Monday, December 19, 2016

Ambridge memorabilia: Tait's Garage sign

This "Taits Garage" sign is one of the larger pieces of Ambridge memorabilia someone has shared with me.

"Taits Garage" sign
owned by Gary Augustine
photo credit: Nancy Knisley
April 6, 2016

This white metal sign with blue lettering once hung on the Tait's Garage building at 1307 Merchant St. I didn't think to measure it when I photoed it, and I'm terrible at estimating the dimensions of things, but I'd say the sign is maybe five feet long by four inches high. When I find out the actual dimensions from the sign's owner, Gary Augustine, I'll update this post.

Tait's Garage ad
Economy Centennial Souvenir Program
June 1924

As far as I can determine, the Tait family built the garage building in 1920. The building was later occupied by R. E. Stettler & Sons, a Cadillac and Oldsmobile car dealership, then Economy Bowling Lanes. Economy Lanes was sold earlier this year and an antiques business will occupy the building.

Economy Lanes
1307 Merchant St.
April 6, 2016

Some Ambridge history buffs may recognize the name of the sign's owner, Gary Augustine, as a local LST expert. The reason he ended up with the Tait Garage sign is that his aunt was married to Harry Tait. The Tait family once owned a house at 288 Fourteenth St., now razed, as well as a livery stable behind the house that was razed in the 1980s.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Exploring Central Tube Company's neighborhood

Central Tube Company was in Ambridge from 1909 to 1940. The company was owned by Sewickley's Alexander Laughlin Sr., who built Ambridge's Laughlin Memorial Library in memory of his son, Alexander Laughlin, Jr. The mill buildings were north of Laughlin St. and east of Merchant St., later added to H. H. Robertson's property after Central Tube closed. Except for Centria's buildings, most of the area where Central Tube once stood is now vacant.

I've been curious about the scene on a vintage postcard, shown below, titled "Bird's Eye View, showing Central Tube Company Works, Ambridge, Pa." since I first saw it some time ago. While the postcard does show Central Tube Company in the background, it shows more of the neighborhood west of the mill from a vantage point that I think can only be from the St. John's Lutheran Church steeple. The postcard is undated, but one like it on eBay was listed as postmarked 1916.

Because the postcard isn't a photograph, but rather an artist's drawing, I wondered how accurately the buildings in the foreground had been drawn and whether any still existed. I didn't immediately recognize any of them, but eventually tentatively identified one of the buildings, a Harmonist building with a distinctive extension on its north side, as 1412 Merchant St.

I decided to take a walk around the area to see if I could identify any of the buildings in the photo with some degree of confidence. Not easy since many of them are shown from the side or back, not a street-side view.

I showed the postcard to Bob Mikush, my Ambridge history buddy, and told him of my plans to try to ID the buildings. Bob pointed to the long gray building in the center front. "That building is still there on 14th St." Of course! The old Harmony Hotel/Economy Hotel, now brown, but recognizable.

So with the former Harmony Hotel as my starting point, I set off on my walk, accompanied by Bob who was intrigued by the project.

On the postcard, I've numbered the buildings we were able to find:

"Bird's Eye View, showing Central Tube Company Works"
circa 1916

1. 270 Fourteenth St.

#1 on postcard
270 Fourteenth St.
Google Street View
October 2013

2. 274 Fourteenth St. According to Old Economy Village, this was the first George Rapp House.

#2 on postcard
274 Fourteenth St.
Google Street View
October 2013

3. 271 Fourteenth St. [Update January 20, 2019: I've learned this information from the Ambridge Historic District EDC: "Built late in the 19th century, this was once the doctor’s office and supplied much medical attention to the people in the area."]

#3 on postcard
271 Fourteenth St.
August 6, 2016

 4. 273 Fourteenth St.

#4 on postcard
273 Fourteenth St.
August 6, 2016

273 and left side of 277 Fourteenth St.
August 6, 2016

5. 277 Fourteenth St.: This doesn't look like a Harmonist building, but it was. According to Old Economy Village, this was the first Frederick Rapp house. The 1905 Sanborn map labels it "Harmony Hotel"; the 1911 Sanborn map labels it "Economy Hotel." Note, this is not the famous Economy/Old Economy Hotel that once stood on the southeast corner of 14th St. and Merchant.  [Update June 7, 2017: An older Ambridge resident told me that when he was young, this building was reputed to be a brothel.]

#5 on postcard
277 Fourteenth St.
August 6, 2016

6. 287 Fourteenth St.

# 6 on postcard
287 Fourteenth St. (left house), 289 Fourteenth to right
August 6, 2016

7. 289 Fourteenth St.

#7 on postcard
289 Fourteenth St.
August 6, 2016

8. 1412 Merchant St., the distinctive addition on the left side helped to confirm the identity of this building.

#8 on postcard
1412 Merchant St.
Google Street View
August 2016

9. 1415 Merchant St. The most helpful clue as to the identity of this building was the window pattern on the left side.

#9 on postcard
1415 Merchant St.
August 6, 2016

10. 1499 Merchant St. There's now a one-story addition on the left side of 1499 Merchant St. This building's front roof line and the windows on the left side helped to identify it.

#10 on postcard
1499 Merchant St.
August 6, 2016

If you can identify any of the other buildings shown in the postcard, please let me know, and if you can, send along a photo of the building.

Here's a scan of the back of the postcard.

reverse of postcard above

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Steve Horlick and his stores

S. G. (Steve) Horlick was a prominent Ambridge businessman in Ambridge's early years, perhaps known as much--if not more--for his sponsorship of Ambridge sports teams as for his merchandise. Local historian Bill Bowan wrote on the reverse of one of the photos below, "Steve Horlick was one of Ambridge's most beloved fans of sports. He promoted athletics among the town's young people and was a great community booster."

Horlick had two stores over the years. Bowan didn't give the street address of either store, but said that Horlick's first store was between 4th and 5th St., "about 4th Bldg. from 5th." That was the store shown in the photo immediately below. Baseball scores are written on the window, and a big display of The Saturday Evening Post is featured in the center.

S. G. Horlick's store
probably 467 Merchant St.
circa 1915
courtesy John S. Dunn collection

Turns out, I know where the store above was located! A while back, I was reading about the first Pittsburgh Press Marathon race in old newspapers and was excited to find the Press news photo below.

"Ambridge Checking Station"
Horlick's store
Merchant St.
Pittsburgh Press
Jan. 30, 1909

Pittsburgh Press caption:
This picture shows S. Horlick's news agency at Ambridge where tab is being kept on the runners in the Press Marathon race as they pass through the town.
That 1909 marathon was from Rochester to Pittsburgh, so the race course came through Ambridge. A few weeks before the race, writer Gertrude Gordon wrote about her travels over the marathon course in the January 12, 1909, Press:
At Ambridge a checking station was placed at the store of A. G. Horlick, newsdealer. I spent a very enjoyable half-hour in his store, listening to a really good graphophone, and making friends with his huge white dog, Tige. Mr. Horlick told me everybody in Ambridge has been talking about The Press Marathon race. After a very good lunch, which we obtained in a little restaurant across the road from Mr. Horlick's, and as god [sic] a cup of cocoa as I ever have tasted, we boarded the splendid Pierce-Arrow and drove home in the snow storm, arriving here late in the evening.
I don't know yet if "A. G. Horlick" mentioned in the passage above was a typo or if a relative of Steve Horlick owned the newsstand in 1909.

(Note the Chinese Hand Laundry on the very right of the Press photo.)

The building was divided into two storefronts, and I don't know for sure which one was occupied by Horlick's store, but a 1911 Sanborn Insurance map shows the storefront closer to 5th St. was a "News Stand and Tobacco" business.

While the facade of the building has been altered over the years, the location of Horlick's first store still stands.

463 - 467 Merchant St.
March 30, 2014
credit: Nancy Knisley

The next photo shows the interior of Horlick's first store, dated circa 1913 by Bowan:

Interior Horlick's store
probably 467 Merchant St.
circa 1913
courtesy John S. Dunn collection

About 1915 or 1916, Steve Horlick moved his store to the southeast corner of "6th and Merchant Sts." Bowan describes this second store as a sporting goods and tobacco store with a gymnasium in the basement. He notes: "Horlick shared this bldg. with Ambridge Post Office*, later with Ambridge National Bank." Those two businesses were directly on the corner at 598 Merchant; Holick's store was one storefront south at 578 Merchant.

Here's what the intersection of 6th and Merchant looked like around 1920. Horlick's second store would have been in the right storefront of the building in the forefront on the left.:

500 block Merchant St. looking south from 6th St.
circa late 1910-early 1920s
Beaver County Historical Research & Landmarks Foundation

Sadly, I don't have a photo of the facade of that second Horlick's store, but here are two photos of that store's window:

National Baseball Week display
Horlick's store window
578 Merchant St.
circa 1916
courtesy John S. Dunn collection

"Special Display Window of Rose-O-Cuba Cigars"
Horlick's store window
578 Merchant St.
May 15, 1916
courtesy John S. Dunn collection

And here's a photo of the interior of the second store:

"Steve Horlick's Sporting Goods Tobacco and News Store"
May 1924
courtesy John S. Dunn collection

Bill Bowan's note at the top says:
Dual Lighting System - Gas and Electric
Fosters Orchestra playing at Dance.
"Scaramouche" - showing at Prince Theatre

Here's the Horlick's ad from the 1924 Economy Centennial book:

S. G. Horlick ad
Economy Centennial Souvenir Program
Economy of Old, Ambridge of Today

I've come across several old Ambridge postcards published by "S. G. Horlick" including the one of American Bridge featured in my August 23, 2016, post "American Bridge and Ohio River postcard, 1920s."

I'm still looking for more information on Steve Horlick and his stores. The only additional bit of news I've found so far comes from the March 11, 1929, Daily Times, reporting on a 4 A. M. fire at S. G. Horlick's "newsstand and confectionery on the street floor of a two-story brick building at 6th and Merchant sts." By that time, Horlick was sharing the building with Barrett Pharmacy, and he and his family lived in an apartment over the store. The article said that the fire was believed to have been caused by a lighted cigarette that had been tossed through a manhole grating, starting a fire in some wastepaper in Barrett's basement. The fire was confined to the basement which was damaged by the fire and water, but the rest of the building was filled with smoke.

Also from the John S. Dunn collection: a photo of Steve Horlick's Ambridge Soccer team, circa 1905 - 06:

"Steve Horlick's Ambridge Soccer Football Team"
circa 1905 - 06
photo by Griffin Studios
courtesy John S. Dunn collection

Soccer team members listed:
1st row:
1. Frank Hulet
2. Joe Williams
3. Jock Sutherland
4. unidentified
5. Art Wardle

2nd row:
1. Jack Lothian
2. unidentified
3. Robert Rae

3rd row:
1. Steve Horlick
2. unidentified
3. John Bianchi
4. Wm. Brenner
5. unidentified

You can see a photo of one of Steve Horlick's baseball teams, "Our Boys," in my April 21, 2016 post "Group photo: Ambridge Our Boys baseball team 1919."


Thank you Maria Notarianni for scanning the John Dunn photos.

The building at 463 - 467 Merchant St. appeared to be empty the last time I walked by.  Over the years it was the Mayflower Restaurant, Saratoga Restaurant, at least two small groceries, and more recently, it was Bella Marie and G'lorenzo's restaurants.

The storefront at 578 Merchant St. was later the location of Katcher's Music and an early Katcher's Furniture store. After that, did that storefront become part of People's Service Drug Store and/or later Thrift Drug Store that were in the left side of the building, 598 Merchant?

* I am confused by Bowan's note saying that Horlick shared the building at the corner of 6th and Merchant with the post office, since according to my notes, elsewhere, Bowan wrote that the post office moved from the corner of 5th and Merchant Sts., where it was located in 1917, to the corner of 7th and Merchant Sts., which is where insurance maps show the post office in 1923. I'll recheck my notes and Bowan's, plus try to find other sources to reconcile the conflict. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Romano's Market

You could smell Salvatore (Sam) Romano's market before you saw it, especially when the weather was warm and the door was open, as the odors wafted along Merchant St.

Romano's, which opened circa 1940, specialized in imported food, most prominently Italian and Greek, but you could find ethnic foods eaten by just about every nationality group in Ambridge. And if Sam didn't have the item or ingredient you wanted, he'd try to get it for you.

Sam Romano in Romano's Market
703 Merchant St.
Beaver Valley Times
February 13, 1954

Times caption:
'I CAN GET IT FOR YOU' -- That's the slogan of Salvatore (Sam) Romano, proprietor of Romano's Market in Merchant Street, Ambridge, where foods from all points of the globe can be purchased. The slogan explains how. Romano's Market grew from a small grocery [to] its present eminence and unique status as a food store catering to patrons of practically every nationality.

I wish I had a photo of Romano's storefront, with its baskets and open barrels of food piled high on the sidewalk, and the entryway hung with strings of garlic and dried mushrooms, and ropes of sausages. And always, the source of the most dominant and unforgettable odor, dried cod (baccala). Most fascinating to me as a child were the barrels of large live snails which I'd watch crawling over damp straw.

Sam Romano at Romano's Market
Beaver County Times
July 3, 1964

Times caption:
SUCCESS STORY -- Ambridge food store owner Samuel Romano dips into a barrel of olives outside his Merchant Street store. Romano, who came to America from Sicily over 50 years ago, has kept his tiny specialty market virtually unchanged in the 24 years he has operated it. He has met successfully the challenge of the larger, self-service supermarket chains.

Exotic aromas emanated from inside the store too: the pungent smell of ripe cheeses; the spicy smell of salami, pepperoni, and other dried sausages; a heady mixture of a variety of herbs.

Need some preserved eels? You could get them at Romano's. Have a yen for some pickled pigs feet? Romano's had those too. Back in the day, you usually couldn't buy feta cheese in the chain groceries. But you could get it at Romano's. And long before olive bars appeared in some chain supermarkets, you could find an astonishing selection of varieties of olives at Romano's.

My mom bought her first pizzelle iron from Romano's.

According to the 1954 Beaver Valley Times article, Romano started in the produce business in Braddock. Then he and a relative opened a small food store on 4th St. in Ambridge before Romano moved to his 703 Merchant St. location two years later. Over the years, Romano's went by a number of variations of its name: Romano's Market, Romano's Foreign and Domestic Food Store, Romano's International Market, but the variety of the merchandise --and the odors--remained the same.

Romano's Foreign and Domestic Food Store ad
Beaver Valley Times
February 13, 1954

Sam Romano died suddenly in November 1973. Ni's Wok Chinese Food Carryout is the current business at 703 Merchant St.

Ni's Wok
703 Merchant St.
June 23, 2013
credit: Nancy Knisley

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Liberty School

Liberty School
5th St.
dated Sept. 3, 1931

Liberty School once stood on the north side of the 5th St. hill between Duss Ave. and Pine St., just east of Ambridge's older Harmony School. Harmony School may be remembered by some as St. Veronica High School, which leased the building from the Ambridge School District after Harmony closed as a public school.

The section of map below shows the location of the two schools along 5th St. The street at the bottom is Duss Ave. Pine St. is at the top. Harmony School is the lower of the two larger pink shapes; Liberty is above.

Location of Liberty and Harmony Schools
Sanborn Insurance map

The 12-room Liberty School, designed by architect W. Ward Williams, was built as an elementary school in 1917-1918 for $60,000, the next-to-last public elementary school to be built in Ambridge. Only Anthony Wayne School was built after Liberty.

Like Ambridge's other elementary schools, Liberty had a playground, fondly remembered by those who grew up in the neighborhood.

Liberty School
5th St.
Daily Times supplement?
August 10,1929
Louis Vukovcan Collection

Liberty and Harmony apparently were operated as a single school, at least for a while.

I found two news clippings with photos taken at Liberty School.

Firefighters visit Liberty School
Beaver Valley Times
May 22, 1954

Times caption:
THRILL OF A LIFETIME -- Ambridge fireman Russell McCutcheon and Walter Jovanovich show first grade Liberty School children of Ellen Brown's class the workings of the new ladder fire truck. Several boys remarked they are going to be firemen when they grow up.

Sixth grade weather station
Liberty School
Beaver County Times
May 4, 1960

Times caption:
WEATHER STATION -- Bernard Di Paola, sixth grader at Liberty School, Ambridge, records the weather change on a chart as Sandra Aquino, left, and Carol Spec, both vice presidents of the sixth grade, watch him register the change. The weather station was constructed by the class and Bernard is in charge of recording the weather three times each day.

"Liberty Grade School, Ambridge"
5th St.
Daily Citizen
August 25, 1954

Both Liberty and Harmony Schools were razed in 1968, and the Ambridge Towers property is now located where the two schools once stood.

Ambridge Towers
500 Beaver Rd.
Google Street View

Thanks to Bobby Aloe for the Liberty School postcard.

I know some of you like to see the back of postcards:

Liberty School postcard

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Morton Chevrolet & KDKA election results ad, 1948

In 1948, the technology that provided election results wasn't as up-to-the-minute as it is today. Voters relied on radios, or their daily papers, to find out the election's outcome.

According to the November 2, 1948, Beaver Valley Times, that evening's KDKA election results radio broadcast would be the 28th anniversary of the first public radio election returns broadcast in Beaver County. Even reporting the election returns on the radio was quite the process back in 1920:
The returns were broadcast by KDKA, Pittsburgh, in its initial regularly-scheduled service and were received by the Daily Times, forerunner of the Beaver County Times, in Beaver.

Reception of the returns was made possible by Walter Barnhart, head of the Barnhart radio and electric store in Beaver, who built and operated the receiving equipment and amplifier used by the newspaper. No loud speakers were available, but Mr. Barnhart devised an amplifier by using a large megaphone loaned by Beaver high school.
A large crowd listened to the broadcast at the office of the Daily Times on Third street.
Morton Chevrolet, KDKA election results ad
Daily Citizen
November 1, 1948

1948, the year of the ad above, was also the year of the upset election in which the polls had predicted Republican Thomas E. Dewey would win the presidential election; but the polls were wrong, and Harry S. Truman became president. Truman was famously pictured gleefully holding up the erroneous November 3, 1948, Chicago Daily Tribune, with the large banner headline "Dewey Defeats Truman," and reportedly said, "That ain't the way I heard it."

Even though Dewey won Pennsylvania's presidential vote, the Daily Times reported that Ambridge had voted 2 - 1 for Truman.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Sacks Ladies Store

I always thought Sacks' Art Deco facade with its second floor display window was so wonderful. While I usually like the original facades of Ambridge's old Merchant St. buildings better than any updating, I am smitten with Art Deco.

533 Merchant St.
Daily Citizen
August 25, 1954

According to the August 25, 1954, Daily Citizen, Sacks' owner, Charles Sachs, established the store in 1934. Before moving to 533 Merchant St., the business was at 517 Merchant.

Like a number of Ambridge stores of that era, Sacks had a signature tile entryway, not always appreciated and properly maintained by more recent owners.

Sacks' tile entry
533 Merchant Street
July 2009
credit: Bill Orlowski, used with permission

I don't know when Sacks closed. Charles Sachs' 1978 obituary said he'd operated Sacks for 35 years, so until 1969 if the 1954 Daily Citizen article is correct. However, the obituary also said he'd retired five years before he died, which would mean around 1973. And of course, Sacks could have stayed open even after Sachs retired. If you know when Sacks closed, please leave a comment.

While the tile entry and some of the Art Deco touches around the windows remained in July 2009, the front facade of the building was virtually unrecognizable as the former Sacks building when Bill Orlowski took the photo below. It's the building to the right of Anderson's Candy store.

529 and 533 Merchant St.
July 2009
credit: Bill Orlowski, used with permission

A new business was "coming soon" in March 2014.

533 Merchant St
March 30, 2014

Before that new business could open, the 533 Merchant building was heavily damaged by a July 6, 2014 fire.

533 Merchant St. fire
July 6, 2014
credit: Larissa Dudkiewicz/Ambridge Connection
used with permission

The October 2014 photo below shows the building in the process of being razed.

533 Merchant St.
October 3, 2014

The site is now a vacant lot.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Anthony Wayne Elementary School

Ambridge's Anthony Wayne School was built at the corner of Lenz Ave. and 21st St. in 1928 - 1929 by the then-overcrowded Ambridge and Harmony Township School Districts. The two districts shared the cost of construction, as well as maintaining and operating the school until 1932, when Harmony Township built its own school, Highland Elementary.

Anthony Wayne appears to be still under construction in the photo below. The original plans for the stately, white brick school building were for 15 classrooms, a playroom, a reading room, and an office. Anthony Wayne was the last elementary school to be built in the Ambridge Borough.

Anthony Wayne Elementary School
Daily Times supplement?
August 10, 1929
Louis Vukovcan Collection

I know some people seeing that photo might say, "That's not Anthony Wayne School. The building looks nothing like that."

True, the current Anthony Wayne building doesn't look like the school in the 1929 photo, but it did before an extensive 1965 renovation.

The 1937 snapshot of Anthony Wayne School below belonged to my grandmother, Mary Gause.

Anthony Wayne School
May 18, 1937
credit: Mary Gause

My grandmother also owned my uncle Peter Gause, Jr.'s class photo, taken in front of Anthony Wayne School. I'm not sure of the grade. In May 1937, he would have been 9 years old.

Class photo
Anthony Wayne School
May 18, 1937
owned by Mary Gause

The photo below shows the Anthony Wayne building that I remember from my growing up years in the 1950s and early 1960s, when I frequented its playground and attended the summer playground program. The front doesn't look any different than it did in 1929 or 1937.

Anthony Wayne Grade School
Daily Citizen
June 25, 1954

With the 1965 renovation came new enhancements like a school library, the first in an Ambridge elementary school, and a cafeteria, I believe another first. A new multipurpose room with stage, showers, lockers, and toilets was heralded as not only a step-up for the school, but also as a place for community activities.

Anthony Wayne School renovation
Beaver County Times
November 6, 1965

Times caption:
ANTHONY WAYNE SCHOOL - Work on the renovation and enlarging project at Anthony Wayne Elementary School, Ambridge, is moving on schedule. Work is expected to be completed in time for the start of the 1966 - 67 school term. Children are attending classes at the building while improvements are being made. The size of the building will be about doubled when the project is completed.

Anthony Wayne Elementary renovation
Beaver County Times
November 20, 1965

Times caption:
SCHOOL RENOVATION PROJECT - Work is progressing on the Anthony Wayne Elementary School Renovation and enlarging project in Ambridge. The capacity of the bulding will be doubled when work is completed. The project is expected to be completed before the 1966-67 school term starts next September. When completed, the new building will contain 19 classrooms, two kindergarten rooms, a library, cafeteria, principal's office, conference room, waiting room, clerical office, itinerant staff planning room, counseling room, health suite, two teachers' lounges and an instructional planning center. The new library will be the first one for an Ambridge elementary school.

The renovated school looks nothing like the original building. It's hard to believe that it's the same school.

Anthony Wayne Elementary School
November 20, 2013
credit: Nancy Knisley

Anthony Wayne Elementary School
November 20, 2013
credit: Nancy Knisley

As a result of declining school enrollments in Ambridge, the school district closed the other elementary public schools--First Ward, Second Ward, Fourth Ward, Harmony, Liberty, and Park Road--over a number of years. Anthony Wayne, the last remaining public elementary school in the borough, was closed in June 2004. Ambridge elementary students now attend Harmony Township's Highland School. No public elementary school currently operates within the Ambridge Borough.

The Anthony Wayne building remains. During the 2005 - 2007 school years, it was used by the Quaker Valley School District when two of its elementary schools were being renovated. Since 2014, building has been leased to the Watson Institute, which provides education services and programs to children with special needs.

Many former Anthony Wayne students and staff members remember my mom, Agatha (Gay) Bohinsky, who worked as a "lunch lady" at the school for many years before it closed.

My two strongest personal memories of the Anthony Wayne School's playground are: the tall metal sliding board that would burn your butt when you used it on sunny days; and the time a group of boys took my younger sister's new bike from her while we were there. The boys eventually returned the bike, thanks in no small part to my dad arriving at the playground.