Sunday, December 29, 2019

Ambridge's Harmony Hotel. And the other Ambridge Harmony Hotel

"Harmony Hotel"
Manuscript Group 354: Old Economy Village Collection
Photo Number 635b
courtesy of Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Old Economy Village
used with permission

Just a short distance northwest of the well-known and highly regarded Economy Hotel,* once located on the southwest corner of what is now 14th and Merchant Sts., there was a smaller, less impressive hotel. The Harmony Hotel, sometimes belittled as the "Tramp Hotel" or the "Hotel of the Unfortunates," hasn't been in business for many years, although its building still stands at 277 Fourteenth St.

Why those disparaging nicknames? According to Sarah Buffington, Old Economy Village curator:
"The guests at the Economy Hotel were told to arrive promptly at 4:30 for supper, so as not to keep others waiting. The staff was fed after the hotel guests, and then the 'tramps' were fed afterward. These homeless people were allowed to stay for one night, but were then told to move along. The Harmony Society kept track of them so that they wouldn’t overstay their welcome."
The date of the photo above is uncertain, but it probably dates from the late 1800s, before there was an Ambridge, or early 1900s. The building dates from much earlier, back to the establishment of Economy, and wasn't originally used as a hotel. Although it doesn't look like the typical, brick Harmonist house, it was the early home of Frederick Rapp, adopted son of George (Father) Rapp. Frederick Rapp later moved to a brick house that is on the grounds of Old Economy Village.

The three people in the photo are unidentified. but according to Buffington, the woman and girl may be Carrie Staples, a widow, and her daughter Katherine. Staples was a boardinghouse keeper there at the time of the 1910 census. 

The photo below shows a recent Google Street View of the former Harmony Hotel building:

277 Fourteenth St.
Google Street View
October 2013

What is not visible from Fourteenth St. is a large addition--that appears to me to be at least as large, or maybe larger, than the original house--built on the back of the building, probably around the time it became the Harmony Hotel. Buffington said the addition "is very much set up like an old hotel." You can see the addition from Boyleston St. Here's a satellite view of 277 Fourteenth St.:

277 Fourteenth St.
Google Satellite View

The other Harmony Hotel in Ambridge

To confuse Ambridge history more than it often is, there was another Harmony Hotel, across town from the one on 14th St. This Harmony Hotel, at 300 Merchant St., was built and operated later than the hotel on 14th St., but was also viewed as disreputable, especially by the American Bridge Co.

This Harmony Hotel was the bane of the American Bridge Co. for years. The company didn't want its employees drinking, and so devised deed restrictions that said that the area within the original boundaries of Ambridge was supposed to be "dry"--alcohol free--for 50 years. However, the Harmony Hotel, mere blocks from the company's plant and office, sold liquor. Legally. That was possible because the Harmony Hotel wasn't in Ambridge; it was in Harmony Township, at that time, just a walk across Merchant St. from Ambridge. Which I'm guessing made its site a very attractive spot for a

The building shows up on the 1911 Sanborn Insurance map as the location of the planned "Hotel May," named for its builder. Sometime between then and 1915, the name was changed to Harmony Hotel. The battle between its owner and American Bridge Co. over the hotel's liquor license appears to have begun early. Here's part of the remarks made by F. T. Cadmus, the plant superintendent, from the Daily Times, October 22, 1915:

The liquor license battle continued in 1916 when the hotel was owned by George T. Davis. In an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 14, 1916, Davis' attorney claimed that the American Bridge superintendent, Cadmus, had warned employees of the company that they would be fired if they were seen in the barroom of the Harmony Hotel.

So American Bridge must have been pleased by this announcement in the January 2, 1917, Daily Times:

A "temperance hotel" may not have proved to be as popular as the barroom at the Harmony Hotel may have once been, because in 1920, Divine Redeemer Church, across Merchant from the hotel building, bought it and converted it into a parochial grade school. After the church built a new school in 1961, the building was sold to the Karnavas Vending Co.

Karnavas Vending Co.
former Harmony Hotel
former Divine Redeemer School
300 Merchant St.
Google Street View, Oct. 2017

*Later renamed the Old Economy Hotel in the late 1800s.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Gene's Coffee Shoppe & Dining Room, Thanksgiving Menu, 1929

Gene's Coffee Shoppe & Dining Room
Thanksgiving Menu
Daily Citizen
November 27, 1929

Gene's Coffee Shoppe & Dining Room was in the long-gone Ambridge Hotel, located from 1905 to 1964 on the northwest corner of 8th and Merchant Sts. The restaurant's address was not printed in the ad. I guess everyone in the area knew where it was.

That $1.25 is equivalent to about $19.40 today. Still an attractive price for a complete Thanksgiving meal, but when the average steelworker was making less than $0.68 an hour, and taking home even less, perhaps beyond the budget of the average steelworker's family,

And no pumpkin pie!

Friday, November 8, 2019

Mohn's Grocery, Clover Farm Store

Mohn's Grocery
Clover Farm Store
location unknown
Old Economy Village archives, MG-332
used with permission

The above photo came from the Old Economy Village archives and was sent to me by Amy Andre who asked me if I had any information about the Mohn's Grocery store. An "Ambridge + four-digits" phone number is on the store's sign, but was the store in Ambridge and if so, where? Or perhaps was it in an Ambridge-area community that had phone numbers on the Ambridge phone exchange, like Fair Oaks (Leet Township) or Leetsdale?

Amy wrote:
I am a descendant of the Mohn family and was doing research at the Old Economy historical society on the Henry Mohn/Melina Feucht family and found this photo.
In a later email, Amy provided the following information:
There are still Mohn family members in Ambridge and Leetsdale but I don't know any of them, even though they would be cousins of mine. Henry Mohn's wife Melina Feucht was associated with the Harmonist's Society. Her father and sisters were members of the society. Melina's father is buried in the Harmonist's cemetery at Old Economy Village. It would be interesting to find out which Mohn owned the Mohn Grocery Store. 
My line of the Mohn family is Frederick Mohn and his wife Esther Keck. Frederick was born in Germany as was his wife Esther. The Keck family settled in Doreyville, Allegheny, PA. Frederick's children were born in Haysville, Leetsdale and Allegheny City (now Pittsburgh's North Side. Frederick did have some siblings that came with him to America and settled in the same areas.
Unfortunately, I have exhausted all the research materials I have at hand and have come up with nothing helpful. Can anyone help?

Here are two clues to narrow your search if you start one:
Clover Farms, a cooperative grocery chain, began in 1926.
It appears from ads that the "Ambridge + 4 digits" phone numbers began to be used in the 1940s.

I know there were once Clover Farm Stores in Ambridge: one was at 798 15th St. but I don't know the grocery's name; however that building looks nothing like the store in the photo. The Csurny's Clover Farm store was at 6th St. and Glenwood Ave. and Grosdeck's Clover Farm Store was at 290 - 292 1st St.

Update June 8, 2020: The location of Mohn's Grocery has been found! The grocery was hiding in plain sight, with an exterior so altered, it would be impossible to identify--unless you knew where to look.*

Turns out I was right when I wondered if the store might have been in Leetsdale.

Here's what Mohn's Grocery looks like now:

175 Broad St.,
Leetsdale PA
May 28, 2020
credit: Thomas Beerman

Thomas Beerman, the current resident of the building, recently left a comment about this post:

"This is the house I now live in ! It is located on broad st in leetsdale, still have the old meat hooks, our kitchen was the meat cooler!" In a second comment, he added that his family had lived in the building since the Mohn's Grocery closed in the 1950s.

Those comments were later followed by several emails in which Thomas told me that he had come across this blog post about Mohn's Grocery while he was looking for information about the furniture store that was once next door, now a warehouse. And he sent me the above photo of the former grocery as it looks today.

He said his mom and dad, 
Jean and Leo Beerman, bought the store in 1947 while it was still operating, but the grocery "went out of business when the steel mills went on strike! [My dad] turned [the building] into 2 apartments and then one house when times were rough." He added that the store's meat hooks that once were in his kitchen were now in his garage.

After I told him I would be interested in seeing what the meat hooks now looked like, he was gracious enough to send me a photo:

Meat hooks from former Mohn's Grocery
garage at 175 Broad St.
Leetsdale PA
May 28, 2020
credit: Thomas Beerman

I love when an history mystery gets solved! Especially since this one has a happy ending in that the Mohn's Grocery building still exists.

Although I still don't have any information about whether the Leetsdale Mohn's Grocery was owned by someone related to Henry Mohn, whose wife had connections with the Harmony Society.

* In the past, I've come across other old buildings "hiding in plain sight," for example Ambridge's Kingdom Hall or Blaine House, an early home of George (Father) Rapp, later used by the Harmony Society as a school.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Vintage cars, 6th St. and Duss Ave. circa late 1920s. And an intriguing corner in the corner

"2 Packards-1 Franklin East Corner 6th & Duss Ambridge"
circa late 1920s
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Sometimes, when doing historical research, I find unexpected details that lead me in unexpected directions. And the photo above led to one of those times.

I don't know much about this particular photo other than the information that the late local historian Bill Bowan wrote at its bottom. "Early 20's - 2 Packards-1-Franklin East Cor 6th & Duss Ambridge." I don't know the identities of the people in the photo. I don't know why the three cars are parked where they were. And I don't know how Bowan came to own the photo.

And because I know so little, I thought I just would post the photo, say something about the photo's location, and that would be that.

"That" didn't turn out to be "that," but here's what I know about the location:

The houses in the photo's background look like 600 and 602 Beaver Rd. which are still there, so the photo was taken looking east. While 600 Beaver Rd. is on the 1923 Sanborn Insurance map, 602 is not. So I began to question the "Early 20's" date Bowan had written on the photo.

Maria Notarriani told me that the 602 Beaver Rd. house was built in 1926 according to Beaver County tax assessment records, so 10 years after the house at 600 Beaver was built:1916.

So the photo must have been taken later than the "early 1920's." Perhaps the late '20s?

Photos are often misdated--sometimes by a month or two, sometimes by many years. And I didn't believe the the date was critical to the history of the photo. So, blog post finished! But no.

Because while looking at the building on the left side of the photo, I had noticed that its Duss Ave. side slanted upward, and rather steeply too. While the left lower corner of the photo is both faded and out-of-focus, the incline of that corner building's ground floor is obvious. Hmm. Interesting. And me being me, I couldn't just ignore that.

Which leads me to ask: Does anyone have any information on the grading of the 600 block of Duss and/or the histories of the buildings on the east side of that block, especially the buildings closest to the Duss and 6th St. intersection?

Because at the time the vintage photo at the top of this post was taken, the 600 block of Duss Ave. sure wasn't as level as it is today:

600 block of Duss Ave. looking North
Google Street View
August 2011

And I've always wondered why the ground level of some of the buildings in the 600 block of  Duss, especially those closest to 6th St., looked odd, like they perhaps weren't built at the same time as the upper floors. Consider:

This is what the building on the corner of 6th and Duss, 600 Duss, currently looks like. Although it looks quite changed from the building on the left of the photo at the top of this post, tax records say it was built in 1920, so it must be the same building.

600 Duss Ave.
Google Street View
August 2011

The odd ground floors are especially evident in these buildings:

Left: Ross Auto Body, 606 Duss Ave.
Right: Filipino American Club of Ambridge (formerly Sons of Italy Lodge), 604 Duss Ave.*
Google Street View August 2016

Tax records also show that 603 Beaver Rd.,* the street address used by the Sons of Italy Lodge, was built in 1915. The 606 Duss building was built in 1920 according to tax records, although the 1923 Sanborn Insurance map only shows an empty lot on Duss at that site. (The map does show a building on Beaver Rd. that currently would abut, or connect to, the rear of 606 Duss.)

So the evidence seems to point to two possibilities: the buildings' current Duss Ave. ground floors were once below-ground basements; or newly constructed ground floors were added after that part of Duss was graded. Well, I guess there's a third possibility: the buildings' owners just wanted an unusual facade on the lower floor.

One other oddity about the 600 block of Duss that may be related to grading: while the houses on both sides of the street abut the sidewalk, those on the east (even-numbered) side have a raised porch with the entrance to the house about a floor above the sidewalk. While on the west (odd-numbered) side, the buildings' porches/entries are basically level with the sidewalk. That suggests to me that when the even-numbered homes were built, they were located on a hill; then later, the base of that hill was removed, and the bottoms of the porches were extended down to street level. But I'm not wedded to that theory.

I previously wrote about a vintage photo of 5th St. and Duss Ave. being graded, but I was unable to determine when that grading was done, except that the photo was taken between 1919 and 1928. I also don't know how much of Duss was graded then. So I don't know at this time whether the grading shown in that photo was related to any grading done in the 600 block.

* When the building at 604 Duss was the Sons of Italy Lodge, it used the address 603 Beaver Rd., where there was a more formal entrance. The Filipino American Club, now located in the same building, gives its address as 603 Duss Ave., not 604, even though it's on the east, even-numbered side of Duss Ave.

I expect that one day someone is going to wonder why a building on the even-numbered side of Duss has an odd-numbered address. Just like I once wondered why the former Sokol at 424 Duss has an even-numbered address even though it's on the odd-numbered side of the street. Turns out the reason is that the original address of the Sokol building was 424 Melrose Ave. Later, in 1951, a large second floor social hall, entered on Duss, was added. 

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Lower 100 block of Merchant St. circa 1905

Tenement building
circa 1905
lower 100 block of Merchant St., west side
courtesy Good Samaritan Parish Archives

I assume that not many photos were taken of early Ambridge and of those, precious few have survived. So I was very excited to see this absolute treasure of a photo, recently donated to the Good Samaritan Parish Archives by Diane Crevar Petcash. Diane is the great-granddaughter of Ambridge department store owner Stephen P. Kristufek. Stephen, frequently referred to as S. P., was the younger brother of the more well-known Ambridge builder, banker, realtor, insurance broker, and councilman Charles Kristufek.

The photo's most prominent building is a large three-story wooden tenement. There's a two-story dwelling to its right, and on the far right side, there's a market that sold groceries and meat. Merchant St. is unpaved. And of course, you can't miss the horse that may be pulling a wagon. None of the people in the photo have been identified.

Diane's great-grandfather S. P. Kristufek, and his wife Mary, owned one of Ambridge's most successful pioneer businesses, the S. P. Kristufek store, at the triangular intersection of Merchant St. and Beaver St./Rd. (labeled Duss Ave. on some early maps of Ambridge.) S.P.'s store had an interesting history, and if you haven't read the blog post about it yet, you may want to click on the link at the start of this paragraph.

Diane provided the 1905 date of the photo, but didn't know the location of the buildings. Amazingly, Maria Notarianni, who heads the Good Samaritan Archive committee, was able to locate where the buildings had been, on the 1911 Sanborn Insurance map of Ambridge:

The map shows S.P.'s store was across Merchant from the small apartment building and the market in the photo. On the snip of the map below, the tenement is the large yellow building marked "Tenements" just above the three rows of pink Marshall Alley dwellings. S. P.'s store is the triangular building at the intersection of Merchant and "Duss" on the map.

lower part of 100 block of Merchant St.
Sanborn Insurance map of Ambridge

The tenement is gone, probably long before the First St. area was cleared for redevelopment in the early 1970s, but I can't say that with certainty. So if you remember the tenement--or a different building in the tenement's location (115 Merchant St.)--please let me know when that was.

Diane believes that the tenement had some connection to S. P. Kristufek, since the photo of it was passed down to her along with other family photos, but didn't know what that connection was. I'm doubtful that a relatively wealthy family like S.P.'s would live in a tenement. Except for the time between S.P.'s first store's destruction by fire and his building a second store at the same location, he probably lived above his store, as is mentioned in a newspaper article about an attempted burglary of his second store.

So, what was the connection between S. P. and the tenement? Did S. P. Kristufek build and then perhaps later rent out the tenement when more people moved to Ambridge than he could provide with room and board in his store's building? Was the building occupied by some of S. P.'s more distant family members? Is it possible that S.P.'s family just wanted a photo of the buildings across the street from their store--and because the family was relatively wealthy, could afford to have one taken? I hope more research into Ambridge's earliest years will provide the answer.

Before writing this, I contacted another of S. P. Kristufek's great-grandchildren, Josh Selley, to see if he had any information about the tenement and its connection to S. P. He did not.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Ambridge's Hupmobile Garage

Ambridge Central Garage
Hupmobile Sales - Service
901 Glenwood Ave.
Daily Citizen
Aug. 25, 1954

Daily Citizen
THE "HUPMOBILE" GARAGE at 9th and Glenwood Ave., Ambridge. It is now L & S Auto Shop. Note the "Hupmobile" ready for action. 
The Daily Citizen didn't provide the date the Hupmobile Garage photo was taken, but Ambridge Central Garage was listed as a Hupmobile dealer in the April 7, 1929, Pittsburgh Press.

The Central Garage building is still standing. Until recently, it was the location of Kal's Body Shop. It looks like the building is currently unoccupied and for sale.

901 Glenwood Ave.
March 27, 2014
credit: Nancy Knisley

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

T. C. Pearce, Funeral Director, 1929

T. C. Pearce, Funeral Director
1200 Merchant St.
Daily Citizen
August 10, 1929

Everything I know about T. C. Pearce, Funeral Director, is in this 1929 ad. If you know anything about Pearce or his business, please leave a comment.

1200 Merchant St. is still standing. According to Beaver County property records, the building was built in 1914. For many years it was the location of an insurance agency. I don't know who occupies the building now.

1200 Merchant St.
Aug. 19, 2017
credit: Nancy Knisley

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Prince Theatre Building

Prince Theatre Building
600 block of Merchant St., East (even numbered) side
courtesy Jeffrey Snedden

This wonderful photo of Ambridge's Prince Theatre Building came from Jeffrey Snedden, the writer of the "Histories and Mysteries" column in the Beaver County Times. Ambridge's Dollar General store and its parking lot are now where this building once was.

Although the long-closed theater auditorium, which was behind the row of storefronts on Merchant St., was razed in 1991, the storefronts remained for a number of years, but were gone by 2008.

In the photo you can see the Prince Theatre's marquee and entrance to the theater at 638 Merchant St., as well as the stores that lined the theater's facade. To the theater's right is Maynard's Jewelry, 628 Merchant St. On the theater's left is a storefront that says "Children's Wear." That would have been Stork's Nest, owned by Sally Rubenstein, wife of Ambridge High School's legendary football coach, Moe Rubenstein, 650 Merchant St.

That sliver of white on the far right of the photo was Timney's Appliances, 612 Merchant St., razed in July 2013. Its location is now also part of the Dollar General building.

On the second floor of the building there's a sign advertising "Signs of all kinds" and at the far end, another sign for "Guardian Loans."

Right now, I can't say with confidence what businesses were in the three storefronts to the left of Stork's Nest at the time the photo was taken, but I think I see a barber pole between the last two. If I can later confirm what those businesses were, I'll update this post.

New information about the Prince Theatre.

Here's some information I learned about the Prince since my blog post about the theater on April 30, 2016. To put the new information in context, I recommend you read that earlier blog post as well as this one.

The Prince was opened in late 1919 by G. W. Prince and at that time, it was managed by Marcus (Ben) Nadler who later owned the theater. In January 3, 1920, The Citizen announced that the Prince would temporarily close, but planned to give occasional performances. No explanation for its closing was provided.

According to the April 21, 1923, issue of the Pittsburgh Moving Picture Bulletin, the Prince had been "closed for the past two years," but was scheduled to reopen on Sept. 1, 1923, after Ben Nadler remodeled and enlarged the theater from 450 to 700 seats.

It's not clear to me yet whether the planned 1923 remodeling was ever completed or perhaps delayed, or if the theater was remodeled again three years later, or torn down and replaced.

In August 1925, S. P. Nadler (not Ben Nadler) announced on behalf of the Ambridge Amusement Co. that it would tear down the then-existing Prince Theatre and replace it with a "modern building" the following spring .(The Citizen, August 5, 1925)

But then, the April 16, 1926, Citizen reported that remodeling, not a demolition, of the Prince had begun. The theater would be 25 feet longer, 14 feet higher, and a balcony added. After the remodeling, which would cost about $85,000, the theater would seat about 1500. The theater would be closed for several months until the work was completed.

The reason the theater may have closed in 1931, as mentioned by Mike Kubek when reminiscing about working at the Prince in a 1989 Beaver County Times article, remains a mystery yet to be solved.

When I wrote the original article about the Prince, I didn't know if the theater ever re-opened after 1950's record-breaking Thanksgiving snowstorm. However, based on the photo, the answer is "yes, it did."  Maybe. The posters on the theater announce that the theater was showing Werewolf of London, originally released in 1935, and The Phantom of Paris, originally released in 1942 as The Mystery of Marie Roget. Those two movies were re-released as a double feature in 1951 according to several sources. But I'd feel more confident if I could find confirmation of the information in one of the 1951 local papers.

[Update August 5, 2019: Jeffrey Snedden found and sent to me the local newspaper reporting I was hoping to find, confirming that the Prince reopened in 1951. I'm always grateful for your help, Jeffrey.

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 21, 1951:

End of update]

And while I still don't know exactly when the Prince closed, I know that it didn't survive beyond 1951 thanks to the December 15, 1951 Billboard Magazine which said the theater had become a Timney's store annex.

I also am still seeking information on when the Prince Theatre building was razed. I do know by 1980 it was a vacant lot.

Part of the photo at the top of this post was published in a Beaver County Times article about old Beaver County theaters, April 30, 1978. The caption accompanying the photo said it had come from the collection of Al Tomaszewski. That cropped photo was in my April 30, 2016 blog post about the Prince.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Ambridge's Bank St. homes

Some Bank St. homes
"Housing conditions in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, home of the American Bridge Company"
Arthur Rothstein
Library of Congress

Homes were built along the northern bank of Big Sewickley Creek in southwest Ambridge from Ambridge's earliest days, before "Bank St." existed.

At some point between 1911 and 1917, Ambridge constructed Bank St. between those homes and the bank of Big Sewickley Creek. The new street ran parallel with the 100 and 200 blocks of First St. and was connected with First St. via the driveway to the Borough's garbage incinerator and dump. When Bank St. was built, the driveway became an extension of Maplewood Ave.

In the aerial photo below, the arrows indicate the location of the Bank St. homes. West (toward the Ohio River) is at the top of the photo. You can see an American Bridge Co. building near the very top. The street running vertically with vehicles parked on it is First St.  Merchant St. is the street that runs horizontally above the triangular shaped building. Park Rd. is the uppermost horizontal street; Ohio River Blvd. hasn't been extended into Ambridge yet, although it may be under construction. In the left bottom corner, you can see a vehicle about to leave Beaver County and drive across the bridge over Big Sewickley Creek to Allegheny County. You can see more of the creek in the upper left as it wends itself towards the Ohio River, flowing under a railroad bridge, then under the railroad tracks between American Bridge and the rest of Ambridge.

Aerial of Ambridge's First St. neighborhood
U.S. War Department
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Now, although Ambridge still has a Bank St., the homes are gone, razed, along with First St.'s former homes and businesses, in the name of renewal and redevelopment.

Bank St. sign
September 28, 2014
credit Nancy Knisley

The following undated photos are from the late Louis Vukovcan's collection of historic Ambridge photos. The notes on the photos are his. The photos are courtesy of Stacey Brock.

As you can guess from the photos, Ambridge's wealthier residents didn't opt to live on Bank St.

"Left End Bank Street"
(closest to Ohio River Blvd.)
circa 1970
Louis Vukovcan collection
Used with permission

You can see a bit of the American Bridge plant on the far left background.

"Left End Bank St."
circa 1970
Louis Vukovcan collection
Used with permission

A view of Bank St. looking towards the northeast. The arrow points to what was then Maplewood Ave. between First and Bank Sts. I think the other notation says "Truth Home Bank St."

A northeastern view of Bank St.
circa 1970
Louis Vukovcan collection
used with permission

Unfortunately, the note on the left side of the photo is cut off at the top, and I'm not sure what the note above the three story tenement says.

"Right End Bank St."
circa 1970
Louis Vukovcan collection
used with permission

Google maps and Ambridge Borough disagree on what the road that connects First St. and Bank St. is currently called.  The Borough says Bank St. now intersects with First, at least on the street sign.

Street sign at the intersection of First and Bank Sts.
looking east on First.
September 28, 2014
credit Nancy Knisley

Google maps says it's still named Maplewood Ave. Here's the most recent Google maps satellite view of the First and Bank St. areas.

Google Map satellite view showing Bank and First Sts.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Ambridge's Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Sears, Roebuck and Co.
653 - 655 Merchant St.
Daily Citizen
August 25, 1954

Ambridge's Sears, Roebuck and Co., opened in 1931, was the first Sears in Beaver County. The store was originally located in "modest rooms adjoining 817 Merchant St." In 1934 the store acquired additional space nearby. (Daily Times, April 9, 1937)

Then in 1937, Sears leased an even larger location in the Fraternal Order of Eagles Temple at 653 - 655 Merchant and moved there. (The Eagles purchased their current location at 401 Maplewood Ave. in 1948.)

Here's that beautiful Eagles building, built in 1923, shown in the 1924 Economy Centennial program book.

Eagles Temple
653 - 655 Merchant St.
Economy of Old and Ambridge of Today
June 1924

The Ambridge Furniture Co., and later Reichart's Furniture, had occupied the Eagle's building before Sears moved into it. Unfortunately, I don't have any description or photos of what the facade looked like when those businesses were in the building, but according to a news article, the black shiny trim shown in the first photo above was added when Sears moved in. Other changes made with the Sears move were larger display windows and new entrances. (Daily Times, April 9, 1937)

Sears leased three floors in that building; the Eagles retained space on the upper floor. The basement and first floor were used by Sears for sales and display; the second floor was for business offices and storage. This Sears primarily sold "hardgoods." On the first store shoppers could find hardware, electrical equipment, washers, sweepers, radios, and sporting goods. The basement was the floor for plumbing and heating supplies, stoves, paint, and farm equipment, still an in-demand line of products for area farmers. The only clothing the store routinely carried was work clothes. But just about anything else a shopper might want could be ordered from the wide range of items in Sears' legendary catalog and later picked up at the store.

When Sears moved into 653 -655 Merchant, it also opened an auto service building behind the store in the rear of 650 Maplewood Ave.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. ad
Daily Times
April 9, 1937

Over the years, the Ambridge Sears store pretty much stuck to selling the same types of merchandise. But it did add newly popular items from time to time:

Sears ad for TVs
Beaver Valley Times
July 5, 1951

And I guess there was always a demand for "memorial markers." But they weren't anything I expected the Ambridge Sears catalog department to be advertising.

Sears ad for tombstones
Beaver Valley Times
March 24, 1951

Sears also offered home remodeling services like roofing and siding.

Sears roofing service ad
Beaver Valley Times
October 1, 1951

Here are two of the ads Sears ran during Ambridge's Golden Jubilee celebration in 1955. I know some people will say, "Wow, look at those prices!" But don't forget how much lower wages were in 1955 too:

Sears "Old Fashioned Bargain Days" Sale ad
Beaver Valley Times
June 29, 1955

Sears "Old Fashioned Bargain Days" Sale ad
Beaver Valley Times
June 29, 1955

And during the Christmas Season, the Ambridge Sears always had a Toy Town where you could tell Santa, in person, which of the toys you wanted:

Sears Toy Town ad
Beaver Valley Times
December 6, 1957

I'm including this 1957 Sears sale ad because I think it's the most unsettling business ad I've come across so far during my Ambridge history research.

Sears "Operation 'H-Bomb' Sale!"
Beaver Valley Times
May 28, 1959

I know some people now believe that Sears moved to Northern Lights when the shopping center opened in 1956 - 57, but that's not true. Sears remained in Ambridge until mid-October 1963, one week before it opened the new store the company had built on the far northwest side of Northern Lights where Giant Eagle is now. That new store was a larger department store that carried a more extensive line of merchandise than the Ambridge store had, including: clothing for women, men, and children, shoes, white goods (linens, towels, drapes), housewares, furniture, jewelry, cosmetics, perfume, and candy. Plus there was a snack bar.

The Ambridge Sears "Removal Sale" was held not only in its store, but also at a "storeroom" at 639 Merchant St., "next to Isaly's."

Sears "Removal Sale" ad
Beaver County Times
October 18, 1963

The year Sears after moved out, Bargain Furniture Mart, which already had a small store at 651 Merchant, expanded into 653-635. It was Bargain Furniture that remodeled the facade of the building by covering the lower front with a white "chipped ceramic" and the upper floors with the trendy-in-1964-green corrugated steel that still covers the building. Bargain Furniture also added the big 37 1/2 foot sign, the largest in Ambridge, that originally spelled out "Bargain" on lighted four-foot blocks.

I'm sorry about the quality of the photo below, but it's the only photo I currently have of the exterior of Bargain Furniture Mart's 653 - 655 Merchant St. store. You can see its smaller store to the left with the "Sale" sign on the window. That store became Bargain Furniture's Early American furniture showroom.

Bargain Furniture's new building with new facade and sign
653 - 655 Merchant St.
Beaver County Times
October 15, 1964

I hope to write about the businesses that occupied 653 -655 Merchant, both before and after Sears was there, in a future blog article. Watch for it.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Ambridge memorabilia: Slovenski Narodni Dom token

Slovenski Narodni Dom token
credit: Al Travis

Al Travis said he found several tokens like this among his late father's possessions. They're from Ambridge's Slovenski Narodni Dom (S.N.D.), also sometimes called the "Slovenian Auditorium," "The Slovenian Club," or "the triangle building."

If you lived in Ambridge from the late 1940s through the early '70s, you probably remember the triangular S.N.D. building at the intersection of Merchant St. and Beaver St.

Slovenian Auditorium
120 Merchant St.
Daily Citizen Trade Area Directory

Al said, "I think they were used when someone had bought you a drink, but you already had one. Not certain though." Does anyone know for sure of the tokens' purpose?

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The opening of the Ambridge Borough Pool

Pool side of bathhouse
Ambridge Borough Pool
Borough Park
Daily Citizen
May 29, 1942

Such a joyous and long-anticipated event. The newly constructed Ambridge Borough Pool was opening!

Opening day was Memorial Day, Saturday, May 30, 1942.*  The formal dedication of the pool would be later, on July 12, 1942.

The caption under the above photo says:
The new Ambridge Community pool, under construction for several years will be opened to the public tomorrow. Built at a large cost it is the most complete in this section of the state. Facilities are in keeping with the wide expanse of water. In other words the accommodations are ample. Another view of the pool can be seen on page 10.
Here's the other view:

New Ambridge Borough Pool
looking south from diving pool end
Ambridge Borough Park
Daily Citizen
May 29, 1942

The opening was announced in a full page ad in the May 29 Daily Citizen at a time when newspaper pages were huge! The ad featured the graphic at the top of this page, the pool photo immediately above, and the following:

The Daily Citizen of Monday, June 1, 1942, reported that the first person to enter the water had been John D. Davis, a borough painter, who had taken a swim ten minutes after midnight on "Friday" (but it's not clear whether this meant Friday or Saturday morning). He was followed by over 1,300 other people that first weekend--after the pool actually opened--the majority of them children.

The children of Ambridge, as well as some adults, had been waiting for so long for a public pool in Ambridge.

In the early 1920s, the Ambridge Playground Association had sponsored a pool on the 800 block of Duss Ave., near where the Junior High School was soon to be built. But that pool had been short-lived.

Frustrated waiting for another public pool to be built, in the summer of 1938, the children of the First St. neighborhood built the iconic Dead-End Pool in polluted Big Sewickley Creek. That pool was also short-lived, quickly closed and drained by health authorities. But that action led to a protest march by the children, leading to a bond issue for the purpose of building a new public pool being approved by voters in the November 1938 election.

Construction of the new public pool began in early 1939 by the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.), the federal program that provided jobs for the unemployed on public works projects across the U.S.  Built on property now known as Walter Panek Park, construction wasn't completed until 1942. (You can see photos of the very early days of the pool's construction by clicking on the link at the beginning of this paragraph.) The photo below shows how far construction had gotten by 1941.

Ambridge Borough Pool
circa May 1941
credit: Edmund Silla
photo courtesy of Jay Silla
 used with permission

Then finally...finally!...the new pool was finished and opened for swimming, despite the entry of the U.S. into WWII the previous December. Such an exciting day!

The July dedication ceremony featured the presentation of the pool to the Ambridge Borough by a W. P. A. representative, a Navy seaman speaking on the benefits of water sports, and a swim meet.

The Ambridge pool was the source of summer fun and fond memories for swimmers, and non-swimmers, from Ambridge and nearby communities, for several generations. But increasing maintenance costs needed by the aging building, combined with lack of funds to repair and upgrade the pool, eventually led to the pool's not opening in the summer of 1991. That year turned out to be beginning of the neglected pool's long, slow, ugly death, despite several proposals to reopen it.

The pool was demolished in 2009.

You can see more photos and read more memories of the pool by clicking on "Swimming pool" in the "labels" menu on the left.

* Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30 for decades until it was moved to the last Monday in May in 1971.