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.]


  1. I was lucky enough to witness some of the greatest playground basketball in the history of Beaver County on this playground. It was the summer of 1966...the summer before the 1966-67 school year....the year of one of the greatest highschool basketball teams of all time---the 1967 state champion Ambridge Bridgers. The players on that team met up daily at the Rec Center playground. The DiVenzios had just moved to Ambridge and once the word got out that Dick was playing with Dennis Wuycik and the others at the playground, the crowds started to show up to check them out. Curiosity got the best of the other great county basketball players in the county, and the next thing we knew, Jarrett Durham from Aliquippa, Norm Vanlier from Midland, and other great hoop starts from the county were showing up on a daily basis. You could see that this county had produced and was producing great hoops talent. Well, Ambridge went on to go undefeated and win the state championship....but the two closest games they played all year were the ones with their chief rival, Aliquippa. if the WPIAL playoffs were operated the way they are now, those two teams would have met a third time, probably in the semi-finals or the finals of the WPIAL. But, during those years, only the champions of each section qualified for the playoffs. Ambridge defeated Fox Chapel with the vaunted Nelson twins, an extremely talented Mt. Lebanon team in the WPIAL championships to advance to the PIAA playoffs. In the state semi-finals, Ambridge defeated the vaunted Schenley team featuring Ken Durrett and Petey Gibson, two City League legends...It was off the the PIAA finals in Harrisburg and Ambridge had one of the easiest game in the history of the PIAA, defeating the Eastern finalist, Chester by the score of 92-63. Arguments are still going on today over which team was better.....the 1965 Midland Leopards with Norm Vanlier and Simmie Hill or the 1967 Ambridge Bridgers with Dickie DiVenzio and Dennis Wuycik. My money rides with Ambridge because all the good teams had two great players.....Ambridge had a third-Frank Kaufman. When the other teams set up to defend DiVenzio and Wuycik, they always overlooked Kaufman......and he made them pay for it. And Just think, this legendary team put on tremendous shows for the kids of Ambridge on the Rec Center playground that summer.

    1. jd aka john domansky
      norm vanlier playrd w/chicago bulls w/mike jordon & the greatest bunch of BB players, watched many Bulls games, did not know norm was from midland, babe pireeli & joe namath, were rochester & beaver falls grads, that played AHS, mike ditka another Chicago great, as coach & player, 1956 grad of aliquippa, dick butkus was chicago product, met him & whole family at a friends funeral 2000s. daughter of our friend married a butkus, a nephew went to our school & saw ditkas at games etc. a 1949 schenley school grad, lived near hear & started up the hospital in munster ind. james robinson

  2. As a child, I took evening Karate lessons at the Park Road Elementary School gymnasium during the early 1970's. I remember that one time we had to move into the basement of the rec center for class. It was very dirty and dingy, and I was frightened of the place.

  3. In the late 50's we used to rollerskate in the basement of the rec center on Saturdays.