Monday, June 1, 2015

John Domansky: memories of growing up in Ambridge, 1935 - 1954

John Domansky, Jr., John Domansky, Sr., and Jack Eppley
in front of John Domansky Tailor Shop
293 Fourteenth Street
photo courtesy of John Domansky, Jr.
used with permission

In the photo above, John Domansky, Jr., age 9, his father, and Jack Eppley, who was married to John Jr.'s sister Frances, are shown standing in front of the John Domansky Tailor Shop.

Here are some of John Jr.'s memories of growing up in Ambridge:
I went to Holy Redeemer, as Divine Redeemer was then called, kindergarten to 8th grade. In 1948 I left for Boys Town. I graduated in 1950 from a pottery trade school. 
Before I came out here to Chicago in December 1954 with my sister and brother-in-law, I lived at a number of places in Ambridge. The last place I lived before moving to Chicago was 10th and Melrose; from 1952 to '54 I lived at 1925 Duss Avenue; in 1951 I briefly lived on 17th just up from Lenz; and before that, 1938 though 1951, at 293 Fourteenth Street, most memories come from there. Earlier, from '35 to '37, I lived above D'Ambrosio's Shoe Shop at 12th and Merchant. My first home was next to the Ambridge Hotel which was at 8th and Merchant.
Dad had a tailor shop at 293 Fourteenth Street for a while, with painted windows and all, and a big steam presser. The tailor shop was there for about 15 years maybe. On the right side inside, was the big steam presser, and steam shot out of the right side of the building to a blind alley. On the left was his Singer pedal sewing machine, both of which I ran at age 12.
Dad did alterations and took in cleaning, etc. He worked in downtown Pittsburgh and worked week-ends in his shop. He made me a confirmation suit overnight. He went to suit buyers' homes to measure the men, with a piece of paper, pencil, and a thin chalk marker. He wrote it all down, then made the suits, no returns ever that I know of. He was very good at math, I was better, and my son is five times as good as me.
My dad took me to many taverns and the Sokol club on Duss and 4th St. for hot dogs with sauerkraut and mustard. Once I ran away from home and landed in the Pittsburgh juvenile home; he came and got me and bought me a hot dog off a cart. Never laid a hand on me nor did Mom.
The wine killed my dad in 1948 in the pathway to our house between the two big buildings on the short 14th St. block before Boyleston St.

Mom was gone a lot, working in Glen Osborne and home on weekends. I would visit Mom in Glen Osborne often. She died in 1981.
To make creamed chicken on Sundays we got live chickens from Slavik's Market on 12th Street. Slavik kept livestock behind the store, along the Lias' home. The Lias family were West Virginia people who lived right behind the bar on Wagner St. The Lias boy swam in the river with us. We were called river rats. One thing about the river from 11th to 15th, 16th Sts. was the big rocks on the shore, you could sunbathe on them.
Dorothy Domansky and John Domansky, Jr.
next to D'Ambrosio Shoe Repair Shop
12th and Merchant Sts.
photo courtesy of John Domansky, Jr.
used with permission

Frank Domansky (John Jr.'s uncle), Anne Domansky (John Jr.'s sister), Cousin Dorthy Domansky,
and Tom Varcheka, foreman at H.H. Robertson
14th and Merchant Sts., northwest corner
photo courtesy of John Domansky, Jr.
used with permission

My cousin Dorothy played the accordion when she came to visit, a block party started here. Polkas on 14th Street!
I roamed free on my own for a lot of years. Having no car until out here in Chicago, I walked all over, 14th St. to Divine Redeemer was daily.*
I walked to Fair Oaks to visit the Otrahalics on Ambridge Ave. I'd walk to the Fair Oaks Bowling Alley on Big Sewickley Creek Rd. and the gas station next to it, even down to Zassick's farm to ride a horse or to Firemen's Park for a picnic.* A big 50-foot electric tower was in Big Sewickley Creek, the water was about seven-feet deep and diveable, so I did it, I dove off the concrete pad, about eight-feet high. I fished many times too.
I also remember when the bridge over Big Sewickley Creek going down to Ambridge was walked over by using only boards. This was at Ambridge Ave. at the sharp curve to go through Fair Oaks. The bridge was the only entrance into the valley behind Ambridge Ave. towards the hills behind. They built a new bridge in the late '70s. **
The 291 Fourteenth Street tailor shop, Hacker's, somehow deep in my memory, I see that name. The son was Clayton Marquette, trainer of 1972 Olympian winner Cathy Rigby. I have a May 5, 1972, Life magazine with a four-page layout on Cathy, and it shows Bud, as he was known, a former AAU gymnastic champ himself. Many days we walked on our hands in front of both tailor shops. Oh yes, I see a Hacker, a short German guy there, but not Bud's name, maybe he was adopted. Bud worked at H. H. Robertson also, like me. He cut all the crating lumber to ship the skylights I made. Bud tried to get me into the Maennerchor gym on Sherman St. I was a natural athlete and diver, have eight stitches in my head from top rock diving at the Chicago Coast Guard Station at 95th St. in Chicago. I would go to the Beaver River and dive off bluffs, and dive off the Baden docks which were 10-feet high. I threatened to dive off the Ambridge - Aliquippa Bridge a few times.
I came here to Chicago for work. I was laid off from Robertson in early '54, ended up at Republic Steel, retired in 1995 after 40 years as a welder, furniture refinisher, meat cutter, and still yet, antique dealer and seller and buyer, on eBay since 1998.

John Domansky, Jr. is a frequent commenter on this blog. He's hoping to connect with people who knew him when he lived in Ambridge, or people who grew up in Ambridge when he did. If you fall into either category, please leave a comment below.

* At the time John Jr. was growing up, the Divine Redeemer School was located at 300 Merchant St., currently the location of Karnavas Vending Co.

** Zassick's farm and Firemen's Park were once on Big Sewickley Creek Road. The park was where the Economy Borough sewage plant and Hrinko Trucking are now located.

*** The new bridge was constructed in the late 1970s at the intersection of Ambridge Ave. and Main St. after the Ambridge end of Valley Rd. was cut off from the Harmony Township end because Big Sewickley Creek was causing the road to subside. Before then, both ends of Valley Rd. were connected.


  1. I am guessing that you are actually referring to the Lias Family. My father was David Lias, and we grew up hearing many, many stories about his swims across the river--both directions because he'd shed his clothes on the Ambridge side, swim across, then have to swim back to retrieve his clothes.

    Unfortunately, Dad passed away about 6 months ago.

    Carol Lias Mandera

    1. jd aka john domaansky

      hi carol,
      your dad was david, there was also a russell that i hung with at river, part of the river rat gang. russel lias sounds like ruselias when your a kid, do not recall your dad, i think there were 5 kids in all?? how old was he? i found russell lias in the 1947 & 48 yearbooks, soph & junior, do not have the 1949 yearbook, when russell graduated. david is not in those yearbooks, they lived on wagner & 12th st right behind slaviks grocery & tavern on corner & house faced wagner. how long did they live there?? from WV right?? somehow i heard they were in the family that had the horse race track in wheeling??

    2. I'll change the spelling to Lias. Thanks.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. jd aka john domansky

    i just read via email from nancy some comments made on facebook, how touching & heart warming to know there was any response at all, i offer anyone that comments here & i recall anything about their own family & relatives that i had contact with i will try to honestly answer what they ask about. i had very much contact w/many good people & would love to share what memories i have for them.