Friday, August 14, 2015

Ambridge's triangle buildings--there was more than one

We interrupt the blogging about the Ambridge Golden Jubilee celebration to bring you this post by popular demand.

People keep asking about "the triangle building" that once stood at the intersection of Beaver and Merchant Sts., and if I have a photo of it. Frequently, some folks also ask, "What was that triangle building?" A lot of people remember the building because anyone traveling over the Big Sewickley Creek Bridge from Ambridge into Fair Oaks had to go right by it.

The Slovenian National Home
The triangle building we remember was the Slovenian National Home, or in Slovenian: Slovenski Narodni Dom (S.N.D.), sometimes called the "Slovenian Auditorium," sometimes called "The Slovenian Club," often simply referred to as "the triangle building."

Slovenian Auditorium
120 Merchant St.
Daily Citizen Trade Area Directory

The area's Slovene's first organized in 1925. Like many ethnic groups, the Slovenian immigrants, many who didn't speak English, wanted a place to speak their language, share stories about and news from "the old county," and socialize. That group eventually became the basis for the S.N.D.

The S.N.D.'s first home was in rented space at 135 Merchant St., then, in 1937, the S.N.D. moved to its own building at 127 Merchant St., and in 1946, it bought and moved into the larger triangle building at 114-120 Merchant St.

Here's the southern end of a map of Ambridge from the Beaver County Bicentennial Atlas showing the intersection of Beaver Rd. and Merchant St. It's the area in pink. Later, Beaver Rd. was re-named Beaver St., although many long-time residents continued to call it Beaver Road. It is still called Beaver Rd. on the map below.

south Ambridge
edited from
Beaver County Bicentennial Atlas

S.N.D. bar
Daily Citizen Trade Area Directory

"Old Slovenian Club"
Date unknown
First Street Reunion book, 2009

The S.N.D. building was, at one time, home to a number of Slovenian organizations including: S.N.D. Ladies Auxiliary; S.N.P.J. #33 (Slovenska Narodna Podporna Jednota or Slovene National Benefit Society); S.N.P.J. #699; K.S.K.J. #183 (Kranjsko slovenska katoliška jednota or Carniolan Slovene Catholic Union); S.Z.Z. #74 (Slovensko zavarovalno združenje or Slovenian Insurance Association); Reveliers Lodge #699; Revelier Youth Circle; and Junior Revelier Chorus.

Like most other Ambridge ethnic clubs, the S.N.D. offered a variety of activities: dances, banquets, softball teams, and, of course, bowling. 

The S.N.D. remained at the triangle building until 1972 when the First Street area was being cleared for redevelopment. The two photos of the building below must have been taken shortly before the building was razed, the "Slovenian Auditorium" sign is gone. I also remember a large sign that said, "Slovenski Narodni Dom" once being near the top of the building in the late 1950s - 1960s; it's also gone.

"Triangle Building"
intersection of Merchant St. and Beaver St.
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

"Triangle Building"
intersection of Merchant St. and Beaver St.
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Folks older than I am remember that in the 1930s and, perhaps 1940s, Levy's Furniture store was on the ground floor of the building, and the S. N. D. was on the floor above, with a third floor being added later. 

After the Beaver County Redevelopment Authority bought the building in 1972, the S.N.D. moved to a new building at 199 Park Rd., on land either bought from, or donated by, American Bridge (U.S. Steel Corp.), depending on what account one may find.

That new building, usually referred to as The Slovenian Center, was sold in 1993, after the organization's expenses had become larger than its income. According to a June 28, 1993, Beaver County Times article, membership and events had dropped because members were older and less active, younger people weren't interested in joining, and--this is so Ambridge--new, stricter drunk driving laws cut into liquor sales.

The Beaver County Jobs Center moved into a new building built where the S.N.D. building once stood. The Social Security Administration is now in that building. 

Earlier triangle buildings
But the S.N.D. wasn't the first "triangle building" that stood at that intersection. 

 S. P. Kristufek's Store
Ambridge Economy Citizen
December 16, 1904

A 1905 Sanborn insurance map of Ambridge shows a general store on the first floor, and "Hotel Kristufek" on the second floor, of what appears to be a triangular building at the intersection of a street labeled "Duss Av." and Merchant St., between First and Second Sts. (A 1917 Sanborn map shows the same street intersecting with Merchant labeled "Beaver Rd. (Duss Av.)")

That building burned down, and a second building was built. A photo of that new building being constructed appeared in a 1909 publication of the Wood, Wire and Metal Lathers' International Union, The Lather. Thanks to Maria Notarianni who found this gem:

New S. P. Kristufek's Department Store
120 Merchant Street
The Lather
Vol. 9, No. 7
May 1909

Original text: 
The above illustrates S. P. Kristufek's new triangular store, which is being erected on the site of one burned last fall. Mr. Kristufek will be seen in the foreground. This work is in Ambridge, Pa. and is being done by local 263's men. Brother Linhorn as foreman, Warren, Buckles and Skinner.
The department store was a success. A November 26, 1916, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about Ambridge businessmen said that the S. P. Kristufek Department Store, "known throughout the district as the 'Big Triangle,' is one of the busy centers of the community."

The photo below shows the S. P. Kristufek Department Store in 1912. The man in the apron is S. P. Kristufek,* the woman on the left side of the store wearing an apron is his wife, Mary; daughter Rose is standing near Mary; his mother is standing in front of the building.

The street on the left was then called Beaver Rd., later changed to Beaver Street. Merchant Street runs along the right side. Across Merchant stands a water tower and the east end of the Marshall Alley homes.

S. P. Kristufek Department Store
intersection of Merchant St and Beaver Rd. (now Beaver St.)
William Bowan collection

The 1912 photo was featured in a September 12, 1983, Beaver County Times article, "Nostalgia--Marketing returns the good old days" by Joe Tronzo, Beaver County Times Staff.

Tronzo wrote: "Kristufek's sold meat, groceries, paints, varnishes, clothes, furniture, carpets, and everything from flypaper to wedding gowns." **

He says:
The Kristufek store was burned when Kristufek refused a demand that he pay $200 in protection money.
A man named Redlilck later built a brick building at the site dealing in grocery and meats. 
So both Kristufek's stores were destroyed by fire? Or was the first building the one torched by extortionists? I hope that more research will clear up the sequence of events.

[Update: December 18, 2015: Unless S. P. Kristufek was threatened with extortion and was a victim of arson twice, the Kristufek Store shown being constructed in 1909 in the photo above and shown in the 1912 photograph, is not the store that was destroyed in a fire after an extortion attempt. That fire was in 1908.

In Laughlin Memorial Library, I found some notes that I believe were written by the late Ambridge historian William (Bill) Bowan that, as far as I can tell, were based on research in the Ambridge-Economy Citizen. According to the notes, the newspaper reported on January 25, 1908, that S. P. Kristufek had received a "Black Hand" letter*** demanding $200. Another note, probably from the September 11, 1908, issue of the 
Aliquippa Standard says, "S. P. Kristufek Store at Triangle Burned. Thought to be work of previous threat from Black Handers."

However, the September 7, 1908, (Pittsburgh) Gazette Times article about the fire gives a different cause of the fire. The article begins:

The first landmarks of the new town of Ambridge with four horses were burned early yesterday morning, despite the efforts of the Fair Oaks, Economy, Ambridge and American Bridge Company's fire departments. The loss is $7,500, cover by insurance. "Triangle Square," the pride of the new steel town, went up in smoke because of an overheated oven in Christopher Damak's bakery, which occupied one building. Several persons narrowly escaped with their lives. 
That article further reported these losses: S. T. and M. A. Kristusk (sic), three-story brick and frame buildings, $5,000; Tony Dolenso, four-story fame building used as a butcher shop and apartments, $2,500.

End of update].

The "man named Redlilck" mentioned in the Times article was actually named "Redlich." Max and/or Mary Redlich owned the building in the 1920s. Then their building was also destroyed by fire. And their last name again was misspelled in a news article about the fire, only misspelled differently:

A front page story of the March 17, 1930, The Daily Times, headlined, "Truck Driver Rescues Two Girls From Roof, Fireman Badly Hurt," reported:

Sunday morning at 2 o'clock fire destroyed the three-story Triangle building, Merchant street and Beaver road, Ambridge, causing damage estimated at $56,000...The interior of the building was burned out, leaving only the walls standing.
The article said that Abraham "Redlick" **** was the proprietor of a department store on the ground floor and the owner was Mary Redlick, wife of Max Redlick. A Greek coffee house was on the second floor. Apartments were on the "two upper floors."

At the time the article was written, the cause of the fire was undetermined.

Bill Bowan noted on the aerial shot below of the First Ward, also known as "Hunky Town," that it was taken in 1925. So the triangle building shown on the far right, mid-photo,***** must have been the one owned by Redlich's before the 1930 fire.

Ambridge's First Ward aerial
Laughlin Memorial Library Archives

The Redlich's rebuilt their building, but ran into financial problems. In 1931 their property was listed in a Sheriff's Sale notice which described a brick building with a store, and a Greek coffeehouse on the second floor. An adjoining three-story brick building had three five-room apartments.

Except for the Levy's Furniture store being there, I'm not sure yet what happened to or in the building between 1931 and 1946 when it was bought by the Slovenian National Home.


* Note this store was owned by S. P. (Stephen) Kristufek, not his better-known brother, Charles Kristufek, who owned a realty and insurance company and Ambridge Lumber and Builders Supplies on Duss Avenue. However, in 1903, Charles Kristukek also owned a general store, on First St. That wood-framed building was also destroyed in a fire, and replaced by a three-story brick building at 300 First St. in 1908. (Historical Voyage, Pictorial Review of the Beaver Valley, The Beaver County Times, 2004)

There were more Stephen Kristufeks who owned other small groceries in Ambridge: Stephen E. Kristufek, S. P.'s son, owned a store at 290 First St. Stephen E. Kristufek and his wife, Agnes, owned Kristufek's Market on Spruce St. And Stephen G. Kristufek, son of Stephen E., owned Kristufek's Grocery at 2658 Beaver Rd.

** In The Beaver County Time's article, Tronzo noted the stable behind the store on the Beaver Rd. side and the horse and wagon used for deliveries. And that dark sculpture-like thing at the intersection's point?  That's a three-level water trough: one bowl for humans, a big one for horses, and the lowest one for dogs.

*** "Black Hand" letters were apparently a well-known means of extortion in the early 20th Century. I have found at least two other old news reports of Ambridge residents receiving a Black Hand letter. One was the well-known Ambridge businessman Frank Biola.

**** I don't know if there was once another Abe Redlich from Ambridge, and so, a very unfortunate coincidence, but an Ambridge man named Abe Redlich, a confessed firebug, was part of a notorious arson gang. Among its jobs in Western PA, the gang set fire to the Better Value Shoe Store, 706 Merchant St. Twice. Within a few months of each other. The first fire was on December 25, 1931, the second, in April 1932. The gang was paid by the store owners, William Lazor and his nephew, Daniel Lazor, to burn down the store. Twice.

***** The photo, part of a much larger aerial photo of the south part of Ambridge, also shows the three rows of Marshall Alley homes, slightly below the center of the photo, as well as the Bank Street homes and apartments at the bottom. All are now gone.


  1. jd aka john domansky

    from the william bowan collection photo, is that the same bowan family that lived at about 20th & lenz ave area, had a nice looking 1954 chevy belaire aqua, convert or hardtop, not sure which?

    walked past narodni dom many times, always recall the back inside, beaver rd side being empty & vandalized & foul smelling inside area.

    wow all those firebugs in ambridge, unreal

  2. Phenomenal article! Thank you!

  3. My name is Philip Levy and I was the son of Morris Levy, the owner of the Levy furniture store. The store was open during the depression and before I was born (1931). He had a mattress factory in Pittsburgh which went bankrupt during the depression so he decided to open the store to start over. His biggest seller was bathtubs because they were used for stills to make whiskey during prohibition. Although it was named "furniture company" is also sold linoleum rugs, ice boxes, hardware, kerosene lamps and mattresses, etc. I use to help in the store while I was growing up and when I got old enough to get a driver's license at age 16, I delivered all the deliveries around Ambridge. I ended up going to college and medical school at the University of Pittsburgh. The store closed when my father died in 1952.