate, girls started winning races at both the local and national levels.