Monday, August 18, 2014

Summer playground parade

Me and my sister in playground parade,
400 block of Merchant Street
credit: Agatha Bohinsky, used with permission

The above photo is not of a Halloween parade, despite the kids in costumes.

Back when Ambridge had a summer playground program, it would hold a parade featuring the kids who had participated. This is more evidence that Ambridge once used any possible excuse to have a parade.

As you can guess from the photo, the marchers were supposed to wear costumes. I do not know why. Maybe because having kids walk in street clothes wouldn't have been parade-worthy?

This is the first photo with me in it I've posted on the blog. I'm the dark haired girl closest to the camera, walking behind Raggedy Ann. My sister Paula is the little blond girl next to me. I think my sister and I were supposed to be dancers after taking a curtain call and receiving bouquets. I appear to be wearing my tap shoes. I wish my legs had remained proportionally that long as I grew.

I don't know where the parade started or ended, but I vaguely remember rounding the corner with the Taylor's Dairy building at the intersection of Duss Avenue and Merchant Street.

In the photo, we're marching on Merchant Street near the intersection with Fifth Street. Behind us you can see some of the businesses on the odd numbered (west) side of the 400 block: B & J Market, Saratoga Restaurant, Klein's Grocery, Ambridge Hand Laundry, and Economy Drug Store.

I don't know how many years the summer playground parade was held. Was it just one year, or was it [See update below.] It was a yearly tradition that ended in the late 1950s or 1960s. When I worked for the playground program in 1969 and 1970, no parade was held.

[Update August 21, 2014: Frequent contributor Maria Notarianni found two Beaver Valley Times articles about the playground parade. The July 8, 1953 article says that year's parade, with marchers from all six playgrounds: Anthony Wayne, Fourth Ward, Park Road, Liberty, High School, and First Ward, would start at the high school at 7 PM. The route was Duss Avenue to Third Street, turn onto Merchant Street, then on Merchant, up Eighth Street to the high school stadium.

That article mentions that prizes would be given for the most original costume as well as best: clown suits; decorated bicycles and tricycles; small autos (pedal cars?) and wagons; cowboy and cowgirl suits; dance costumes; couple; hobo; drum major and majorette; and nationality costume. Ambridge High School band director V. W. (Vetold) Sporny and his Summer Recreation Band would provide music, and the Ambridge police would lead the parade.

The June 28, 1958 article says that the Ambridge Recreation Department sponsored the annual parade for children ages 6 through 15. Children were expected to design and make their own costumes and floats under the supervision of playground directors. In addition to costumes and about a dozen floats, the parade would feature decorated (doll? baby? both?) carriages. The high school band would lead the march on a shorter route than that taken by the 1953 parade: Duss Avenue to Fifth Street, down Fifth to Merchant, on Merchant until turning up Eighth Street, then on Duss back to the high school.]

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ambridge trivia: Did you know...? #3 American Legion post, Elks Temple

The Canady-Hull American Legion Post 341 at 400 Duss Avenue was once the Ambridge Elks Temple.

Canady-Hull American Legion Post 341
June 23, 2013

Elks Temple
Economy Centennial Souvenir Program,
Economy of Old and Ambridge of Today

According to a June 9, 1965, Beaver County Times article about the Elks' 60th anniversary, the temple at Fourth Street and Duss Avenue was dedicated on July 28, 1913. Then, in 1939, the Elks moved to 22 Beaver Street, Fair Oaks, just across Big Sewickley Creek from Ambridge.

Which is rather confusing since an article in the October 3, 1953,  Beaver Valley Times says about the Legion, "the post home was dedicated in 1934."

I hope that I'll eventually find information explaining the overlapping years between when the Legion supposedly dedicated the building at Fourth and Duss in 1934, and 1939, when the Elks moved to Fair Oaks. If anyone has information that can help, please leave a comment.

[Update August 8, 2014: In the Old Economy-Ambridge Sesqui-Centennial Historical Booklet, May 1974, the entry for American Legion Post 341 says the post's first home was purchased in 1934 at the Third Street location that later became the site of the G.A.P.A club*. And it also says that because of swelling membership during WWII, the Post acquired a new home. So, the Legion did not move into the Fourth Street Building in 1934. Confusion about the dates resolved, I guess.]

Just noticed from the photos that the fire hydrant apparently didn't move between 1924 and 2013.

[Update: August 31, 2014:

When I first saw this postcard on eBay, I thought, "Oh, look, another view of the American Legion, with a car parked in front of the building on the 4th Street hill." Then I noticed there was no American Legion sign on the building. And then I did a double-take when I saw the caption, "B.P.O.E. Building, Ambridge, PA."

 postmarked October 2, 1937

So, the large addition on the Duss Avenue side to the original Elks Temple was added by the Elks before they moved to Fair Oaks and sold the building to the American Legion.

I decided I needed to own this postcard despite the fact that it's not in the greatest condition, so I bought it.]

[Update July 25, 2017: Although the Elks had moved from the 4th and Duss building, it was still on the market in June 1942.

Sale of former Elks building
4th St. and Duss Ave.
Daily Citizen ad
June 8, 1942

[* Update September 6, 2014:  The G.A.P.A. (Greek-American Progressive Association) Hall was located at 310 Third Street.]

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Three Sams

Microsoft Word
by Robert Giles

About 1965 my friend started calling me “Sam”. I guess he got tired of “Bob”. Maybe he just liked making up names. He called his mother “Babe” and his father “Uncle Joe”.

I figured turnabout was fair play. We started calling one another “Sam” and almost forgot our true identities.

I first met Jean at the Baden Little League field on the bleachers sitting near the end - second row down from the top. She held a cherry Popsicle. Sam already knew her. His attentions were romantic.

She was watching her little brothers play for my old team. I think Jean’s Dad was the coach. Jean’s Dad had played semi-pro baseball in his youth. So had her uncle – he had almost made it to the big leagues.

I don’t know who won the game.

Jean was pretty. She had brunette hair worn in a popular style – cropped short at the back of the neck but with plenty of body up top, bangs in front and two sharp points swinging at you from the area of her ear lobes.

Jean had no trouble with conversation and always had something interesting to say. She noticed right away that my friend and I called each other “Sam”. We couldn’t satisfactorily explain why. She didn’t press the question – she just had one request.

“Why don’t you call me “Sam” too? That would be cool.”

It sounded cool to us too. That’s how we became the three Sams.

“Sam, what do you want to do tonight?”

“I don’t know, Sam, what do you want to do tonight?”

We frequently had the same problem as Ernie Borgnine and his friend in “Marty”. We didn’t know what we wanted to do.

“Let’s go up over the hill and see Sam.”

We headed up Dearborn Street and down Essex and through the Guttison Homes to the “projects”. That’s where Sam lived – in a neat concrete block house above the little league field.

If Sam was home, she would usually come out and the three of us would sit on the steps that led down to the sidewalk along Harmony Road. There was a railing made from metal pipe along one side of the steps. It was a short flight – maybe a half-dozen concrete steps.

We would sit there and talk until after it got dark.

“You know that song of Howling Wolf’s – ‘Smokestack Lightning’? Sam asked. “I wonder if he was singing about those flashing lights on top of the smokestacks.”

“Maybe. There’s a steel mill on the south side of Chicago near where Howling Wolf hangs out. I bet they have the same kind of smokestacks and lights at the South Side Works.”

The lights flashed back and forth in a zigzag fashion – “They sure do look like little lightning flashes”.

“They have to put those lights on smokestacks because they are so tall that airplanes might crash into them. Even in the daytime sometimes there is so much smoke a pilot might not see them.”

“I like the way he starts to howl in that song. Oh, wha hoo, hoo.” Sam tried in vain to sing like Howling Wolf.

“Well, I better go home. “Fang” doesn't like me sitting out here with boys even in the daytime. She says it “doesn't look nice”. “Fang” was Sam’s name for her mother.

Sam’s taste in music was a little different than ours. She really liked Jan & Dean and the whole California surf thing.

One time we went inside and she played a new album she had by a guy named Rod McKuen. Rod read or sang his poems in a flat voice reminiscent of Chet Baker, the jazz trumpet player and singer, himself a chilled-out Californian. The poems were accompanied by the recorded sounds of the Pacific Ocean. It wasn’t surf music, it was the surf itself.

Sam knew I liked poetry so she insisted I take the album home which I politely did. I found I would go right to sleep by the third cut in on either side. There was something about the squawk of seabirds that made me drowsy.

I did like one song of McKuen’s – I’m not sure if it was on Sam’s album – “Jean” – the theme song from the movie “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”.

Jean, Jean, you're young and alive
Come out of your half-dreamed dream
And run, if you will, to the top of the hill
Open your arms, bonnie Jean

I’m not sure how the lyrics related to Miss Brodie’s story, but that is true of a lot of movie theme songs. Maybe they don’t want to give away too much of the plot.

I liked the words to that song though – very romantic – maybe that is the link to Jean Brodie. But I don’t think she was so much a romantic as an eccentric – really daft in that understated British way that lulls you and keeps you guessing. All that stuff about her “prime” – she was over-the-hill and couldn’t see it - until her favorite young disciple betrayed her.

I started to date one of Sam’s classmates at Mount Galitzin Academy. The other Sam was going steady with a girl in our class at Ambridge High School. We still hung out with Sam as much as we could. We stayed friends.

Sam laughed when we told her about going to the North Park skating rink. A girl named Jane had invited the other Sam along on her skate date even though he had broken his ankle and was on crutches. Sam invited me in turn – he had to have some company sitting by the ice in his cast, didn’t he? What better company for someone lame than someone who didn’t know how to skate?

Imagine how surprised the guy was when Sam and I climbed into the back seat of his car? I don't think he spoke one word all the way out to North Park. I'm sure that was his last date with Jane.

Why she just didn’t say “no” to the guy in the first place I’ll never tell. She must have been afraid of him.

Sam was always developing sudden crushes on boys – it may be a pathology endemic among girls that attend convent schools. One night she asked us if we knew the good-looking guy who worked at the Isaly store in Byersdale.

“You mean the athletic-looking guy with the wavy dark-brown hair – a little bit shy?”

“That’s him – who is he?”

“That’s my brother.”

Sam asked my brother to the prom at Mount Galitzin. We double-dated. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. For one thing, it solved my transportation problem. My brother had his license.

My brother had started dating someone else and never reciprocated Sam’s attention by asking her out on another date. Just as suddenly she got moony over one of the basketball players on the Ambridge High Championship Basketball Team. He wasn’t a starter on the team.

“Why do you want to go out with a second-stringer?” we teased. Besides they weren't champions yet – they had quite a few games to go. “That guy may end up a nobody on a second-rate team.”
Sam was undeterred. Once she made up her mind, she was tenacious. She had to have her champion.

I think Sam and the second-stringer did wind up dating for a while. We weren’t jealous. We had girl friends of our own.

Another thing Sam could never let go of was her surfer-beach-Pacific Ocean dream. She loved the Beach Boys. Sam and I were R&B devotees. We tried to turn her and she did start to dig a little Stax and Motown, only to revert to form when something new blew in from the west, like “The Endless Summer”, a movie about a bunch of surfers who traveled the globe searching for the “perfect wave”.

Somehow Sam cajoled us into taking her to see the movie, which was more a “mockumentary” than a real movie. I have one thing to say about “The Endless Summer” – it did seem endless. Once you’ve seen one hotdogger hang ten all the way in to shore riding the crest of a gnarly wave, well, who wants to see that again? Paddle out, surf in, don’t wipe out and live to do it over again.

Besides, wasn’t that quest-for-perfection hook already used in “The Glenn Miller Story”.

Sam’s Dad lost his job in perhaps the first mill closure to hit contemporary Ambridge. She was studying to be a nurse. The other Sam and I had started college. I guess things were pretty shaky at Sam’s house until her Dad landed a new job.

We still managed to get together once every couple of months. Sam would be home on weekends. Sometimes we rode back to school with her on Sunday evenings, her mother at the wheel. It was a long time back and forth in the car.

We got to know “Fang” pretty well. She wasn’t so bad, really.

The next thing we knew Sam had a nursing job in Pittsburgh. The other Sam was in the Military Police, of all things – out in Fort Collins, Colorado. I was about to take a job in Baltimore.

We weren’t surprised a few years later when we heard that Sam had moved to Hawaii. She had made it real. When she seized on an idea, like I said, she was tenacious. I don’t know for sure if she ever climbed on a surf board, but I bet she did.

Me, I never go near the beach. All that water. It’s worse than a desert.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The iconic American Bridge footbridge

American Bridge footbridge over Ohio River Blvd.
Beaver Valley Times,
February 13, 1954

Original photo caption:
BRIDGE TO PLANT Motorists using Route 88 in the Ohio River Boulevard, one of the most heavily-traveled highways in the state, pass under this bridge entering U.S. Steel's Ambridge plant of the American Bridge Company.

When I started this blog a little over a year ago, I started looking for photos of Ambridge icons--distinctive and beloved parts of the borough that, at least at one time, meant "this is Ambridge." Many of those icons are now gone.

One of the photos I searched for again and again, in many places, was the American Bridge Company footbridge over Ohio River Boulevard, once state Route 88, now Route 65.

The footbridge began at the southwest side of the American Bridge office property and was used by workers to cross the boulevard to enter and leave the mill area.

I felt there had to be photos of the footbridge, but my hunt had been fruitless until this morning.

Yesterday, reader Maria Notarianni sent me a link to an article about Gutowski's Bakery that she'd found in the February 13, 1954, Beaver Valley Times, and she mentioned that that issue of the Times had a number of articles about Ambridge businesses. This morning, I started browsing the paper, and there was the long-sought after footbridge photo! Finally.

I remember so well waiting to pick up my dad after his shift ended on the rare days my mom had the use of our only car, parking on Park Road near the bridge, watching for him to appear.

I was so proud that travelers driving by on busy Ohio River Boulevard could read the sign on the footbridge announcing that Ambridge's American Bridge plant was the "Largest structural steel fabricating plant in the world." What an extraordinary mill it was.

Park Road end of the sidewalk that once led to the American Bridge footbridge
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

"Bridgeworks" workers crossing over footbridge to mill,
Beaver County Times,
November 7, 1979

Original text with photo:
SHORT TIME - Workmen walking to their jobs at U. S. Steel Corp.'s American Bridge Division Ambridge may well be wondering whether they are on "short time"--the time between when a decision is mde to close the plant and when the plant actually closes. The 950 union members will meet Sunday morning to hear the steel giant's proposal for the future of the plant.
U.S. Steel contends the plant is no longer competitive in the steel fabricating market.

The mill was closed for virtually all production in mid-1982, and closed for good in the spring of 1984. The footbridge is gone. I do not know when it was taken down. If you know, please leave a comment.

When I visited the American Bridge office site in November 2013, when the razing of the building had begun, the sidewalk that once led from Park Road to the footbridge ended abruptly above Ohio River Boulevard.

End of sidewalk that once connected to the American Bridge footbridge,
November 20, 2013