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.