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Filed Under: History || By

December 26, 2007 | Link to this story

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon Yinz

Category: History || By

This is the 100 block of South Main Street in McAllen, Texas, the very heart of that city's business district. From the tailfin of the 1960 Chevrolet that's poking into the frame, I'd have to say this photo was taken in December of either 1960 or 1961.

But the words "ELVIS" and "HAWAII" are barely visible on the marquee of the Palace Theater, which means the movie Blue Hawaii was playing. That definitively nails the year to 1961.

I can hear you saying, "That's very nice, but what does it have to do with McKeesport, Pa., Our Fair City?"

Well, here's the answer.

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December 25, 2007 | Link to this story

How Still We See Thee Lie

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!
The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory.
Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!

(Psalm 96: 1, 4, 11-12)

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December 24, 2007 | Link to this story

It's Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas

Category: General Nonsense, History, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
Ev'rywhere you go:
Take a look in the five-and-10
Glistening once again
With candy canes 'n silver lanes aglow.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
Soon the bells will start.
And the thing that will make them ring
Is the carol that you'll sing
Right within your heart.

. . .

When Meredith Willson wrote "It's Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas" in 1951, he probably wasn't thinking of McKeesport's G.C. Murphy Co.

You see, Murphy's didn't have any stores in Iowa, where Willson grew up.

However, in 1951 it had just grown by 71 locations through its acquisition of the John A. Morris chain of dime stores, based in Bluffton, Ind. The Company ended the year with 290 locations and sales of $188 million.

Perhaps Perry Como, who made the song a hit in 1951, was thinking of Murphy's. After all, he was from Canonsburg --- deep in the heart of G.C. Murphy Co. territory.

Alas, Canonsburg didn't have a Murphy's, either. Its main dime store was a big McCrory location, right on West Pike Street. But there were Murphy stores in nearby Burgettstown, McDonald, Washington, Mt. Lebanon and Dormont --- all a short trolley ride away.

Still, when McKeesporters think of the "five-and-10, glistening once again," we're thinking of 315 Fifth Ave., or perhaps Olympia Shopping Center. So forgive our nostalgia and civic pride.

. . .

Years ago, James Thurber wrote of his hometown that the "clocks that chime in my dreams" were often those of Columbus, Ohio, where he grew up.

Maybe you've moved away, but the clocks that chime in your dreams --- or, as Meredith Willson wrote, the bells that ring in your heart --- are those of McKeesport.

Or maybe you're still around, but you get frustrated and discouraged because things "ain't like they used to be."

Whatever the case may be, may this Christmas season create for you many new memories as wonderful as the old ones it recalls.

And for those of us still around the Mon Valley, let's work together next year to make things better, even in some small way, so that future generations will remember these "good old days" with fondness.

. . .

Merry Christmas, thanks for all of your contributions of ideas and comments to Tube City Online, and may God bless and keep you.

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December 20, 2007 | Link to this story

Democracy Just Doesn't Work

Category: Good Government On The March || By

Remember when I said that West Mifflin Borough Council might lose its favorite whipping boy when Kennywood was sold to the Spanish company Parques Reunidos?

Well, they're still getting their licks in.

According to a front-page story in Wednesday's Daily News, Kennywood is responsible for a 1-mill property tax increase that West Mifflin council approved Tuesday night.

West Mifflin levies a 5 percent amusement tax, but has only been collecting it from Kennywood Park and not from other amusement activities, such as video games and movie theaters. That's resulted in a two-year lawsuit against the borough by Kennywood in which the park alleges the borough is selectively enforcing the law, in violation of the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions.

Several council members in West Mifflin, reports the News, are claiming that Kennywood's failure to shut up and pay the tax has left a hole in the borough's budget, and is forcing them to raise taxes.

However, a source has slipped me a top-secret, internal document, apparently from West Mifflin Council, that outlines all of the other things for which the borough is planning to hold Kennywood responsible:

  • Potholes on Commonwealth Avenue

  • The closing of "Paule's Lookout"

  • The Chick-Fil-A on Route 51 serving "dry biscuits"

  • That yucky skin that forms on the top of pudding

  • Canker sores

  • Vince Vaughan movies, up to and including Fred Claus

  • A second shooter on the grassy knoll

In the meantime, none of the following things have apparently resulted in increased property taxes paid by West Mifflin residents:

Oh, yeah, and one more thing definitely didn't result in increased taxes for West Mifflin taxpayers:

  • The failure to fairly enforce the amusement tax, resulting in a lawsuit filed by Kennywood

In conclusion, borough council's management of West Mifflin's finances has not resulted in a tax increase. But Kennywood's ridiculous insistence that laws be fairly and uniformly enforced has resorted in a tax increase.

Also, it was very, very classy for certain West Mifflin councilors to refer to Councilman Richard Olasz Sr., who has taken Kennywood's side in this dispute, as "Señor Olasz" during Tuesday's council meeting. And no, I am not making that up.

Damn you, Kennywood!


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December 19, 2007 | Link to this story

This Just In!

Category: General Nonsense, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Kennywood spent a lot of time last week assuring Pittsburghers that nothing was going to change when the park is sold to a Spanish company next year.

Oh, yeah? Well, take a look at what I bought Tuesday night in a Hallmark card store in West Mifflin:

As you probably know, Garfield is the official cartoon mascot of Kennywood, and now our new conquistadors have got him speaking some kind of weird Spanish propaganda, probably hoping to soften us up for their upcoming invasion. (Poor Garfield. All he wanted is a nap, and some lasagna. Now he's the Manchurian Candidate. Or something like that.)

The inquisitors are probably already putting Kenny Kangaroo on the rack. (And I'll bet they've got the comfy chair, too.)

Remember the Maine! Remember the Alamo! And don't fire until you see los blancos de sus ojos!

. . .

But Seriously, Folks: OK, so here's the translation: "I think I've finally found my calling ... I mean, what other job requires you to be overweight and work only once a year? Merry Christmas!"

It's from Hallmark's "Sinceramente" line, and yes, you can buy them in Mon-Yough area Hallmark stores.

The Kennywood sale is just a coincidence, I'm sure. (Or at least that's what they want you to think.)

Actually, I happen to think it's pretty cool that we finally have enough Spanish speakers to justify stocking Spanish-language cards in the Hallmark stores (they also have Christmas cards in Mandarin and Vietnamese, but indicative of Pittsburgh's heritage, the selection of cards in Eastern European languages is still large, too).

. . .

P.S.: UPDATE: Cyrus of "The Lair of the Okapi" says I'm a "xenophobe" and "small-minded."

I happen to know that my mind is average-sized. Or at least my skull is. I take a size 7-1/8 Bailey Hat.

However, I will admit to being a xenophobe. Lucy Lawless could beat the crud out of me.

. . .

In Other News: And now, to quote Rocket J. Squirrel (who's still proudly American, as far as I know), here's something we hope you'll really like.

The McKeesport Symphony Orchestra announced Saturday night that its May 17 concert is tentatively slated to be a "pops" concert featuring vocals by Jimmy Beaumont and The Skyliners.

If it happens, it should be a great show. (It's already been posted on the Skyliners' website, so I don't think it's a secret.) The MSO would like to make this a sell-out concert, so if you've never seen the orchestra because you "don't like classical music," this would be a good concert to start with.

By the way: Despite lousy weather, attendance was reasonably good at Saturday's Christmas concert. The MSO offered its usual solid performance, with vocal help in the second part of the bill from the McKeesport Area Community Choir, an amalgam of singers from several Mon-Yough area choruses.

Between the halves, members of the Mon Valley Youth Orchestra gave a brief recital under the direction of Kevin King.

Hey, even if you're not a big classical music fan (I can barely tell my Bach from a hole in the ground), you ought to consider attending the MSO's next regularly scheduled concert on Saturday, March 8, at McKeesport Area High School.

It's an inexpensive way to hear great music (both new and old pieces) performed by local professional musicians, and you don't have pay for parking in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Tickets for either the March 8 concert or the May 17 concert with the Skyliners are available at the MSO website, or call (412) 664-2854 for more information.

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December 18, 2007 | Link to this story

Baby, If You've Ever Wondered

Category: Alleged Journalism, Local Businesses, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Two people have asked me recently if I've been writing anonymous messages on a web page devoted to "Pittsburgh media gossip."

I'm not sure whether to be flattered or insulted. (I'm going to go with "insulted.")

Rest assured that if I have something nasty to say about the media, I'm going to sign it, and say it right here. I do it all the time. Like, for instance, right now.

. . .

During Thanksgiving week, I started receiving the Post-Gazette, which was strange, because I didn't ask for a subscription. At first, I assumed it was one of those promotional deals, where they give you "sample" copies of the paper. Then they offer you a subscription at some fantastically low price.

(The P-G's subscription offers are never quite as good as the Tribune-Review's subscription offers, however. For a while you could subscribe to the Trib for 26 weeks for $9.99. Now I think they'll actually pay you to get the paper.)

At first, I actually found myself sitting down to read the dead-tree P-G over a bowl of shredded wheat. And I found myself enjoying it, to the point that I was seriously thinking about subscribing.

And then on Monday morning I received a bill. In the name of the person I bought my house from three years ago.

I suppose this could be an accident --- maybe a computer down at 34 Boulevard of the Allies barfed up an old subscription record.

But it sure smells like a scam along the lines of those unrequested Time-Life and Reader's Digest books that used to be sent "on approval." You didn't order them, but they'd send 'em anyway --- and then Time-Life or Reader's Digest would send you a bill, hoping you'd pay it.

Well, I know damned sure I didn't order a Post-Gazette subscription in the name of someone who hasn't lived there since 2004. So the Post-Gazette can cram it with walnuts, and any lingering thought I had of subscribing to their newspaper has evaporated.

. . .

Meanwhile, my first Sunday Tribune-Review arrived last week. That's about four months after the Trib announced that all Daily News subscribers would be getting the Trib (whether they wanted it or not).

Technically, the Trib owes me 16 Sunday papers, but I didn't complain.

I would bet a pound of kolbassi from Lampert's Market, however, that the Trib was counting me as a paid Sunday subscriber even though I wasn't getting the paper. If so, that's a pretty nice racket; they boost their circulation numbers without actually spending any money printing or delivering a paper. I wonder how many other Daily News subscribers have been counted as Sunday subscribers, but weren't getting the paper?

. . .

By the way, if you attended International Village this summer, you may have noticed the Trib was manning a booth and selling subscriptions to the Sunday paper.

About a week later, the Trib announced that Daily News subscribers would start getting the Sunday Trib (theoretically, at least) for no additional cost.

Several little birdies complained privately to Tube City Almanac that they felt a little bit cheated.

. . .

I did subscribe to another newspaper recently. And they didn't have to solicit me at all.

Two weeks ago I started receiving the Cincinnati Post. There will be a brief pause while you say: "Huh?"

I do have distant kin in the Cincy area, and I do visit there at least once a year, but that's not why I ordered it. The Post announced earlier this year that it was closing Dec. 31, and I decided to subscribe for historical purposes.

(Before you ask, they mail it, duh. It would be a long way for a little kid to pedal his bicycle.)

Like the old Pittsburgh Press, the Post is an afternoon newspaper, owned by Scripps-Howard. Big-city afternoon papers have been struggling for at least 30 years, mainly due to competition from TV news and the difficulty of delivering the paper in afternoon traffic. Plus, many people don't have time after work to sit and read the paper; they're working a second job, raising their kids, or shopping and running errands.

. . .

Since the Post is doomed at the end of the month, I expected it to be a fairly cheerless paper. In fact, it's quite interesting and lively, considering the fact that I don't live in Cincinnati. Maybe the reporters and editors are living it up before the end.

For whatever reason, I'm enjoying the Post more than I've ever enjoyed the competing morning paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, which has been relentlessly dull whenever I've seen it.

I also expected the Post to be devoid of advertising, since Scripps has complained that the Post isn't economically viable. But it's got plenty of ads. Maybe that's because of the Christmas holiday, which is traditionally a big time for newspaper advertising.

Anyway, I'm left with the suspicion that "not economically viable" actually means "profitable, but not capable of a big enough profit margin." Scripps seems to be focusing its energies on its electronic properties, which include such bastions of journalistic excellence as HGTV, the Food Network, and Shopzilla.

. . .

One thing I did notice about the Cincy Post: Although the local content is generally quite good, the paper is full of canned wire service content. That's hardly a problem just in Cincinnati; the two Pittsburgh dailies have the same weakness. So do a lot of papers, nationwide.

That made some sense 50 years ago, when most people's main source of world and national news was the newspaper. It makes no sense in an era of 24-hour daily news channels and the Internet. Why should I read a two-day old AP dispatch on that mall shooting in Nebraska, when I can go to the Omaha World-Herald's website and read their coverage?

I don't know what would have saved the Cincinnati Post --- maybe nothing --- but I'm sure the business model of "yesterday's news tomorrow" wasn't viable.

. . .

The Tribune-Review has just gone one better (or is that worse?). In their free afternoon paper, Trib PM (not available in the Mon Valley, so far as I know), they're now reprinting stories from the Carbolic Smoke Ball on Mondays.

Good for the CSB, but I can't imagine who that's aimed at. If you like the CSB, you're reading it online. You're hardly going to wait to read it in print on Mondays. And if you've already seen the stories online, then the Trib PM's reprint is a complete waste of space.

Can anything save printed newspapers? I'd sure like to think so.

But trying to trick people into subscribing isn't going to do it. Trying to fudge the circulation numbers isn't going to do it. And reprinting blog content that's several days old isn't going to do it.

. . .

Like other businesses, newspapers close all the time. In the last 50 years, we've lost some really good ones (the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, the Chicago Daily News, the New York Herald Tribune) and plenty of mediocre ones.

They've closed for many different reasons. Usually a stronger newspaper pushed them out of the market. (Union trouble helped close the Herald Tribune, as memorably recounted in Richard Kluger's book, The Paper.)

What's different now is that almost all U.S. newspapers are losing circulation and advertising at the same time, and there's lots of wailing and moaning about the imminent death of the entire industry.

But old-fashioned newspapers generate about $48 billion in revenue annually, according to Time, so I suspect that there is still a sizable market for news delivered in "ink on paper."

And perhaps newspaper circulation is slipping because readers have wised up to the concept of "charging more and lowering the quality."

If I'm right, then the newspaper business isn't dying, it's committing suicide. I don't know that I can have much sympathy for newspaper companies in that case.

For now, I'm just going to regard my daily, unrequested Post-Gazette as a free gift. I only wish Equitable Gas would make the same mistake. I could go for a few free months at this time of year.

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December 17, 2007 | Link to this story

Holiday Observance

Category: Cartoons, General Nonsense || By

As you probably know, whenever a national holiday falls on a weekend, Americans get Monday off. (It's in the Constitution, I think.)

That's why Tube City Almanac is taking today off, in observance of Hanna-Barbera Day.

To mark this occasion, take time to run past the same rock, tree or window four or five times in a row. When you start running, make sure there are bongo drums on the soundtrack.

You might also want to talk to your wacky sidekick (ably voiced by Daws Butler). Make sure that only your mouth moves when you're talking. Also, whenever you walk somewhere, don't swing your arms.

Why are we celebrating "Hanna-Barbera Day"? I'm glad you asked.

Dec. 14 was the 50th anniversary of the debut of Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera's first cartoon series created expressly for TV, "Ruff and Reddy."

I've pulled together all of the details for this week's installment of "Monday Morning Nostalgia Fix" over at Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I think I smell a pic-a-nic basket ....

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December 15, 2007 | Link to this story

Saturday Update: Great Minds...

Category: General Nonsense || By

It was just three weeks ago when the Almanac wrote:

The clock on the "Daily News" sign used to be tied to a set of electrically-controlled bells on the roof that struck the hours with the "Westminster chimes." I think the workings are still on the third floor, or possibly in the equipment room on the roof.

I don't suppose we could get that fixed, too?

Imagine my delight this morning when I opened up the paper to read this:

Hot buttered damn!

The scary thing, of course, is that someone at Trib Total Media and I apparently had the same thought about restoring the chimes. (If anyone needs me, I'll be at Doug's Motel.)

Since my Christmas wishes are apparently coming true (remember, last year I asked for the Daily News to put back the neon Christmas decorations in the windows) I'm going to make another Christmas wish that Don Farr Moving would please do something to fix up the old G.C. Murphy Co. home office Downtown between Fifth Avenue and Lysle Boulevard.

The dun-colored buildings are currently used for storage. Paint is peeling, windows are broken or hanging open, and there's trash strewn all around the sidewalks. The buildings --- which are visible from much of Downtown --- cast a terrible pallor on the city's main street.

I realize that the complex was never very attractive, even when Murphy's was still in business, but it's become a real embarrassment. The "official mover of the Pittsburgh Penguins" can surely afford to make the outside of the building more presentable.

After all, one of Don Farr's competitors is also located Downtown, but James Moving & Storage, which uses the old R&J Furniture Co. warehouse on Market Street, seems to keep its property well-maintained.

Oh, and Santa Claus, if you could bring a new owner for the People's Bank Building, that would be swell, too.

. . .

Wait'll Next Year: Congratulations to the Steelton-Highspire Steamrollers, who won the Class A state high school football championship in Hershey yesterday with a decisive victory over McKeesport's Serra Catholic Eagles. I'm sorry that Serra didn't win, but as a Serra alum, I'm glad the team finally made it to a state title game, and a 15-and-1 season is nothing to be sad about.

I just hope it doesn't take another 43 years for Serra to make it back to Hershey. I'll be ... well, I'll be pretty old. (OK, older.)

The Mon-Yough area didn't go home completely empty-handed, as Thomas Jefferson High School's Jaguars rolled up an easy 28-3 win to capture the Class AAA state championship.

Further updates on Monday, or as events warrant. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think my ears are ringing. (The bells, bells, bells, the clamor and the clangor of the bells!)

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December 14, 2007 | Link to this story

Fly Like an Eagle

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany, Wild World of Sports || By

It only took 44 years to get to a state championship game. To the entire Serra Catholic High School football team, thanks for a great season. A lot of alumni and McKeesporters (past and present) are pulling for you today, but whatever happens, you've done a great job.

You've played as a team and with a lot of class. You may not be McKeesport's best known high school, but you've done the city and the region proud.

Many of us old farts are stuck at our desks today and couldn't travel with you to Hershey, but we'll be listening on the radio or on our computers, and we're with you in spirit.

And if Father Luke Ciampi is up there watching, I'm sure he'll be rooting for you, too. His legacy is in excellent shape.

PIAA Class A Football Championship
Serra Catholic Eagles vs. Steelton-Highspire Steamrollers
Hersheypark Stadium
1 p.m. today
Radio: WPYT (660)

. . .

Train Club Rolls Along: Raymond Pefferman of the Daily News wrote a nice story about the McKeesport Model Railroad Club which was reprinted in yesterday's Tribune-Review. Friend and colleague Dean Liberty Jr., current club president, is quoted throughout.

The situation at the club right now is serious --- like most volunteer groups in McKeesport, we are having a hard time attracting new members --- but we're not done yet.

Over the summer, Officer Jim and I started a project (actually, we resurrected a dormant project) to recreate the City of McKeesport in miniature. If you're interested in trains, model-building, architecture or history, we could use your help. Email me at my first initial, my last name at

Otherwise, stop by this weekend or next during the holiday train show. Hours are 6 to 10 p.m. today, 1 to 9 p.m. tomorrow, and 12 to 6 p.m. Sunday. (And yes, the Steeler game will be on the TV.) A donation of $4 for adults and $1 for children is requested.

The club is located at 2209 Walnut St. in Christy Park, directly across the street from CP Industries; you can park in their lot.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: McKeesport Symphony Orchestra presents its annual holiday concert, "The Many Moods of Christmas," at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in the auditorium of McKeesport Senior High School, 1960 Eden Park Blvd.

Choral numbers will be performed by the McKeesport Area Community Chorus under the direction of Kevin King and lead vocalist Deanna Dawn Denning. Call (412) 664-2854 or visit

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December 12, 2007 | Link to this story

Never Been to Spain

Category: Local Businesses, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

The more I think about the sale of Kennywood, the more I conclude it was inevitable.

If you read a lot of business history, you learn that businesses are like sharks; they either keep swimming and eating, or they die.

If a business can grow by increasing its sales volume, it can remain healthy and independent. But if its market is restricted, it has a hard time boosting its sales, and it's not going to stay healthy for long.

Kennywood is stuck in a declining market that shows no signs of recovery. Western Pennsylvania is full of older citizens who --- demographically speaking --- aren't likely to go to an amusement park very often, and they're past child-bearing age.

Their grandchildren live in Texas and California and Florida, and in case you haven't noticed, those places have pretty nice theme parks of their own. They were not going to visit Pittsburgh to see Kennywood; while Kennywood is wonderful, it's pretty small beans compared to Walt Disney World or Six Flags Over Texas.

That's why Kennywood branched into related businesses, like catering (it purchased White Oak's Stratigos and Baldwin's Bradley House), and into new markets, like New England. It's the only way it could grow its sales.

But if Kennywood is small beans, the parks that it's acquired, such as Lake Compounce, are almost non-existent beans, and they're unlikely to generate the sales volume Kennywood would need to keep growing. And frankly, you've got to cater a lot of weddings to match the revenue you'd need to acquire a really big amusement park.

. . .

That means Kennywood would have to borrow money, but as a small, privately held company, its access to venture capital was poor, and the amount of money it could borrow was limited.

Let's say Kennywood wanted to expand in West Mifflin, on the property it recently acquired adjacent to the park. Adding a new roller coaster, ancillary rides and games, and restroom facilities, not to mention pedestrian and highway improvements, would easily cost $100 million or more.

Few lenders are going to loan that kind of money without having control over how it's spent. If you're going to give up day-to-day control, you might as well sell.

In other words, this sale is a good thing for Kennywood, at least in the short term. Parques Reunidos, the Spanish company buying Kennywood, is worth at least $1.22 billion --- that's what British venture capitalists paid to acquire the firm last year, according to Reuters. It reported 2005 sales of $127 million.

Though Kennywood is a known quantity in Pittsburgh, its name doesn't open doors in London or New York City, and you don't borrow $100 million from Tri-Boro Federal Credit Union. While Parques Reunidos isn't a company in the same league as Disney or Viacom, I'll bet that when they ask Barclays, CIBC, Deutsche Bank or J.P. Morgan Chase to borrow $100 million, those investment houses take them seriously.

Plus, Parques Reunidos will be able to put national marketing power behind Kennywood, Sandcastle and Idlewild.

Parques Reunidos will have the clout to pitch promotional ideas to agencies and tour operators that wouldn't talk to Kennywood alone, because it will be able to package the park with other properties in other parts of the U.S. And Parques Reunidos will be able to swing deals for Kennywood with big vendors that could save it money.

. . .

In the long term, however, I'm not convinced this is a good thing for Kennywood. These large conglomerates have a way of sucking the life out of subsidiaries.

You could see a lot of new investment in Kennywood, but you could just as likely see Parques Reunidos draining Kennywood's profits to subsidize other parts of the parent company, deferring maintenance and allowing the park to depreciate.

It's hard to say what Parques Reunidos will do. The company's current owners took control just this year, and don't have much of a track record. And they're probably carrying a big debt load that has to be paid off.

Even if Parques Reunidos doesn't drain profits away from Kennywood, it will need to maximize its investment by making sure that all of its subsidiaries are sharing operating practices and policies. That enables them to achieve economies of scale.

So you might see Parques Reunidos trying to "corporatize" parks like Kennywood to make its properties as similar as possible. That, unfortunately, would also remove the funky, old-fashioned charm that has made Kennywood a unique Pittsburgh institution.

Within 10 years or so, we might have a profitable, clean, shiny Kennywood that's Kennywood in name only, with a bunch of rides that look like rides in any other theme park, any place else in the world.

. . .

But what was the alternative? With the Pittsburgh market declining, and competition becoming more intense from big, publicly traded companies like Disney, Six Flags and Cedar Fair (parent company of Cedar Point, Kings Island, Knott's Berry Farm and Dorney Park, among others), remaining independent is a tenuous strategy at best.

Kennywood is profitable, but without a lot more muscle behind it, it's hard to say whether it would exist 10 years from now. Idora Park in Youngstown is a faded memory, and Conneaut Lake Park is hanging on by a thread.

And that's why --- barring unforeseen complications --- the Mon-Yough area's best-loved location will soon become a wholly owned subsidiary of a Spanish company controlled by a group of British venture capitalists.

Kennywood couldn't eat. It had to be eaten.

It's just business. It's all perfectly logical.

But hell, I don't have to like it.

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December 11, 2007 | Link to this story

Holy Hopping Kangaroos

Category: Local Businesses, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

I sure hope West Mifflin High School has an excellent Spanish-language program:

New Chapter in Kennywood Entertainment History Announced

PITTSBURGH, December 11, 2007 --- Kennywood Entertainment of Pittsburgh announced today that it has entered into an agreement to sell its amusement park holdings, including Kennywood in West Mifflin, Idlewild & SoakZone in Ligonier, Sandcastle Waterpark in West Homestead, and New England parks Lake Compounce Theme Park in Bristol, Conn., and Story Land in Glen, N.H.

Acquiring Kennywood Entertainment is Parques Reunidos, based in Madrid, Spain, an international operator that manages 61 amusement, animal and water parks in the U.S. and Europe, with total annual visitors exceeding 22 million and revenues exceeding $570 million.

The purchase price is not being disclosed.

. . .

Well, then. Actually, I'm not at all surprised. I'm more surprised that Kennywood has remained family-owned for this long.

Rare is the family business that doesn't get sold when the fourth-generation descendants decide that spending the inheritance is a lot more fun than going to work every day.

After years of smacking around Kennywood's local management and complaining that they "don't listen to our concerns," West Mifflin's distinguished gentlemen will now get the "pleasure" of dealing with management 6,240 kilometers away (that's 3,880 miles for the benefit of borough council).

Let's see how willing that Kennywood's new jefes in Madrid are to negotiate nonsense like West Mifflin's arguably unconstitutional amusement tax. Not too willing, I'll bet.

A bunch of high-priced out-of-town lawyers are about to shove that tax right up West Mifflin's old Buttermilk Hollow, if you get my drift.

. . .

What else does this mean for the Mon-Yough area? I suspect it won't be long before Parques Reunidos is looking at vacant farmland somewhere like Washington or Butler county, along an interstate and far away from the urban decay of Kennywood Boulevard.

I'm not saying that Kennywood is doomed. But I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see Sandcastle (at the very least) relocated someplace more promising than West Homestead, nor would I be surprised to see resources allocated away from Kennywood and toward some other part of the tri-state region, even to an expansion of Idlewild or the creation of a "Kennywood II" 20 years from now.

I am confident that the Henningers and current Kennywood management (like Andy Quinn) will continue to be involved in Mon-Yough area affairs. But inexorably, a loss of local control always leads to a loss of corporate interest in the local community.

Just ask any of the organizations who used to receive grants from The Westinghouse Foundation.

The days of Kennywood's partiality and sentimentality to communities such as Duquesne, McKeesport and West Mifflin are going to grind to a halt.

. . .

Years ago, Joni Mitchell sang, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?"

Well, a big yellow taxi just took away West Mifflin's favorite whipping boy.

On the upside? Paella and gazpacho at the Potato Patch.


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December 10, 2007 | Link to this story

Mmm-Mmm Good!

Category: General Nonsense, So-Called Radio Humor || By

From the archives of Tube City Online comes this ad for McKeesport-based Potter-McCune Co. that ran in local newspapers on Dec. 11, 1957:

POMCO picks only the finest vegetables and processes them the same day to protect that garden-fresh flavor for your table.

And POMCO picks the pride of the orchards ... packs these luscious fruits in heavy syrup to enhance their natural goodness and provide a superior quality you'll be proud to serve at any time.

In your busy holiday season, take advantage of the wide variety of POMCO Fruits and Vegetables to make meals more appetizing and satisfying, and look to POMCO for everything you need for holiday cooking, baking and entertaining!

Mmm! Because nothing says "holiday entertaining" like limp green beans and canned fruit cocktail!

I know I'm treading dangerously on James Lileks' territory here (has he mentioned that he's written another book?) but you have to admit that ads like this one are a source of constant amusement. In an era when food companies fall all over each other to assure customers that their foods are more natural, it's quaint to read advertisements that practically brag "our foods are more processed!"

It was, after all, an era of unlimited faith in the power of technology, and of "Better Things For Better Living ... Through Chemistry!" (And through "heavy syrup.")

Of course, by the time the green beans were canned, boiled to within an inch of their existence, and served in a mushy gray pile, there was probably more nutritional value (and just as much "garden-fresh flavor") in the Pomco label.

And before you start feeling too smug and self-confident, remember that 50 years from now our advertising will look equally stupid. (Come to think of it, our advertising looks pretty stupid now.)

In lieu of any real content today, here's some alleged humor from my so-called "performances" in the stagnant backwaters of local radio:

Listen: McGipney's Big M Markets Present "The Fresh Grocer"

. . .

UPDATE: This just in from Pittsburgh's only news source, The Carbolic Smoke Ball:

Ow. The funny, it hurts.

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December 07, 2007 | Link to this story

It's Your Port Tomorrow

Category: Local Businesses, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

According to the server logs at Tube City Online world headquarters, more than half of our literally dozens of readers are from Pittsburgh.

Many of you Pittsburghers have said, "Gee, McKeesport sounds like a wonderful, magical, delightful place, but in this ever-changing world in which we live in --- copyright MPL Communications Ltd., all rights reserved --- I'm just too rushed to visit. Could you recommend a day trip that I can fit into my hectic schedule?"

Others, from McKeesport, have said, "I know that Christmas is only three weeks away, but I'm not in a Christmas mood. Can you help me?"

We have an answer for both the Pittsburghers and the McKeesporters alike. Tube City Almanac has planned out your entire Saturday:

. . .

Start tomorrow morning with breakfast at Di's Korner Stone Diner, 2325 East 5th Ave., just off the Hartman Street exit of the Duquesne-McKeesport Bridge. A three-egg omelette or a stack of pancakes from Di's will leave you fit and loaded for bear.

If you're coming to Our Fair City from the Parkway East or Monroeville, take Route 148 south to McKeesport; Di's will be on your right at the third red light inside the city limits. If you're coming in from Kennywood, cross the Duquesne-McKeesport Bridge and exit to Hartman Street (Route 148 north); Di's will be the first left turn.

. . .

After breakfast, make a left turn onto Fifth Avenue and go one block to a right turn on Hartman Street. Go to the top of the hill, through the intersection at O'Neil Boulevard, and continue onto Eden Park Boulevard. Just past McKeesport Area High School, make a left turn onto University Drive, then a right onto Arboretum Drive and park in the big lot at the top of the hill.

Walk up the hill to the Jacob Woll Pavilion, where McKeesport's 22nd annual Festival of Trees runs from 12 to 9 on Saturday; there are 60 custom-decorated Christmas trees on display from school children, businesses, public service organizations and community groups throughout the Mon-Yough area.

Live entertainment begins at 1 p.m. with a piano recital by students of teacher Wendy Blotzer, and continues almost without interruption until a Christmas carol sing-along at 7:30 with Bill Barnes.

. . .

Allow 45 minutes to an hour for the trees. Then walk one block south on Arboretum to the McKeesport Heritage Center, which has eleven more Christmas trees, displays of historic holiday traditions from the past, a bake sale and a free raffle for kids. Baked goods will be on sale, along with locally-themed gifts, including the recently published book Images of America: McKeesport.

Give yourself 45 minutes to an hour to get through the Heritage Center, then walk across their front lawn to the Garden Club of McKeesport, which has its own holiday display called "Christmas in Bloom." Unfortunately, the club's world-famous rose garden (one of only 100 certified rose gardens in the United States) is not in bloom, but you'll still want to allow at least 30 minutes at the Garden Club.

. . .

Walk back to your car, make a left turn onto University Drive, and then another left onto Eden Park Boulevard. Drive approximately 1.5 miles to Walnut Street and turn right. Head another mile or so to the McKeesport Model Railroad Club at 2209 Walnut St.; you can park across the street at CP Industries. The club's 40-by-80 foot train layout will be operational, and many railroad-themed gift items will be for sale.

Two completely operational, brand-new train sets are being raffled (they were donated by Niedzalkoski's Train Shop in Jeannette and A.B. Charles & Son Hobby Shop in Mt. Lebanon), including a "Thomas the Tank Engine" themed set. Give yourself 30 to 45 minutes for the train display.

. . .

Now it's dinner time. If you're looking for casual dining that's family-friendly, Tillie's Restaurant (308 36th St., just off Walnut Street near Eden Park Boulevard) is an excellent choice. Further out Walnut Street in Versailles, Woody's Little Italy offers a slightly more upscale experience, while The Enzone (310 Lysle Blvd., across from the Daily News) makes delicious sandwiches and French fries from fresh-cut potatoes. (Warning: Parking is difficult at the Enzone.)

For good food served fast, consider McKeesport's newest restaurant, Tiger Town, located at the intersection of Walnut Street and Route 48. The Viking Lounge (3413 Versailles Ave., near Renzie Park) offers mixed drinks, draft beer, and very reasonably priced dinner specials. Mellon's Pub (502 Eden Park Blvd., near Renzie Park) has a limited menu, but good drinks and a friendly crowd.

. . .

Finally, on your way out of town, stop at Bloom's Cut-Rate (corner of East Fifth Avenue and Lincoln Way) for stocking-stuffer gifts or other novelties.

Now you know exactly what you're doing tomorrow, and you can go to bed with visions of Christmas trees dancing in your head.

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December 06, 2007 | Link to this story

Steel Life

Category: Local Businesses, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

With all due respect to U.S. Steel, I don't think they know what they're doing.

Steelmaking in Pittsburgh is dead. The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership says so. says so. The blogging community says so. I mean, if you can't trust bloggers, who can you trust?

Anyway, we have moved past steel in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to change their name to the Pittsburgh Biotechs. We're now known not for steel but for our new chief export, population.

That's why I can't understand why U.S. Steel, which netted $1.37 billion last year, is opening a new training center in Duquesne (at 1 S. Linden St., on the site of the old Duquesne Works).

I can't think of a worse place than Duquesne to open a steel training facility. Everyone knows it was lazy, unionized steelworkers from the Mon Valley who destroyed American industry. All the pundits in Washington said so. (Oh, and those "ironmaster awards" that Duquesne Works received in 1984 for productivity? Pay no attention to those.)

It gets worse, of course. I read that U.S. Steel plans to invest $1 billion in the Clairton Coke Works.

U.S. Steel apparently will use its own money to replace two coke batteries, rebuild six other coke batteries, and increase its electrical power-generating capacity.

Using its own money? That's crazy talk. Companies don't do that any more. They threaten to move to Charlotte or Kansas City, and they get money from the taxpayers. Hell, if it worked for the Pirates, Biotechs and Penguins, it would work for U.S. Steel.

And if you take the tax money, it's not like you have to live up to your end of the deal. How many times were the taxpayers of Allegheny County and Pennsylvania bent over for U.S. Airways?

Maybe U.S. Steel stock is selling near an all-time high, and maybe mutual funds are buying shares like crazy, though it's hard to believe that all of the public-relations experts and pundits who are trying to "re-image Pittsburgh" could be wrong.

Sure, maybe U.S. Steel CEO John Surma knows what the hell he's doing.

But if he's really smart, he'll take my advice, and open a research facility to develop maglev trains, or build a racetrack-casino, or lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike, or build a speculative strip-mall shopping center. Lord knows, we don't have enough cruddy, half-empty strip malls.

As far I'm concerned, Surma's idea that you can make money by actually manufacturing things is pretty quaint. After all, that's what the Chinese are for.

. . .

In Other News: Pitt has received $41.3 million in donations from John Swanson, founder of Ansys Inc. The university is renaming its school of engineering in his honor.

It shouldn't surprise you to learn that there's a Mon-Yough connection. Swanson developed his theories of computerized stress analysis while working for the former Westinghouse Astronuclear Laboratory on Route 51 in Large, Jefferson Hills borough, located in the old Large Distillery.

Since microcomputers weren't available when Swanson was doing his research in the 1960s, he rented time on a mainframe owned by ... yep, U.S. Steel. They're still in business, right?

. . .

Speaking of Steel: I just learned that it's the 110th anniversary of the opening of the former U.S. Steel Christy Park Works. Now known as CP Industries, the plant on Walnut Street in the city's Christy Park neighborhood manufactures seamless high-pressure tanks to store natural gas and other pressurized chemicals and compounds.

Major customers include the aerospace and chemical industries, construction companies, food processors, health care providers, nuclear power companies, oil and gas businesses, undersea explorers, and manufacturers of natural gas vehicles.

You can take an online tour at CP's website.

Yep, it's another company making things out of steel in the Mon Valley. Insane, or just crazy like a fox? Hmm.

. . .

Festival of Trees: McKeesport's annual Festival of Trees opens today at 12 noon at Jacob Woll Pavilion in Renziehausen Park. Community groups from all over the area have decorated dozens of Christmas trees in different themes and motifs.

Santa Claus will be on hand daily, and the city public works department will be providing sleigh rides through Renzie Park tonight and tomorrow night, and all day Saturday and Sunday. The McKeesport High School alumni association will provide refreshments, and the nearby McKeesport Heritage Center will be open for special hours.

If you've never been there, it is definitely worth a visit; the event continues through Sunday. Call (412) 675-5068 for more information, or click here for directions.

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December 05, 2007 | Link to this story

Clink, Clink, Another Tax

Category: General Nonsense, Politics || By

Prohibition ended 74 years ago today with the ratification of the 21st Amendment. I'll drink to that!

Come to think of it, I need a drink. The debate over the county's new drink tax almost drove me over the edge.

Now, I'm not in favor of new taxes. (I don't even like the old ones.) But as taxes go, a levy on mixed drinks in taverns and bars seems about as painless as possible to most people.

. . .

I have sympathy for bartenders, waitresses and small-business owners who will now need to keep track of taxes and submit a bunch of extra paperwork. But I have no sympathy for the dire predictions made by the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association and the local group calling itself "Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation."

The idea that residents of Allegheny County will go to Westmoreland or Washington to drink, or that they won't drink as much, is ridiculous, bordering on "offensively stupid."

I can just see college kids in Oakland, considering their options:

"Dude, let's do a pub crawl!"

"Not in Oakland, dude! There's a 10 percent tax!"

"Oh, man! Let's drive to Murrysville instead!"

I'm no hard-core drinker. But I've never comparison-shopped for bars to save money. And I doubt anyone who's a really serious imbiber is going to worry about paying an extra 10 cents to sit at their favorite tavern.

. . .

After all, Prohibition couldn't stop people from drinking. In fact, it was so easy to get a drink in McKeesport throughout the 1920s that the U.S. Attorney's Office indicted the police chief and several officers for taking payoffs from bootleggers. (The police chief skipped town. You can, as they say, look it up.)

If the Volstead Act didn't put the Mon-Yough area on the wagon, paying an extra dime for a shot of Imperial isn't going to do it, either.

I have more sympathy for taverns fighting the proposed statewide smoking ban, and for the same reasons. If you don't like to breathe smoke, don't work in a bar, or patronize a bar. Like the drink tax, cigarette smoke in bars is easy to avoid: Don't go to a bar if you don't like smoke.

. . .

Keep in mind that the drink tax is designed to prevent a countywide property tax increase. If you own a bar or restaurant, would you rather your customers pay an extra 10 or 20 cents?

Or would you rather see your property tax (on your home and your business) jump a couple of hundred dollars?

One has an indirect, difficult-to-measure impact on your income; the other has a very distinct and direct impact.

According to the Post-Gazette, the Restaurant Association is considering litigation against the county over the drink tax.

According to the association's website, membership costs $200 and up. They also charge additional fees for any services you use.

If you're a member, maybe you ought to question whether the Restaurant Association represents your interests, and ask them if they're spending your hard-earned money wisely.

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December 04, 2007 | Link to this story

Oh, My Aching Head

Category: General Nonsense || By

Do you toot?

Sorry, I didn't mean to get so personal. Let me rephrase the question: Do you blow?

Er, that didn't sound right, either. What I'm trying to say is perfectly innocent: Do you honk your car's horn? (And does your car enjoy it? Cue Ed McMahon: Heigh-yo!)

A few weeks ago, during his regular chat at the Washington Post website, Gene Weingarten asked readers if they blow their horn when they're sitting behind a car that doesn't move when the light turns green, or which blocks an intersection.

If they do, he wanted to know, do they feel guilty?

. . .

Weingarten's poll didn't address the different degrees of honking. I don't think it's rude to give someone two friendly blips --- beep, beep! --- if they don't notice the light. And if someone does something dangerous, by all means, give them a full-throated honk --- BLLAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTT!!!.

Some people don't know the difference, unfortunately. I'll give you an example. If you're familiar with the intersection (I almost said a bad word, starting with "cluster") next to Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in Dravosburg, you know that it's an outdated mess, both day and night.

If the traffic lights were ever synchronized, they're not any more, which means traffic on Richland Avenue (also known as "Pittsburgh-McKeesport Boulevard" or "Dravosburg Hill") sometimes waits for several minutes in the middle of the night for non-existent vehicles to exit Bettis Road.

Lord help you if you're in-bound down Dravosburg Hill to the city or Glassport from West Mifflin, and someone wants to make a left turn against traffic onto Bettis Road. You might wait through an entire cycle. Then traffic backs up Lebanon Church Road toward the airport through the other red light; I've seen traffic stacked to Mr. Hoagie on a Sunday night for no discernible reason, except that the lights are mistimed.

. . .

A few days ago, I was stuck in a long line of cars trying to head toward the Mansfield Bridge from Lebanon Church Road. Traffic was backed up through two red lights. We waited through one red-green-yellow cycle, and a second. Then some idiot about five cars behind me started leaning on his horn: BLLLLLLLLLAAAAAAATTTTTTT.

I wrote about this a few years ago. What's a goofball like that think he's accomplishing?

(And maybe I'm being very presumptuous to assume it was a guy who was honking. Sue me.)

Any enlightenment on the topic of horn-honking etiquette --- at least as we practice it in the Mon Valley and Greater Picksberg --- would be appreciated. Drop your comments in the slot below.

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December 03, 2007 | Link to this story

Please Stand By

Category: General Nonsense || By

It's goulash time!

Well, after two months of temporarily being an ink-stained wretch, I'm back to being a pixel-stained wretch. In other words, I've gone back to writing in the Intarweb tubes at work after pinch-hitting for a few weeks as editor of the weekly newspaper.

This is a good thing, since two months of 10-hour days have worn me right to a frazzle and haven't left a whole lot in the tank when I've gotten home.

Normal service will resume shortly. Right now, my legs are still pinwheeling like Fred Flintstone's. (I can even hear the bongo drums.)

Anyway, until I decompress, you're getting goulash.

In the meantime, there are a lot of things to talk about, especially this, plus this, and even this.

And --- oh, yeah --- eat crow, Mountaineers! Alleghenee-genac-genac-genac, y'all!

In the event that I don't come up with anything half-witty to say about these or other light topics in the news, feel free to comment on the announcement that U.S. Steel plans to invest $1 billion in the Clairton Works, or the attack on the elderly man in Buena Vista, or even the Eagles' run at the state football championship.

Or, you might like to see a black-and-white clip of one of the very first episodes of "The $10,000 Pyramid." That's this week's installment of "Monday Morning Nostalgia Fix" over at Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online. (Motto: "If it's news to you, it's news to us.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I hear Mr. Slate calling. (Where did I put my Polarock camera?)

. . .

Horn-Tooting Dep't: I don't suppose anyone happened to see November's issue of Popular Communications magazine.

I was asked to do a full-color, full-page illustration to accompany a story about "zombie computers." If you didn't see it (PopComm is available at Scozio's Giant Eagle in White Oak, Barnes & Noble in Homestead, and at better newsstands everywhere) click here.

There's a follow-up (and another illustration) in the January issue, and the promise of more work to come, according to my editor. The pay ain't much, but every little bit helps keep me in Straub, kids.

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