Friday, March 27, 2015

The children of Marshall Alley 1938

At the very beginnings of Ambridge, American Bridge built houses for the workers flocking into the town to work in the new steel fabricating plant. Among the houses were three rows of small, narrow, connected houses that ran a single block, from Merchant Street to Maplewood Avenue, close to the plant. Two of those three rows of houses faced each other on Marshall Alley, a narrow passage that ran parallel to First Street, which the third row of houses faced. Except for the houses at each end which were three stories, the houses were two stories with two rooms on each floor.

These homes originally were built for the laborers, the men who did the tough and often dangerous jobs in the plant, and their often large families. Later, the houses became home to people who couldn't afford to live anywhere else, although some residents remained long after they had the money to move away from the close-knit community that had developed. But even the people who wanted to stay were forced to move when the Marshall Alley houses were razed in the mid-1950s*.

Most of the people who lived in the area were immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, but former residents mention neighbors from West Virginia and Mexico.

The residents of Marshall Alley and the surrounding First Street neighborhood were featured in some of the most well-known photos of Ambridge, taken by acclaimed photojournalist Arthur Rothstein.

Rothstein was one of the photographers employed by the Farm Service Administration to document the hardships faced by so many Americans during the Great Depression. He came to Ambridge in the summer of 1938 and took a series of photos in the First Street neighborhood. Most of the photos featured the neighborhood children including one at their Dead-End Pool and several in Marshall Alley, among them this one. The actual title of the photo is "Housing conditions in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. Home of the American Bridge Company." 

"Housing conditions in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. Home of the American Bridge Company"
Children in Marshall Alley
Photographer: Arthur Rothstein
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
July 1938

Now, here's where the story of the Marshall Alley photos gets personal and left me gobsmacked. One day, after a long chat with Jimmy Pappas, founder of Ambridge's Maple Restaurant, who grew up on Marshall Alley, he pointed out the Marshall Alley photos hanging near the register, including the one above. He said, "There's your Aunt Helen."

Wait! What?! My Aunt Helen? Turns out that my Aunt Helen (Sokolosky) Gause not only was in two of the photos, but she also was the person who had provided the names of the children now written on the Maple's copies of the photos. And the thing is, my Aunt Helen has enlargements of those two photos hanging in her house, and we had discussed them a bit. But she hadn't mentioned she was in those photos. Aunt Helen would have been 11 years-old at the time the photo was taken.

So right after I left the Maple, I walked the half block to my Aunt Helen's house and rang her doorbell. So now, thanks to my Aunt Helen, here are the names of some of the children photographed in Marshall Alley:

1. (first name?) Swartz

2. Jimmy Pappas
3. Joe "Putsie" Kopac
4. Nick Vucetich
5. unknown
6. Mary Ellen Swartz
7. Helen Sokolosky
8. unknown

If you can fill in the missing names, know the names of some of the people in the background, or want to correct a name, please leave a comment.

Update June 8, 2020: Two of the people in the background were identified in the comments to this post by an "unknown" commenter:

"Hi, I can name two other people in this photo. One is my grandmother Helen (nee Perman) Quinetand the other is my great grandmother Antonija (nee Belobrajdić) Perman. They are the older woman with child next to Jimmy Pappas's left side."


Arthur Rothstein's collection of Ambridge photographs can be found online at the Library of Congress site or on Yale University's Photogrammar.

*As best as I can determine right now. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

The selling of "The Marvel City"

Illustration of American Bridge Works
ad promoting "The Marvel City"
Pittsburg Press
May 23, 1904 

Original text for illustration:
Above We Show the Completed and the Uncompleted Buildings of the American Bridge Works of Economy and Ambridge Where 8,000 Workers Will Be Employed
On May 23, 1904, the Real Estate Trust Company, agent for American Bridge, took out a full page ad in The Pittsburg Press*  offering a free train excursion to see "the grand spectacle of a rising smokeless manufacturing city."

By May, 1904, the American Bridge Company office had been built, and the mill was partially finished and operating. Now the company needed people and businesses to invest and build in "The Marvel City", on the land the company now owned, and so they targeted, as the ad said, "everybody bent on making money."

And people came at a furious pace to work, build, invest, and do business there. And not long after, the "picturesque", "marvel scene of nature" touted in the ad would be obliterated by mills, shops, and homes.

Ad for "The Marvel City"
Pittsburg Press
May 23, 1904

Those of us who saw the closing of the mills and what that meant for Ambridge might find the ad rather bitter-sweet, as we remember the "future developments" unimaginable in 1904:
There will be future developments of magnitude which could not be stopped, retarded or diminished by any power on earth, save by a complete annihilating of the American spirit of progress and this country's inexhaustible mineral wealth, a condition as impossible as would be the destruction of the heavens.
And we might think wryly of the smoke and smog that often hung over our "smokeless" town, and the "black-sugar" that showered down on it daily for generations, produced by the industries that sprang up on both sides of the Ohio River, and Ambridge's coal-burning businesses and residents.

If you want to enlarge the article, click on it, but to read it comfortably, click on the link to The Pittsburg Press above.

* Using the spelling "Pittsburg" used by the newspaper at that time.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Early Ambridge, American Bridge Company

Early Ambridge from across Ohio River
circa 1905 ?
Laughlin Memorial Library archives
used with permission

This is an view of the beginnings of Ambridge looking to the east from across the Ohio.

I don't have a date for the photo, but the large building mid-photo is the American Bridge office building, built in 1903. Until it was razed in 2014, it stood at Fourth Street and Park Road. The building looks completed in the photo, dating the photo after 1903.

Note the white sidewalk and steps that led from the front (west) side of the office to the "bridge works" mill, the buildings along the riverfront. I don't know if Ohio River Boulevard existed in Allegheny County at that time, but the section of the boulevard between the office and mill buildings wasn't constructed until the mid-1940s.

The broad street in the photo running east-west is Fourth Street, then called Charles Street. Park Road is the street running north-south immediately east of the office building. Across Fourth Street from the office is part of the park that once ran from Fourth to Eighth Street along Park Road. A portion of the park still exists between Seventh and Eighth Streets.

The houses built for the influx of mill workers on the 200 block of Park Road and, above it, Maplewood Avenue, are on the right side of the photo. Many of those homes still exist.

I don't see Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church that was built in 1919 on the corner of Maplewood Avenue and Third Street, furthering narrowing down the era of the photo. But based on the lack of development along Merchant and Fourth Streets in the photo, I'd say the photo is much earlier than that. If you see anything in the photo--or not in the photo--that would help to date it, please leave a comment.

The east side of Ambridge pretty much stops at Merchant Street in the photo except, perhaps, for a bit of Duss Avenue just below the undeveloped hill on the left side. Commercial development has already started on the 400 block of Merchant.

I don't know what the lone building on the hill above the 200 block of Merchant is. If you can identify that building, or any of the others in the photo, please leave a comment.

When I wrote this earlier today, I totally forgot that the Historic Pittsburgh site has a 1906 map of Ambridge showing the locations of buildings. When I get some time, I'll compare that map with the map with the photo.

Monday, March 16, 2015

700 block of Merchant Street mid-1940s

700 block Merchant Street, looking south
circa mid-1940s
National Electric "Nationalist" newsletter?

Original caption: "This is Merchant Street--the Fifth Avenue of Ambridge--along which are located many of the retail establishments."

You can enlarge the photo by clicking on it to see the details better.

Note the trolley tracks.

The above photo was published in what appears to be a newsletter, perhaps National Electric's "Nationalist." It came from the late Louis Vukovcan's collection with no accessible identifying information--other clippings are pasted on top of some areas and the back is glued down.

This is primarily the 700 block of Merchant Street looking south, but you can see some of the 600 block too.

On the left is the Ambridge Theatre, 714 Merchant Street, showing Torrid Zone (1940) and The Great Flamarion (1945) which helps to date the photo. The theater was razed in 1965 to make room for a new Pittsburgh National Bank. The current driveway on the north side of Huntington Bank is approximately where the Ambridge Theatre once stood.

At the corner of Seventh Street, there's a "Drugs" sign, but I am not sure what drug store occupied that building in the 1940s.

On the right, the first building is the State Theatre, 749 Merchant Street, razed in 1959 and replaced by a parking lot. At the time, it was hard to find a parking space on or near Merchant Street. It remains a parking lot.

Next to the State is a building with a "Peter Pan" sign. Does anyone know anything about that building? A Peter Pan Cleaners was once at 431 Merchant Street, but I don't know anything about a Peter Pan in the 700 block.

The next clearly visible sign is the huge vertical Sears sign at 653-655 Merchant Street. Sears closed that store in 1963 a week before it opened its new store in Northern Lights. The last time I was in Ambridge the building was empty.

I don't see any other signs I can identify. But I know one store was there: Romano's market at 703 Merchant Street, opened around 1942. Romano's, which carried a variety imported foods, primarily from Italy and Greece, didn't even need a sign. Shoppers could find it by the smells emanating from it: dried fish, garlic, sausages, cheese, and a host of other tasty, but smelly, foods.

If you know what other businesses were in the 700 block of Merchant Street in the mid-to-late 1940s, please leave a comment.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Stangl's Bakery

Stangl's Bakery
1210 Merchant Streets
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission

The photo above is how I remember Stangl's Bakery when I was growing up. And when I think of that Stangl's, which stood at the corner of Wagner and Merchant Streets for over 80 years, I immediately remember the donuts--plump, delicious, raised donuts covered with fine granulated sugar. I also remember huge flaky ladylocks and custard-filled cream puffs. And finally, the bulk candy--the nonpareils and Michigan Cherries were my favorites.

The original Stangl's Bakery, a business started by Paul Stangl, Sr. in 1920 at the corner of Wagner and Merchant Sts. (1210 Merchant St.) is gone, but a new Stangl's has been opened by his great-granddaughter, Lorianne Stangl Burgess, at the location of what was once a Stangl's outlet store, 572 Merchant St. in Ambridge.

[Update Aug. 8, 2018: you can see a photo of the exterior of the 1920 Stangl Baking Co. here.]

Lorianne shared some wonderful vintage photos with me and allowed me to post them here.

Stangl's Bakery
Wagner and Merchant Streets
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission

Stangl Baking Co. Nu-Bread ad
Ambridge News-Herald
June 24, 1927

Stangl's Bakery
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission

Stangl's Bakery
Wagner and Merchant Streets
late 1930s
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission

Stangl's Bakery employees
Wagner and Merchant streets
late 1930s
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission

In 1930, Paul Stangl, Sr.'s son, Paul Stangl, Jr., and his wife opened a Stangl's store at 528 Merchant Street. Although the store sold baked goods, it originally was intended to be more of a lunchroom than a bakery. Stangl's remained in that location until 1954 when Paul Stangl, Jr. moved his store to 572 Merchant Street.

Paul Jr. took over the Stangl's name in the late 30's when Paul Sr. died and merged the two companies into Stangl's Bakery. He moved his family from living above 528 merchant to living above the 1210 Merchant bakery in 1945.

528 Merchant Street
circa 1939
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission

For many years, the clerks always dressed in white including white caps and shoes. In the photo below, three clerks stand in front of the 528 Merchant Street store. Behind them is Star Markets at 530 Merchant Street and Ambridge Hardware, 536 Merchant.

Stangl's clerks
528 Merchant Street
late 1930s - early 1940s?
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission.

By the mid-1930s, Stangl's had a third store, at 1813 Duss Avenue.

Stangl's Baked Products store
1813 Duss Avenue
late 1930s?
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission

Stangl's owned a fleet of trucks that delivered baked goods to grocery stores and homes. The 1938 truck below reminds me a bit of Star Wars storm trooper helmets. I don't know if the more conventional looking trucks in the second photo came before or after 1938.

Stangl's delivery truck
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission

Stangl's delivery trucks
date unknown
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission

Paula Stangl, Lorianne's mother, says that bread was a big seller for Stangl's. She remembers sales offering six or eight loaves for $1.00. Another promotion was "buy a pound of ham, get the bread free."

Stangl's Super Twist bread
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission

In 1949 the Wagner and Merchant Street building was enlarged.

Stangl's Bakery addition
Wagner and Merchant streets
September 3, 1949
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission

Lorianne says that the Stangl's truck below, pulling out from Wagner Street onto Merchant, was driven by her Aunt Connie, one of Paul Stangl, Jr.'s daughters. Across the street are Slavik's Market, one of the many neighborhood mom-and-pop groceries once found throughout Ambridge, 1221 Merchant, and Robert S. Stewart Hardware, 1229 Merchant. I don't know what bar was on the corner in 1955, do you? If so, please leave a comment.

Stangl's Bakery truck
Wagner and Merchant Streets
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission

Stangl's Easter candy
date unknown
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission

"All Butter Coffee Cake"
Stangl's store display
date unknown
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission

Stangl's Bakery ad
The Daily Citizen Trade Area Directory

In 1966 Stangl's had eight locations including three on Merchant Street. I don't know when most of the locations opened or closed. In the 1970s, Stangl's also had a store in Northern Lights.

Stangl's ad
Beaver County Times
February 28, 1966

According to a July 11, 1970 article in the Pittsburgh Press, Paul Stangl, Jr. began to talk in the early 1960s about redeveloping the business area near the Old Economy historic district. Stangl didn't live to see his idea come to fruition, but the early 1970s saw an effort to restore and revitalize the Merchant Street area near the bakery. Stangl's was given a new facade and became Stangl's Old Economy Village Bakery & Candy Kitchen. Lorianne says that store was closed in 2004.

Stangl's Old Economy Village Bakery & Candy Kitchen
photo courtesy of Lorianne Stangl Burgess
used with permission

In 2009 Lorianne Stangl reopened the Stangl's at 572 Merchant Street which had closed in the late 1970s. She has attempted not to just renovate, but to restore the vintage look of the store by using many of the original counters, cash registers, and equipment. While Lorianne also uses original Stangl's recipes, some things have changed. While Paula Stangl says the bakery once offered only three kinds of donuts--sugar, glazed, and jelly-filled--the bakery now offers such a big variety, I had trouble trying to decide what to buy. No decision was needed when I bought some ladylocks. Still huge, still delicious.

Stangl's ladylocks
March 24, 2014
credit: Nancy Knisley

Lorianne says that one of her favorite memories growing up was watching her mother decorate cakes. Since Paula Stangl is no longer able to do the cake-decorating because of arthritis, Lorianne has taken over the job and is quite the cake artist.

The bakery also offers a variety of what used to be "penny candy." Alas, the candy is no longer a penny apiece, and Michigan Cherries are no longer made.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Laughlin memorial in Ambridge's Laughlin Memorial Library

Alexander Laughlin Jr. Memorial
Laughlin Memorial Library
credit: Nancy Knisley
November 18, 2013

In the center of the back wall of Ambridge's Laughlin Memorial Library, there's a beautiful arched recess, mostly black marble, that holds a memorial to Alexander Laughlin, Jr., for whom the library is named. In the late 1920s, his father, Alexander Laughlin Sr., donated the money to build the library in memory of his son.

Here's the text of the memorial:

In Memory of
Alexander Laughlin Jr
son of
Alexander and Mary Mead Laughlin
President of Central Tube Company
Major in the American Expeditionary Forces
of the World War 1908 - 1919

Alexander Laughlin, Sr., unrelated to the Laughlin family of Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation, was the founder of Ambridge's Central Tube Company. Central Tube closed in the 1930s; afterward. H.H. Robertson bought some of Central Tube's property. After Alexander Laughlin, Jr. returned from military service in France during WWI, he succeeded his father as Central Tube president. He died in 1926 at the age of 37 after being anesthetized while having dental work done.

When the Ambridge Woman's Club later approached Alexander Laughlin, Sr. for a donation towards maintaining a reading room that served as Ambridge's library, he instead gave Ambridge a library in memory of his son, dedicated in July, 1929. And what a magnificent library it is!

The Beaver County History Online article, "A History of Beaver County's Libraries" by Christie L. Blackburn, describes the library's extraordinarily beautiful interior in detail including this information about the memorial to Alexander Laughlin, Jr.
Entering through bronze doors, a far wall in the interior reveals an imposing and dignified bronze memorial tablet of Major Alexander Laughlin, Jr. It was executed by Bryan Baker, a famous sculptor. The figures of industry and patriotism shown are symbolic of Major Laughlin's busy life in the manufacturing business as president of the Central Tube Company of Ambridge and his patriotic services during World War I.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Second Ward School, Ambridge's second public school

Second Ward School
Maplewood Avenue near Eighth Street
Daily Citizen supplement
August 10, 1929

The Second Ward School on the west side of Maplewood Avenue near the intersection with Eighth Street was the second Ambridge public school to be built. It was built in 1904, the year before Ambridge was incorporated, following the construction of the Economy Public School, which later was called Fourth Ward School. The two schools used the same building plans designed by architect Elsie Mercur Wagner*.

While the postcard below was postmarked in 1908, it looks as though perhaps the photo was taken before work on the school grounds was completed.

Second Ward Public School
postmarked January 1908

I think the next photo is amazing. The photo was taken on the 700 block of Maplewood Avenue looking north towards Eighth Street (then called Bryden Road) and shows three children crossing what appears to be a very muddy, rutted Maplewood Avenue towards Second Ward School. This photo was published as a "Looking Back" feature in the October 18, 1985, Beaver County Times, and the brief article with that photo mentions the "unfinished boardwalk" on the far right. No date was given for the photo, but I'm guessing it was soon after the school opened. The photographer isn't mentioned, only that the photo was submitted by William J. Bowan, an avid Ambridge history buff who died in 1992. If anyone can provide more information about the photo, please leave a comment.

Children crossing Maplewood Avenue to Second Ward School
William J. Bowan collection?
circa 1904

According to the Beaver County Times, November 23, 1972, no regular classes were held at the Second Ward School after 1938.**

I don't know for sure why the Second Ward School was closed as a public school in 1938 when its slightly older twin, Fourth Ward School, remained open until 1964. But 1938 was the year the new senior high annex to the junior high school on Duss Avenue was opened. That made the 1914 high school building*** at 
740 Park Road, directly behind Second Ward, available for elementary students, so the Second Ward building may no longer have been needed.

The school housed a sub-office for the County War Housing Center in 1943. The center helped new war-workers moving into the area to find housing in the County.

In 1944, the American Red Cross set up an office there so people could send messages about refugee visas or "Palestine Certificates for stateless persons in enemy or enemy-occupied countries." 

In 1956, the Second Ward building became the Ambridge Recreation Center. A June 8, 1956 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about the opening of the Rec Center mentioned that the building "had long been an eyesore."

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

Even when the building was being used as a rec center, it wasn't properly maintained and by 1967 the School Board was making plans to raze the building; however, another six years passed before the final decision to raze the building was made:

Ambridge Recreation Center
former Second Ward School
Beaver County Times
November 23, 1972

The photo's caption says:
SCHOOL COMING DOWN--The Second Ward School, constructed in 1904 on Maplewood Avenue at Eighth Street in Ambridge, is slated for demolition this month. Besides Ambridge Elementary school children, the building was at one time or another occupied by Ambridge Recreation, Community College of Beaver County practical nursing school, and Ambridge High School shop and industrial arts classes. The building was built at a cost of about $37,000 and was designed by Mrs. Elise Mercur Wagner, a turn of the century architect in the area. The building is expected to be completely razed by mid-December. No elementary school children have entered its doors for regular classroom sessions since 1938 according to a school district spokesman.
The site of the Second Ward School is now a parking lot for The Center for Hope which occupies the former Ambridge High School/Park Road School building.

The parking area that once was the site of Second Ward School,
Maplewood Avenue near 8th Street,
March 22, 2014

*Elise Mercur Wagner also compiled the 1924 Economy Centennial Souvenir Program: Economy of Old and Ambridge of Today.

**However, Divine Redeemer School students went to the Second Ward School building for the 1959-60 school year when their parochial school in the former Davis Hotel was condemned, but that was after the building had been converted to the Ambridge Recreation Center. 

***The first high school was la
ter renamed Park Road School.