Small Town Memories

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

Tag: movies

PIERCE’S IRON BANKING BUILDING

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

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, an allergist/immunologist from 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.

According to the July 2013 SAHS Newsletter,

The Pierce Opera House itself is worth the visit. This historic venue features beautifully restored woodwork, excellent acoustics, and a warm intimacy between the audience and the stage. Modern climate control and conveniences have been introduced to this 142-year-old local treasure.

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 Webber 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.

“More About Rigoletto.” Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletter, July 2013, Vol. II, No., 2, page 2.

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

Pierce Mansion

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 II)

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Here are questions for those of you who attended drive-in movies in the 1950s through 1970s: Remember speakers that you would hook on your car windows? And if you were lucky you got one that worked? And the all-important concession stand that not only provided sweet or salty/greasy treats for movie-goers but was the movie owner’s profit-maker? Time marches on, to paraphrase the narrator of those old “March of Time” newsreels, but memories can evoke a wistful affection for the past.


RCA speaker used by drive-in theater-goers in the 1950s & 60s. Casing is made of aluminum. [Source: eBay]

Reynolds Drive-In: Speakers

Since the early days of the drive-in cinema, there was the soundtrack issue: How can viewers be enabled, enclosed in their cars, to hear the movie’s soundtrack?

In the 1930s, when talking pictures became commercially viable, drive-ins attempted various ways to handle the sound issue, such as speakers on the movie screen’s tower or in front of each row of cars. Finally, in 1941 RCA introduced in-car speakers complete with volume controls.

By the 1950s, outdoor theaters were providing movie-goers with individual speakers. In those days, rows of parking spaces were lined with posts that held aluminum-encased speaker boxes. You parked your car so the speaker was lined up with the front side of the car, removed the speaker from the post and hooked it onto the car’s lowered window. However, there were two concerns: whether your speaker worked well enough to hear the movie through the static and whether you would remember to replace the speaker, attached to its post by a wire, when you drove off at the end of the night! Broadcasting the soundtrack on AM or FM radio, introduced in the 1980s, was not only more economical but much less damage-prone!

Reynolds Drive-In: The Concession Stand

Source: Pinterest.com

Concession stands were the real money-makers for drive-ins. Reynolds had the usual concession stand which also housed the projection booth. In the 1950s, attendees were charged 50 cents a carload, if I remember correctly, but much more was spent on popcorn, french fries, hamburgers, and sodas.

The food was heavily promoted by goofy but effective cartoon ads at “intermission,” the half-hour between the double-features. The theater always showed two movies, along with several short subjects and a cartoon. The first movie was more family-oriented than the second one with its gun-toting bad men and sexy ladies. That’s why you’d see kids in pajamas in the playground that was located at the base of the huge screen. They were ready for “bed” in the car’s back seat by the end of the first feature film, leaving mom and dad free to enjoy the “grown-up” movie.

(I recall benches placed along the fence separating the playground from the parking lot. They were used by the “walk-ins’ who lived nearby and stopped by for an evening of entertainment without the need of a car.)

To add to the enjoyment of the evening, drawings for prizes were held and live rock-and-roll or polka bands performed on the roof of the concession stand before the movie and during intermission. Richard Seaman, originally from Sharon, PA (SHS 1952), sent in the following comment to Part I of this series:

In 1950-52 I played in a Polka Band – The Starlighters — that was hired to play music before the movie started. We would set up on the roof of the projection-refreshment stand and play Polkas and Waltzes. John Murcko – Accordion, Richard Seaman – Tenor Sax, John Bross – Drums, Jim Muder – Guitar. We may have had other musicians sit in with us but I can’t recall exactly who they were.

Reynolds Drive-In: The Last Picture Show

The date of Reynolds first closing is not known. Then in 1988, at the beginning of renewed interest in drive-ins that lasted into the early 2000s, Reynolds re-opened with updated features such as sound via radio and first-run films. Again, information on how long Reynolds’ second phase lasted could not be found.

A Sharon Herald article titled “The Final Feature,” dated August 3, 2014, mentioned a Herald Facebook comment in which David Pennington wrote that his family had once owned and operated Reynolds. David Pennington explained that his father and uncles ran the theater, with his grandfather running the projection booth and his grandmother running the ticket booth.

Beginning in 1998 the Reynolds Drive-In Theatre was run by the Loomis Family with Justin Loomis as the owner in the theater’s last years.

Sometime between 1998 and 2011, the theater again closed down, this time due to the need to convert to a digital projector required to show the latest movies. Loomis explained the difficulties in trying to reopen the theater on Facebook in July 2013:

Here is the latest scoop on being able to get back open, the total for the new system, screen, and renovations to the housing booth are in the six figures. the new system will not show on our current screen and it requires a building that is climate controlled year round. …The odds of being able to come back for the drive-in are very highly stacked against us.

Reynolds Drive-In Theatre’s last showing, August 8 & 9, 2014. Source: Reynolds Drive-In Facebook page.

In the 2014 Herald article, which tells of the theater’s brief reopening for a final double-feature weekend, Loomis explained the reason for closing:

When [the movie industry] switched over to digital, it really screwed us over on movie selections…It’s not exactly a cash cow, more of a fun type of business….It’s a great place, people like coming. It’s a feasibility thing: It’s not exactly working for us…..It’d be great for a family business where it’s their main focus.

But the drive-in was not Loomis’s main focus: Instead, his family had another business, Loomis Auctioneer Services. It was the latter company that auctioned off the theater via the Internet in 2014. After some 70 years, the Reynolds Drive-In went dark for good after a “Farewell Weekend,” on August 8 & 9, 2014, when two first-run movies, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” were shown. By this time, adult tickets cost $5.00 and a carload (no limit) was charged $20.00.

Digital conversion and other innovations, such as LCD projectors, micro-radio transmitters, huge inflatable screens or the use of Jumbotrons, have kept some of today’s approximately 300 drive-in theaters appealing to movie-goers. However, the main attraction of drive-ins began long ago, peaked in the 1950s and 1960s, and still resonates with today’s open-air movie-goers: that magical feeling of watching a movie in the fresh air of the great outdoors, under the moon and stars.

— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Phoenix, AZ. September 2017.

Reynolds Drive-In as it looks today, submitted by Mike Angel.
Taken on a return visit to his hometown of Sharpsville in July 2019.
(Click on image to enlarge.)


See Also:

Reynolds Drive-In Theatre (Part I)

REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE Transfer Hermitage Pennsylvania
YouTube video by Staff That’s Gone (2012).

Sources:

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

Finnerty, Meagen. “The Final Feature.” SharonHerald.com, Sharon, PA. August 3, 2014. http://www.sharonherald.com/news/local_news/the-final-feature/article_6ac4d278-f529-521d-bc04-28dd6591a0f2.html

“Reynolds Drive In.” Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/reynoldsdrivein/


REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE (Part I)

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

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 is 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, which lived for over six decades and 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 to see the movie from 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

Flyer for Reynolds Drive-In Theatre that was handed out to patrons. Printed by The Sharpsville (PA) Advertiser, 1950s.[Click on image to enlarge.]

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.

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

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 with 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



SHARPSVILLE AND THE RITZ RE-DISCOVERED

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Good news! A guest writer has kindly agreed to share her story of reconstructing the history of Sharpsville’s landmarks, including the Ritz Theater. Having been the Reunion Committee Chairperson for the SHS Class of 1964 for ten years (2004-2014), Gail Nitch Hanes painstakingly assembled a PowerPoint presentation as a 50th reunion gift to her class. Now her gift and the tale of its creation are available here for the enjoyment of all of us who wish to keep Sharpsville’s history alive.

img112

This wonderful photo comes to us from the Mahaney Family collection. …A throng of Sharpsvillites had come out on August 26, 1950, for the Northwest Firemen’s Association parade. In the background is Walder’s Tavern, famous for its steak sandwiches (now the Marigold II), and the much-missed Ritz Theatre. As a second-run movie house then, it was showing the World War II comedy, “When Willie Comes Marching Home,” and the Joel McCrea-Veronica Lake western, “Ramrod.” [Photo courtesy of Gail Nitch Hanes, Ralph C. Mehler, and the Sharpsville Area Historical Society.]

Sharpsville and the Ritz Re-Discovered

By Gail Nitch Hanes

Have you ever thought about doing something special which would require research? In the process, have you discovered far more information than you ever imagined? And was your curiosity piqued enough to explore every avenue which opened yet another door?

Well, that’s precisely what happened to me in 2012 when I was trying to determine that “something special” which would serve as the perfect gift for the classmates of Sharpsville High School Class of 1964 at our 50th reunion scheduled for September 2014.

The original plan was to create a brief pictorial “Then and Now” PowerPoint presentation of our hometown- Sharpsville, but the project took on an entirely new scope when my need-to-know kicked in and it became apparent that there is far more to our little town than most of us ever really considered. Why not include the history of Sharpsville along with the photos? Now the fun began!

With the generous assistance of classmates, their families and friends, and especially Ralph C. Mehler of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society, I was able to collect photos of “Then” Sharpsville as it was when our class was growing up through the late 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s…the businesses/buildings along the main arteries in town- Shenango Street, Walnut Street, Main Street, Mercer Avenue- and more. Using these photos, I set upon a three-day “Now” photo shoot of those same locations, taking most shots from the same angles.

When I arrived at one particular empty lot on Main Street, it became painfully obvious that a very important old photo was missing from all the rest…that of our beloved Ritz Theater. In my historical research of various sources, I found articles written by Ann Angel Eberhardt and other Sharpsville-ites as well as bits and pieces of speeches made by Pete Joyce referencing the Ritz. The history of the theater was as complete as it could possibly get. However, a photo did not seem to exist, although classmates “picked” the memories and photo albums of older relatives and friends. Alas,…my PowerPoint would be completed without that one very important piece…one held so near and dear by all of us. All I had to show was the now empty lot on which the theater once stood.

It wasn’t until late last year one of our classmates sent me a copy of a photo [which was eventually printed in the March 2017 issue of Sharpsville Historical Society Newsletter, having been part of the Mahaney family collection]. It was of a Northwest Firemen’s Association parade down Main Street on August 26, 1950. In the background stands the Ritz Theater- EUREKA!! Finally,…we had that elusive photo. Of course, I immediately relayed the photo to our classmates to a fantastic response by all.

I must admit that the “Sharpsville, Our Home Town: Then and Now” project renewed my deep interest in the history of our little town and just how important it was to the overall history of our county, state, country, and even the world [e.g. the pig iron industry via Shenango Furnaces…John Jackson’s oiler, and much more]. It has given gave me a new appreciation of just how much of an impact even a small town like ours can have, and the immense pride in having grown up in the middle of it all.

And to think it all started with one man’s dream. Thank you, General James Pierce!

Gail Nitch Hanes (SHS 1964), Southington, OH, 2014. 


Click on the following link to view the PowerPoint presentation of
“Sharpsville, Our Home Town – Then and Now”: SHPVL – THEN & NOW

SEE ALSO:
Ritz Theater I by Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958)
Ritz Theater II by Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960)
Ritz Theater III by Judy Caldwell Nelson (SHS 1958)



CANTEEN

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

A hearty welcome to all of you newcomers to the “Small Town Memories” community. I hope the stories on this site inspire you to share your own memories of living in the Sharpsville area in or around the 1950s through 1970s, whether in a short comment or a longer narrative. Corrections to existing stories are also welcome. Just use the Comment box at the end of any blog or attach your writing to an email to bissella9@hotmail.com.

A comment from Toni E. Nackino, a descendant of the original owner of Isaly’s, asked for certain information about that small dairy store on Sharpsville’s Main Street. If you have the answer, please let us know. You can respond in the Comment box at the end of the “Isaly’s” blog. Here’s her question:

I was looking for information on when the store burned down. Which I always thought was so odd, since the fire station was next door! lol…
…I would love to have someone respond to my query about the Isaly store in Sharpsville burning down. Thank you


THE CANTEEN

On the far side of Sharpsville, PA, children attended an elementary school in a large brick building with the name of Deeter. On one side of Deeter was a narrow two-story wood frame structure that we called the Canteen. In the early 1950s, the Canteen was one of the few places that we Sharpsville teens could gather for fun and games with others our own age.

sharpsville_image_canteen

Theater poster. [Source: Wikipedia.org]

Although “canteen” is a word that can be used to denote a container for water while hiking, the focus here is on “canteen” as a gathering place. Borrowed from the French cantine and the Italian cantina meaning “wine cellar,” a canteen in the mid-18th century was a type of shop in a barracks or garrison town, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. By late in the next century, the word had evolved to mean “refreshment room at a military base, school, etc.”

Teenage canteens of the 1950s were likely holdovers from the previous wars when canteens were places that provided soldiers a recreational break from their duties. The Hollywood Canteen in the 1944 movie of the same name, also provided a venue to cavort with famous movie stars of the day. Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960) wrote that she “somehow came to believe the canteen in Sharpsville may have been used by soldiers from nearby Camp Reynolds during World War II.”

“Life on the Home Front: Keeping Them Straight and Narrow: Youth Strategies.” [http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us]

Canteens for young people in the community, as well as for soldiers, evidently existed during the war years when restless teens had little to do outside of school and faced an uncertain future. According to a 1944 guide for setting up a youth center, prepared by the Associated Youth-Serving Organizations, Inc, “Youth likes to feel that it has a place similar to that of the soldier or sailor and with the same type of activities” and therefore encouraged such amenities as a game room, jukebox, snack bar, and dancing in a co-ed atmosphere.

By the 1950s, however, teen troubles were viewed somewhat differently. Juvenile delinquency was in the news and communities were seeking ways to assure that their young people weren’t among those who fell into such antisocial behavior as vandalism or violence.

Thus, like many communities across the country, Sharpsville’s Canteen, later known as the Youth Center, came into being. I don’t recall who the sponsors were, or whether a fee was charged, or whether it resembled a soldier’s canteen. And I don’t think that any famous movie stars were ever present! I do remember that 1950s rock-and-roll records were played and that we mostly sat on chairs along the walls, boys in one group and girls across the dance floor in another group, too shy in those early awkward years to do much mingling. Irene Caldwell O’Neill remembered these details:

Here on Friday nights, parents volunteered to chaperone seventh and eighth graders as they danced to music from a jukebox (upstairs) or played ping-pong or table-top shuffleboard (downstairs). The girls tended to congregate upstairs and usually jitter-bugged together to Fats Domino or Chuck Berry and the Comets songs or sat at the little tables drinking cokes and eating chips. The boys massed downstairs around the shuffleboard table or played ping-pong. Never once do I remember a boy dancing at the canteen. In spite of this gender separation, it was here that courtship rituals began that would last until graduation. We were all very carefully checking each other out.

Teen canteens exist to this day, such as the aptly named CanTeen, a current program in Cicero, New York. It is interesting to note that CanTeen’s focus is “to keep youth safe and entertained during their out of school time.” During the past seven decades, the purpose of canteens seems to have evolved from keeping youth busy in the 1940s, to keeping them out of trouble in the ’50s, to keeping them safe in today’s even more worrisome times. But all such organized social programs have tried to create an environment that would mold young people into responsible and upstanding adults. Not an easy job and not 100 percent effective, but it has been worth the try.

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ

See Also Deeter Elementary School


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


RITZ THEATER II

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

By Irene Caldwell O’Neill
March 2013

sharpsville_popcornA small and hardly noticeable building on the corner of First and Main in downtown Sharpsville called The Ritz Theater was one of the most, if not the most important place in town to the children who lived there. Our only theater was small and old, seating around 500 patrons with a red painted concrete floor and worn dirty carpet strips down the aisles. The seats were covered with uncomfortable cracked vinyl and dusty brown curtains hung aside the screen; no-nonsense décor right out of the thirties.

In 1947, Mother took my brother Jack and me to our very first movie, The Wizard of Oz, at the Ritz. We’d never seen a television set, let alone a movie and thought the happenings before our eyes totally real. Scared out of my wits, I sobbed and screamed, begging Mom to save poor Dorothy from the wicked witch, and finally hid my face in her lap until Dorothy was rescued and on her way safely home to Kansas.

Good & Plenty Licorice Candy

By 1950 we Caldwell siblings walked the nine blocks to the Ritz almost every Saturday afternoon to see the matinee. The tickets were a dime and if we had extra money, it went into the tall brown metal candy machine in the tiny lobby. I remember five choices, Good & Plenty, Snowcaps, Jujyfruits, Raisinets and Goober’s Peanuts were standards. Occasionally a choice wasn’t stocked or the box got jammed on its way through the mechanical maze which necessitated going back outside to the ticket man who would refund our nickel but left the malfunctioning machine toimage_goobers-and-raisinets upset the next customer. This ticket seller was also the projectionist, locking up his booth just before show time to run inside and start up his large double reeled device. Sometimes, and always it seemed, at an important place in the story, the film would break causing a delay of several minutes while it was patched together. Boos echoed loudly around the theater until our movie resumed.

Usually, the main subjects were oaters or cowboy genre and Jack and I would argue over who was better, Roy Rogers, his favorite, or Gene Autry, mine. Near the end there was always a posse chase scene during which the children bounced noisily and rhythmically up and down on the already rickety seats, keeping pace with the horses until the sole usher came down the aisle and shined his flashlight as a warning signal. That flashlight was the law and after two or three infractions, a rowdy audience member could be walked out. We would tear our eyes from the screen to watch the higher drama of a misbehaving boy pulled from his seat and escorted to the door.

Tarzan was another huge favorite and through the years we watched his hair and that of Jane’s change from brunette to blonde and back to brunette. “Boy’s”, however, was always blonde. Poorly disguised trapeze bars were replaced by realistic looking vines and the animal fight scenes became less jerky, but to me, the only Tarzan will forever be Johnny Weissmuller with Maureen O’Sullivan as his lovely Jane.

sharpsville_image_movietoneThen, as now, the main feature was preceded by a few short subjects including previews of coming attractions, hopefully, a Looney Tunes cartoon with Bugs Bunny or The Roadrunner, but sometimes a very unpopular big band feature with a large orchestra and leader such as Benny Goodman or Gene Krupa. Often an old MovieTone News newsreel narrated by Lowell Thomas educated us on post-WWII events… I don’t remember discussing these wartime events with anyone, but they certainly left a mark on young impressionable minds. Could this be why so many from my generation grew up to resist the Vietnam War and the draft so bitterly?

During the dark winter months, Dad would walk downtown to see us safely home. He came early and waited at the next door bar, nursing a single beer and playing penny poker until we came to get him. If the game was “hot” we had to wait. There was never any place for us to sit, so we stood nervously fidgeting around his chair watching a game we didn’t understand while inhaling thick alcohol-laced cigarette fumes. Sometimes one of the other, undoubtedly more affluent, players took pity on our plight and bought us a Coke or bag of chips to ease our wait. Once a Salvation Army “Sally” in full dark blue uniform and bonnet entered the bar and passed around her tambourine. I was utterly amazed to see the men toss in coins (not my dad) and asked Mother about her when we got home. Charity was new to me and I’d never seen money given freely except into church collection plates.

-Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA. March 2013

 


See Also:
Ritz Theater I by Ann Angel Eberhardt
Ritz Theater III by Judy Caldwell Nelson
Sharpsville and the Ritz Re-Discovered
by Gail Nitch Hanes