Sunday, June 7, 2009

Clairton's First Twenty-Five Years

Laughter is a smile with the volume turned up

Why I write about Clairton: The head of my crack research team recently reminded me that author John Updike was a Pennsylvanian. In fact, she sent me one of his quotes which describes the attachment to my hometown of Clairton although I have not lived there for nearly a half century. The quote reads, "...I have never really left Pennsylvania.... that is where the self I value is stored, however infrequently I check on its condition...."

Test your Clairton memory: I recently did a post about the number of car dealerships in Clairton during the 1940s and 50s. Since then I have taken the time to read the 1947 Fiftieth Anniversary Memories booklet. It was a beautifully done booklet with a silver cover created to commemorate the Silver (25th) anniversary of the founding of Clairton as a city. Although the periodical in my possession is tattered, I will share some of the ads for sponsorship placed in that booklet: Mauro Auto Sales featuring Desoto, 527 St. Clair Ave., Carroll Pontiac, 537 St. Clair Ave, B&B Oldsmobile, 205 State Street, North Clairton (Marraccini) Buick, Airport Kaiser-Frazer, 506 St. Clair Ave. Worthington (Nikolich) Hudson, 1115 Worthington Ave., Clairton Auto Dodge, 419 St. Clair Ave., Gumbel Chevrolet, 623 St. Clair Ave., Ed Collins Ford, 416 State Street, Ping Young Nash, 701 Miller Ave., St. Clair Packard, 108 St. Clair Ave., and Gregg Chrysler, 5th St. and Park. Ave. Of note, three of the dealerships; Gregg, Mauro, and Clairton Auto also sold Plymouths. Thus, in 1947, in a six block stretch of St. Clair Ave. there stood at least six car dealerships. Not in the booklet was a seventh dealership on St. Clair, Winters Motors sold Studebakers as well as Royak Gulf Station which also sold Willys Jeep vehicles.

St. Clair Avenue rocked in the 40s and 50s: In addition to the eight car dealerships on St. Clair Avenue, other businesses that advertised in the Silver Anniversary booklet, all on St. Clair Avenue, included: First National Bank, Smith Café, Clairton Grill, Pilgrim Press, Columbia Hotel, Friend and Rebhun Insurance and Real Estate, Penn Clair Hotel, State Pool Parlor, ABC Auto Parts, Pete’s Pocket Billiard and Restaurant, Royak Service Station, Graubard’s, Andrew Kvasnak Insurance and Mortgage, St. Clair Restaurant and Soda Grill, City Plumbing and Heating, St. Clair Billiards, Garden Electric Shop, Tomich Atlantic Service Station, Penn Cleaners, Harris Style Shop, The Clairton Progress, Mike’s Tavern, Vitelli’s Service Station, Bernardo’s Hotel, Grisnik’s Bakery, and The American Leigion. Twenty-six businesses in six blocks of one street, including three pool halls – and those are just the ones that advertised.

On State Street, that great street: State Street had the advantage of being several miles longer than the six blocks of St. Clair Avenue, but it boasted Jaskol’s Apparel, D&D Body Shop, J&J Restaurant, Martin’s Department Store, Peyton’s Tavern, Betty’s Quick Lunch, Spanovich Groceries, Joe’s Texaco, Walter Water’s Funeral Home, Korchak Furniture, Batinich Fancy Groceries, Lomicka’s Grocery, Patsty’s Grill, Recht Furniture, Milas Brother’s Beer Distributing, Central Grocery, Mark’s Café, Clairton Baking Company, McFarland’s Hotel, Garcia Restaurant, Nick’s Market, Haines Super Market, Clairton Works Benefit Club, Helmsteader’s Dry Goods, R. M. Sharp Jewelry, Roberts’ Brothers Service, Clairton News, Frederick Florist, Leonard Drug, Burd’s Service Station, Sam’s Pure Food Market, Martell Distributing, Marraccini’s Grocery, Wiesenthal Groceries, M&L 5 and 10 Cent Store, Simpson’s Barber Shop, Farrell’s Furniture, Four Roses Bar, and Pavlack Distributing. Thirty-eight places of business including 15 grocery stores and eating establishments and more than a dozen bars. It must be noted that State Street runs parallel with the steel mills.

Clairton’s choking lifeblood: The United States Steel Corporation also placed an ad in the Silver Anniversary booklet. In 1947 the mills were at full throttle as they switched from providing steel for the war effort, to sending it to Detroit for the auto industry. In the ad the steel mill boasts that it turned out more than 70 million tons in the six years of the War. The ad further discusses other products produced by the coke ovens which include, “Perfumes and fertilizers, medicines and poisons, laughing gas and embalming fluid are just a few of the infinite number of products we get from the modern method of transforming coal into coke.... Gas for fuel, tar and the long list of coal tar products – improved gasoline for your car and greater mileage for your tires, creosote to preserve railroad ties, nylon hose, billiard balls, spectacle (eyeglasses) rims, all contain byproducts of the coke oven...” The ad neglects to mention the soot and particulates that fill the air and turn the shingles on new homes black in a matter of weeks. Nor does it mention the odor of the quencher that permeates the air during the process, brings tears to the eyes and coats car windshields making them difficult to see through. Ah, but that was the lifeblood of the community. It paid taxes that built schools and maintained municipal services and beautiful parks.

A few notes: The Finney and Bekavac Funeral Home phone number was Clairton 57. That’s it. No area code and no seven digit number. In fact there was no need for a dial on the phone. You just picked up the receiver, listened to see if anybody else was talking on your party line and told the operator, whom you usually knew by her first name, the person or phone number you wished to call. No ringers to the tunes of rappers, no cell phones, no “Can you hear me now?” ads. Just pick up the phone and ask my Aunt Mary the operator, “Mary, can you get me Clairton 57?” Or simply, “Can you ring for Tony Bekavac?” We will offer more of the gems from the Silver Anniversary Memories in future posts.

A little blogging music Maestro... “The Air that I Breathe” by The Hollies.

Dr. Forgot

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