Small Town Memories

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

Tag: Ritz Theater

THREE LOST BOYS OF SHARPSVILLE

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

There wasn’t much that was scary in 1950s Sharpsville – maybe watching a horror film at the Ritz (remember “Attack of the Giant Leeches,” 1959?) or the Cold War but that didn’t seem to be part of our everyday lives. Even so, like any place in the world and at any time in history, we weren’t entirely free of events that caused great anxiety.

Here are two stories that momentarily caused quite a panic in our small town in the days of my childhood. (Don’t worry, the endings are happy ones!)


Turmoil at the Oak Street Tunnel

William DeVaux McLean III. Source: Sharpsville (PA) High School yearbook, Devils Log, 1958.

George Reid. Source: Varsity “S” photograph in Sharpsville (PA) High School Devils Log, 1957.

“Hey, I know what we can do!” When two young boys, 10 and 12 years of age, are looking for an after-school adventure you know that trouble could be brewing. In this case, the older boy was George Reid, son of Mr. and Mrs. A.M. Reid of Hazen Road, and the younger, William DeVaux McLean III, the son of Councilman and Mrs. W.D. McLean Jr., who lived on Oak Street. It was early spring 1950 and the weather was finally turning warm enough to inspire outdoor exploits.

They decided to explore a tunnel on Oak Street, a dark, dank underground passageway that must have long intrigued them. One can imagine that they were planning the operation all day at school so that, as they readied themselves at home, they knew exactly what to do: change from their school clothes to old blue jeans and shirts, pack a bag with a flashlight and other needs and tell their parents where they were headed.

As an eerily quiet afternoon faded into evening and dinner was served, there was no trace of the boys. Finally, Councilman McLean decided it was time go outside and check on them. Calling into the tunnel from both of its openings, he received no response. Alarmed that the water in the tunnel was a little higher than usual, he realized the situation was getting serious. He decided to enter the tunnel and quickly procured hip boots and old clothes from the nearby Donner Service Station.

Meanwhile, the police and fire departments had been called and arrived within ten minutes to aid in the search. They lifted the tunnel’s manhole cover and Councilman McLean lowered himself in, followed by the Police Chief Walter Karsonovich and several firemen.

While the searchers were sloshing through the tunnel for almost an hour, looking for signs of the boys and calling out their names, the police cars and firetrucks had attracted a crowd of curious neighbors. Unnoticed at the edge of the crowd were the two missing youngsters who had stopped by to see what all the commotion was about. The Sharon Herald reported that they “gave themselves up” to the relief — and exasperation — of all those present. George and DeVaux explained that they had changed their plans and explored the woods and creek at Pine Hollow instead.

–Source: “Boys Join Crowd Watching Search for Them in Tunnel,”
The Sharon Herald, April 4, 1950.

Vexation on Veteran’s Day

Patrick Angel, 1955. Source: Sharpsville (PA) Elementary School 2nd grade class photo.

On a chilly November 11, 1955, the Veteran’s Day Parade on Main Street was just winding down. It had included a group of handsomely uniformed Canadian boys who played instruments in the Governor-General’s Horse Guard, a group that particularly fascinated my girlfriends and me. But another event occurred that tempered our enthrallment. My mother, having found me in the dispersing crowd, informed me that she had sent my 5-year-old brother Patrick home, thinking I was there. She became very upset when she returned home later and discovered that he had taken off his hat, gloves and coat, then disappeared. 

Dutifully, my friend and I began searching for Pat in the neighborhood, although too often distracted by one or another of the Horse Guard marchers milling about. We met up with a group of other girlfriends on the corner of Main and Third streets which by now also included a couple of those uniformed cadets. Just then my dad showed up and berated me for not looking for my brother. Feeling guilty and quite embarrassed, I quickly walked home to find a nearly hysterical mother, tearfully promising that if her son is found she would “never go anywhere again, just stay home and watch him!”

I resumed my search outside, joining most of the neighborhood in looking for my little brother. Over 60 years later, Patrick can still recall the rest of the story: “Mom got a call from Aunt Mabel just as I was waking up. It was the telephone that woke me. I remember crawling out from behind the couch and hearing Mom crying to Aunt Mabel that I had been kidnapped.”

When Mom heard a little voice crying out “Ma!” she turned to see that he was safe and sound! The joy that Pat was found was not only felt by his immediate family, but also by the many neighbors who were calling for updates. We concluded later that Pat must have hidden when he found no-one home since was afraid to be alone in the dark.

With that episode at an end, I returned to my friends and spent the rest of the evening becoming better acquainted with the members of the Horse Guards and temporarily forgetting the troubles of the day.

Where They Are Now

After having been lost boys, these youngsters found out three things. One, that there are people who deeply care that you are gone. Two, they will try very hard to find you. And, three, they are both happy and irked once you are found. These lessons must have stayed with them the rest of their lives as they successfully pursued their careers, married and raised their own children and never went missing again!

William DeVaux McLean III (SHS 1958) currently lives in Land O’ Lakes, Florida. He is president of ProDial, Inc., a telecommunications company. DeVaux and his wife Marjorie have 3 children, 4 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.

Patrick Nicholas Angel (SHS 1960-1964), lives in London, Kentucky, where he works for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM). Dr. Angel serves as senior forester and soil scientist for OSM, where he promotes reforestation partnerships on surface mines through the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative. Patrick and Glenna have 5 children and 3 grandchildren.

For more about the shenanigans of Sharpsville Area boys
in the old days, see:

The Great Switchblade Incident of ’75
Growing Up in South Pymatuning Township
A Treehouse Grows in Sharpsville

–Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, with help from
William DeVaux McLean III (SHS 1958), Land O’ Lakes, FL,
who submitted 
The Sharon Herald article,
and Patrick Angel (SHS 1960-1964), London, KY.


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MAIN STREET MEMORIES

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

After the Civil War, General James Pierce created a new business district in the area of Mercer Avenue and Shenango Street. However, the town of Sharpsville was growing so rapidly that Pierce found it necessary to lay out additional lots to accommodate the need for new housing. According to Gail Nitch Hane’s PowerPoint presentation, “Sharpsville – Then & Now:” “Since it was assumed that the street lying at the foot of the hill would replace Mercer Avenue as the town’s major thoroughfare, it became Main Street.” This promising outlook for Main Street may be why a request for the street’s first concrete sidewalk was granted in 1882.

Indeed, Main Street was a busy place in the early years. The Sanborn Map Company’s insurance maps of Sharpsville from 1895 through 1912 (found here on the Sharpsville Area Historical Society’s site) show a variety of businesses. Depending on which year you choose, just between Walnut and Second streets you can see buildings for a General Store, Grocery, Chine’ (Chinese?) Laundry, Dentist, Music & Millinery, Insurance Office, Meat, Notions, Drugs, Tailor and/or Bakery.

By the 1950s when I lived in Sharpsville, Walnut Street had become Sharpsville’s concentration of businesses but there were still a number of enterprises along Main Street, intermixed with homes. The following are a few of the services, businesses and people that I recall, some still around, some lost to the ages.


The businesses I visited most often were Ritz Theater on the corner of Main and First streets and Isaly’s Dairy at Main and Third. (They’ve been covered in several other posts on this blog, such as here for the Ritz and here for Isaly’s.)

Also, my dad frequently took our car or truck to the Snyder & Freeman car dealership, auto body shop and gas station at 12 Main Street and we often bought our groceries at Johnson’s Market(For a photo of Johnson’s Market, go to the May 2016 Newsletter of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society.)

Dr. Nelson Bailey was our family doctor as well as the school doctor. My mother was good friends with Helen Belonax who owned Helen’s Beauty Shop in the same building as the theater. Also near the theater, at 111 Main Street, was Walder’s Tavern where we teenagers enjoyed pizza that we could purchase by the slice and my brother still recalls their delicious steak sandwiches here. None of these businesses nor their buildings exist today, except Dr. Bailey’s old residence at the northwest corner of N. Mercer and E. Main.

Click on image for enlarged view.

Sharpsville Municipal Building

“Hello, this is Mrs. Angel calling about a fire.” This telephone call greeted each of the Sharpsville firemen day or night in the 1950s, whenever there was a need for the volunteer firemen’s service. My mother’s voice, in her southern accent (she was born and raised in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky), was immediately recognizable by the firemen, who then drove themselves to the site of the conflagration, joining those whose turn it was to stay overnight at the station. My mother was a member of the “women’s auxiliary” of Veterans of Foreign Wars, one of the civic organizations that my father belonged to. This phone duty was no doubt was one of the auxiliary’s services.

A fire siren blaring in 1950s Sharpsville was a big occasion in our normally quiet town. The loud wail of the siren atop the Sharpsville Municipal Building and on the fire truck brought us kids running to Main Street to catch a glimpse of that red truck speeding by with firemen hanging on the sides. Our next stop was the fire station to read the truck’s destination scrawled on a blackboard, then we’d scurry back to our neighborhood with the news.

The Sharpsville Municipal building, known in the past as the Town Hall and to us in the 1950s as the Fire Station, still stands at 244 West Main Street, across North Third Street from the now vacant lot where Isaly’s Dairy used to stand.

shps_city_bldg

“City Building, Sharpsville, PA.,” c. 1930s. Image on postcard, courtesy of Mike and Fredi Angel.

Built in 1904, the rectangular two-story brick structure that featured a gabled roof and a chimney served as the center of the town, housing not only a fire station but the police station, meeting rooms and even jail cells.

Most recently it was the location of the Sharpsville Floral and Gift Shop. Peggy Marriotti and her brother, Gary “Butch” Linzenbold bought the building from the borough about 30 years ago to continue operating a flower shop that was started by their father, Art Linzenbold, in 1963.

As the space was remodeled to accommodate the flower shop, the family thoughtfully retained some of the building’s original flavor, such as keeping the jail cells and the fire pole. They also set aside an area to display historic photos, maps and vintage items from past businesses which became a popular visitor attraction. One can still see the ghost of the original sign over the front door that reads “Sharpsville Municipal Building.”

Unfortunately, in June of 2017, a fire that originated in the basement badly scarred the building and shut down the floral shop, at least for the time being. The historical artifacts were salvaged and the shell of the building is intact, so there is hope that the building, at one time so important to Sharpsville’s civic operations, will be one day restored.

The Robinsons

Not far away, in fact next door, the current Sharpsville Volunteer Fire Department is located in a modern one-story brick building with an attached garage for the fire trucks. However, in earlier years this lot held the home of the Robinsons. In his memoir, my dad describes how he knew Mr. Robinson: 

…I was told of an empty garage building with a five-room apartment above. The building was at 29 North Second Street in Sharpsville, only two blocks away from the business area. The owner was Mr. Robinson, who was a 65-year-0ld retired auto mechanic who specialized mainly in brake repairs and lived with two older sisters in a house adjacent to the Fire Department. When I contacted the gentleman and explained my need [for my growing printing business now on Walnut Street], he offered me the garage space for $10 per month and I accepted… Early spring of 1946, I talked with Mr. Robinson about buying the building. He was pleased to hear what I proposed and offered it to me on a land contract. As long as I paid the same as rent, I would be handed a deed to the place in time…

Consequently, my brother and I would visit the Robinsons once a month on a Saturday to deliver our dad’s payment on the garage building, which Dad had begun renovating for his relocated print shop and for our family’s future home upstairs. Even at a young age, I could sense that crossing the Robinsons’ front porch and entering their home was like stepping back into another time, so antiquated were the furnishings. I particularly remember a large Tiffany-style stained glass lamp in their front window and a floor model radio that was always playing a baseball game. Even the three siblings seemed quite ancient to me. But they always heartily welcomed us kids and sent us home with not only a receipt but the previous month’s supply of the weekly Saturday Evening Post magazine. We would pull them home in our little red Radio Flyer wagon we brought for that purpose and I would happily leaf through them until the new supply the following month. At Christmas, the Robinsons would call us over to pick up our gifts, one for each of us three Angel children. I liked to think that maybe we were “adopted” by them because they missed having children around.

The Sanborn Map Company’s insurance maps of Sharpsville may carry a clue to Robinson family’s earlier history. During the years of the maps, 1895-1912, a “Robinson Brothers’ Table Factory” was located in the Second Street block behind the building that my dad purchased from the Robinsons.

The Robinsons’ home no longer stands, but part of it can be seen to the right of the Municipal Building in the vintage photo of the fire truck above.

Other families who lived on Main Street were known to us because they included children who were our playmates. For example, there were the Wasleys, whose house was, and still is, directly across the street from the old Municipal Building. Joe Wasley was my brother Mike’s best buddy. The two joined the U.S. Marine Corps after graduation and continued to be friends ever since. There were the Lockes who lived on the corner of North Second and Main streets. Their daughter had the best birthday parties ever!

William Weldon Electric Shop

Former building for the William Weldon Electric Shop, early 2000s.

Across and down the street a bit from the Fire Station was a brick building, still standing, that holds a particular memory for me. An electrical supply business was located in a narrow two-story brick building at 213 West Main Street, probably constructed in the same era as the old Municipal Building. When the weather was good, a man in a wheelchair, possibly the owner, had a habit of sitting in front of the store watching the world of Sharpsville go by. We felt he was, in particular, watching us kids as we passed by, making sure we were behaving. This building later was the home of Saborsky TV & Electronics Sales and Service and, from 2012 until recently, Stitch & Dazzle Inc.

Donaldson’s Funeral Home

Donaldson’s Funeral Home, Main Street, Sharpsville, PA.

Moving east on West Main Street, the next building I remember is a large, handsome white home with a wrap-around porch, known as [Alexander P.] Donaldson’s Funeral Home in the 1950s. Those of us who lived nearby regularly saw cars parked end-to-end on the side streets when a funeral was in progress. Angel’s Casino created the same problem during the record hops and wedding receptions, often making this a very busy area. The congestion caused by the funeral home, now the Donaldson-Mohney Funeral Home, was eventually alleviated when parking lots replaced some of the surrounding old buildings. Established in 1880, the Donaldson-Mohney Funeral Home is the area’s oldest funeral service provider. You can read about its long history here.

A low concrete and cinder block wall still runs between the North Second Street sidewalk and the Home’s well-kept lawn. Many times we teenagers would sit on that wall waiting for our friends to arrive or for the bus to show up.

Piano Teacher

After many childhood years of piano lessons with Professor King, I changed to a teacher who lived in one of the houses close to the Ritz Theater. The interior of his house was another one that seemed frozen in an earlier decade. His wife had died some years before and it seemed that nothing had changed in his house since then. He was a quiet, serious teacher, often giving me one of his music magazines from earlier days titled “The Etude” that contained the pieces that he was teaching me to play. I was intrigued by the old-fashioned ads that filled the magazines. I stayed with him until I went away to college. I no longer remember his name, but his good teaching provided me the advancement I needed for piano classes in college. 


My recall abilities are not as keen as I wish they were, and resources, such as the Sharpsville Area Historical Society, Mercer County Historical Society and the Mercer County Office of the County Clerk, are far away from my current residence. If you would like to help out by contributing your memories of Main Street or any other Sharpsville subject, please feel free to send them as Comments. Or, even better, send a complete narrative to me at bissella9@hotmail.com and, if appropriate, I’ll see that it gets published.

See Also:
DR. BAILEY’S SHARPSVILLE 1920s, Part I and Part II
Return of THE SHARPSVILLE ADVERTISER

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, December 2017, with much appreciated help from “Sharpsville — Then & Now
by Gail Nitch Hanes (SHS 1964),
Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletters by Ralph C. Mehler (SHS 1980) and “Trivia & Me” a memoir by August Angel.


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/


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)



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 III

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Although I will be publishing the Sharpsville blogs on a less frequent time schedule this year, here’s one a bit earlier than I had planned. It’s a second blog about the Ritz Theater, written by my high school friend, Judy Caldwell Nelson (SHS 1958).


sharpsville_movie-reel-2Ah yes, the Ritz Theater with its many reeled doors leading to adventure and romance.

My favorite movie serials were those with the heroes Hopalong Cassidy, Tom Mix, and Gene Autry. Lash LaRue, another of my favorites, captured “the bad guys” in a slightly different manner. While other heroes  usually used lassos to pull “the bad guys” from their horses, Lash had a long buggy-type whip which he let out with a swoosh and it invariably landed with a loud crack as it wrapped around the bad guys’ necks or waists to unseat them from their horses.

There were other heroes as well, for example, the Scarlet Horseman, the Cisco Kid, Red Ryder, the Lone Ranger (along with Tonto, of course), and Roy Rogers.

How wonderful it all was. I chomped my candy in tempo to galloping hooves and in fascination at the glory of the intrepid good guys galloping across the screen to save us all from the evil men of the world.

sharpsville_image_hopalong2

Hopalong Cassidy cover by Time Magazine, 27 November 1950.

A few years ago I caught a special on TV about Hopalong Cassidy, a.k.a. William Boyd,  and his wife. They never had children but loved them immensely. He started a special Hopalong club that boys could join. Said joiners had an oath to take similar to that of Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts.

Hopalong was much loved in Europe and crowds surrounded him when he traveled there with his wife. He had the most beautiful white hair – which was natural.

When I traveled to Europe about ten years ago, I was astounded to find racks of American Western cowboy-hero paperbacks in train stations. On a train in England, I met a man who informed me about the many cowboy clubs active in his country. He himself was a very active member and had traveled to Tombstone, Arizona, to see the O.K. Corral first hand – and the reenactment of that famous shoot-out. It was a highlight of his life.

When I myself traveled to Tombstone several years later, there were busloads of Japanese, German, and other alien tourists lapping up every bit of dust and cobweb in the town.

I do want to mention one humorous incident that occurred when I saw “101 Dalmatians.” I was at a Saturday evening showing and there were several small children seated in the row in front of me and throughout the audience. At one point in the movie, a puppy was being washed along in a fast flowing stream. His animal friends had assembled on a low bridge under which the stream’s current would soon be carrying the frightened animal.

"101 Damatians," poster for the Walt Disney film.

“101 Damatians,” poster for the Walt Disney film, 1961.

Their plan was to reach down and grab his arm and pull him to safety as he was washed under the bridge. They frantically shouted loudly to him to raise his arm so they could grab him.

And it was at that point in the movie that several small children in the theater, caught up in the emotion of the moment, desperately shot their arms up – trying empathetically to save the puppy.

I also remember mothers having to comfort their weeping children when the Wicked Witch of the North confronted Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” Some children had to be carried out of the theater because they were so frightened.

Each movie I attended was a wonderful experience. Walking home with my brother and sisters and/or friends, we discussed the heroes and the dastardly villains.

When I reached my teens, Doris Day became my favorite actress. I tried to remember the words of the songs she sang in her movies and daydreamed that I might have adventures similar to hers in her screen roles.

When I think back now, I can see clearly that I led a blessed life in the small town of Sharpsville. I pity children today who can’t talk to strangers and can’t be hugged by teachers or classmates…and who can’t enjoy the screen adventures of the heroes of the Old West.

— Judy Caldwell Nelson (SHS 1958), Shoreline, WA, 5 March 2013


See Also:
Ritz Theater I by Ann Angel Eberhardt
Ritz Theater II by Irene Calwell O’Neill
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