Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Stork's Nest Easter ad, 1949

The Stork's Nest Easter ad
Beaver Valley Times
March 17, 1949

The Stork's Nest sold higher-end infants and children's clothing. The store was owned by Sally Rubenstein and her husband, Moe Rubenstein, the legendary Ambridge coach for whom the Ambridge High School athletic field is named.

At the time of the ad, the store was at 632 Merchant St. In August 1955, the business moved to 650 Merchant.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

700 block of Merchant St., 1953

I was asked if I had a photo of the huge Caplan's Wholesale Grocers store that once stood on the southeast corner of 8th and Merchant Sts. I haven't found a photo of the store alone, but I did have this great 1953 Daily Times photo of the 700 block of Merchant showing part of the front facade of Caplan's on the left; it's the big light building:

700 block of Merchant St., looking south from 8th St.
Daily Times,
October 3, 1953

Original Times caption:
MAIN STREET OF AMBRIDGE BOROUGH -- This is Merchant Street, the main thorofare of Ambridge, shown from Eighth Street, looking south towards Leetsdale. Most of the main business establishments front the appropriately named street. The borough's two theaters are shown in the 700 block.

Over the years, Caplan's may have changed its paint color. Some folks remember it as being green, others blue.

I didn't have reason to go into Caplan's too often, but I remember going in to get supplies for the Recreation Center Summer Playground Program's carnival when I worked as the playground leader there and for my bridal shower. While those events were held during the same summer, they were not simultaneous. Although combining the two might have been fun.

On the right hand side of the photo, you can see the State Theatre marquee. The Ambridge Theatre is further up the street on the left side, but is harder to make out as that part of the photo is so dark.

The CVS parking lot is now where Caplan's once stood.

You can see a 1922 photo of that same intersection, when Caplan's building was the location of the Martsolf Furniture store, in my April 24, 2014 blog post "Eighth and Merchant Streets, 1922."

If you're interested in learning more about the State Theatre, check my February 26, 2014 post, "The State Theatre."

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Then and now: 400 block Melrose Ave.

The photo below came from the late Louis Vukovcan's collection and is one of the collection's very old photos of Ambridge stamped "Maj. E. A. Weed" on the back. You can read the fascinating story of Maj. E. A. Weed in my February 21, 2015 post "Sixth Street and Melrose Avenue, 1904."

"View to Melrose from Merchant St Ambridge
400 block - 1904"
photographer Major E. A. Weed
Louis Vukovcan collection
photo courtesy of Stacey Brock
used with permission

I couldn't duplicate the view of Maj. Weed's photo because more buildings have been constructed on Merchant and Melrose since 1904. But thanks to the empty lot on Merchant St. where the Economy Furniture store once stood, I could still photo some of the houses from Merchant. The three houses at the far left in the photo below appear to be the three houses at the far right of the 1904 photo.

Part of the East side of the 400 block of Melrose from Merchant St.
 October 30, 2014

Here's a better view of the three houses, taken on Melrose Ave.

Part of the East side of 400 block of Melrose Ave.
May 2, 2015

The photo below shows the houses towards the left center of the 1904 photo, mostly unaltered except for the addition to the one next to the garage.

Mid- 400 block, east side of Melrose Ave.
May 2, 2015

Here's a photo showing all of the houses, taken from the north end of the 400 block looking south.

400 block, east side of Melrose Ave.
May 2, 2015

Saturday, March 19, 2016

J. C. Penney 1929

J. C. Penney Co.
601 Merchant St.
Daily Times supplement, August 10, 1929 ?
Louis Vukovcan collection
courtesy Jackie Vukovcan

Many of us have fond memories of the J. C. Penney store at the corner of 6th and Merchant Sts. shown above circa 1929. But that wasn't Penney's first Ambridge location. Before the 601 Merchant St. building was built, Penney's did business at 531 Merchant St.

I still don't know when Penney's moved into the 601 Merchant St. building. A January 1917 Sanborn Insurance map indicates that a three-story building was planned for the northwest corner of 6th and Merchant Sts. with two store fronts, a larger one at 601 - 603 Merchant and a smaller one at 605 Merchant. Above the stores, the second floor would have offices, and the third would house a club of some type.

I don't know if the buildings eventually built at 601 - 603 and 605 Merchant were based on those plans, but it took a while for a building to be constructed on that corner. According to an article in the April 4, 1924, Daily Times, the Penney's store was among the building projects, totaling about $1 million dollars, then ongoing in Ambridge. The Penney's ad in the 1924 Economy Centennial program book, Economy of Old, Ambridge of Today, still has the 531 Merchant address.

[Update March 20, 2016, Maria Notarianni pointed out that the 1924 Economy Centennial program book has an ad for the real estate office of John F. Maloney at 605 Merchant. The ad gives information about Maloney's construction of a new building for Penney's. And also some complimentary words about Maloney, which I'm including because they made me smile:
Mr. John F. Maloney, a member of Council and one of our most influential citizens has in the past few years erected more than three hundred homes, which have been sold to people on easy terms.
He opened his first office in 1902, corner Seventh and Glenwood, but his increasing business made larger quarters imperative, and he is now located at the corner of Sixth and Merchant Streets. At the corner, adjoining his real estate, he has now under construction a modern, fire-proof store and apartment building, consisting of a large storeroom on the first floor for the J. C. Penney Co., and eight apartments above, which will have every modern convenience. Each of these apartments will have an incinerator, refrigerator, electric range, tiled bath room with built-in fixtures, Gates' reversible windows, and are finished in a most attractive manner. A feature which will be much appreciated in Ambridge as well as by the occupants of the building will be a roof garden.
As a pioneer in promoting the welfare of Ambridge in every way, Mr. Maloney has few equals.
If I'm remembering correctly, in the 1950s and '60s, Penney's sold merchandise in the first two floors plus a mezzanine and the basement. The first and second floors were connected by a large staircase. The second floor was girls' clothes. Susan Bacon Holowaty reminded me that that's where girls went to buy the lovely (yes, that's definitely sarcasm, mine, not Susan's) one-piece gym uniforms we had to wear in that era. At one time, we also went to Penney's for Girl Scout uniforms and paraphernalia. That's also where my mom bought my underwear, which you didn't need to know, but I thought I'd throw that in.

I loved watching the pneumatic tubes woosh money and receipts between floors, high-tech store entertainment for kids in the 1950s.

If I'm not remembering the store layout correctly, or if you want to add more details about the store that you remember, don't hesitate to leave a comment below.]

Even after Penney's opened a larger, more modern store in the new Northern Lights Shoppers City in 1956, the Ambridge store stayed open for over two more decades. I've been unable to find out when the Ambridge store closed, but it appears ads listing both stores stopped at some point in 1968; after that, ads mentioned only the Northern Lights Penney's. If you know when the Ambridge Penney's store closed, please leave a comment.

This is what the former Penney's building looked like in 2014. Although the sign says Sol's, that business had already closed in January 2014. The building appeared to be vacant the last time I visited Ambridge in 2015.

601 Merchant St.
March 30, 2014

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Multitasking strikers at H. H. Robertson, 1952

I primarily liked today's group photo because it seemed quirky. I'm assuming that it wasn't routine for striking steelworkers to bring their young children to a picket line. It's from the June 5, 1952, Beaver Valley Times.

But once I reread the caption a few times, I realized that the photo was notable for other reasons.

First, the caption reflected the expected childcare responsibilities of the era.

Original caption:
BABY SITTING PICKETS--While the wife is away the steelworkers will pay--with their leisure and "picket-time." Anyway, two H. H. Robertson's Steel Company picketing steelworkers do double duty taking care of their children and standing picket duty. Bud Marquette, with daughter Beverly, 18 months, and Jack Robertson, with son Harry, 9 months, left to right, stand picket, which Nick Stellato, Clifford Lane and Steve Sawchak look on.
It appears Nick Stellato was cropped out of the photo, but still listed in the caption.

The caption starts with the typical 1950's assumption that men only took care of their kids when their wives were "away," and as a result, the poor beleaguered men not only had to drag their kids to the picket line, but also had to give up their leisure time. Because men's leisure pursuits never involved their kids.

Then there was the importance of the strike itself, one of a number of strikes that took place in 1952. Around the same time the steelworkers went on strike, oil workers, telegraph workers, bakery drivers, and bakery and confectionery workers were on strike.

The nationwide steelworkers' strike was especially important because it started on June 2, 1952, the day the U. S. Supreme Court, in the landmark case, Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer, held that President Truman had no legal authority to seize steel mills. Truman had seized the mills in April 1952 to ensure the production of steel during the Korean War.

The Robertson picketers must have felt being on the picket line posed no danger to their children and didn't expect the kind of violence that occurred during strikes in the 1930s, including the 1933 strike in Ambridge that resulted in a bystander being killed by sheriff's deputies, and others wounded or clubbed.

But the mood wasn't as peaceful only weeks before at Aliquippa's J & L, when a brief strike followed a lower court ruling that the president's seizure was illegal. The April 30, 1952, Beaver Valley Times described the scene:
For several tense hours on Tuesday night it was 1936 all over again...(the) only element missing from the reenactment of the dramatic labor-management struggle of the middle 1930's was the smack of clubs against labor skulls.
The steel strike lasted 53 days, ending only after Truman intensely pressured both sides to come to a settlement.

Finally, another special detail about the photo: the inclusion of Bud Marquette. Thanks to John Domansky, I knew that Ambridge resident Marquette was a highly regarded gymnast and gymnastics coach. The U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Fame calls him the "Father of Women's Gymnastics in the U.S." Among his students were two Olympians: Rochester's Judy Hult Howe and Cathy Rigby.

Love those comfy metal strollers that were popular in the early 1950s. My family owned a similar one.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Zion's First Evangelical Lutheran Church

Zion's First Evangelical Lutheran Church
Park Rd. and 8th St.
November 20, 2013

Zion's First Evangelical Lutheran Church's architecture may be more contemporary than most of the other Ambridge churches, and its church building may be newer than many, but Zion's congregation is one of Ambridge's oldest, going back to the very beginning of Ambridge.

In the early 1900s, after land that had belonged to the dissolved Harmony Society was sold off--most importantly to the Berlin Iron Company, which later merged with the American Bridge Company-- new residents of many nationalities and faiths moved into the area, among them, German Lutherans, joining the few Lutheran families already living there.

There was already a German church in the area, but it was not Lutheran. The Harmony Society, whose members had split from the Lutheran Church in Germany, had come to the U.S. to escape religious persecution and for freedom to follow their own beliefs. The Society's church, on the 1300 block of Church St., was where the Society held its own, unique religious services. After the Society disbanded, its church served as a community church, with the remnants of the Society as well as various denominations without their own churches, holding services in the building. Ironically, in 1907, the church became a Lutheran congregation, the still-existing St. John's Lutheran Church.

According to the history of Zion's shared with me by the church's current pastor, Rev. Cletus Fahrion, area Lutherans met on April 25, 1904, for the purpose of establishing a Lutheran Church. Worship services began on May 9, 1904, attended by 25 people, and soon after that, the church charter was signed.

At first, the congregation worshiped on the top floor of the Ambridge Savings and Trust Co. building* on 5th and Merchant Sts. They began to raise money to build a church of their own, and bought lots on Park Rd. between 7th St. and Bryden Rd. (the current 8th St.)

Here's a bit of Ambridge history I don't believe I'd come across before reading about Zion's beginnings: American Bridge offered to donate $500 to any congregation that could build a church before January 1, 1905. I don't know the significance, if any, of that particular date.**

In addition, to qualify for the $500, any church built had to cost at least twice the value of the property on which it stood. According to Zion's 100th Anniversary book, the congregation's first pastor, the Rev. Paul Kummer, "accepted this challenge and was able to oversee the total construction of a brick and cement block edifice at a cost of $5,250."

The cornerstone for that building was laid on October 9, 1904, and dedicated on March 26, 1905.

The postcards below show that first church building.

"German Lutheran Church"
postmarked January 20, 1910

The card below was also mailed, but the postmark is indistinct, so I don't know which postcard is older.

"Zion Evan. Lutheran Church"
date unknown

Here's a church photo from the 1924 Economy Centennial Souvenir Program:

"Zion's Evangelical Lutheran Church"
Economy of Old, Ambridge of Today

Here's a photo of an ivy-covered church on the cover of Zion's 50th Anniversary program:

"Original Church Building 1904 - 1953"
Zion's First Evangelical Lutheran Church
Fiftieth Anniversary program
May 2, 1954

Eventually the congregation grew to a size that a new church building was planned, and on March 16, 1953, the Rev. Frederick B. Haer presided over the groundbreaking for the new building. On May 3, 1953, the first unit of the basement was dedicated.

The original church building was razed beginning in August 1953.

Here's the architect's drawing of the proposed new church building. Compare it with the photo of the current church at the top of this post; it's different. The drawing more resembles the current 8th St. side of the church, but doesn't quite match that either. Can someone provide an explanation?

"Proposed Zion's First Lutheran Church"
Dedication program
November 3, 1957

Here's a photo of the new church under construction from the May 30, 1957, Beaver Valley Times:

New Zion's First Evangelical Lutheran Church under construction
Beaver Valley Times
May 30, 1957

Original Times' caption:
NEW CHURCH -- This partially completed building soon will be the new home of the congregation of Zion First Lutheran Church, Ambridge. The building's cornerstone will be laid Sunday afternoon.
According to the Times' article accompanying the above photo, the cornerstone would include: a Bible, Luther's Small Catechism, the church constitution, the 50th Anniversary booklet, the 1956 church report, a membership list, and copies of the Beaver Valley Times and Daily Citizen.

The current church building was dedicated on November 3, 1957.

In 2004, Zion's First Evangelical Lutheran Church celebrated its 100th Anniversary.

Zion's First Evangelical Lutheran Church
One Hundredth Anniversary 1904 - 2004 booklet

I can't identify the building in the background of the two Zion's postcards, and it's really bugging me. The only large building I know of that was near the church in 1910, when the colored postcard was mailed, was the Second Ward School built in 1904. But the background building on the postcard looks nothing like that school. The roof-line is obviously wrong.

The first Ambridge High School, later Park Road School, was immediately south of, not behind, the original church, and it wasn't built until 1914, so it didn't exist when the colored postcard was postmarked.

The background building doesn't look like the Ambridge Hotel built in 1905 on the corner of Merchant St. and Bryden Rd. (now 8th St.), and the location of the background building on the postcards seems wrong for the hotel.

Houses had already been built on the 700 block of Maplewood across from the Second Ward School by 1905, and I would think they'd block the view of any buildings on Merchant St.

Perhaps artistic license by the artist who drew the postcard scenes? Seems odd though that the same building would appear on two postcards. And, although indistinct, the same building may be in the background of the ivy-covered church photo from the 50th Anniversary book.


Zion's Church Trivia: longtime KDKA radio DJ Art Pallan was the keynote speaker at Zion's 80th Anniversary Dinner on May 4, 1984.

* Later, the Ambridge Savings and Trust Company building was home to the Economy Bank of Ambridge. The building was razed and that corner is now the location of Wesbanco Bank's drive-through.

**Another early Ambridge church was the Methodist Episcopal Church, chartered on January 5, 1904, built on the southeast corner of 6th St. and Melrose Ave., and dedicated on August 7, 1904, claiming the title of the first church to be built in the borough of Ambridge. (The older Harmony Society church was built in Economy, not Ambridge.) That church was bought by Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1907 and razed about 10 years later to build the church that currently stands at that intersection.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Gas and Electric Shop ad, 1933

My doing research on Ambridge history sometimes feels to me like opening my plaid, metal lunchbox when I was a student at Divine Redeemer School, expecting to find the usual jumbo on white bread. And while the sandwich is there, I discover that my mom unexpectedly threw in a chocolate chip cookie! Such a nice surprise.

That's how I felt when I came across this ad from the May 12, 1933, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the Gas and Electric Shop, a store I hadn't previously known once had been in Ambridge. It's hard to read the locations at the bottom of the ad, but it lists an Ambridge store at 654 Merchant St.

What mom wouldn't want a Mothers Day gift of a new radio that will allow her to listen to police calls?!

Gas and Electric Shops ad
654 Merchant St.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
May 12, 1933

You can read the ad's small print better if you go to the newspaper by clicking on the link I've included in the text, and then enlarge the ad. Interesting reading.