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Filed Under: default || By jt3y

January 31, 2007 | Link to this story

Gorilla My Dreams

Category: default || By jt3y

You've all seen the ad here on the front page of the Almanac for at least a week, and the big day has finally arrived --- today is National Gorilla Suit Day. Despite the cold temperatures, I sure hope you're celebrating with someone you love by dressing up in moth-eaten monkey suits and going from door to door, asking for bananas and singing gorilla carols.

In the Mon Valley, "Go Go Gorilla" by The Shandells has long been the favorite traditional National Gorilla Suit Day carol, though some younger children find it easier to sing the theme from the Banana Splits, with its immortal words: "Tra-la-la, tra-la-la-la, tra-la-la, tra-la-la-la."

Los Angeles-based screenwriter and historian Mark Evanier has been the nation's leading chronicler of National Gorilla Suit Day since the death of artist and social commentator Don Martin. While I'm hardly qualified to add to Evanier's body of scholarship, I can elucidate briefly on gorilla suiting traditions in the McKeesport area.

Gorilla suiting was introduced to McKeesport by George Washington when he visited Queen Allequippa, chief of the Seneca Indians, who had her headquarters village at the mouth of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers. Legend says that when Washington first called on Allequippa in 1753, he presented her with a hand-sewn imported English gorilla suit and a bottle of rum.

According to Washington's diary, Allequippa and the other natives "greatly enjoyed the rum," but they were mystified by the gorilla suit --- gorillas not being native to Western Pennsylvania --- and even more puzzled when Washington jumped inside and began cavorting around, going "Eeek, ooop, eek."

The Indians called Washington "Anneygityurgun," which they told him meant "future statesman from far away," but actually means, "Man with wooden teeth who may be a furvert."

After he left, some seamstresses in the village turned the gorilla suit into a neat pillbox hat, mittens and matching fur-lined moccasins for the Queen, which she wore until her death from non-gorilla related causes.

But the gorilla suit tradition returned to McKeesport in 1755, when the first permanent white settlers arrived from Ireland. David McKee and his family were trying to escape religious persecution after the Roman Catholic Church banned gorilla suiting as "being of low moral character and frankly, a little bit weird."

(Many Catholics still practiced gorilla suiting in the privacy of their homes, often buying them from back-alley gorilla suit dealers, though the official prohibition would not be lifted until the Second Vatican Council, when Pope John XXIII issued the landmark encyclical "Ad Vestitum Gorillum.")

After McKee established his ferry across the rivers and erected his new town of "McKee's Port," the village grew rapidly, and many of the early Scotch-Irish settlers brought their own gorilla suiting traditions with them. The establishment of iron furnaces and rolling mills in the mid-19th century brought with it a wave of immigration by Italians and Slavs, and this created inevitable culture clashes.

Many of the Roman Catholic immigrants objected to the idea of gorilla suiting on religious grounds, while Byzantine and Russian Orthodox immigrants celebrated National Gorilla Suit Day a week later than the Protestants, on Feb. 7.

The tensions finally boiled over on Jan. 31, 1891, when a gang of gorilla-suit clad Scotch-Irish rowdies wielding clubs and pitchforks rampaged through the lower First Ward, smashing windows and beating Italians and Slavs who were still dressed in street clothes.

Sporadic street fighting and raids continued for several days until Governor Robert Emory Pattison (who had taken office only a few days earlier) called out the state militia to put down the insurrection.

Before the bloodshed was over, three people had died and dozens had been injured, many of them when anti-gorilla suit protesters had rushed a line of Coal and Iron Police guarding the W. Dewees Woods Iron Works.

Until the redevelopment of the First Ward in 1960 to expand U.S. Steel's National Tube plant, a plaque commemorating the deaths was on display at the corner of First Avenue and Market Street. The present whereabouts of that plaque are unknown.

It would take many years before anti-gorilla suit feelings would subside in the Mon-Yough area. As Chicago Sun-Times technology columnist Andy Ihnatko has documented, Italian immigrants had another reason to dislike National Gorilla Suit Day --- fascists back in Italy had co-opted many gorilla suit traditions to repress the working classes. "In my household, a rubber mask trimmed with tufted black acrylic and a set of floppy black latex gloves will always represent baseless human evil, and the triumph of greed over compassion," Ihnatko says.

But by World War I, public gorilla suiting was accepted by all ages and creeds in the McKeesport area, and some of the city's most fashionable and wealthy residents proudly paraded down Fifth Avenue in their gorilla suits each Jan. 31.

Dressmaker Mary Ann Cox, whose descendants went on to found Cox's Department Store, had a booming trade crafting fine gorilla suits (some trimmed in ermine) for men like Edwin R. Crawford, founder of McKeesport Tin Plate Company, and Mayor George H. Lysle.

(Ironically, until 1911, Mrs. Cox could not sew gorilla suits for her usual clients, since state law and local ordinance forbid women from gorilla suiting. Bans on female gorilla-suiting were struck down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the landmark case Magilla v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.)

Others, like prominent local physician Dr. J. Clarence Kelly, purchased their gorilla suits from haberdashers like Henry J. Klein. Most middle-class residents and poor laborers contented themselves with cheap gorilla suits from five-and-10s like G.C. Murphy Co..

Some National Gorilla Suit Day commemorations and pranks became quite famous. Gilbert Myer, Port Vue real-estate developer, created a sensation on National Gorilla Suit Day in 1920 when he purchased a live gorilla and drove him through town in the back of a Hupmobile touring car. The next day's Daily News reported that the gorilla --- clad in a morning coat and bow tie --- "doffed his top hat and waved at passing ladies in a manner so convincingly human that all of the passers-by were greatly amused."

The Depression and World War II greatly curtailed gorilla suit activities in McKeesport, and the effort to modernize and "redevelop" the region in the 1950s and '60s led to a lack of interest in National Gorilla Suit Day. The city's last official National Gorilla Suit Day Parade, held in 1958, attracted only a smattering of spectators and didn't even receive any coverage in the newspaper.

According to unpublished reports, the final National Gorilla Suit Day Parade in the Mon Valley area was held in the Dixon Hollow section of North Versailles of 1961, but since that neighborhood was later demolished to expand the East Pittsburgh-McKeesport Boulevard, no record exists of the festivities.

Indeed, National Gorilla Suit Day has been forgotten for so long in the Mon-Yough area that many residents are unaware of the significance of Jan. 31 --- or even that the holiday exists.

Last year, Tube City Almanac was pleased to commemorate this holiday, and we hope that by giving you some of the background of National Gorilla Suit Day, that residents of McKeesport and surrounding communities can create some new gorilla suit traditions that will endure for years to come.

And we hope that when you bring your gorilla suit out of mothballs this year, your neighbors will echo the words of Queen Allequippa, who said to her chief of staff back in 1753, "Etgay atthay othmay-eatenway agray outway ofway erehay" (loosely translated, "Get that moth-eaten rag out of here").

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January 30, 2007 | Link to this story

So It's Come To This

Category: default || By jt3y

Neither snow, nor snow, nor snow will keep me from filling up an Almanac with your letters and emails.

Alert Reader D.C. writes:

I would also like to know how Terry Lee is. I was yet a 'tween when my sister and her friend danced on his TV show. Loved watching the show, and as young girls, me and my friends just adored Terry. Read on another blog that Terry is related to one of The Fenways. I got to see them live when I was about 10 years old and got their autographs! I still have my autograph book. Thanks Fenways and I managed to hang onto one of your 45's while moving around the country!

Ah, the whereabouts of Terry Lee --- one of McKeesport's great enduring mysteries, along with the questions "Why isn't there a left-turn arrow on the Jerome Avenue Bridge at Ramp One?" and "Why would they name Crawford Village after one of the city's richest men instead of someone who might actually live there?"

An inveterate concert and record promoter and peripatetic disc jockey best known for his work at WMCK and then WIXZ (1360) in McKeesport, I seem to recall that T.L. last worked around here at WESA in Charleroi before departing the Mon Valley for parts unknown. Rumor has it that Terry Lee is living in Ohio and completely out of the radio business, but your guess is as good as mine.

The Fenways had one local hit, "Walk," but never charted nationally. They also backed up the Vogues on "You're The One" and later became the Racket Squad, releasing two LPs for Jubilee Records --- a self-titled album in 1968 and another called "Corners of Your Mind" in 1969. If you have either one of those LPs, congratulations --- I'm sure they're worth upwards of three burgers at Winky's or an all-day pass at Rainbow Gardens.

. . .

Speaking of radio, Alert Reader Bill writes:

I don't know if you have seen the thread running on the Pittsburgh Radio Nostalgia group but Tom Lacko posted a link to his Soundboard site with a collection of Radio Airchecks. I have been listening to airchecks from KDKA in 1976 by Joel Zoell, KQV in 1974 with Jeff Christy who as you know is Rush Limbaugh, WESA in 1983 by Tom Lacko, WIXZ in 1973 with Terry Lee and WKTQ 13Q in 1975 among others. Some really great stuff!

Thanks, Bill! I have and I did see the thread. I occasionally post on the nostalgia board under my clever pseudonym, "jtogyer."

That Soundboard content is wonderful, and it's great that Tom is providing it --- but keep in mind you will need a high-speed Internet connection and a pretty fast computer.

. . .

Remember the Almanac about Brick Alley a few days ago? Alert Reader Patti writes:

After reading your article on Brick Alley, my husband informed me that Brick Alley was a part of Rose Alley, not Strawberry, as his family grew up in the Third Ward.

Oh, yeah, and I'm sure his great-grandfather told him about Brick Alley in between trips to church to read the Bible, right?

I'm teasing --- seriously, I never knew this. Thanks for the information!

. . .

You'll pardon me if I print some fan mail today. I take my ego gratification wherever I can find it. Alert Readers Ken and Susan write:

I came across your website strictly by accident while doing some sort of search on Yahoo. I immediately became fascinated and bookmarked the site until I had more time to view all of it. And you bring back such memories! To put the memories in perspective I graduated from McKeesport High School in 1964.

I love the pictures of the Peoples Bank Building. My doctor had his office there and my dentist also. My father was in the plumbing business (316 Shaw Ave.) and also on the Board of Directors of the Peoples Bank for many years. My fondest memory was visiting the bank and just inside the entrance where he could be seen by all was the bank Cashier, Thomas C. Baird. He was the father of my uncle by marriage ( i.e. my mother's sister's father-in-law). He was a distinguished looking gray-haired banker with a big smile for everyone. He sat at a desk behind a low railing and knew and greeted all the customers as they entered.

But for me the biggest thrill was the nickel that he always gave me for an ice cream cone from Stallings Bakery across the street from the bank -- it was later replaced by Cox's addition. Stallings had a big tall scoop of ice cream in a cone for five cents.

Long-time McKeesporters may be able to figure out who this "Ken" is --- and if you've ever been on Shaw Avenue, you can probably guess, too.

Thanks for the nice words, Ken and Susan --- if we can bring a smile to someone's face, I guess we're doing something right.

. . .

Boy, the mailbag is all about nostalgia this time. Alert Reader Bev wants to know: "Does anybody remember Robert Hall's Clothing Store in McKeesport or have any pictures?"

Bev, do you mean this Robert Hall?

When the values go up, up, up,
and the prices go down, down, down ...

It sure is nice to pay low prices
For more quality
Take your family
To Robert Hall and see!
Save on quality clothes at Robert Hall and you'll agree:
It sure is nice to pay low prices for more quality!

School bells ring and children sing:
"It's back to Robert Hall again."
Mother knows for better clothes,
It's back to Robert Hall again!

No, never heard of it.

Ha! I keed, I keed.

Robert Hall Clothing was a national chain that had a store in McKeesport on Fifth Avenue at Water Street, directly across from The Palisades. I'm not sure what's in that building now, but it was Tile City for many years.

Specializing in discounts on its own private-label brands, Robert Hall opened in 1940 as sort of the Burlington Coat Factory or Men's Wearhouse of its day. But the company got into financial troubles in the mid-1970s. A check of the New York Times archives indicates that in 1974, Robert Hall was notifying creditors that it was going to be 30 days late paying its bills.

A story in the Washington Post from 1977 indicates that the company went out of business on June 30, closing 373 outlets. I have no idea if the McKeesport store was still open at that time. The parent company, United Merchants and Manufacturers Inc., had planned to have a going out of business sale but instead abruptly locked out employees. According to the Post:

Robert Hall became a casualty of mall mania. Its outlets, often in poor locations, could not compete with newer stores in shopping malls and clothing discounters. Last year UM & M began an 11th hour attempt to refurbish older outlets and in some cases, as in Manassas, to close freestanding stores and open new shops in malls. But it was too late.

As for pictures, well, that's a tall order. Unless someone who worked there took pictures of the store, I doubt any exist. The building was as plain as a mud-fence, inside and out. Robert Hall was known for "low overhead," with clothes displayed on pipe racks (much like Syms or Gabriel's does today). But I'll put the request out there anyway.

. . .

Finally, here's an exchange of emails between myself and a gentle reader, and I love these, because it proves a long-held belief of mine --- most of us don't pay attention when other people talk to us. Here's the first email I received:

"i have a pizzelle maker that is over 30 years old. one of the wires inside of it has come un-crumpped. i was wondering if you could send me a catalog with parts or maybe you could send a new one or new parts i don't know?"

This person is obviously trying to find out about a product from Berarducci Brothers. You may recall that Tube City Online used to receive a ton of emails about products made by Berarducci Brothers until I put up a webpage asking --- begging, really --- people not to write to me.

So I replied to her email like this: "I have no connection with Berarducci Brothers or any company that makes pizzelle makers. But maybe some of this information will help."

She wrote back:

i just need parts one of the wires broke and it won't heat up maybe you can send a catalog or something or send parts your self i don't know but it is my dads b-day and i wanted to get his old pizzle makerf ixed for himhe has had that since he was a kid

To quote Mark Evanier: "Do you ever feel like you're George Burns, and everybody else in the world is Gracie?"

I wrote back again: "Please understand: I do not make pizzelle makers or anything else. I
thought that was clear. You might try contacting Villaware, whose address is on the webpage I sent to you. Or you can try seeing if a local repair shop that fixes appliances will take a look at it. Otherwise, there is nothing I can do. As I tried to emphasize, I have nothing to do with Berarducci Brothers or anyone else."

Her final message to me? Verbatim and in full: "do u know a place hwere i could get a partts"

I didn't respond to that email, but if anyone knows a place where this lady can "get a partts," possibly for her brain, please let me know, and I'll pass the information along. I hate to think that her wires are coming un-crumpped.

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January 26, 2007 | Link to this story

Thursday Night Fights

Category: default || By jt3y

They used to have a lot of boxing matches at The Palisades, back in the day. They still do, occasionally, along with wrestling matches.

But nobody told Port Authority CEO Steve Bland. If he knew, no doubt he would asked the referee to stop the pummeling he was taking last night during a four-hour hearing on proposed public transit service cuts.

Bland, who looks a little like Chris Noth from the Law & Order TV shows, spent much of the hearing staring off of the stage at the Palisades at a point somewhere in the back balcony, over the heads of the audience and the speakers. One after another, every three minutes, they took the microphone to lambaste Bland and seven other Port Authority officials who sat beside him on the stage.

"Mismanagement and greed --- that's what's wrong with your system," one man said. "It's mismanaged because it's political." Another man accused Bland of being "ungodly" for cutting bus service to his neighborhood.

Sometimes Bland managed a wan smile, like when Mayor Jim Brewster came to the microphone and said: "Welcome to McKeesport. How did you get down here? Did you take a bus?"

A few times, Bland even made eye contact with the people testifying and smiled, sympathetically, as when a young mother with a Russian accent suggested that people should be "proud to ride public transportation ... it is a privilege to ride a bus, not a shame," or when a little gray-haired lady stumbled midway through her speech and confessed, "I'm nervous and I lost my place."

Most of the time, though, Bland just stared blankly at the back wall of the ballroom --- no doubt wishing he were anywhere but in Downtown McKeesport on a Thursday night, where the miserable cold outside was nearly matched by the bitterness inside.

. . .

Some of the other Port Authority officials on the dias wouldn't even attempt as much contact with the hostile crowd as Bland did. One woman spent much of the evening staring at her shoes. Others looked numb from all of the abuse they took in McKeesport --- and have obviously been taking, night after night, in hearings throughout the county.

If a proposed service reduction goes through later this year, McKeesport and much of the Mon Valley stands to lose most of its local bus routes. There would be little or no bus service south of Versailles, leaving a broad section of the county completely without public transportation. Several trips that connect McKeesport to surrounding communities would be rolled into a single bus route, and several routes to Pittsburgh would remain.

Yet even Pittsburgh commuter service would be vastly curtailed --- express buses from Port Vue and McKeesport would end while the heavily-used 56C would stop running after 9 p.m. on weekdays, and not at all on Sundays.

Ted Keeler, who described himself as a bus operator for 19 years, quoted a line from the Port Authority website that says the agency "connects people to life."

"How are these people going to be connected to life?" Keeler asked. "They can't go to the doctor's, they can't go shopping --- some of these people are 90 years old. These buses are the only thing that's keeping them alive."

A man from Greenock who says he rides the 60A said he would have to walk nearly four miles to catch the nearest bus after the service cuts take effect. "I'm on disability and my wife is on disability. I don't think we qualify for ACCESS. If you take away my bus service you're taking away my life."

"All I'm asking for is maybe four buses a day," he pleaded.

"I am single, live alone, and I never learned how to drive," said a woman who rides two buses each way to get from her home in McKeesport to her job in Cranberry Township. "I have to grocery shop on Saturday and I go to church on Sunday and I teach bible school on Monday. I make maybe three or four trips a day."

. . .

She, like many speakers, blamed wasteful Port Authority spending for the current crisis: "There has to be an independent audit. If we do not correct the problems now, three years from now, we will be back at the same place."

Many speakers pointed fingers at projects like the Wabash Tunnel HOV lane and the North Shore subway connector as examples of foolish spending.

"We can find the money to run a tunnel under the river," said Carol Katz of Port Vue, "while Port Vue and Liberty Borough have been completely eliminated from any service whatsover. Why not reduce the frequency of trips to two in the morning and two in the afternoon? Or at least give us local transportation so that we can get to the Olympia Shopping Center or to the transit center. And another thing --- why haven't you taken a pay cut?"

Her last remark got loud, lusty applause from the audience.

"When a tree dies, it starts from the top," said one elderly man. "You are responsible for the money coming in. If you can't handle it, resign."

"Scratch this," said another man as he brandished a copy of a Port Authority pamphlet explaining the service cuts. "It's garbage. It's trash!"

"I heard Governor Ed Rendell say that why is it that SEPTA is twice the size of Port Authority of Allegheny County, but Port Authority has more management staff than SEPTA," said Edward Craig of McKeesport, who rides four buses to get to his welding job in Jefferson Hills.

Pat McMahon, business agent of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, which represents Port Authority drivers, asked why the agency has been spending money to rent offices in Pittsburgh's Heinz 57 Center when its old office building in Woods Run is empty.

"What business would eliminate its best performing products, like the 28X to the airport, or the park and ride lots in the North Hills?" he said. "We've brought these things to the attention of the Port Authority management and county officials, and they say, well, these are just little issues. Well, where I come from, a lot of little issues add up to a big problem."

. . .

Others, like Schnel Simmons of the McKeesport branch of the NAACP, blamed the state Legislature for failing to increase public transit subsidies. "I think you should already have had an increase from our officials, knowing that the price of gas has increased," she said.

Several speakers blamed Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, accusing him of pushing the Port Authority into drastic service cuts at a time when the county is pledging money to build a new arena for the Penguins.

"I've been to three of these hearings already," one woman from Park Street in McKeesport said. "This is the fourth one and I might be going to a fifth. I did try calling Mr. Onorato and left a message, but I haven't seen him yet. I think he's a freaking chicken."

There were a few moments of levity, as when a Port Authority official tried to locate a registered speaker who didn't come to the microphone when called.

"Is Patricia Jones here?" he said.

"She probably had to go catch a bus," someone shouted from the back of the ballroom.

A few speakers said Port Authority is cutting service when existing transit already doesn't work well. "Bus routes in the valley have been problematic from day one," said Judy Monahan Grystar, executive director of Mental Health/Mental Retardation, Inc., in Braddock. Patients trying to get from one side of the Monongahela River to the other are often forced to take buses all the way to Pittsburgh and back out again.

"I can't believe you're looking at cuts in these communities when we already don't have enough service," Grystar said.

A woman from the Rolling Hills apartment complex in North Versailles asked why the 60M bus from McKeesport to East Pittsburgh passes through so many unpopulated areas. "I'm a little disappointed in the utilization," she said. "Some of the places it goes, they don't pick up anybody." One of her neighbors asked why "we need so many 68J's in the morning, one after another."

. . .

Despite newspaper stories that have focused on the salaries and benefits provided to the Port Authority's best-paid bus and trolley operators, few directed their anger at the agency's rank-and-file, though a few did criticize what they considered inefficencies.

"I think there should be some accountability on behalf of the bus drivers and trolley operators," said Vince DeAngelo of Clairton. "Some of them, it seems like if people pay fares and show a pass, that's OK. But if they don't, that's OK too. I'm not trying to point fingers."

He suggested that bus passes should carry bar codes that would enable drivers to make sure they're valid, and that would track who is riding buses. Several drivers agreed. "We need updated fare boxes --- there is so much fraud taking place between bad Pitt (bus) passes and counterfeit passes," Keeler said.

McMahon, from the bus drivers' union, said he has tried to make suggestions to improve efficiency in the past, "not only to the old administration, but to you, Mr. Bland, and it falls on deaf ears."

"I've talked to a lot of people on that (Port Authority) board of directors, and they're business people, and I respect that, but there's a lot about transit that doesn't relate to a business decision," he said. "There should be citizen representation on that board of directors. There should be worker representation on that board of directors."

Many speakers, like Brewster, focused on how cutting intra-city bus routes would prevent residents from getting to jobs that don't pay enough to maintain and operate a car.

"I intend to bring 2,000 jobs to this area in the coming years, and many of them are dependent on the buses," Brewster said. "Move slowly is my request. McKeesport, Port Vue, Liberty, Glassport, Lincoln, Elizabeth don't have to be forgotten."

An employee of Echostar, the satellite TV provider, said up to 50 percent of her co-workers rely on buses to get to the company's national call center in Downtown McKeesport. "It would kill us," she said. "We'd be completely cut out of the loop."

Another woman, who rides the 60E bus from her home in White Oak to make a connection to Pittsburgh, predicted she will lose her job if the route is cancelled.

"Since these cuts were announced, every day my boss asks me, what alternate arrangements have you made to get to work?" she said. "I don't have a backup. And if these cuts go through, I will be fired. I already know that."

McMahon predicted that many transit riders would end up on unemployment, and then on welfare, "and I don't think anybody wants that."

"There's supposed to be 10,000 jobs coming into this area in the next year, but how many of them are going to be middle-income jobs?" he said. "They're not. They're going to be clerks. How are they going to get to work?"

. . .

Some of the people testifying tried to keep their tones concilatory. "This problem wasn't created overnight, and I think it's unfair to try to solve it overnight," said Joanne Beckowitz, president of the Elizabeth Township board of commissioners. "Please consider providing bus service Monday through Friday to our residents so they can continue to tend to their health."

Said Ed Falco of Port Vue: "It might not be a high income area like Squirrel Hill or Bethel Park or Mt. Lebanon, but we need the buses. We use them."

But most others were just angry. "Put yourself in our shoes," said Jermaine Scott of North Versailles. "Pretend that your cars are being stolen right now. We need these buses."

"How are we going to get to doctors' offices? How are young people going to get to school?" Kimberly Spencer, also of North Versailles, said.

Many Mon Valley residents will be forced to rely on jitneys, she said. "The jitney drivers are eating this up," Spencer said. "They're going to get rich. They're waiting for us to lose our services --- they're going to charge us extra money and we don't have it.

"The powers that be --- y'all got to resolve something," she said. "If you stop our transportation, there's going to be a war."

. . .

Back in the days when they used to have weekly boxing matches at The Palisades, they also used to have roller skating.

Someone should have told Steve Bland. At least he wouldn't have looked so helpless. He have known that there was a long history at The Palisades of people going around in circles without finding an exit, and then falling down on their rear ends.

And unless someone arrives quickly with nothing short of a miracle, roller skates may be the only way that Mon Valley residents who don't own cars can get from town to town.

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January 25, 2007 | Link to this story

Reminder: Bus Hearing Tonight

Category: default || By jt3y

It's your chance to speak out on the planned Port Authority service cuts --- which would eliminate all local service around McKeesport and neighboring communities as well as some trips to Pittsburgh.

Tonight's hearing at the Palisades starts at 4 p.m. It's one of nine public hearings on the transit changes, which would include a fare increase to either $2 or $2.50.

Speakers are limited to three minutes each. Pre-registration is suggested by calling (412) 566-5437 or TTY for the speech and hearing impaired at (412) 231-7007.

The next nearby hearing will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. Feb. 7 at Memorial Hall on Route 88 in Castle Shannon. If you cannot attend, call (412) 566-5335 to leave your comments.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Palisades Ballroom

501 Water St.

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January 25, 2007 | Link to this story

Severe Storm Center Open

Category: default || By jt3y

This is an update from the WMCK storm center. The following schools are closed today:

  • Divine Redeemer Academy, Elizabeth Township

  • Dravosburg Elementary

  • East End School, McKeesport

  • Glassport High School

  • Holy Cross, Glassport

  • Holy Trinity, McKeesport

  • Homestead High School

  • John F. Kennedy Elementary, Duquesne

  • Liberty Borough School

  • Lincoln Borough School

  • Mon-Yough Catholic High School, McKeesport

  • Mon Valley Catholic, Monongahela

  • Munhall High School

  • Myer Avenue School

  • Port Vue-Liberty Junior-Senior High School

  • Romine Avenue School

  • St. Cecilia's, Glassport

  • St. Denis, Versailles

  • St. Mary's German, Olive Street

  • St. Mary Czestochowa, Versailles Avenue

  • St. Peter High School, McKeesport

  • Tenth Ward School

  • Versailles Township School

  • Whitaker Elementary

In addition, the following schools are on a two-hour delay today:

  • Andrew "Greeky" Jakomas School of Ballet, McKeesport

  • Art Jones Academy of Forensic Medicine, Charleroi

  • Clairton Clown College

  • Duquesne Village Institute of Graffiti Art, West Mifflin

  • Glassport Montessori School for Sullenness

  • Hartley King Institute of Nutrition, Boston (but breakfast will be available)

  • Jack Roland Murphy School of Surfing, Turtle Creek

  • Mindyur-Roan Business College, Port Vue

  • Noble J. Dick Bus Driving School, Large

  • Port Perry Pierogie-Poaching School, North Versailles

  • St. Regis School for the Boisterous, Wall

  • Dooker's Hollow Minimum Security Vocational-Technical High School, North Braddock

  • University of Donora at New Eagle

Also: Someone from the East McKeesport Mime Academy called, but didn't leave a message. Stay tuned for further updates, as they become available.

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January 23, 2007 | Link to this story

A Lesson Learned, 20 Years Ago

Category: default || By jt3y

I was sick a lot as a kid --- mostly allergy-related stuff --- but if truth be known, I probably could have went to school on several of those occasions. (Has the statute of limitations run out, or is there a chance I might have detention? The mind reels.) Lord knows I've dragged myself to work in worse shape than the headache-stuffy head-fever stuff that often kept me out of class as a child.

I don't remember what kept me home from school on Jan. 22, 1987, nor do I remember what I was watching on TV that morning --- probably some garbage. What was on at 11 a.m. weekday mornings besides "The Price is Right"? Maybe I was watching "Price is Right," but I doubt it, because I had to be watching NBC.

Because I saw it.

R. Budd Dwyer's suicide.

And as far as I know, WPXI-TV (an NBC affiliate) was the only station in Pittsburgh to show the video, and they only showed it at noon.

Anyway, I didn't notice any news organizations marking the anniversary yesterday until I saw an item in last night's Daily News under "this date in history." In fact, Google News turns up only two stories in the entire state --- and one is a blog entry from the editor of the Delaware County Times, the other is a TV listing about a panel discussion on PCN featuring KDKA radio's Tony Romeo and Dennis Barbagello, former Harrisburg correspondent for the Tribune-Review.

I don't think I have to repeat the particulars, but just in case, Budd Dwyer was the state treasurer. In 1986, a federal jury in Williamsport convicted Dwyer and the head of the state Republican Party of 11 counts of bribery for accepting $300,000 kickbacks from a California computer company that was awarded a state contract. (I'm not reciting this from memory --- I looked it up in the New York Times archive.)

Dwyer was supposed to be sentenced on the morning of Jan. 22, 1987, and he called a press conference in his office at the state capital. Reporters arrived assuming that he intended to announce his resignation.

Instead, Dwyer, "red-faced and sweating" (again quoting the Times) got in front of the crowd and for a half hour, "protested that he was innocent and criticized some people who had been connected with his conviction, and included news organizations that had reported it."

And then he picked up a manila envelope and reached inside.

I can see it like it was yesterday, and although I know the clips are available on the Internet (go look 'em up for yourself --- I'm not linking to them) I don't need to see it again. I've never watched it again. Once was enough.

I don't even know why I watched. I can't remember who Channel 11 was using to anchor the noon news then --- maybe Ron Jaye? --- but I can clearly remember them warning viewers that the footage was graphic, and that we should consider sending children out of the room.

Well, I was home alone, and I was not about to send myself out of the room.

You actually didn't see much blood. You didn't see much of anything. He put the gun in his mouth (very awkwardly --- as we found out later, it was a .357 Magnum) with one hand, and waved several people away with the other hand. Some yelled, "No, Budd, don't do it." God, I remember how he had to stretch his mouth to open it around the pistol's barrel.

Then there was a loud noise, and Dwyer jerked up in the air and fell down. I seem to remember the camera panning down to him lying on the floor, but I can't be sure. I remember calling my mother at work, but I seem to remember being more surprised than horrified.

What was served by showing Dwyer's suicide on TV? I don't know. I couldn't answer that question then, and I can't now. By Williams, then the news operations manager of WPXI said it was "an historic event" about an "important man," but the station didn't show the video at 6 p.m. It didn't become less historic six hours later, and yet they didn't show it.

Personally, I can't see any journalistic value in it, but then again I was told by several editors that I have an "attitude problem" and that I was a poor journalist.

I know that when the jokes began circulating at school on Monday ("Have you seen the new Budd Dwyer commemorative coin?" someone would say, and hand you a metal washer) I didn't find them very funny.

I could imagine being Budd Dwyer's son; it wasn't bad enough that your dad had been convicted of a crime. Now, all he'd be remembered for was being "the guy who shot himself on TV." (Take a look at Dwyer's Wikipedia entry if you don't believe me. The first sentence? He was "a former Pennsylvania politician who, on the morning of January 22, 1987, committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth with a handgun during a televised press conference.")

So, maybe I learned a little something by watching after all. Maybe I learned something that day about other people's feelings, and trying to be sensitive to them --- especially the family members of people who have done horrible things. That didn't always serve me well as a reporter, either.

I wonder what would have happened to Budd Dwyer if he hadn't killed himself. Would someone have pardoned him? Would he have been paroled? He might have even rehabilitated himself. Former state Attorney General Ernie Preate has. He did 14 months in federal prison for mail fraud, but now he's remarried, has a young child, and is practicing law again and campaigning for sentencing reform.

Maybe that's another lesson --- that situations are rarely as dire as they seem, and that you can survive a public humiliation and move on.

It's a shame that I only learned those lessons after another man lost his life, in compatible color and "videotaped in front of a live audience," 20 years ago yesterday.

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January 21, 2007 | Link to this story

Saturday Morning Confusion

Category: default || By jt3y

Boy, this didn't take long:

Sign along University Drive, McKeesport, that says Penn State Greater Allegheny

I snapped this photo on University Drive in Our Fair City at 11 a.m. Saturday. You don't suppose they had the signs already made up and waiting for installation, do you? To quote Bugs Bunny: "Eh ... could be!"

Anyway, in case you missed the news:

Penn State University's campus at McKeesport has a new name.

The western Pennsylvania campus will now be known as Penn State-Greater Allegheny after the board of trustees approved the name change Friday.

The switch "will more readily describe the region served and more accurately reflect the 21st-century mission of the campus," Penn State president Graham Spanier said.
(Associated Press via Centre Daily Times)

This just makes me shake my head and groan. The name change was going to offend McKeesporters no matter what --- but at least "Penn State Allegheny" was short and sweet. "Penn State 'Greater' Allegheny" is just clunky. No one refers to Allegheny County or the Pittsburgh metropolitan area as "Greater Allegheny."

Occasional Almanac contributor Officer Jim, a Penn State McKeesport Greater Allegheny alumnus, suggests that this was a compromise intended to keep Allegheny College happy.

Well, again, I ask: If McKeesporters were going to get a burr under their saddles anyway, why not just go all the way to "Penn State Pittsburgh" or "Penn State Greater Pittsburgh" and be done with it? Maybe "Penn State Metro Pittsburgh"? "Penn State Pittsburgh East"?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The Penn State campus on O'Neil Boulevard under any name is a great institution, and McKeesport and vicinity should be proud to have it. I just wish this had been handled in a way that didn't cause so many hurt feelings among residents and local officials. This is leaving something of the same bad taste as when McKeesport Hospital was sold to UPMC. When that happened, McKeesport seemed to have been reduced in importance just a little bit.

Still, we adapted to "UPMC McKeesport," and the hospital is better for drawing on UPMC's resources. McKeesport is better, too, for having a stronger medical center here.

In the same way, it's in McKeesport's best interests for Penn State to have a strong and vital campus here. Penn State officials say renaming the campus will help it recruit faculty and students; therefore, I guess it's imperative for us to suck this up and move on in the interest of a stronger Penn State and a stronger McKeesport. As Andrew Carnegie often said: "All is well since all grows better." (Of course, Andy has nothing to beef about --- they kept his name on his university.)

But I hope folks in State College will excuse us if we pout --- for a little while at least. After all of the knocks we've taken over the years, I think we've earned it.

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Posted at 10:50 pm by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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January 19, 2007 | Link to this story

How To Fly an Airport Into a Mountain

Category: default || By jt3y

Today, it's a very special episode of Good Government ... On The March! And our fickle finger of fate points at the Allegheny County Airport Authority. As you may have heard, the airport authority (Motto: "Bending over for US Airways for more than 20 years") plans to demolish 15 hangars at the county airport in West Mifflin that it considers old and "uncompetitive" and replace them with 12 spiffy new hangars.

That sounds pretty good until you learn that, er, the county doesn't own the hangars it plans to tear down. These hangars are privately owned by various individuals and companies that base aircraft at AGC.

It seems that the county has been leasing the land to the hangar owners. Originally, the land was on long-term lease, which spurred major companies and private plane owners to invest money in permanent improvements and hire personnel. Several years ago, the county announced that it would only renew the rental contracts on a month-by-month basis.

"Ah!" I hear you say. "But the county plans to compensate the owners of the hangars for their losses, right?"

Au contraire, propeller-heads. The county's attitude is "take it and git." Decades of private investment will be destroyed; many of the hangars are being vacated this month. Tenants have until May 1 to leave the premises.

The Allegheny County Airport Authority says that the 12 new hangars (to be built by Voyager Jet Center, one of the charter companies with a base at AGC) would be the "first new development" at the West Mifflin field in "at least 25 years." But that's a little disingenuous, since the county was only renewing leases on a monthly basis --- and if you owned a hangar at the airport, would you invest any more money under those circumstances?

It gets even worse for the taxpayers of West Mifflin Borough and school district. Right now the hangar owners pay real-estate property taxes, but after the Voyager hangars are erected, the airport authority will ask the county to make them tax-exempt. West Mifflin officials are already engaged in a messy tax tug-of-war (largely of their own creation) with Kennywood Park; they've asked for county officials to meet with them to discuss the airport hangars and have gotten no satisfaction, according to the Post-Gazette.

This comes, of course, after years of neglect at Allegheny County Airport, and several service cuts, including the closure in 2004 of one runway and the airport's fire station. The latter move shifted the burden of fire protection onto West Mifflin Borough --- which, of course, is now going to take it in the shorts again with the loss of the property tax revenue.

The airport authority says the changes are necessary to attract business to Allegheny County Airport (already one of the busiest in Pennsylvania), but many of the hangar owners being chased away say they're going to other fields in Westmoreland County (Rostraver, after all, is only a few air miles away).

And although Kent George, executive director of the airport authority, says the county will offer "incentives" to get the planes back, it doesn't seem likely that someone who's had thousands of dollars of investment destroyed by a land grab would ever want to do business with Allegheny County again.

Not to mention the fact that the airport authority plans to double the rent, according to pilots and plane owners interviewed by Lynn Cullen on WPTT (1360) this past Tuesday.

George says that the airport authority is just trying to reverse "bad management of the past" and restore "professionalism" to the operation of Allegheny County Airport. Well, who has been running the Allegheny County Airport Authority (and before that, the county Aviation Department) for the past nine years? Why, step forward, Kent George!

On behalf of hundreds of private pilots and airplane owners, and thousands of West Mifflin taxpayers, the Tube City Almanac salutes the Allegheny County Airport Authority for its unfailing ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Your unswerving devotion to shooting yourself in the foot has made you another sterling example of Good Government ... On The March!

. . .

To Do This Weekend: If you're not a hangar owner who's moving this weekend, there's country line dancing tonight at the Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street. Boot-scoot your way to a phone and call (412) 678-6979. ... On Saturday, drop by the Bost Building, East Eighth Avenue in Homestead and see the exhibit "Masters of Their Domain: Little Steel, 1750-Present." Call (412) 464-4020 ... And if you think you're funny, the McKeesport Little Theater is having open auditions for its upcoming performance of the play "Curious Savage." That's at the theater, 1614 Coursin St., from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday. You should be prepared to deliver a one to two minute comic monologue. Call (412) 673-1100.

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January 18, 2007 | Link to this story

Like an Alley Cat

Category: default || By jt3y

First things first: The other day I met Ellen Show, who coordinates volunteer activities at the McKeesport Heritage Center. Show is one of a group of people who is preparing a picture history of the city for Arcadia Publishing.

Most of the photos are coming from the Heritage Center's own files, though a few have been contributed by other groups. (Mrs. Show is disappointed that a request for submissions mailed to local churches, for instance, elicited only one response. Frankly, I am too --- but that's a story for another time.)

Anyway, they still need a photo of one prominent McKeesport landmark --- the notorious cobblestones and wooden shacks of Brick Alley, Our Fair City's infamous red-light district of the 1930s, '40s, '50s and '60s.

Brick Alley (which I think was part of Strawberry Alley, but you'll forgive me for not having actually been there) was home to houses of ill-repute and patrolled nightly by ladies engaged in the world's oldest profession (no, not farming).

The houses of prostitution were an open secret throughout the Mon-Yough area, and when people talk of "corruption" in McKeesport during the postwar boom era, they're often referring to the city's tolerance of places like Brick Alley. Some police officers tended to look the other way (or so I'm told), and it was widely assumed that several city officials were on the take from the madams and pimps.

You can point some fingers, I suppose, at those of us who tolerated Brick Alley as a necessary evil and weren't outraged at the idea of the sex trade being openly conducted on Downtown streets.

On the other hand, given the concentration of business, churches, bars and prostitutes in Downtown McKeesport in the 1950s and '60s, it might have been the only city where you could get a job, get drunk, get laid and get religion in the same two blocks.

(If that's not a bustling city, I don't know what is. Hey, Richard Florida measures a city's vitality based on the number of Internet cafes and coffeehouses. I don't think my idea is that dumb.)

Occasionally, county detectives or the district attorney's office would stage a "vice raid" and round up the johns and hookers, the Daily News and the Pittsburgh papers would come out and take photos, everyone would be hauled before a magistrate ... and the following night, Brick Alley was back to normal.

For a slightly fictionalized account of life in Brick Alley (and of vice generally) in McKeesport and vicinity during the 1960s, I highly recommend David Chacko's novel of the same name.

Though I'm not sure when Brick Alley itself disappeared, I suspect it was during one of the many redevelopment projects that happened when the railroad tracks were removed in 1970. Supposedly, the late Al Julius played a key role in finally getting the street cleared of hookers by hammering city and county officials in commentaries over KQV radio.

Prostitution and vice haven't disappeared, of course --- and probably never will --- but a check of the police blotter any given day is a pretty reliable indicator that the cops aren't looking the other way, either.

Anyway, my point --- and I did have one --- is that Mrs. Show and the other volunteers have only been able to find a single, not-very-good photo of Brick Alley. I doubt that many patrons of Brick Alley took a camera with them, because if you did try to take a picture in those days, the resultant beatings tended to ruin the film. But if you know where one's available, email me, and I'll put you in touch with her.

Also, the Heritage Center is taking pre-orders for the book, which is slated for publication this summer. The cost will be $20 plus tax, and money will be due at delivery. Call (412) 678-1832 or email

By the way: The video documentary of the life of pioneering woman airline pilot Helen Richey is on sale right now at the Heritage Center. Produced by Andrea Naipus and Brian Grundy and funded by the Wivagg Foundation, it's available on DVD or VHS for $20.

. . .

In Other Business: As reported by the Almanac back in November, demolition is underway at Eastland Mall in North Versailles. The News reported last week that asbestos abatement was recently completed.

A visit earlier this week revealed that the mall has been surrounded by a fence to keep out visitors (and "midnight plumbers," I assume), and cranes and backhoes are now tearing down the outlying buildings.

The newest rumor to reach the Almanac is that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is eyeing the property for some sort of an outpatient surgical center serving UPMC McKeesport and Braddock hospitals, but I have no confirmation on that.

The website for Benderson Development Co., the real-estate company that controls the Eastland property, has a brochure online (PDF) for something called "Eastland Centre," an office-retail-warehouse complex with "200,000 square feet" on one floor and "parking for 6,000 cars," "strategically located near major interstates ... just 10 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh."

The brochure strongly implies that the "Eastland Centre" already exists, so I'm wondering if they simply plan to tear down most of the outlying buildings at the mall and gut the old Gimbels store for renovations. The rendering, indeed, looks suspiciously like Gimbels with some new windows punched through the sides.

It seems to me that it would be more cost-effective at this point to level the place and start over, but what do I know?

Benderson did not return calls for comment from the News, but here's hoping that they really do have this "Eastland Centre" project in the pipeline. The people of North Versailles have lived with that eyesore on East Pittsburgh-McKeesport Boulevard for far too long.

. . .

Coffee Klatch: It looks like McKeesport is finally getting a coffeehouse, which means that trend is well and truly dead. (Rimshot.)

City administrator Dennis Pittman told the Post-Gazette that a chain coffeehouse is expected to locate in the 11th Ward, next to the new Rite Aid drugstore that will soon be open on the old Reliance Steel Co. site along Walnut Street. (Alert Richard Florida --- we're joining the creative class!) An Aldi supermarket is also to be built.

I'm no fan of fancy, overpriced coffee, but a Starbucks or Caribou would at least provide some indication to the outside world that we're not a bunch of savages out here. The Aldi is a nice alternative supermarket, too, and all of this activity should be most welcome to people in Christy Park, 11th Ward, Haler Heights and Versailles.

Now, would it be too much to ask for a bookstore? How about a Half Price Books? Based on what I've seen at the store on McKnightmare Road, a Half Price Books would do a land-office business in McKeesport.

After all, it offers two things that we in the Mon Valley love (looking at other people's junk and saving money) but it also offers some intellectual stimulation to boot --- and that ain't a bad thing.

That's not the same kind of stimulation that you used to find in Brick Alley, but on the other hand, you don't need penicillin afterwards, either.

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January 14, 2007 | Link to this story

Flashback: April 1968

Category: default || By jt3y

From the archives of Tube City Online, here's a few select stories from The Valley Independent of April 8, 1968.

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January 12, 2007 | Link to this story

A Discouraging Word

Category: default || By jt3y

Apparently prompted by Monday's Almanac, "A New Year's Resolution," an Alert Reader from Yorba Linda, Calif., writes:

I left McKeesport (in June 1962). Downtown died a thousand deaths since then. Among them:

Former mayor Andrew Jakomas's scandal and "banishment" to Miami. Taking out the streetcar tracks, not allowing parking and painting that hideous "artwork" on the pavement of Fifth Avenue. Not rebuilding downtown after The Famous fire. McKeesport's "Finest" not cracking down on the crime downtown. I could go on and on.

Finally, I took my wife back there in '95 to show her my native city. Susie always looks at the positive and pictures her living in all of the places she has visited in the country. McKeesport is the first place where she said she would "never" want to live. We haven't been back since.

Unless McKeesporters wake up and clean house of your crooked politicians, you're doomed to never recover.

How did Greeky Jakomas get dragged into this?

McKeesport of the 1960s was a wide-open place that allegedly was run by U.S. Steel and the rackets. Those allegations have been well documented, notably by John Hoerr in And The Wolf Finally Came and by David Chacko in the novel Brick Alley. (The Allegheny County district attorney's office had several investigations of McKeesport government underway in the 1950s and '60s, mostly connected to influence peddling and gambling, but no charges were ever brought as far as I know.)

All of the complaints about the haphazard schemes to redevelop Downtown (including the notorious pedestrial mall on Fifth Avenue, which lasted less than a year, I'd like to point out) have been hashed and rehashed for 40 years. You can read about some of them here, you can read about the Famous fire here, or you can read about allegations of political corruption here.

Fixating on the problems of the 1950s, '60s and '70s is not going to help us now. What happened 40 years ago is not terribly relevant to the problems that face the area today --- yes, we are dealing with the consequences of what happened then, but the players are long gone.

Andrew Jakomas left office in 1965 after losing the Democratic primary to Albert Elko, for goodness' sake, and Mayor Jakomas died in 1994.

As for the trolley tracks, that was a Pittsburgh Railways decision that was made in 1963, and although McKeesport pushed to have the streetcars removed, they were going to be eliminated anyway, no matter what McKeesport did.

When the current Glenwood Bridge was built in 1966, it was constructed without trolley tracks. That would have eliminated the heavily trafficked 56 line, and the 68 line (McKeesport via Homestead and Duquesne) had already been converted to buses in September 1958!

Nostalgia is fun, but wallowing in historic grudges and scandals gets us no further along than mourning the loss of Cox's, Jaison's and Immel's, or the National Works for that matter. Fighting these battles again is pointless.

Speaking of losses: Several people have pointed out to me that the National Tube general office building and the old Henry B. Klein men's store on Fifth Avenue are both being torn down this week. Both had fallen into serious disrepair, and although the last thing McKeesport needs is another vacant lot, neither is a serious preservation loss.

It's a shame the G.O.B. couldn't have been used for something --- it was kind of an attractive, funky-looking building, and I was always amused by the cupola on the roof. I was told that the cupola was used by company guards to spy on employees, especially before the plant was unionized in the 1930s, but I have a feeling the uses were more prosaic --- monitoring train movements in the freight yard in front of the plant, for instance.

The Klein building, located about two blocks from the hospital at the intersection of Fifth and Center, wasn't particularly appealing from an architectural standpoint, but according to last night's Daily News, demolition proceedings were stalled for two years because of the building's location in a historic preservation area.

I know next to nothing about Henry B. Klein (or as the old-time McKeesporters still call it, "H.B.K."), but it was once one of the region's leading haberdashers. Anyone with stories or recollections of H.B.K. is welcome to share, of course.

Also to be demolished is the old Stern Enterprises parking garage near the Executive Building and the Midtown Plaza --- a building with no particular value (except as a pigeon roost) and another thing about which I know next to nothing.

Knowing next to nothing has never stopped me from commenting in the past, of course.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Do you have happy feet, even though you're not a penguin? Box-step your way over to the Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street, where country line dancing gets underway at 8:30 p.m. tonight. Call (412) 678-6979 for details. Or swing by tomorrow night when the Pittsburgh Area Jitterbug Club takes the floor --- the Lindy hopping starts at 9. Call (412) 366-2138.

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January 10, 2007 | Link to this story

Jurassic Parking

Category: default || By jt3y

I couldn't find a parking space Downtown the other day.

Normally, I'd be thrilled to not be able to find a parking space in Our Fair City. I would give dearly to see Downtown crowded every single day. I hope that Downtown McKeesport gets so crowded that --- like Yogi Berra said --- "no one goes there anymore."

But Downtown wasn't crowded. No, there actually weren't that many cars around, but I still couldn't find a parking space.

You see, I had to spend about five hours Downtown, so I couldn't park on Fifth Avenue --- the meters there only allow you to park for one hour. I checked the meters on Market Street, but they only go to two hours.

I checked the ramp from Lysle Boulevard to Water Street --- those used to be 10-hour meters, and I usually parked there when I worked at The Daily News. But all of the mechanisms have been removed from those meters, which I suppose means that you can't park there any more. In any case, there weren't any other cars there.

I went to the Sixth Avenue Garage, somewhat reluctantly, since I assumed it would be more expensive. I drove up to the ticket dispenser and hit the button.

Nothing. It was either out of tickets or turned off. I suspect it was turned off, because there was no one in the little booth to collect money --- I guess only leaseholders are allowed to use the Sixth Avenue Garage now.

I drove to "Cox's Corner," the lot across the street from the People's Building. A sign on the booth says to pay the attendant, but I looked all around and didn't find one. Maybe parking is free there now, but I sure didn't want to risk it.

Instead, I drove down to the new city hall (the old National Bank Building) to see if I could park there. Nope! And the Midtown Plaza Garage has been "closed for renovations" for two years, while the Lysle Boulevard Garage is just closed. (You may remember my idea for that --- a park-and-ride garage for Port Authority --- a concept which may become moot if all of the buses are cancelled.)

At this point, I was seriously considering leaving the car on the street and paying a ticket. My last city parking ticket was for $4 (expired meter), and it seemed like a small price to pay to not deal with the aggravation of looking for someplace legal to park.

On a whim, though, I cut down Sheridan Alley and checked the meters between the PNC Bank and Lysle Boulevard. Eureka! Ten hours. And it only took me 20 minutes to find a meter.

How many visitors to Downtown McKeesport are going to try for 20 minutes to find a meter, though? In a business district where two out of every three storefronts is empty, it should not take 20 minutes to find a place to legally park. Hell, it shouldn't take 20 minutes in a crowded business district.

Here's a modest proposal. Anyone from City Hall or the Parking Authority who sees this is welcome to steal it:

  • Rip out the damned meters.

  • Make parking on Fifth Avenue free, but limit it to one hour, with towing enforced and a $50 fine.

  • Put in the electronic machines that the City of Pittsburgh has now installed. I first saw these suckers in Canada a few years ago, and it amazes me that it took so long for them to catch on here. It's a great idea.

    These gizmos work on solar power. You put in money or a credit card and tell the machine how long you want to park. (The rate increases if you park more than four hours to discourage people from staying.) Then the machine spits out a little paper ticket with the expiration time printed in big black letters. You put the ticket on your dashboard, face up.

  • Everywhere except for Fifth Avenue, you have to have one of those valid tickets on your dashboard to park.

  • If a cop or meter enforcement officer comes by and sees that the ticket is expired, he or she writes you a violation. Easy-peasy. No more maintaining 200 meters and emptying the cash from them --- you maintain a couple of machines, loading them with paper and emptying the loot.

It's hard enough getting people to visit Downtown McKeesport. Most of them are afraid they're going to get clonked on the head by marauding villains. (You're not, I walk the streets all the time --- or maybe I look too pathetic to rob.)

Once we get 'em Downtown, let's not make it so hard for them to stay

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January 08, 2007 | Link to this story

A New Year's Resolution

Category: default || By jt3y

If you don't like this one, blame the priest who told it during his New Year's sermon. That's where I heard it:

It was the Great Depression, and Clancy was laid off and looking for some way to stay busy. Just after Christmas he went down to talk to Father Murphy.

"Well," said Father Murphy, "the vacant lot next to the church is full of weeds and junk and garbage. I suppose if you've time, you could haul away the trash and clean that lot."

Clancy set to work that January, dragging old tires and broken boards and all sorts of debris out of the lot. Next he cut down the overgrowth, dug out the rocks, and turned over the soil. In the spring he planted row after row of vegetables --- tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, corn --- and that summer he began distributing the spoils to the hungry families in the neighborhood.

Father Murphy was astonished and gratified, and one afternoon, when he spotted Clancy on his hands and knees, pulling weeds, he went over to greet him.

"Clancy," Father Murphy said, "what has happened here is a miracle. Isn't it marvelous what the Lord can do?"

Dripping with sweat, Clancy leapt to his feet. "Aye," he said, "and do ye remember what this land looked like when He was working it by Himself?"

. . .

That story brought to mind a Christmastime blog entry by City Councilman Paul Shelly. "Anyone who grew up in McKeesport before the early '80s has to get a little disturbed when driving through our downtown area now," he writes. "Some of my most vivid memories as a child in McKeesport are of going Christmas shopping with my mom and being elbow to elbow with folks up and down Fifth Avenue and having countless stores and shops to stop in.

"Driving through town today, during the holiday season, I was reminded once more of what once was and what could be in McKeesport," Shelly says. "Revitalization won’t be easy or quick but it can happen."

Our Fair City took its share of knocks in the news last year --- the notorious fake-phallus-in-the-microwave-story, the Tanya Kach case, and the news that Penn State McKeesport Campus is changing its name (even as the New Kensington Campus is reassuring residents that it's "proud" of its New Kensington heritage).

My problem is not with the media, mind you --- the Almanac had its share of fun with the microwave story. And in a region where everything was going well, stories like those would be laughed off and forgotten. When everything isn't going well, stories like that just linger.

. . .

My complaint is that too many people --- including people who live here --- use incidents like those to shake their head and say, "oh, poor McKeesport."

Over the summer, a lady from Elizabeth Township wrote a letter to the Daily News saying that she grew up in McKeesport and loved the city, but wanted to urge people not to move there because it was full of crime and drugs and mean people and dirt (and I think Oompa-Loompas), and I'm pretty sure she also implied that the Lindbergh baby was dumped in the Youghiogheny River, but I don't have the letter in front of me.

Years ago, the Valley Mirror ran a list of "Top 10 Ways For Homestead To Stop Being Called a Depressed Mon Valley Mill Town." (One was "add Prozac to the water supply.) The point was that "depressed Mon Valley mill town" seemed to have been permanently attached to Homestead's name.

In my experience, no one who cares about the city --- from Mayor Brewster to Shelly down to your humble correspondent --- is blind to the problems. During the Santa Claus parade, I was struck by the irony of seeing Downtown teeming with people, music and excitement, lined up in front of abandoned storefronts.

"Salute to Santa" was originally designed to draw people into town to shop and eat during the holidays. Now, if they want to shop or eat after the parade, chances are they were going to have to drive to White Oak or at least to Olympia Shopping Center.

And the problems are not confined to Downtown --- plenty of once-great residential neighborhoods are suffering the effects of abandoned houses and absentee landlords. Houses that would sell for a million dollars in Shadyside can be picked up for $40,000.

Some of these problems began developing 20 or 30 years ago, and they won't disappear overnight.

. . .

But instead of mourning what's lost, how about making a New Year's resolution to appreciate what we have?

Recreational Assets:

  • A wonderful riverfront area that hosts a busy marina and free, safe public events nine months out of the year

  • One of Western Pennsylvania's best regional parks, with a nationally-recognized rose garden, a fishing lake, tennis courts and a great museum

  • A well-maintained and rustic bike trail system

Cultural Assets:

Educational Assets:

Public Assets:

  • Charitable organizations like the Crawford Trust, the G.C. Murphy Co. Foundation and the McKeesport Hospital Foundation

  • Service organizations like the YMCA, UPMC McKeesport, the Salvation Army, and Boy and Girl Scouts

  • Government services like a full-time, paid fire department and a complete police department with detective bureau and juvenile officers

. . .

I was thinking about all of this on Christmas Eve, when I went to Mass at Holy Trinity Church (now part of St. Martin de Porres Parish) on Sixth Street --- a beautiful service in a historic sanctuary, filled to the walls with people of every age, race and description. Any suburban congregation would have been proud to host a worship service of such grace and humanity, but they wouldn't (couldn't) have one-tenth of the heritage of that great old church, built by Slovak immigrants.

If you "love McKeesport," like the lady from Elizabeth Township said she did, then make a vow to visit one or more McKeesport assets this year, and look at them objectively --- if you visited Cranberry or Peters townships, wouldn't you be impressed? You're darned right.

Get permission to view some of the art, science or vocational projects on display at McKeesport Area High School. Take in a concert or play. Attend International Village or a free "lunch on the lawn" this summer.

And instead of complaining about what the Mon Valley has lost, try promoting what we have. Instead of bad-mouthing the valley, shop there, bank there, worship there, and maybe even move back there. (Although I don't live within the city limits, I live within a stone's throw, and I have always considered myself a McKeesporter.)

God provides, of course --- but like Clancy demonstrated with the vacant lot, He can use a little assistance on Earth.

No, you probably can't donate $1 million to some worthy cause, and you may not be able to start a business or renovate an old building. But in whatever way you're able, there's nothing stopping you from making a little difference in the Mon Valley's future.

. . .

P.S.: I'm even more full of hot air that you thought, aren't I?

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Posted at 10:59 pm by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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January 03, 2007 | Link to this story

New Mon Valley Bus Service Unveiled

Category: default || By jt3y

News Item:

The Port Authority today proposed two different fare increases and fare structures and the elimination of more than half of its bus routes to help it address the biggest funding deficit in its 43-year-history. (Post-Gazette)

Weekday bus routes recommended for elimination include 50B, 51B, 51D, 51E, 51G, 53C, 53H, 55B, 55D, 55E, 58C, 58P, 60A, 60B, 60E, 60K, 60M, 60P, 61F, 63A, 63B, 65E, 67E, 67F, 67H, 67J, 68B and 68G.

In a nutshell, these proposals would virtually eliminate all local bus service around McKeesport, Clairton, Glassport and the Turtle Creek valley, except for routes that serve Pittsburgh; along with many local services in the Homestead, Duquesne and West Mifflin area.

The "flyers" from Port Vue and McKeesport into Pittsburgh --- the express bus routes that replaced the PATrain --- also would be axed.

The Port Authority is planning to hold public hearings before implementing the changes, but unless Dan Onorato finds a billion dollars under his couch cushions, I think a major world of hurt is about to be done to local bus riders, and your hard-working state legislature and governor deserve much of the credit.

Here are the hearings in and around the Mon-Yough area:

  • Tuesday, Jan. 23, 4 to 8 p.m., Monroeville Radisson, 101 Mall Blvd.;

  • Thursday, Jan. 25, 4 to 8 p.m., Palisades, 501 Water St.;

  • Wednesday, Feb. 7, 5 to 9 p.m., Memorial Hall, Route 88 & Sleepy Hollow Road, Castle Shannon

There was also some good news today --- slot machine gaming will apparently be able to provide $14.5 million per year for the next 30 years to build a new arena for Mario Lemieux and the Penguins. If you need to ride a bus for work or school, I hope that thought comforts you.

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January 02, 2007 | Link to this story

In The Public Interest

Category: default || By jt3y

And now, a commentary from KHB-TV Vice President and General Mangler John G. Econoline.

In this editorial taped last week, Mr. Econoline addresses the Penguins' desire for a new arena and the slot machine license awarded to Majestic Star.

The views of Mr. Econoline do not necessarily represent the views of this website or its mismanagement. For a transcript, learn to write really fast. Responsible replies are unlikely.

P.S. Mike Madison has a slightly less curmudgeonly take on the Pens' arena --- and other ridiculous nonsense raised by a ridiculous and nonsensical Post-Gazette op-ed --- at Pittsblog.

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