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. 


  1. jd aka john domansky
    1st street was always an adventure for me & friends. the google map now i see show a 2nd street & merchant running out of ambridge towards fair oaks & leetsdale, there was a road that went straight from 2nd & merchant & split off beaver rd that went to 1st street, there was building like the new york flat iron bldg, it veed the corner, somehow i saw a postcard or article about there was a department store there in 1930s by mid 1940s it was an empty shell & smelled of urine if you walked in the deserted area, the inside was demolished. the road that is not there now, was there, it could have been merchant st running to end at 1st street. i think this is where gangs got started in the 30s, never walked there alone, good people lived there but some had a bad reputation.

    1. Yes, that was Merchant Street that went straight to 1st St. The street that angled off to go over the Big Sewickley Creek Bridge was Beaver St. (although early maps show it as Beaver Rd.)

      I remember the triangle building as the Slovenian National Home (Slovenski Narodni Dom), razed in December of '71 or early in '72. I hope to write about that building some day and the earlier "triangle" building on that intersection. Quite a history.

    2. jd aka john domansky

      just read this today, beaver rd is right, same beaver rd that runs thru leetsdale edgeworth sewickley & ends in glen osborne at bottom of hill that hooks up w/ohio river blvd, i used to park in front of 1302 beaver road ,in 55 56 57 & up, when going to see mom where she worked for many yrs, she died while living there in 1980s,

      the narodni dom was lettered on that building for many yrs , there was a department store there too, dom may have been on 2nd floor, i see the ss office sealed off merchant st from 1st st. also saw nancy say valley rd was cut off from fair oaks, what yr was that? was that the angle st that ran off of beaver rd (1st st)left & down a very narrow rd? houses on the right side sat down off the road & had a hazardist entry & drive ways houses on right were on a down hill & house on left were on an uphill, barely get 2 cars side by side either way, never walked the whole length or drove it either. there were numerous stores on the left side after you crossed the stone bridge on 1st st one went to fair oaks & if you went south, there was another rd that went to fair oaks too. go straight & you went to leetsdale & beyond. the sister of my moms employer lived in that red brick 1800s home on the corner where sewickley creek comes down at beaver rd. (in edgeworth i think??) very nice estate, they had a grandfather clock that had to be in a sunken floor to fit in room, 8' tall. 7' ceilings, she also had a 1940s yellow packard convertable i washed & polished once.

  2. I am interested in the two women who appear on the right-hand side of one of the unused photographs of Marshall Alley that you can find through the library of Congress. One woman has dark hair and the other has light hair and a more rounded face. Both are wearing unusual dresses with a striped fabric on the bottom. Does anyone know who they are? I am pretty sure the dark-haired one is my mother, Helen Malenich, who lived in Fair Oaks.

  3. When you look through the Library of Congress pictures that were taken by this photographer in Ambridgethere is another picture from Marshall Alley with two women on the right-hand side. One of the women has dark hair, and the other has light hair and a more rounded face. They are wearing identical dresses with unusual fabric on the bottom that is striped. Does anyone know anything about them? I am pretty sure that the dark-haired woman is my mother, Helens Malenich, who grew up in Fair Oaks.

  4. I'm not sure which photo you're writing about. Are the two women in this one?

    If you're writing about another photo, can you provide the LOC ID number?

    I will look in my notes to see if any identify more of the people in the Marshall Alley photos.

  5. 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.

    1. Thank you!

      I want to make sure I ID the correct people: Are you referring to the woman and child who are the furthest back on the left side of the photo?

      Might I have your name as the person who provided the identifying information?