Small Town Memories

Recording memories of the SHARPSVILLE, PA, AREA from the 1940s to the 1970s, one story at a time.

Tag: Isaly’s

ROBISON SCHOOL I

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

It’s September, the time of year that always meant back-to-school for 1950s children. The sight of today’s backpack-laden kids trudging off to school often as early as mid-August can still bring back those memories of long ago.

A song that would put anyone in a back-to-school mood is Chuck Berry’s 1957 rock ‘n’ roll version of “School Days.” As he sings about dealing with teachers, students and school subjects, he describes the high school experiences and concerns all of us can relate to then and now.

Elementary and high school occupied most of our young lives except for those three-month summer breaks each year, so it isn’t any wonder that memories abound, good and not-so-good. Join us as we recall those “dear old golden rule days” at Robison School during the early 1950s.


The Emma Robison School building sat like a stately mansion at the end of a long sidewalk that cut across the middle of the front lawn. The Y-shaped brick structure on Seventh Street had two stories, tall narrow windows, steep roofs and a sky-high chimney. At first, the building held six rooms for approximately 150 pupils, but later it grew to 10 room for 217 pupils. It was the place in which I spent my fifth and sixth grades at the ages of 10 through 12 years old.

The Beginnings

A timeline on the Mercer County Historical Society website mentions that the cornerstone of the “Sharpsville Public School” was laid on May 25, 1892. Miss Emma Robison taught there from 1900 to 1937. According to an article in the 1924 Sharpsville’s Golden Anniversary Supplement to The Sharon (PA) Telegraph (page 10 ): “Miss Emma Robison has served as principal in the Seventh-st. School building for many years. She also teaches Grade Seven of that building.” 

“SEVENTH-ST SCHOOL TEACHERS.” Miss Emma Robison, 1st on left, back row. Source: Sharpsville’s Golden Anniversary Supplement to The Sharon (PA) Telegraph (page 10), June 7, 1924.

At some time in the years that followed that 1924 article, the school was renamed in Emma Robison’s honor. A vintage postcard depicts the school with a woman and child sitting on concrete steps leading to the sidewalk. (See image below.) The fashion of the woman’s clothing suggests that the photo was taken in the late 1930s or early 40s, possibly after Emma Robison’s last year of teaching in 1937 and when the school adopted her name.

shps_robison_school

“Emma Robinson (sic) Grade School, 7th Street, Sharpsville, PA.,” 1930s. Image courtesy of Mike and Fredi Angel.

Starting the Day

During the first week of the school year, the wood floors would be extra shiny and the interior would have a pungent smell of whatever they applied to the floors. Early morning before school began, students would be standing in groups or chasing each other about on the sidewalk and grounds.

To signal the start of the school day, a teacher appeared at the massive front door, stood at the top of the steps, and rang a handbell. We immediately formed a line and entered the building two-by-two, stamping our little feet to the beat of John Sousa marches emanating from a record player, climbing the wide wooden staircase to the fourth and fifth-grade classes on the second floor. We ended our march as we entered the dark recesses of narrow cloakrooms that were adjacent to our assigned homerooms, removed our hats and coats and hung them on rows of hooks.

The School Room

sharpsville_school_chalkEntering our classroom through a doorway at the opposite end of the cloakroom, we moved on to our desks, which were assigned to us in alphabetical order by our last names. This seating arrangement continued into high school and, having the last name of Angel, I was always placed near the front of the room and always between the same students whose names came alphabetically before and after mine.

The folding seats and writing surfaces of our desks were made of varnished wood supported by wide ornate black wrought iron legs. The top of the desk, under which we would store our books, tablets, and pencil box, had a round hole for an inkwell in one corner and a groove to hold a pen or pencil along the top edge. On the wall was one of those typical school clocks with Roman numerals and a pendulum. Most likely there were the usual framed copies of paintings of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln hanging about the room.

sharpsville_image_cursive

Posters of the Palmer Method of penmanship were displayed above the blackboard and the pull-down world maps.

Good penmanship was emphasized. To keep us reminded of this, a long white narrow paper chart displayed the cursive alphabet in upper and lowercase across the top of the blackboard. During writing lessons, which were based on the Palmer method, we would dip the nibs of our wooden handled pens into the bottle of ink that was securely fixed in the desktop hole and practice our characters, perform exercises such as circles and ovals, and learn the proper way to write a letter. Cursive writing was one area in which I excelled. My work was displayed on the schoolroom wall with the others and I was awarded an A in penmanship on the report card that I carried home to my parents every six weeks. Thanks to this early training, I had at least readable handwriting for the rest of my life.

The Teachers

"Anne of Green Gables" by L.M. Montgomery. (1950s). Source: www.pinterest.com

“Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery. (1950s). Source: http://www.pinterest.com

There were about 20 students in each of the two fifth-grade and two sixth-grade homerooms. My homeroom teacher for both those years was Miss Allen. At the end of each day, she would read to us a chapter of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book, Anne of Green Gables. We enjoyed following the exploits of that spunky red-headed girl, alternatively happy for her achievements and tearful during her rough times.

Each day, several teachers moved from classroom to classroom to present their lessons. Geography was taught by Miss Genevieve Bartholomew, using colorful pull-down maps of the countries. As for music, which she also taught, we often sang melodies from our music book using the scale (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do) instead of words to the songs. Although I had been taking piano lessons since the second grade, this was one lesson I could never master.

According to an article in a series titled “Life Stories” in The Herald dated March 27, 2006, Miss Bartholomew taught at Robison School for 38 years and was still going strong at age 95. (See the complete article here.)

Miss Helen Bruner was our arithmetic teacher. (See photo of “Seventh-St School Teachers” above.) Because I was behind in my math education when my family moved to Sharpsville, I was required to stay after school, along with a few other hapless students, to work on my multiplication and subtraction.

The Russians are Coming!

Although my time at Robison School felt safe and peaceful, the nation was in the midst of the Cold War and feared the possibility of nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. We were told that there was only one second between a flash and the explosion of a hydrogen bomb. As we practiced ducking under our desks, I tried to understand how long a second really was. I finally had to face the fact that I was doomed because there wasn’t time to do much of anything!

Other Activities

Judy Caldwell, who became my best friend, always had creative ideas for having fun. We spent many times together sketching our own fashion designs, writing to pen pals, collecting stamps, exploring Pine Hollow creek and woods, attending tap dancing lessons at Buhl Club, and swimming at the Buhl Park pool. My friend discovered that grade-schoolers could borrow books from the high school library. What a bonanza! At once I immersed myself in the lives of the impoverished but resourceful and happy Five Little Peppers, as described in a series of books about five children of the Pepper family written by Margaret Sidney.

The school provided at least one extra-curricular activity, weekly swimming lessons for sixth-graders at a pool in the basement of St. John’s Church that was located in the nearby town of Sharon. Learning how to save oneself from drowning was certainly a worthwhile endeavor, but that unheated water was very cold!

My brother Mike has the following recollections of those days:

The flagpole located in the front of the school was the center of a lot of play and ceremonial activity. I believe I was on some sort of detail assigned to raise the flag in the morning and another kid or two lowered it in the evening. When I saw the 1983 holiday movie, “A Christmas Story,” in which the kid got his tongue frozen to the flagpole, I immediately thought of the flagpole at Robison School where the same thing happened to [one of my friends]. I guess it was a common occurrence back then.

At one time, a tree planting ceremony was held in the front of the school commemorating something special (don’t remember what) – I wonder if the trees are still growing. The girls’ and boys’ restrooms were located in the basement of the school adjacent to the furnace room. I remember the smell of the furnace room as I think they burned coal (it really wasn’t offensive). The janitor must have been the best in the business because I recall how impressed I was as a little boy that the school was so neat and clean.

Something I always thought of: While attending the Robison School, I was told that at one time the 7th Street hill in front of the school was used for a soap box derby race. Kids would make a soapbox racer and race them at a yearly organized event until an accident of some sort occurred and the event was discontinued. I don’t know if the story is true or there were actually any races, but as a kid, I remember I was disappointed they no longer held the event because I would have been there with my racer.

Another memory: Prior to the school being dismissed, I along with others on the safety patrol left school early to attend to our assigned posts. My post was the crossing at 7th Street and Ridge Avenue. We picked up our long bamboo poles with red flags on the end, which were stored under the outside produce stand at the corner grocery store. When the students crossed the road, we held the poles out and stopped the traffic and let the kids cross safely.

After-School Fun

Mike continues:

I can’t recall the name of the grocery store but can recall what the owner looked like. [According to Judy Caldwell Nelson, the store was called “Stewarts’ Corner Grocery,” owned by the Stewart brothers.] He was real good with the children and treated them well. I bought a lot of penny candy from him.

Also, on Fridays two Filipino men hawked Duncan Yo-Yo’s at that location. The men sold Duncan Yo-Yo’s of all price ranges and special yo-yo string that sold for 5 cents each. They held yo-yo contests weekly and at the end of the school year the yo-yo company gave away a grand prize. It was a Duncan Yo-Yo encrusted with various colors of glass that looked like diamonds and must have been worth millions of dollars! I never won anything but enjoyed the event. I think one of the kids also won a bicycle one year.

sharpsville_photo_fifth_grade

Miss Allen’s Fifth Grade Class, 1950-1951. I’m in the middle row, third from left.

Moving On

The school year came to an end in May or early June. I don’t remember whether there was any preparation or guidance for our move to the Sharpsville Junior-Senior High School for seventh grade, but I do recall how sad Miss Allen was to see us go after having us as her homeroom students for two years.

The more that time has passed, the more idyllic those early school years seem to have been, unspoiled and full of promise. We were fortunate that those dedicated grade school teachers managed to provide us with a strong basic education, and in a building of such a grand design as the Emma Robison School.

See Also:

Deeter Elementary School 

Junior High School 

Pebly & 13 Street Schools

Robison School II

Robison School Class of 1960 Part I

Senior High School Traditions

SHS Class of 1958 Celebrates Its 60th!


— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ,
with help from Michael Angel (SHS 1960), London, KY,
and Judy Caldwell Nelson (SHS 1958), Shoreline, WA. March 2012.

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RITZ THEATER I

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

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 Ritz was described as “new” in the following 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 in the 1920s:

 …[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.

Sharpsville Area Historical Society (SAHS)

The March 2013 issue of the SAHS Newsletter may provide answers to some of the questions about the theater’s origins:

The Ritz Theatre opened June 1924, in time for Sharpsville’s Golden Anniversary. It was then described as modern, up-to-date in every way, and absolutely fireproof. The building included two storefronts, initially occupied by Harry Solomon’s confectionary and Mrs. Carnes’ millinery. The owner was Charles Gable, noted locally as the uncle of Clark Gable; he also owned the Gable Theater in Sharon. Remembered for “his diamond rings and a powerful hoarse voice,” Gable operated the theatre until 1940 when ill health forced him to turn over management to Andy Seamon. Seamon then purchased the movie house from Gable’s estate in 1950 and ran it until the about 1965. The Ritz was fondly remembered for its Saturday matinee serials…..

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 (sic), who lived on Ridge Avenue. His daughter helped him at the theater in the later years.” (See excerpt from the SAHS Newsletter above.)

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. James 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 in 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, 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 an 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.

According to the March 2013 Newsletter for the Sharpsville Area Historical Society:

The long-vacant building collapsed July 11, 1995. Its foundation stands next to Jerry’s Tavern (the former Glen-Rose) on Main Street.

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:

Dr. Bailey’s Sharpsville 1920s, Part I
Dr. Bailey’s Sharpsville 1920, Part II
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