Saturday, November 28, 2015

1950's big post-Thanksgiving snowstorm

No one saw it coming. There was no warning. No one was prepared. No one knew to stock up on bread, milk, and toilet paper.

The weather forecast for the day after Thanksgiving was for "snow squalls," windy, and colder.

Snow reportedly started falling in the Ambridge area on the morning after Thanksgiving. Friday's Daily Citizen headline was "Surprise Snowstorm Hits District, 3 in. fall, more tonight."

The "more" turned out to be right.

By the time of Friday's morning commute, road conditions were already bad, and travel was slow and difficult. Several minor accidents had been reported. And the snow was still falling.

Traffic snarl in snowstorm
State St., Baden
Daily Citizen
November 24, 1950

Original caption:
LET IT SNOW! LET IT SNOW! LET IT SNOW! And that just what it is doing today in Ambridge and the district. With a cold wave and winds propelling the whiteness from the west, the actual fall is yet to be determined. Starting at shortly before 6 a.m., the skies were overcast during the morning hours. Traffic was snarled and many people were late for work. The above scene was snapped on State St., Baden, showing extent of the traffic jam.
The Citizen reported that buses, as well as cars, were hampered by the slippery roads, and hundreds of workers were late to work that morning. Nothing was moving at all in more rural areas. The fact that the sudden snow wasn't predicted meant many cars didn't have snow tires or chains, and pedestrians weren't properly dressed for a heavy snowfall.

The snow kept falling.

Friday's Post-Gazette said in an article about the coldest weather of the season arriving in the area that day, "Snow accompanying the new cold wave is not expected to be heavy." That prediction about the snow turned out to be a tad off.

By the time workers left their shifts in the afternoon, they were stuck where they were. The buses had stopped running. Cabs weren't running. Even if drivers could dig out their cars, the roads were now impassable. Walking was difficult, if not impossible, with deep snow now covering sidewalks. And the snow was still coming down.

The Citizen's Friday forecast for Saturday was "more snow and cold."

And indeed, there was more snow.

The Citizen didn't publish on either Saturday or Sunday, but Saturday's Pittsburgh Press predicted a record-setting snowfall of 12 inches.

The Post-Gazette Saturday morning edition headlined "SNOWFALL NEARING 15 INCHES, Worst Storm in 6 Years Snarls Traffic for Hours. Street Car, Auto and Bus Travel Paralyzed Here." And more snow flurries were predicated.

The Post-Gazette reported the snow had fallen steadily for nearly 20 hours. That combined with high winds and temperatures that had fallen one degree every two hours, had created ice coated streets and "mountainous snowdrifts."

And how were conditions in Ambridge? The headline of the Daily Citizen on Monday, November 27, 1950, read "BURGESS DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY."

It looks like snow still may have been falling in the photo below. The photo was taken on Fourth St. near Merchant St. The building to the left would have been the Nicholas Grill, 401 Merchant. Later, the building became the Red Bull Inn, and is currently apartments. In the background, you can see the rear of what was then Holy Trinity Church at 415 Melrose Ave. [update November 29, 2015: The Holy Trinity building was brand new at the time and would be dedicated on December 17, 1950.]

Thanksgiving weekend big snow
Fourth and Merchant Sts.
November 1950
photo courtesy of Butch O'Keefe
used with permission

Snowfall in Ambridge was reportedly 26 inches, but drifts were significantly higher. Still, the Citizen reported that the digging out was going well and "well advanced in most communities." Ambridge's main and secondary streets (supposedly) were open, and side streets were expected to be "accessible" soon. State highway help had not shown up yet, and bulldozers from American Bridge Co. and Spang-Chalfant were among the vehicles being pressed into snow clearing service.

The photo below shows the conditions on the 600 block of Merchant St. Visible are Charles Men's Wear, 639 Merchant St., Isaly's, 643 Merchant, and Edel's Children's Shop, 647 Merchant.

Thanksgiving weekend big snow
600 block of Merchant St.
Daily Citizen
November 27, 1950

The Daily Citizen caption for the above photo read:

Many vehicles stuck in the deep snow and ruts on Merchant St. during the heavy snow storm. Cars were stranded in practically every street of the town. This truck was given an assist by others to get away from the curb.

Thanksgiving weekend big snow
600 block of Maplewood Ave.
Daily Citizen
November 27, 1950

Original Daily Citizen caption:
THIS SCENE SHOWS the effects of the storm in the 600 block Maplewood Avenue.

Industry kept going. All Ambridge area plants and mills except for H. H. Robertson were operating, although many employees were still digging out.

Thanksgiving weekend big snow
American Bridge Company
Ohio River Blvd.
November 1950
photo courtesy of Butch O'Keefe
used with permission

The photo below shows another view of Merchant and Fourth Sts., looking east, up the hill towards Duss Ave.

[Updated November 29, 2015:
I believe, but am not sure, that at the time,

The three-story brick building at 398 Merchant St. was the Hess Hotel, later the Fox Hotel. (Confirmed by Butch O'Keefe). If you know for sure, please leave a comment.

Also, if you know the identity of the businesses in the building to the far right that says "upholster(ing?) on the window and "Furniture Service" on the sign above the window, the next building to the east that may say "Barber Shop" on the window, or was at the southwest corner of Fourth and Merchant, please let me know.

According to Butch, the building to the far right that says "upholster(ing?) on the window and "Furniture Service" on the sign above the window, was Walgoria Upholstery & Furniture Repair. Butch says the building at the southwest corner of Fourth and Merchant was Laman's Wallpaper and Paint. The business between Walgoria and Laman's that may say "Barber Shop" on the window, remains unidentified. If you can identify it, please let me know.]

Thanksgiving weekend big snow
Fourth and Merchant Sts. looking east towards Duss Ave.
November 1950
photo courtesy of Butch O'Keefe
used with permission

Most stores in Ambridge were closed, but food stores that managed to open were busy. The photo below showed the line in front of the Kroger's market on Saturday, November 25. At the time, Kroger's was at 625 Merchant St. Later, a Sun Drug Store occupied that building, currently the location of the River Valley Tang Soo Do Academy.

"Prospective customers waiting outside Kroger store"
625 Merchant St.
Saturday, November 25
Daily Citizen, November 27, 1950

In the photo of the 500 block of Merchant St. looking north, you can see Davidson's Department Store, 510 Merchant on the right, and the AmBee Shoppe's oval sign at 517 Merchant.

Thanksgiving weekend big snow
500 block of Merchant St.
November 1950
photo courtesy of Butch O'Keefe
used with permission

All borough employee leaves had been canceled, as had garbage and ash collection.

Public and parochial schools were closed too, but were expected to reopen on Wednesday, November 29. While school entrances were said to have been cleared, the roads weren't cleared for buses, and teachers were snowbound in their homes.
1950 Thanksgiving weekend big snow
Ambridge High School
Bridger yearbook, 1951

1950 Thanksgiving weekend big snow
area between back of Ambridge High School and Stadium
Bridger yearbook, 1951

A single lane had been cleared up Breitenstein Rd. as far as Ridge Rd. and then to Wilson Ave. Harmony Township police and employees of municipal departments tried to reach isolated homes to deliver medicine, bread, milk, and other needed supplies. "Their only pause in the 'missions of mercy' being for short meals," the Citizen reported.

Some buses were running on Monday. Woodlawn and Southern was "maintaining schedules." The Beaver Valley and Ohio River buses hoped to be operating by Tuesday.

Burgess Walter Panek asked those shoveling sidewalks and roofs not to throw snow into the streets and to make sidewalk paths wide enough for pedestrians to walk.

According to the U.S. National Weather Service, the November 24 - 26, 1950, snowstorm is still the largest snowfall on record in Pittsburgh, with an official depth of 27.4 inches.

Next: the cleanup after 1950's Thanksgiving weekend big snow.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Ambridge memorabilia: Grand opening Leo's Pharmacy--and Pat Boone

What's the connection between Ambridge's Leo's Pharmacy and singer and actor Pat Boone?

Sue Ann James says she got the flier below with Pat Boone's "autographed" photo when, as a kid, she went to the Ambridge Theatre to see a Pat Boone movie, probably April Love. That movie came out in 1957, the year Boone's movie career began. Sue Ann says that she probably thought the autograph was real back then.

The Leo's Pharmacy ad was on the reverse of the Boone photo. In 1957, that pharmacy, owned by Leo Karolewski, was at 700 Merchant St., which was part of the Ambridge Theatre building. The pharmacy remained in that location until 1965, when the theatre building was sold to Pittsburgh National Bank and razed. Leo's then moved to a larger store at 663 Merchant.

However, the "Grand Opening of the All New!" pharmacy must have been the opening of a remodeled store, since Leo's had been at 700 Merchant since the early 1950's, before Boone's career began. I don't have the exact date Leo's opened at 700 Merchant, but the July 27, 1965, Beaver County Times article about the pharmacy's relocating to 663 Merchant says that Leo's had been at 700 Merchant for 12 years, so circa 1953. And I have found several Leo's ads with that address from 1955 and '56, including one from Ambridge's Golden Jubilee celebration in 1955.

"Autographed" Pat Boone photo
courtesy Sue Ann James

Leo's Pharmacy "Grand Opening" ad
reverse of Pat Boone photo above
700 Merchant St.
courtesy Sue Ann James

A check of the 1957 calendar shows that September 5, 6, and 7, were indeed a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. So it seems likely that Sue Ann was right, and this flyer was handed out when April Love played at the Ambridge Theatre.

The Huntington Bank building in Ambridge is currently located at 700 Merchant.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ambridge memorabilia: Evans' Market account book

Many neighborhood market owners trusted their regular customers enough to let them buy "on credit." How did small market owners keep track of what they were owed by customers who didn't have enough money to pay for their groceries in full? 

Before there were "charge cards," there were account books. This book is from Evans' Market, one of the many small mom and pop markets that once were found in just about every Ambridge neighborhood.

Account book
Evans' Market
312 First St.
owned by Bob Mikush

Note the "Amb. 6" phone number.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ambridge policewomen 1953

Ambridge employed its first women police officers in October 1950, when five women were hired at a time when "lady cops" were still a rarity in the area. When the borough hired these women, with pay of $60 a month, it was primarily to act as school crossing guards. But when a woman was in police custody, they also were expected to assist with transporting and searching her.

I'm not sure what the November 1953 photo below of the women officers with Burgess Walter Panek and a small girl is about. I'm going to guess some kind of charity drive was involved, since those white cylinders look like collection canisters.

Ambridge women police officers, Mayor Panek, and unidentified girl
November 1953
photo courtesy of Bob Mikush
used with permission

The women aren't identified in the photo, but I think that they are, from left to right:

Doris Pastrick, Mary Fazar, Kay Kokoski, Doris Tarquinio, Helen Gebet, and Mary Dobrosielski.

Fazar crossed Divine Redeemer and First Ward students at 3rd and Merchant Sts. Kokoski crossed St. Veronica students at 8th St. Gebet crossed Liberty School students at 5th St. and Duss Ave. I don't know about where the others were assigned.

If I got the name of any officer wrong, or you know the name of the little girl, the reason for the photo, and/or the crossing assignments for the rest of the officers, please leave a comment.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Spang-Chalfant Veterans Memorial

Today is Veterans Day, so it seemed like an apt day to post this:

Spang-Chalfant Veterans Memorial
Beaver Valley Times
July 15, 1954

Original caption:
SPANG-CHALFANT MEMORIAL -- John Delai, left, and Lawrence McCandless, right, read the inscription on the new memorial bronze plaque erected in honor of employes of Spang-Chalfant Division of National Supply Company, Ambridge, who served in the U. S. Armed Forces.
According to the article that appeared with this photo, this memorial was a replacement for one that had been erected during WWII, but had deteriorated due to weather.

The new memorial, designed by two employees of Spang's industrial relations department, Lee Crane and William Cramer, was designed to withstand weather and be a "perpetual memorial." The bronze plaque was mounted on a wall 10 feet high and 8 feet wide built with 1,500 bricks, topped with a limestone slab, and resting on a concrete base.

The memorial plaque, minus its wall, is now in Ambridge's P.J. Caul Park on 11th and Merchant Sts.

Spang-Chalfant Veterans Memorial
P. J. Caul Park
March 22, 2014
credit: Nancy Knisley

The plaque's inscription reads:

    This tablet is dedicated
    in sincere tribute to our employees
    both living and dead, who anwered
    the call of duty to serve in the armed forces
    of the United States.
    * * * * * * * * *
    Let us cherish the sacred memory of
    their struggle to preserve our American heritage, that government
    of the people, by the people,
    for the people shall not
    perish from the earth.

    Division of the
    National Supply Company

Update November 12, 2015:

The wall that the plaque was on still stands on the property of the Ambridge Regional Distribution & Manufacturing Center. The photo below was provided by Debi Leopardi, Managing Director.

Spang-Chalfant Veterans Memorial Wall
Ambridge Regional Distribution and Manufacturing Center
November 12, 2015

Monday, November 9, 2015

Ambridge Memorabilia: Franklin Flower Shop

1927 calendar
The Franklin Flower Shop
551 Merchant St.
owned by John Domansky

The calendar is 6 1/2 inches wide and 11 inches long.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

WWII: American Bridge Company War Loan Drive Rally

"7th War Loan Drive Rally"
American Bridge Company Ambridge Plant
Fabricating Division
April 24, 1945
photo courtesy Borough of Ambridge
used with permission

The number of surviving members of WWII veterans is rapidly falling.

Do you recognize any of the men in the above photo?

Remember Veteran's Day is next Wednesday, November 11.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Vlasic's Market, later Gorup's Market

On May 12, 2015, I wrote about John Vlasic Groceries, 338 Maplewood Ave. John's brother Nick also owned a neighborhood market, Vlasic's Market, 198 Maplewood Ave.

The photo below shows the Nick Vlasic family in front of the market. The man standing next to the Vlasic's delivery truck is unidentified.

Sophia and Nick Vlasic and daughters Marion and Alberta
Vlasic's Market
198 Maplewood Ave.
circa late 1920s - early 1930s
courtesy of Frank Gorup
used with permission

Nick, Sophia, and Marion Vlasic
circa mid-1920s
courtesy of Frank Gorup
used with permission

According to a Vlasic relative, Nick Vlasic and another Vlasic brother, Matt, also owned the Vlasic Brothers Markets in the 1920s: 160 Maplewood Ave., 345 Maplewood Ave., and 798 Fifteenth St.;

Nick died in 1932. His wife, Sophia, then married Frank Gorup, and the store became Gorup's Market.

Gorup's Market closed in 1962.

The two photos above came from Frank Gorup's son, also named Frank, via Mary Ann Vlasic Syzmoniak.

I always thought the market's building was beautiful with its white bricks, decorative brick trim, and green tiles at the top of the front facade. It was so different from the other buildings in Ambridge, it was as though it had been transported to Ambridge from a more exotic place.

When I was in Ambridge in September, the 198 Maplewood Ave. building was boarded up.

198 Maplewood Ave.
September 27, 2015
credit: Nancy Knisley