Small Town Memories

Recording memories of the SHARPSVILLE, PA, area in little stories from the 1940s to the 1970s

Category: Business

PIERCE’S IRON BANKING BUILDING

PIERCE’S IRON BANKING BUILDING

James Pierce’s Iron Banking Building as it currently exists in c. 2013. Sharpsville, PA.

There was a lot of trust in the hearts of small-town citizens in the 1950s. In fact, I don’t remember if we even thought much about it. Trust was something that was taken for granted when doors were left unlocked overnight or we children ran about the neighborhood unsupervised. In those days, there were no such things as identity theft, car alarms or security cameras.

“King Edward Mild Tobaccos” Cigar Box, a handy container for many things.

An example of this was my father’s instinctive trust, not only in us kids but in small-town society in general, when he sent us to the bank each week to deposit cash and checks from his printing business. I can still picture my brother or myself, about 9 and 11 years old, carrying that yellow King Edward cigar box weighed down with rolls of coins and checks as we walked along the dirt path that ran between our Second Street house and the Erie Railroad tracks. When we reached North Walnut Street we would leave the path to turn left, cross the tracks, then take a right on East Shenango Street.

After another block or two, we reached a row of buildings that included the three-story First National Bank on the corner of North Mercer and East Shenango streets, less than a half-mile from our home. There, barely able to reach the teller’s window, we would slide the contents of the box under the teller’s cage, the teller would tally the items in a little bank book, date-stamp and initial the entries and return the book to us.

There was a bit of irony in those regular deposits that were earned by my father’s business. In earlier years, Dad was turned down by a bank’s employee when he asked for a loan to start up his printing business. Now that Dad’s business was doing well, each deposit must have been very satisfying to him.

James Pierce’s Legacy

The Iron Banking Company building, built in 1871 by General James Pierce.
Corner of Mercer and Shenango Streets, Sharpsville, PA.
[Click on image for enlargement.]

As children, we weren’t aware that the bank building we visited, like the Pierce Mansion we passed along the way (before its demolition in 1952), was already four decades old and part of the James Pierce legacy.

The structure was constructed in 1871 by “General” James Pierce (1810-1874), president and principal owner of Sharpsville’s first bank, the Iron Banking Company. It was built to resemble the Italianate style of architecture popular nationwide in the mid- to late-1800s, with its rectangular shape and its row of seven tall front windows that were rounded on top. The Geddes & Pierce Foundry supplied the cast iron front of the building.

James Pierce’s presidency was followed by that of his son Frank (1852-1931). The Iron Banking Company was later converted to the First National Bank of Sharpsville in c. 1905. In 1964 it became a branch of the McDowell National Bank in Sharon. Later, the building housed other banking institutions, including a PNC branch until 2013. As of 2015, the first floor was occupied by Meadville Area ONE Federal Credit Union. The two brick buildings on North Mercer Avenue are now part of the Sharpsville Borough Historic District.

Christmas Club

There was another reason we kids regularly visited Sharpsville’s First National Bank back in the 1950s. Hoping that we would develop a savings habit, Dad made sure we belonged to the Christmas Club, a program that banking institutions had developed to promote their services as well as holiday spending. He belonged to such a club when he was a young lad in Cleveland, Ohio, memories of which he recorded in his memoir, “Trivia & Me.” The setting was in the 1920s, a bit earlier than the Great Depression, the period Wikipedia indicates as the time the Club became widespread. Dad’s descriptions of the Christmas Club generally match those that I remember experiencing in the 1950s. He writes:

It was the era when banks sponsored Christmas Clubs. People — especially youth — were encouraged to deposit small amounts of money each week for 50 weeks. Banks solicited five cents or 10, 25 or 50 cents to do the double job of teaching people to save money and promoting Christmas sales for merchants. The banks would issue a passbook in which a teller would record the weekly deposits and then initial the entry. Two weeks before Christmas, one could withdraw the savings in cash (without interest) for a shopping spree. For several years I managed to join the 10 cents club and was awarded the joy of a cash harvest of $5 at Christmas time.

Even though the interest rate was low or nonexistent and fees were charged for withdrawals, I had a feeling of accomplishment when I received that check in early December. And the Christmas Club may have contributed to the way we siblings handled our finances since then, leaning more toward careful than spendthrift. The Club exists to this day, although primarily run by credit unions.

Pierce Opera House

 

For 40 years after Pierce’s bank building was constructed the 3,000-square-foot third floor served as Sharpsville’s cultural center, having been home to the Pierce Opera House. There is limited information about the shows performed in those early days, but it is known that the organization offered a variety of musical events and featured speakers. Once motion pictures became popular, they were shown as well.

In addition, the two upper floors were used for high school graduations during the late 1800s until c. 1920, an occasional basketball game in the early 1900s and as a meeting place for the Order of the Eastern Star and the Masons. The building also housed the original offices of the town’s early newspaper, “The Sharpsville Advertiser,” started by Walter Pierce, James Pierce’s son. After the 1920s this floor remained unused for some time.

In the early 2000s Michael G. Wilson and his family began restoring the opera house which had been left neglected behind a concealing wall for some eight or nine decades. Wilson, owner of the building since 1999, had been a longtime Borough Manager of Sharpsville who retired January 2017. The Wilson family found — and preserved — much of the opera stage’s original trappings and equipment once the wall was removed. For photos of old-time ticket booth posters and graffiti, go to Sharpsville Area Historical Society’s “Opera House Pictures.”

Wanting to see the restoration continue in good hands, Mr. Wilson sold the building to Dr. Francisco Cano of Greenville, PA, himself professionally trained in operatic voice. Cano’s love of opera and the arts was a driving force behind the ongoing phases of restoration designed to house theatrical, musical, and opera performances once again. The first performance of the Pierce Opera House’s revival was in 2009.

The Valley Lyric Opera, which now resides in the Pierce Opera House, provides an excellent level and variety of programs. Past performances include the operas Aida, La Traviata, La Boheme, Rigoletto; musicals [performed by the Area Community Theatre of Sharpsville — ACTS] South Pacific, Man of La Mancha, as well as ballets, musical tributes to Neil Simon and Andrew Lloyd Weber and a host of other outstanding offerings.

Pierce Opera House has once again taken its rightful place as Sharpsville’s center for the arts. Visit them online for future developments and upcoming performances: www.valleylyricopera.org

Sources

Angel, August D. Trivia & me: an octogenarian mirrors his twentieth century. London, KY: August David Angel, 2007. Print.

“Bravo! Sharpsville steps into act with opera performances in July.” 22 March 2009. http://www.vindy.com/news/2009/mar/22/bravo-sharpsville-steps-into-act-with-opera/ [accessed 31-Oct-2017]. Internet resource.

“Christmas Club.” Wikipedia website.  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_club [accessed 31-Oct-2017]. Internet resource.

Hanes, Gail Nitch, Sharpsville: Our Home Town — Then and Now.” 2012. Pp. 13-18 and 57-59. Powerpoint on PDF. Internet resource.

Pierce Opera House website. www.valleylyricopera.org [accessed 23-Oct-2017]. Internet resource.

“Walking Tour.” Sharpsville Area Historical Society. walkingtour.pdf [accessed 23-Oct-2017].Internet resource.

See Also

Sharpsville Area Historical Society’s Newsletter, March 2017 issue, page 2, for more about the Opera House Block.


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REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE (Part I)

Now showing! Memories of the drive-in theater, featuring Reynolds, a local hot spot during the 1950s and 60s for family, friends, and dates. Part I gives a brief history of Reynolds, the name’s origin, and the reason why it’s in this blog’s spotlight.

Reynolds Drive-in Theatre in its heyday, Transfer, PA, c. 1950s. Photo submitted to cinematreasures.org by Chris1982.

REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE

The year that the Reynolds Drive-In died was 2014. This drive-in theater on Route 18 in Transfer, Pennsylvania, lived for over six decades, experienced a brief comeback, now is no more.

Open air cinemas had existed in crude forms, showing silent movies, as early as 1915-1916 in Mexico and 1921 in Texas. The drive-in theater as we know it opened in 1933 in Camden, New Jersey, by chemical company magnate Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. after he did much experimentation to get it right. His ideas took hold and drive-ins grew in popularity in the 1930s.

By the 1950s and 1960s, the number of drive-ins peaked at around 4,000 and were mostly found in the United States, Canada and Australia. In the Sharpsville, PA, area alone there were the Hickory Drive-in (Sharon), Larkfield and Guthrie (Grove City), Penn (New Castle), Lakeside (Conneaut Lake), Moonlight (Brookville) and Reynolds (Transfer). Just across the border in Ohio were the Howland (Niles) and four more in the Youngstown area (Northside, Ski Hi, Southside, and Westside). A few are still in operation. Pennsylvania was known to have the greatest number of drive-in theaters in the U.S., mostly due to two advantages: cheap land and lots of it.

During the 1970s the number of drive-ins was declining for a variety of reasons. The societal and technical developments that adversely affected drive-ins are well-explained on the “History” page of www.driveinmovie.com: Daylight Savings Time, video rentals, urban sprawl, and finally the push to convert from 35mm film to expensive digital projectors in the early 2000s. Drive-in theaters made a brief comeback recently, as owners found creative ways to fund their existence, such as combining them with flea markets or serving higher-quality food at the concession stand, but it’s been a struggle.

Reynolds Drive-In Theatre: History & Memories

The story of Reynolds closely follows the course of drive-in theater history. The exact date that the Reynolds Drive-In originally opened is apparently unknown, with various websites estimating 1945, 1947, and as late as 1955.

However, the theater was already in existence for several years by 1953 as evidenced by an ad that appeared in the Record-Argus, a Greenville newspaper, featuring this message from Carl T. McKnight, Reynolds Owner and Manager:

A MESSAGE TO THE PUBLIC From REYNOLDS Drive-in Theatre

A few years ago we at REYNOLDS THEATRE decided we would like to keep our theatre alive during the winter months by having our marquee greet you with a friendly thought as you pass by. … We really appreciate hearing from you and would be happy to use any quotations or bit of philosophy you would care to send us, providing they are of a length we can use in our limited amount of space. …. LET US HEAR FROM YOU – CARL T. MCKNIGHT Owner and Manager

1967 AMC Ambassador with a front bench seat offering room and seat belts for three adults. Source: Wikimedia.

Reynolds Drive-In Theatre was the place to be during its summers-only seasons in the 1950s and 60s, whether it was a date night (remember when drive-ins were called “passion pits”?) or family night.

Spread across approximately 10 acres, Reynolds had the capacity for 550 cars, an average size for a drive-in then, and one large sheet metal screen tower that rested on a thick base of 75% stone masonry. There was a rise in the ground where you parked that tilted your car towards the screen. Because it was unpaved, the ground was sometimes dotted with puddles of water after a rain. At such a time, where the car was parked could be an important consideration! The spaciousness of cars in those days, along with their large windshields, made it easier see the movie from the both front and back seats. And those upholstered bench seats were much more comfortable than the hard seats of an indoor theater.

“Reynolds”: Whence the Name?

The name “Reynolds” has an intriguing history that dates back to the Civil War.

During World War II, “Reynolds” designated a Military Personnel Replacement Depot that existed in Pymatuning Township, Mercer County. What was once 26 farms on nearly 3,300-acres of rich land where potatoes grew, became in the span of only six months in 1942 the location of the largest military installation of its kind in the U.S. First known as Camp Shenango for the nearby village of Shenango, this self-sufficient “town” consisted of barracks, gymnasiums, chapels, libraries, theaters, a 100-bed hospital, fire stations, warehouses, mess halls, a rifle range, post exchanges, guest facilities, and much more.

http://www.greenvillereynolds.com/uploads/misc/IMG_1620.png

“Welcome to Reynolds Industrial Park.” 1949-present. Source: http://www.greenvillereynolds.com

All this was to temporarily accommodate officers and enlisted men before they were sent to war in Europe. In 1943, the War Department changed the name to U.S. Army Camp Reynolds in honor of General John F. Reynolds, who died in the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.

Camp Reynolds also served as a holding place for German prisoners-of-war from April 1944 until January 1946. Camp Reynolds as a military personnel replacement depot was closed in 1945.

From 1949 to the present day, 1,200 acres of the area have been the location of three parks (industrial, warehouse and business), owned and operated by the non-profit Greenville-Reynolds Development Corporation.

Reynolds Drive-In: A Family Connection

”The Ten Commandments” 1956 Cecil B. DeMille epic from Paramount Pictures. Source: Wikipedia.

I have special memories of this drive-in. My father, a printer and a friend of Carl T. McKnight, then owner of the drive-in, used to print programs for Reynolds in the 1950s. The programs, handed out to each car at the ticket booth, advertised upcoming movies and probably other information that I don’t recall. Usually, my brother or I (when we learned to drive) would deliver the programs, along with a few friends. We could stay for the movie without charge and sometimes we did.

My dad hardly ever attended movies, indoors or out, but I do remember the time he took the family to see Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic film depicting the life of Moses, “The Ten Commandments,” some time after its release in October 1956. That this one interested him was a mystery to us kids. It couldn’t have been the subject matter as he wasn’t a church-goer. In order to get the actors’ names and movie titles right, Dad subscribed to film industry magazines, such as BOXOFFICE Magazine. Maybe he had read about the movie’s reputation as the most expensive and the most financially successful film ever made at the time, its Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and 6 other categories, and its spectacular special effects. After all, Moses turns the river Nile to blood and parts the Red Sea right before your eyes!

(Continued in Part II)

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (Sharpsville High School 1958), Phoenix, AZ. August 2017.

See Also:

REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE (Part II) – Speakers, Concession Stands
& Reynolds’ Final Days

Irwin, Dan. “Movie Memories Part 3: Technology takes movie theater projectionists from distinction to extinction.” New Castle News, July 3, 2013. http://www.ncnewsonline.com/news/local_news/movie-memories-part-technology-takes-movie-theater-projectionists-from-distinction/article_b7f0ac78-d930-54b2-ba80-a99761928056.html

Sources:

“Camp Reynolds.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_Reynolds

“Drive-In Theater.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drive-in_theater

“Message to the Public from Reynolds Drive-in Theatre.” The Record-Argus, Greenville, PA. November 23, 1953, p. 4.  Newspapers.com.
https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/12091556/

“Reynolds Drive-In.” Cinema Treasures, LLC.
http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/10365



PAPERBOYS AND PINSETTERS

While writing about my brother, Mike, and his treehouse, I was reminded of two typical 1950s jobs he had while in high school: paperboys and pinsetters. Traditionally for boys only, those jobs put a little extra change in their pockets and taught them the fundamentals of the working world, whether they liked them or not.


sharpsville_sharon-herald-logo-3

Logo used pending permission from The Herald, Sharon, PA.

PAPERBOYS: “Read all about it!”

In the later half of the 1950s, my brother Mike delivered “The Sharon Herald” daily newspaper door to door in Sharpsville, PA. Our dad described Mike’s work in his memoir, Trivia & Me as follows:

Mike was an industrious and outgoing teenager. Shortly after we moved to Sharpsville [c. 1950], he helped a friend with a 50 to 75-customer Sharon Herald newspaper route, learned all the addresses, and took it over when his friend gave it up for a bigger route. At first, the papers were too heavy to carry in a shoulder bag, so Mike pulled them in a wagon. The Thursday edition was the heaviest because it was often printed on 24 to 36 pages or 48 to 56 pages for special sale editions on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Washington’s Birthday, and the Fourth of July. [The Herald was then an afternoon publication.]

At first, each paper was delivered from the sidewalk to the porch on foot, a time-consuming effort involving much running back and forth. In time, Mike became adept enough to fold the paper into itself and throw it accurately to the porch door.

In the summertime, I often accompanied him on the route. When the weather was pleasant and doors were open we would listen to “Amos ‘n’ Andy” [a weekly situation comedy] and other radio programs uninterrupted as we moved from one house to the other. In wintertime, during the cold and snow, we were only interested in getting the papers delivered as quickly as we could.

sharpsville_pixabay_newsboySaturday was customer pay-up day. Unless a person has ever tried to collect monies for service, he would not believe the number of excuses some customers offered to avoid or delay paying the paperboy his dues. However, Mike was such a good businessman that he encountered only a few non-payers, mostly [those] customers who had moved out-of-town.

Dad was likely very proud of Mike’s newspaper job, remembering his own experience as a young boy in the early 1900s when he peddled papers on a street corner in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. The newspaper, “The Plain Dealer,” which still exists to this day, sold for 3 cents each, of which 1 penny was his. Hopefully, his son Mike brought home a bit more than that!

PINSETTERS: Beware the Flying Pins!

Cartoon Bowling Strike, Designed by Vexels.com

Cartoon Bowling Strike, Designed by Vexels.com

Pinsetting required even more exertion and dexterity than newspaper delivery. Several evenings a week, Mike could be found at the Thornton Hall, working as the pinboy at the receiving end of a bowling lane. When the bowling ball hit the pins, he cleared the fallen pins, and rolled the bowling ball back to the player. At the end of turn player’s turn, he would return all ten pins to their proper places, ready for the next player.

Mike has this incisive memory of his pinboy job:”We were paid 13 cents per line for pin setting. The experience taught me that there must be an easier way to make money.”

One of the pinsetter’s main concerns was to avoid getting smashed by the oncoming bowling ball or flying pins. This was what I remember most from the days that I too reset pins, not as a teenager but as an Allegheny College student taking a women’s physical education course in bowling. The school rented lanes at a local Meadville, PA, bowling alley, and we students were pressed into service as pingirls. In order to set up all the pins for the next player, we used a treadle that we pushed with our foot, causing 10 pins to raise up. We would then set the bowling pins down on the pins, release the treadle, and the pins were in position for the next player. When that bowling ball came roaring toward us, we were sure to jump up and perch on a platform on either side of the lane, out of the way of the collision below.

The introduction of the mechanical bowling pinsetters and their prevalence in bowling alleys by the 1960s did away with the job of pinsetting. In this case, automation was a godsend. Not only did automatic pinsetters allow for faster games, but more importantly, they eliminated the dangers inherent in pinsetting by teenage boys and sometimes girls!


“The Sharon Herald” has been known as “The Herald” since 1970, having dropped “Sharon” from its nameplate to reflect wider distribution in the Shenango Valley, Mercer County, and several adjacent towns. The newspaper, still going strong in print and now online, has been a morning paper since 2002 and is published every day except Christmas Day.

Thornton Hall still stands on the corner of Thornton Street and Hall Avenue, just across the border between Sharpsville and Sharon, PA. According to its Facebook page, Thornton Hall still has a bowling alley. (The drug store and roller-skating rink in the same building that we 1950s-60s teenagers would frequent appear to no longer exist.) Although the alley still hands out paper score sheets on which players do their own scoring, I doubt that it still has human pinsetters. And I’m pretty sure that, if bowling classes were still offered at Allegheny College, pinsetting duty would no longer be required.

Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), March 2017, with help from Mike Angel (SHS 1960).
Excerpt from “Trivia & Me,” page 118, an autobiography written by August Angel.

METALLIC MEMORIES

There once was a time when the word “metal” called to mind a chemical element, such as iron, aluminum, or tin, and not the loud, fast-paced music of distorted electric guitars. Here are two stories about the chemical kind of metal that played a part in my memories of 1950s Sharpsville, Pennsylvania. We welcome your additions or corrections.


The Tin Shop

The Tin Man in the "Wizard of Oz." Source: Pixabay.

The Tin Man in the “Wizard of Oz.” Source: Pixabay.

One of my favorite movies is The Wizard of Oz, starring those memorable characters that Dorothy met as she tried to find her way home to Kansas from the Land of Oz. One of those, the Tin Man, would remind me of a tin shop that was located in the alley behind my childhood home in Sharpsville. It’s strange how the mind can connect two entirely different subjects by the presence of one thing in common. In this case, tin.

Between our house on Second Street and the Casino, there was Y-shaped cinder alley where we kids sometimes played baseball. One leg of the alley led to Main Street and the other to North Third Street. The tin shop I remember was a black wooden two-story building among several similar outbuildings, dark and mysterious as to their use, although I recall that one of them had a large sliding door and was used as a garage.

Peering through the shop’s grimy windows we could see cobwebs strung about the machinery and dusty piles of tin things. My brother Mike remembers that “all kinds of items were made there that were outdated such as candle molds. I guess that’s why they went out of business. I only remember one time I saw people working the shop. The rest of the time the place was locked up.”

Angel family dog in back yard with alley buildings in background, May 1954.

Angel family dog in backyard of Second Strreet home; alley buildings in background, May 1954.

(Mike has a much keener mind than I do about our past. He also recalls another tin shop “down from Crick’s Drug Store, I think that was on Pierce Avenue. That shop was well known for making the long spouted oil cans used to reach oil fittings on locomotives.” )

The existence of the tin shop in the alley was further confirmed by Donna DeJulia: “I lived directly across the street from the tin shop on 27 North Third Street. Mom said that tin shop used to be a livery stable at one time….”

Donna submitted a photo of the tin shop to the familyoldphotos website and wrote that the tin shop was owned by a Mr. Clark. “His son was in the Breed motorcycle club [which] taught my older brother to throw knives.” It was eventually torn down by the owner of Cattron Communications, a company that, in the 1970s, had its home office in what was once the Angel family home and printshop on Second Street.

Google Maps Street View shows that the space is now cleared of most of the old buildings and houses and completely paved over. The place looks tidy now but lacks the character it had in the old days. Maybe the tin shop still sticks in my imagination so many years later because it was a silent relic of an even more distant past. Or maybe because the Tin Man would have been at home in that place during its heyday.

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ
– Mike Angel (SHS 1960), London, KY
Donna DeJulia (SHS 1960)


Collecting Scrap Metal

Source: Pinterest.com

Source: Pinterest.com

Scrap yards or junkyards of old now have the more respectable name of “recycling centers,” but they achieve the same useful purpose of providing a place to properly dispose of unwanted metal material, such as cars, household appliances, and other products, large and small. Some of us kids would go about town collecting smaller metal items with the goal of turning our finds into the local scrap yard for some spending money.

It was like a treasure hunt as we searched for metal items in fields, along roads, or in neighbors’ trashbins. With Dad’s help, we would then load up the family’s 1949 Ford pick-up truck with our collection, mostly cans, tubing, wires, and an assortment of unidentified pieces of metal. We’d pull into the yard and onto a scale that weighed the truck and its contents. After the truck was emptied it was driven onto the scale again to determine the weight of the metal. Then the best part came when the employee would pay us in cash for our delivery. According to my brother Mike,

Magnet souvenir from J.r. Goldberg Scrap Yard., Sharon, PA, c. 1950s.

Magnet souvenir from J.r. Goldberg Scrap Yard., Sharon, PA, c. 1950s.

[S]crap metal collecting was one of my ways of making extra money. Every time I found a piece of metal I would add it to my stash until the pile was big enough to take to the scrap yard, usually J. B. Goldberg Co. in Sharon. Usually, Dad would drive me there. Incidentally, in front of me as I’m typing this e-mail is a magnet the company gave out as advertising items. The engraving on the magnet depicts, “J.B. Goldberg Co. Sharon, PA -Diamond 7-7390 – Scrap Iron & Metal.” I’ve had the magnet about 60 years now.

Irene Caldwell O’Neill also recalls that “Jack [my brother] and I used to save every piece of scrap metal we could find and take it in our wagon to the scrap yard where it was weighed and we collected our cash.”

The junkyards, then and now, use the scrap metal to re-make metal – a process which is more cost-effective than producing new metals. In the 1950s we kids didn’t think about this aspect of junkyards or that they benefited the environment in the long run. We just enjoyed the treasure hunt and the little bit of money we earned for our efforts.

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ
– Mike Angel (SHS 1960), London, KY

– Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA – April 2012


RITZ THEATER I

For this month’s blog, let’s go to the movies again! When the request went out for remembrances of Sharpsville, PA, in the 1950s-60s, three stories about the Ritz Theater were submitted, evidently a popular memory for us old-timers. And no wonder! What glamor, high jinks and an array of adventures awaited us on that silver screen!


RITZ THEATER I

Many years have passed since the curtains closed on the stage of the Ritz Theater in Sharpsville for the last time after an afternoon or evening of entertainment, but the memories live on.

sharpsville_movie-reel-popcorn-3dAlthough the Hollywood films shown by this little theater were mostly low-budget, they were so much a part of our lives during the 1950s and 1960s that they likely formed some of the values we hold today. Of course, we had other choices of motion picture venues nearby, such as the Reynolds Drive-In Theatre in rural Transfer, PA, and the several larger and fancier downtown Sharon, PA, theaters which ran premieres and first-run movies. However, the Ritz was just around the corner from our house and much cheaper to attend.

The Original Owners

Charles E. Gable (1859-1945) was said to be the original owner of the Ritz. According to the 1920 U.S. Census, Charles, age 60, and his wife Florence Archer Gable (1861-1932), lived in the “Hotel Gable” on Railroad Street, Sharon, PA, and his occupation was theater owner. The theater at that time may have been the Gable Theater located in either Sharon or Farrell, PA. (Charles and Florence Gable graves are in Oakwood Cemetery, the same place where Julia and Frank Buhl are buried, near Thornton Hall in Sharon.)

Charles E. Gable (1859-1945)

Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960) submitted this newspaper clipping, from The Sharon Herald, 07 August 1942:

Birthdays Today: Charles E. Gable

Usually active at the age of 83 is Mr. Gable, proprietor of the Ritz Theater, Sharpsville, whose birthday is on this date. A Herald photographer caught him in a hearty laugh on his anniversary. Mr. Gable is one of the best known men in the county, having been actively identified with the growth of the Shenango Valley. For many years he operated the Gable Hotel, which had a national reputation for the excellence of its meals.

The year that the Ritz Theater was established is unknown but the theater was considered “new” in 1936, according to an excerpt of a speech given by Peter Joyce (owner of the former Isaly’s Dairy located on Third and Main streets) to the Sharpsville Service Club in 1979. In honor of Dr. Nelson Bailey, Mr. Joyce reminisced about Sharpsville:

 …[L]et’s wander back 56 years and look at the Sharpsville of that time and some of the people who have gone to their reward, whom Dr. Bailey first met. …Then, on down to First Street to the new Ritz Theatre with Charles Gable and his diamond rings and a powerful hoarse voice which we heard later in his famous nephew, Clark Gable….  http://www.sharpsvillehistorical.com/documents/Reminiscences.pdf

The following blurb in the September-December 1936 issue of The Film Daily (Vol. 70) also mentions “C.E. Gable” in connection with the Ritz in Sharpsville (and states a different relationship with Clark):

Sharpsville, Pa.— C. E. Gable, operator of the Ritz Theater here and nephew of Clark Gable, is leaving for Florida next week on his annual winter vacation.  http://archive.org/stream/filmdailyvolume770newy/filmdailyvolume770newy_djvu.txt

According to my brother, Mike Angel, “I believe a Mr. Belonax owned, or at least managed, the theater during our time period [1950s]. Cost for a Saturday matinee was 20 cents and if you didn’t have enough money Mr. Belonax would let you in anyway.” [Helen Belonax owned and operated a beauty salon a few doors down from the theater.]

If Mr. Belonax did indeed purchase the Ritz, he may have done so by responding to this classified ad “for Business Opportunities” in The Pittsburgh Press, April 16, 1950:

Ritz Theater, Sharpsville, Pa.
370 seats, drawing population 10 to 12 thousand, no competition, always a money maker.
Reason for selling: To settle Estate. Address: Trustee, 919 Koppers Bldg. Pittsburgh 19, Pa.

Exterior of the Ritz Theater

The Ritz, located in a one-story brick building on the corner of First and Main streets was one of many neighborhood movie theaters that once existed in towns and cities across the United States. Only a few have managed to still be in operation, such as another Ritz Theater, also on Main Street, that I attended while living in Muncy, PA, in the early 1980s.

We kids enjoyed several evening and matinee movies a week at our little neighborhood movie theater. And we did so without adult supervision. At the time I didn’t wonder why our parents would let us attend so often, but now I think it may have been a convenient, sure, and safe way to get us out of their hair for a few hours.

I believe there was a red neon sign, indicating “RITZ,” above the front of the theater that was lit up when the theater was open for business. Decorating the facade of the Ritz’s portico were colorful posters promoting current and upcoming feature films and about eight stills of the movie that was currently playing. The ticket booth with its glass window was inside the east wall of the portico to the right of the doors.

sharpsville_movie-ticket

Entering the Ritz Theater

After purchasing a ticket, we walked through the entrance doors and, if we had an extra nickel, we would make a stop at the candy machine in the foyer and select our favorite candy, such as a box of Raisinets, JujyFruits, Good & Plenty, Mike & Ike, Milk Duds, Sugar Babies, or Dots. Or maybe a 5th Avenue or Butterfinger candy bar. Popcorn must have been available as well, perhaps at the ticket window, because to this day the odor of popcorn reminds me of the cozy dark interior of the Ritz.

The Ritz Theater featured a narrow inner lobby which ran behind the auditorium seats. The wall that separated the inner lobby and the seating area was short enough in height to allow a patron to see the screen and available seats before entering the auditorium. There were two aisles dividing the three seating sections on a slightly inclined floor, a stage with curtains, and emergency exits on either side. The Ritz did not have a balcony but I vaguely remember box seats above the main seating area on each side of the stage. If they did exist, they were likely for decoration only, as I don’t recall that the box seats were ever used by patrons.

The Ritz Theater Staff

There were two brothers who worked as ushers. Their duties included leading us to our seats with a flashlight if the movie had already begun, monitoring the projection quality of the film, and making sure the audience behaved.

Irene Caldwell O’Neill wrote, “I have the name of the man who was employed as the projectionist/manager and some people think he may have been the purchaser when Mr. Gable died. The projectionist’s name was Andrew P. Semon, who lived on Ridge Avenue. His daughter helped him at the theater in the later years.”

Movies at the Ritz

At the start of the movie, the curtains would dramatically part from the middle, probably another job for the ushers. Then we were treated to several “shorts,” such as a cartoon, travelogue, an installment of the latest adventure serial (with a “cliffhanger” ending), a newsreel, and/or a comedy. I remember how embarrassed we girls were as boys hooted and hollered whenever a jungle travel film showed bare-breasted “native” women. Jame A. FitzPatrick’s Traveltalk Film travelogues, which served to open our eyes to the world, always ended with a sunset and the narrator’s voice intoning this goodbye: “And as the sun sinks slowly in the west, we bid a reluctant farewell to…” whatever land the film was covering.

Finally, it was time for the main feature, which always began with what seemed to be an interminable list of all the credits. At first, the Hollywood films featured old-fashioned middle-class conformity and character idealization in the form of westerns, musicals, detective stories, and comedies. I dutifully listed in my 1950s diaries each film I saw, and still recall my favorites, such as the comedy series starring the Bowery Boys, as well as “Destination Moon,” “Son of Paleface,” “King Solomon’s Mines,” “Snows of Kilimanjaro,” and the re-release of “Gone with the Wind.” Also, many of the movies were now in the saturated hues of Technicolor, instead of the all black-and-white films of earlier years.

By the latter part of the 1950s, Hollywood began realizing that the younger generation was interested in more realistic representations of their lives. Gradually we were treated to the exciting and sexy actions of anti-heroes such as Marlon Brando and James Dean and anti-heroines such as Bette Davis, Kim Novak, and Marilyn Monroe. My friend was a big fan of James Dean, filling a scrapbook with his pictures, and mourning, along with many other teenage fans, his untimely death in an automobile accident. The first movie to feature rock ‘n’ roll music, “Blackboard Jungle,” with its energizing “Rock Around the Clock” theme song, was a sort of awakening to me that kids my age were a group to be reckoned with.

At the finish of each film or short subject, two large words on the center of the screen informed us that the film had reached “The End.” Once outside again, I would enjoy studying the publicity stills to see if I recognized the scenes depicted.

Ritz Theater Advertising Card

The Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletter, dated July 2016 (Vol. V, No. 2), displays the image of a Ritz Theater advertising card. It lists the titles and stars of movies scheduled to be shown for the month of February 1952.

Four of the 18 films were in Technicolor, the others were in black-and-white, and all were second-run, having been released the year before. The titles changed every two days, except on Saturday when they were one-day-only. There were double features on one of the Saturdays and in a Thursday-Friday show. This was the type of schedule that was in place during my Ritz days in the early 1950s, but I don’t remember advertising cards. They certainly would have been handy!

Other Ritz Memories

Mike recalls:

Between the theater and the beauty salon was a 2′ x 3′ grate over the sidewalk that covered an access to the basement or crawl space beneath the building. While waiting for the next movie, kids would play around the grate with money in hand to buy popcorn or candy and accidentally drop coins in the grate. Joe Wasley and I would always look through the grate’s iron bars to see if there was any change in the void. The grate had a lock on it and we couldn’t open it to retrieve the lost change, so Joe and I would put chewing gum on a end of a long stick and spear the coins through the iron bars. The coins would stick to the gum. There was always loose change to be had.

I remember the Christmas parties put on by some civic organization. They would give you a popcorn ball and a big bag of hardtack candy. Santa was always there. What a great time!!!

On one of my movie visits, there was a short fundraising film for the March of Dimes foundation’s fight against polio, a dreaded and widespread disease before the Salk vaccine was developed. At the end of the film, the lights were turned on and the ushers passed around collection cans for small donations from the patrons. Meanwhile, the song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” played which seemed to me a moving but perhaps an unfortunate choice.

The End of the Ritz

As more and more families bought television sets, Hollywood tried to beat out TV’s competition with technical innovations such as wide screens, 3-D movies, and CinemaScope. In 1952, my family drove to Pittsburgh to see “This is Cinerama,” a travelogue with a thrilling roller coaster ride that was projected on screens that seemed to surround the viewer. Even at the Ritz, we watched CinemaScope movies, such as “Prince Valiant,” and donned cardboard-and-plastic eyeglasses to watch “Charge at Feather River” and other 3-D movies. By June 1954, the entrance price had increased to 50 cents to keep up with rising costs.

However, changes in film distribution and the growing popularity of television were factors that led to the eventual decline of the Ritz and hundreds of other small movie theaters.

Sadly, a vacant lot now exists where this once lively showplace stood, but we movie-goers of the ’50s and ’60s can still see those images and performers, hear their words and songs, and smell the popcorn, as they play out in our fond recollections of the Ritz Theater.

sharpsville_movie_the-end

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, with contributions from Michael Angel (SHS 1960), London, KY, Irene Caldwell O’Neill, Escondido, CA (SHS 1960), and Judy Caldwell Nelson (SHS 1958), Shoreline, WA; April 2012


See Also:
Ritz Theater II by Irene Caldwell O’Neill
Ritz Theater III by Judy Caldwell Nelson
Sharpsville and the Ritz Re-Discovered by Gail Nitch Hanes

ANGEL’S CASINO: A Place to Party

This is the last installment of my memories of the Casino. Next week, we’ll take a look at a new subject and author. Keep those comments and submissions coming! What events do you remember attending at “Angel’s”?


Record hops and wedding celebrations weren’t the only types of gatherings at Angel’s Casino. In his memoir, Dad wrote:

Utilization of the former livery stable under my ownership evolved slowly and unevenly…. Soon after purchase, the building was rented for roller-skating on the fine maple floor, mostly for kids’ private birthday parties – at first to give some semblance of occupancy. This activity lasted only a short while, because rentals by adult groups such as wedding parties, civic and fraternal groups, and clubs were more in demand.

…[E]very evening of the week, except Sunday, the hall was used for some function or other. There were only two activities promoted by yours truly – a regular weekly dinner for the Kiwanis Club serving 15 to 20 members and Friday night dances. The rest of the rentals were privately sponsored.

Besides birthday parties and Kiwanis Club dinners, the hall was used for many other functions, such as square dancing by the Masons, a style show by the Foster Shoppe, card parties by the Women’s Auxiliary, a fur coat show by the Women’s Club, and banquets for the Degree of Honor Society, Sharpsville Service Club, and the Sharpsville Patrol boys. There were also skating parties for a variety of groups, including the Sharon Herald newspaper employees, Girl Scouts, and Shenango Furnace Company employees. An entry in my 1954 diary describes the day when we kids watched wide-eyed as Paige Palmer, the hostess of one of the earliest televised fitness-oriented television shows, “The Paige Palmer Show,” stepped from a luxurious black car to speak before a Women’s Club meeting.

Click on image to enlarge.

My hard-working mother, Susie Hall Angel, was in charge of preparing the meals served at club meetings and was often praised by the guests for her tasty home-style cooking. A typical plate would consist of a meat, a starch, and a vegetable, such as baked chicken, creamed potatoes, and green beans. The dinner would end with a simple dessert, such as ice cream or fresh-baked cake or cookies.

Dad would recruit family members and friends to assist my mother in the kitchen and with the other chores required to run a community meeting place. Dad paid us something like 50 cents an hour to sell tickets and pop at record hops, wait on tables, and help clean up after these events. As I wrote in my 1956 diary, “There must have been a million dishes to wash.” But earning some spending money usually offset any reluctance I had to do these chores.

After leaving Sharpsville, I was distracted by college, marriage, and career, and lost track of the hall activities. After my parents retired and relocated to my mother’s home state of Kentucky, they sold the hall to Donaldson’s Funeral Home located on the corner of North Second and West Main streets.

In 1992, I returned to visit the hometown of my youth, only to find the Casino, having apparently run its course, was razed and replaced by a parking lot for the funeral home. What an inauspicious ending for “Angel’s Casino,” a place that enabled numerous community gatherings, and thus held so many fond memories for those of us who lived in the Sharpsville area in the 1950s and ’60s!

— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, Arizona, April 2013.
— Excerpts are from “Trivia & Me,” (1996) by August D. Angel.


See Also:
ANGEL’S CASINO: The Early Years
ANGEL’S CASINO: Here Came the Bride
ANGEL’S CASINO: The Record Hops


ANGEL’S CASINO: Here Came the Bride

After two weeks of visiting family in Kentucky and North Carolina, I’m back at the keyboard with another Sharpsville story. This post is the third of 4 installments covering my memories of Angel’s Casino, the dance hall that my family owned and operated in Sharpsville, PA, during the 1950s and 1960s.


Angel’s Casino became so frequent a venue for wedding receptions that all that revelry was wearing us out. To possibly discourage some prospective renters, Dad eventually raised the hall rental cost to $500 a day. The renter was responsible for decorations, food, refreshments, and music.

But, oh those celebrations! Much of Sharpsville’s population consisted of people of Eastern European descent, and they knew how to throw a party. According to my dad:

Wedding celebrations and dances were strictly Saturday affairs at Angel’s and booked months in advance. The hall was rented for 24 hours, 6 am Saturday to 6 am Sunday for Polish, Italian, or Greek wedding festivities, each with its own germane flavor. An “American” wedding paled in comparison to the joyous celebrations of these ethnic counterparts.

By late afternoon of the wedding day, we children would watch eagerly for the bride, bridesmaids, groom, and others of the wedding party to arrive at the reception. When the bride stepped out of a fancy car wearing a billowing white gown and veil and holding her bouquet of flowers, we gasped in awe.

Angel's Casino: Here Came the BrideSometimes the neighborhood kids would put on their good Sunday clothes and attend the wedding, invited or not, to pick up a little tulle bag of almonds coated in pastel-colored candy or have a bit of the wedding cake. Mike recalls, “I smoked my first cigar that was for the taking at the wedding reception tables. I also ate a lot of the candy-covered almonds.”

We loved to watch the attendees as they danced the polka, waltz, or jitterbug to a live band that usually included an accordion and a saxophone. I don’t recall whether full-sized dinners were served, but there were plenty of desserts, and alcoholic drinks flowed freely for the adults.

When the wedding was traditionally Italian, the bride and the bride’s father would dance first, followed by the bride and groom. As the newlyweds twirled about the dance floor, a hat or bag was passed among the onlookers who were expected to fill it with money. And then the intoxicating music of the Tarantella was played as guests dance-stepped together in a circle, some waving handkerchiefs above their heads. After many glasses of wine, guests would repeatedly cheer phrases in their native tongue, wishing the newlyweds good luck and happiness, accompanied by enthusiastic applause and much laughter.

Meanwhile, several young guys would often stand on the landing at the side entrance and engage each other in the Italian hand game of Morra. Players would extend their arms to display a certain number of fingers while simultaneously shouting in Italian the total number of fingers they estimated would be presented by both players. If no one guessed the correct sum or the players guessed the same number, the game continued until there was a clear winner, based on a point system. On many a Saturday night I tried unsuccessfully to fall asleep to the sounds of their exuberant bets backed up by lively dance music just below my bedroom window. According to my brother Mike:

I always referred to it as “Motto”; at least that’s what it sounded like. All the young men and boys in Sharpsville and Shenango Valley knew how to play. I was good at it! A lot of money was won and lost betting on the game.

The bride and groom usually left at midnight, but guests continued their merrymaking for several hours. By that time, I was desperately wanting to sleep and counting the hours until they finally went home.

Years later, “The Deer Hunter”, a 1978 movie about the Vietnam War, opened with scenes from a wedding reception located in western Pennsylvania. The Russian-American traditions the film portrayed reminded me of those wedding receptions at Angel’s Casino.

On the day following a large event such as this, our family and friends met at the hall to bring things back down to earth. We removed the decorations from the walls and ceiling and scrubbed down the kitchen, bar, and restrooms. Then we sprinkled the floor with saved-up dampened coffee grounds to keep the dust down as we began sweeping. To clean such a wide expanse of dance floor, we would form a sort of brigade, each holding a hog-bristle push-broom and sweeping in unison, side by side, from one end of the hall to the other. But the beer must have soaked permanently into the walls and floor, as no amount of cleaning would rid the place entirely of its odor.

Cleanup after these raucous events was such a chore for us I promised myself that my future wedding reception would be restrained, polite, and non-alcoholic. And it occurred just as I had planned, but I’ll have to admit that it wasn’t nearly as much fun.

— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, Arizona, April 2013.
Excerpts from Michael Angel (SHS 1960), London, Kentucky,
and “Trivia & Me,” (1996) by August D. Angel.


See Also:
ANGEL’S CASINO: The Early Years
ANGEL’S CASINO: The Record Hops
ANGEL’S CASINO: A Place to Party


ANGEL’S CASINO: The Record Hops

sharpsville_dancing_pixabay-2In the late 1950s the rock-and-roll singing quartet,”Danny & the Juniors,” urged everyone to go to the hop and that is exactly what many teenagers did in those days. While the Korean War and the Cold War were occupying the adults of our country, we oblivious teens were at the record hop, doing the stroll, the stomp, a regional style of jitterbug, slow dancing, and the twist. All this was inspired by the persistent backbeat of rock and roll music, presented live or played on vinyl records by a disc jockey.  In his memoir, my dad wrote:

It all started in a modest way. One day I was contacted by the disc jockey (DJ) from the Sharon radio station. He advanced the idea of a dance, which he would promote during his radio program, and I agreed to give it a try. We would split the door entrance fees down the middle. Due to radio advertising and word of mouth, attendance at each dance progressively increased. For music, the DJ played records that were also heard on his radio show. [From “Trivia & Me” by August Angel, 1996]

Fred Cole was probably that first DJ who proposed a record hop deal with Dad. Another DJ who emceed the dances was Marc Howard of WPIC, who went on to become a television news anchor at a variety of stations from 2003 until he retired in 2007: WFMJ-TV in Youngstown, Ohio, New York City’s WPIX, 26 years with WPVI in Philadelphia, and finally with KYW-TV, Philadelphia. Lew Russell was also an announcer at the hops at that time, according to an entry in my 1955 diary.

The Angel’s record hops would sometimes feature up-and-coming stars. My brother, Mike Angel, remembers two guest performers from the Pittsburgh area: Bobby Vinton, whose songs “Blue Velvet”and “Roses are Red (My Love)” became #1 hits in the early 1960s, and the Skyliners, a doo-wop singing group, best known for their 1959 hit “Since I Don’t Have You.” My 1956 diary records a guest visit by Billy Merman, well-known for his song, “900 Miles,” to an “Angel’s” record hop that was raising funds for cancer research.

sharpsville_angel_stampThese teen dances began in July 1954 with a crowd count of around 200 and an entrance fee of a mere 30 cents per attendee. When students returned to school the following September, the hops were moved to Friday nights from 7:00 to 11:00 until the next spring. By then, the number of attendees grew to an average of 500 teens and occasionally topped out at 700. Eventually, the ticket price rose to 50 cents. My friends and I spent many an evening seated at a table near the entrance selling tickets to the dancers. As a receipt, each customer’s left hand was stamped in red ink with the word “Angel” in cursive lettering and surrounded by a circle. Later, technology improved and hands were stamped with an invisible ink that showed up under a blacklight.

If we weren’t working at the entrance, we could be found standing behind the bar at the other end of the vast dance floor, selling potato chips and cold soft drinks, such as Coke or the fruit-flavored Nehi “pop” to the thirsty dancers. The hall became the choice place for teenagers, not only to dance but also to meet new friends and greet old ones, to see and be seen.

However, a new problem developed, as my dad described:

[T]he playing of records at a public dance drew the ire of musicians and bands. The DJ and I were confronted by members of the Pittsburgh Musicians’ Union, who said the dance would be picketed unless live music was played in addition to records. Also, if recorded songs were played between rest periods of live music, the dance would not be liable for plagiarism. We listened and quickly agreed to bring in a local union band starting with the next dance.

When the DJ advertised the addition of live music to the Friday night dance, teenagers were thrilled. Dancers from as far away as Pittsburgh invaded the hall, filling it to capacity each week. Extra duty police were assigned to control the traffic jams and milling youth, and were paid as a dance expense.

One of those groups was the Del Sinchak Band from Youngstown, Ohio. The group started out as a polka band called Del Saint and the Devils, but switched in the 1950s to rock ‘n’ roll. Besides playing at Angel’s dances, they recorded their own singles and backed popular recordings of the day, such as the Edsels’ Rama Lama Ding Dong in 1958 (with Del tapping a cowbell), and songs by Chuck Berry and Conway Twitty. Sinchak, whose parents were Slovakian immigrants, later returned to his polka heritage. He still leads the band (which includes two of the original musicians) to this day and has won many awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Cleveland Polka Hall of Fame in 2009. More information can be found on the band’s website.

Dad concluded his memories of the record hop days by writing:

Success of the Friday night dances was an incentive for others to try. Several miles from Angel’s, Thornton Hall started Thursday night dances on their floor normally used for roller-skating. They were fairly successful but no competition to Angel’s. News came that several other “hops” were launched in nearby towns, but Sharpsville’s dances were “tops” in the field.

 Linda (Addicott) Marrie (SHS 1960),  wrote the following concerning Angel’s Casino:

Angel’s Casino…Nothing stirs the memories of my youth like the thought of Angel’s Casino. It will always be the highlight of my days in Sharpsville. There was nothing better than being there on a Friday night, dancing and enjoying the music and our friends. I often wonder if Mr. Angel knew how much we appreciated him giving us some of the best times of our lives. I doubt if we ever told him but I hope he knew. 

I really feel sorry for anyone who didn’t grow up in the 50’s as we did. It was absolutely the best of times.


 — Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ,
with help from Linda (Addicott) Marrie (SHS 1960)
and August Angel’s memoir “Trivia & Me”, 1996.


See Also:
ANGEL’S CASINO: The Early Years
ANGEL’S CASINO: Here Came the Bride
ANGEL’S CASINO: A Place to Party


ANGEL’S CASINO: The Early Years

sharpsville_image_casino_adThe lively music of a polka or lingering smell of stale beer still can bring to mind the dance hall my father, August Angel, owned from 1953 until 1964. Located at 19 North Second Street, the building was directly across the narrow alley from our family’s apartment and my dad’s printing business. Quite large in size and covered in beige and black faux-brick asphalt sheet siding, it wasn’t the most attractive structure in town. But in spite of its unassuming appearance, this building was a highly popular community center for over a decade.

In the 1940s, the building had been a popular skating rink complete with rental skates and organ music. It was owned and operated by Mr. Hanlon, who lived in an apartment above the hall and also owned several other properties in the area, including Shady Grove on the Sharpsville-Greenville road and land in Hickory Township (now Hermitage) that he eventually sold to DeBartolo Corporation, a builder of shopping malls.

It took only a year after our family moved to Sharpsville for Dad, always the entrepreneur, to see potential in such a building and decide to purchase it from Mr. Hanlon in December 1953. According to my dad’s memoir:

Before the turn of the century, it housed the town’s livery stable. When automobiles became an affordable, convenient, and fashionable mode of travel, the “hay burners” were abandoned…. Likewise, the need for a livery stable ended and the building was used for other purposes.

img1895 - Edited (1)

Logo of Sanborn Map Co. on map of Sharpsville, PA, 1895.

The Sharpsville Area Historical Society site has a link to a collection of Sanborn Maps of Sharpsville from the Library of Congress. These maps were among many prepared by the Sanborn Map Company from New York to assess fire insurance liability in urbanized areas in the United States. Founded in 1866, Sanborn is still in operation and currently offering “geospatial solutions and technology.” One of the maps, dated 1895, (Sheet 4), shows a livery stable on North Second Street in the same location of the building of Dad’s description. The building is depicted as a skating rink in 1905 (Sheet 5). The 1912 map (Sheet 10) shows that house no. 30-31 was used as “carriage & painting 1st [floor], table varnishing, 2nd….” Next door, house #31 held a mattress and table store.

My Dad, in his memoir, continues:

Since I could afford it, I bought the Sharpsville building, although it was on an impulse. I had no immediate plans for what I would do with it.

My parents immediately went about cleaning up the hall, and over the first several years, gradually remodeled the structure. The restrooms were modernized, an annex containing a commercial kitchen was added, a bar area was built at the far end of the dance floor, the windows were replaced, and, in 1954, a neon sign was installed when the name of the hall was changed from “Hanlon’s Hall” to “Angel’s Casino.” Also, during the revamping, my father added a green canvas canopy that stretched from the front door to the sidewalk. In my young eyes, this was a very swanky touch.

At first, my dad had concerns about his purchase:

The Casino had many initial faults — it was an old building on a short side street in the center of town and lacked parking space. Also, the name, “Angel’s Casino,” may have been inappropriate. Perhaps it should have been christened the more fitting name of “The Commons.”

For years the community had misgivings as to whether it was good or bad for Sharpsville. Two of the most vociferous complaints were about the traffic jams the social gatherings created and the influx of strangers, especially youth, into the previously close-knit community.

However, traffic and parking problems were brought under control and the neighborhood became accustomed to strangers. My rental business created ripple effects in the form of substantial profit increases for businesses and more jobs for residents – especially as extra duty security personnel. Also, the Casino was in a central location that large groups of people could easily access, unlike meetings in church basements, school lunch rooms, or auditoriums. And in time the dubious name “Casino” was seldom used and “Angel’s” was the catchword for the building.

sharpsville_jukebox_pixabaySome of the building’s decor was left over from its skating rink days, such as the rows of fading crepe paper fringe that hung from each rafter overhead, an old upright piano, and a Wurlitzer jukebox full of 45 rpm records of 1940s music. When in operation, its frame of neon columns would light up in dazzling orange, yellow, and green. My favorite item was the mirrored ball suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the dance floor. Confetti-like bits of color would reflect on the guests and floor, creating a magical and romantic mood when a ballad was playing and the lights were turned down low.

Msharpsville_mirrorball_pixabayy parents often supplied the hall with second-hand items they had purchased from other establishments that were selling off their equipment. The wooden folding chairs came from Woody Wooddell, a locally well-known “hillbilly” singer and disc jockey on Sharon’s WPIC and other radio stations in the area. A stove, working table, french fryer, and other items were purchased from the owners of the former Welch House Hotel on Fourth and Main streets, that had burned down a year before.

Most of the dishes, silverware, and cooking utensils in the kitchen were obtained at a bargain price when the U.S. Army Camp Reynolds, located midway between Sharpsville and Greenville, was closed after WWII. I was intrigued by the thought of hapless German prisoners eating from the same plates we now owned.

For several years a family of four rented an apartment in the front half of the upper level of the building. The older of the two little boys often joined the gang of kids who played hide-and-go-seek, baseball, or cowboys and Indians on North Second Street. On Sunday afternoons, their mother would sit on the porch at the top of the stairs to their apartment and watch us play while she listened to a radio program of Croatian folk music. Her washing would hang on a clothesline that stretched across the alley from their upstairs porch to ours, operated by use of a pulley. After several years the family relocated to a house on Ridge Avenue and the hall’s upstairs rooms and kitchen were reconfigured to provide small dinners for local civic groups.

The other half of the hall’s second floor consisted of a large attic-like storage area. I sometimes poked around in that dusty, cobwebby space because it held odds and ends from the past, such as piles of rusted skates with moldy leather uppers, old 78 rpm vinyl records (mostly organ music), storage trunks, and an old-fashioned sleigh.

When my father purchased the hall,  gave it a new name, began to develop a new identity for it, he could not have imagined how well-known it would become due to the major new genre in popular music.

— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, Arizona, April 2013.
Excerpts from “Trivia & Me,” (1996) by August D. Angel.

sharpsville_image_mike in alley

Mike Angel, age 12, stands in alley between Angel’s Casino (left) and our home and printing business. Sharpsville, PA, 1954

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Angel’s Casino, Sharpsville, PA. Photo by Pat Angel, c. 1976.

SEE ALSO:

ANGEL’S CASINO: The Record Hops
ANGEL’S CASINO: A Place to Party
ANGEL’S CASINO: Here Came the Bride

WALNUT STREET BUSINESSES III

The Knapp Hotel/Mahaney’s Building

The stately three-story brick building on the corner of Walnut and Main streets seemed to be the anchor for the other buildings on the block. It was known in the 1950s as  Mahaney’s Clothing Store, but it began as a hotel over a hundred years ago. Ralph Mehler, grandson of the owner of Ralph C. Mehler Insurance Agency, provides this history of the building beginning with the hotel built by his great-great-grandfather Michael Knapp.


The Knapp Hotel was built in 1903 by Michael Knapp on the northwest corner of Walnut & Main. Michael had previously managed another hotel in Sharpsville, the Pierce House (which later was part of the Parkway Apartments).

While Sharpsville was perhaps more of a bustling little town than it is today, letting rooms was only part of a hotel’s business then. At the time, the granting of liquor licenses were severely restricted with only hotels eligible in some years. Michael died right before the hotel opened, leaving a wife and three daughters at home. (Previously, one other daughter died at age 4 and a son at age 24.) Four other daughters were married at the time, including Katherine who had married George Mahaney, Sr., a month before Michael’s death. Collectively, they were widely known as the “Knapp girls.”

While he left a handsome new building, he also left an almost insurmountable amount of debt. (His widow, Anna, was eligible for widow’s pension since Michael was a veteran of the Civil War. Because a widow had to show she was without means of support she had to document to a skeptical War Department that it was a money-losing proposition.)

Ultimately, [Anna Knapp’s] son-in-law George Mahaney took over the building and business in exchange for paying off the debts. He later opened his haberdashery there. The upstairs hotel rooms were eventually converted into apartments.

Mahaney's, a men's clothing store on the corner of Main and Walnut streets. Torn down in the early 1970s. Source: Donna DeJulia.

Mahaney’s, a men’s clothing store on the corner of Main and Walnut streets. Torn down in the early 1970s. Source: Donna DeJulia.

From about the early 1940s, part of the Walnut Street-facing first floor was rented to Mehler Insurance Agency. Ralph C. “Dutch” Mehler was [George Mahaney’s] nephew. His mother, Emma Knapp, who married Nicholas Mehler, was one of the Knapp girls and sister to George’s wife (Another Knapp girl, Gert, married Frederick “Skip” Reichard, who originated the coffee stir.) Dutch started selling insurance in 1925 out of his barbershop which was on the east side of Walnut near the railroad tracks. Eventually, he laid down his clippers and started selling insurance full-time.

When the building was razed for urban renewal about 1973, my family was in hopes of at least saving the large stone with the name “Knapp” carved in it on the building’s Main Street-facing cornice. Unfortunately, the stone was dropped and smashed when the workmen were attempting to remove it.

– Ralph Mehler, Sharpsville, PA, October 5, 2014

The End of the Early Walnut Street Businesses

I suppose that the shopping malls that sprang up in the 1960s spelled the end of stores on Walnut Street as we knew them, along with many small businesses across the nation. Cheap gasoline, as well as the malls’ lower prices, mass advertising, discount department and chain stores, and easy parking were no match for the mom-and-pop stores.

Although many of Walnut Street’s neighborhood businesses are gone, and the buildings they occupied may no longer exist, they are not lost to the memories of those who lived in Sharpsville in the 1950s through 1970s.

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, October 13, 2014

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