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August 31, 2009 | Link to this story

International Village Audio Now Available

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Thanks to Tim Weis and Tom Schroll Jr. of Lightning Community Broadcasting, archived audio of the 50th International Village is now available.

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August 29, 2009 | Link to this story

Plan Suggests Sweeping Changes to Local Bus Service

Category: News || By

Click to enlarge

Port Authority's proposed "transit development plan" would add express service between the city and Oakland's hospitals and universities, and transform the Downtown bus terminal into a park-and-ride facility.

Those and other improvements have the potential to make the Mon-Yough area more attractive as a "bedroom community" for people who work in downtown Pittsburgh.

They also would allow residents to ride directly from one side of the Mon Valley to another without changing buses on Lysle Boulevard.

But the reorganization comes at a cost --- namely the elimination of lightly-used bus routes in areas such as Elizabeth Township and Lincoln Borough.

And it will force many buses to be renamed or renumbered, which could confuse longtime riders.

The Port Authority's board of directors will take a final vote on the rationalization plan on Oct. 23.

. . .

Tearing Up Traditional Routes: The plan, released Friday, suggests a sweeping reorganization of Port Authority's bus routes --- some of which have been virtually unchanged since the agency's 1964 creation.

"This proposal would improve service for the majority of our riders by adding more trips, cutting travel times and offering new high-frequency options," Steve Bland, Port Authority's chief executive officer, said Friday.

Devised by Nelson-Nygaard Consulting Associates, a San Francisco-based engineering firm, the plan is the product of more than two years of study and several public hearings, including one at the Palisades, Downtown.

. . .

Many Mon-Yough Changes: Noticeable changes recommended to local bus service include:
  • A new so-called "Rapid" bus making fewer stops but operating on shorter headways --- 15 to 30 minutes between trips --- would connect the city with Oakland's hospitals and universities

  • A new "Flyer" bus making fewer stops and using the East Busway would operate on 30 to 60 minute headways between the city and downtown Pittsburgh

  • A new park-and-ride lot would be created at the current transportation center on Lysle Boulevard, Downtown

  • Replacing bus routes that currently operate as "stub-ended" services into the transportation center with new "cross-town" services

  • Downgrading the 56C via Second Avenue --- currently the fastest all-day route between the city and downtown Pittsburgh --- and eliminating 56C side trips to the city's Penn State campus and Kane Center

Besides increasing the agency's efficiency, Port Authority officials say their goal is to "provide a much stronger link between McKeesport and the rest of the Pittsburgh area."

The new route map would "reflect that economic changes have created a need (for) better ties between McKeesport and employment opportunities in the rest of (the) region," according to the draft report.

. . .
Jason Togyer/Tube City AlmanacUntangling a '60s Merger Mess: Presently, a mish-mash of short-haul bus routes numbered in the 60-series connects Downtown with Port Vue, White Oak, North Versailles, West Mifflin and other surrounding boroughs and townships.

Those were inherited from defunct local companies like Ridge Lines and Penn Transit.

Some, like the 60P Port Vue-Liberty route, run only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., making them worthless for working commuters who have to be at work by 9 a.m. or earlier.

Beginning in 2010, many of those runs would be replaced by cross-town services that would drop some stops but start earlier and run later.

. . .

New All-Day Services: The 58-series express buses connecting Downtown, Versailles and Port Vue with Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle are a legacy of the old "PATrain" commuter service, discontinued 20 years ago this spring.

Those three runs --- with nine inbound and nine outbound trips weekdays --- currently operate on surface roads and run a limited schedule. The last trips depart Pittsburgh before 6 p.m.

They would be consolidated into a new "P7 McKeesport Flyer" operating via the East Busway. "P7 Flyers" would operate all day between 5:30 a.m. and 12 midnight, running on 30 minute headways during rush hours and one-hour headways at all other times.

. . .

Fewer Stops, But More Buses: The 61C service that operates via Duquesne, Homestead and Squirrel Hill would become one of eight "Rapid" routes offering fewer stops but more frequent buses.

All eight "Rapids" would connect downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland on five to 10 minute headways.

The McKeesport "R3 Rapid" would be coordinated with additional new "Rapid" routes serving Braddock and Homestead.

. . .

No Trains, Light Rail in Plan: The plan does not call for any light-rail (streetcars, subways or "trolleys" ) or "heavy" rail (conventional trains) into the Mon Valley or Oakland.

Commuter train service to the Mon Valley was canceled in 1989, while 1963 marked the end of trolley service in McKeesport and its suburbs.

Instead, Port Authority officials said, the plan is designed to better utilize the agency's existing buses by eliminating services that don't connect, or which do not operate at peak hours.

No personnel would be laid off under the plan, officials said.

. . .

Boston, Greenock Lose: The main losers in the draft plan are residents of the Elizabeth Township neighborhoods of Greenock, Central Highlands and Boston. All 60A service south of Olympia Shopping Center would be canceled.

Port Authority officials said that fewer than 18 people daily use the Greenock service, while only eight per day ride to Central.

Also losing service would be residents of Lincoln Borough and those who live along Washington Boulevard in Glassport, Liberty and Port Vue.

Officials said the new 62 bus that would replace the 60P would offer much more frequent service at the expense of a simpler route through the South Allegheny School District.

. . .

Confusion for Some: Such drastic changes --- including renumbering and rerouting buses that have remained the same for generations --- also offer the potential for confusion.

Many riders in the Mon-Yough are disproportionately elderly, poor or with limited literacy. For instance, according to the U.S. Census, nearly a quarter of Port Vue residents are over the age of 65 --- more than 10 percent are over the age of 75 --- versus 12 percent nationally.

In the city, more than 20 percent of residents lack a high school diploma, and 18 percent are over the age of 65, according to the Census Bureau.

The benefits far outweigh the risks, Bland said: "This is a smarter way of doing business while improving daily service for our riders."

People concerned about the changes should file written complaints with Port Authority Fare and Service Proposals, Heinz 57 Center, 345 6th Ave., Pittsburgh 15222-2527, or via the agency's website.

Comments --- positive and negative --- will be accepted through Sept. 30.

. . .

Hearing Sept. 15: A final public hearing has been slated for 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 15 at the Marriott City Center, 112 Washington Place, Downtown Pittsburgh near Mellon Arena.

According to a Port Authority spokesman, individuals who wish to testify should register by calling (412) 566-5437.

Speakers who do not register will be allowed to talk as space is available.

. . .

More Information: Maps and explanations of the service changes can be viewed at the Monroeville Public Library, 4000 Gateway Campus Blvd., Monroeville; the Braddock Carnegie Library, 419 Library St., Braddock; and at other locations around Allegheny County. Printed and Braille versions of the changes can be requested by calling, toll-free, 1-866-583-0837.

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August 28, 2009 | Link to this story

To Do This Weekend

Category: Events || By

Hoerr Reads From 'Dusk': City native and author John Hoerr will read from his new novel Monongahela Dusk (reviewed in Monday's Almanac) on Saturday afternoon at the Pump House in Munhall.

Hoerr will be joined by poet and Homestead resident Robert Gibb, who will read excerpts from his new collection of poetry, What the Heart Can Bear: Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1979-1993.

Both books are published by Pittsburgh's Autumn House Press. Sponsored by the Battle of Homestead Foundation, the events are free and open to the public and begin at 1:30 p.m.

The Pump House --- site of a bloody skirmish during the Homestead steel strike of 1892 --- is one of the few remaining locations from Carnegie's original Homestead Works. It is located at the east end of the Waterfront shopping complex on Route 837.

Visit the foundation's website or call (412) 782-0171.

. . .

Skyliners Under the Stars: Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners close out the city's summer concert series in Renzie Park with a free performance at 7 p.m. Sunday night.

Best known for their 1958 hit "Since I Don't Have You," the Skyliners hit the Billboard Magazine Top 40 twice more with 1959's "This I Swear" and a 1960 uptempo version of "Pennies From Heaven."

Beaumont is the only original member of the 1958-60 Skyliners still performing, though some members of the current lineup have been with the group for decades. The quartet currently includes Donna Groom, Dick Muse and Nick Pociask.

The concert will be held at the bandshell (bring a blanket or lawn chair); in case of rain, it may be moved to the Palisades, Downtown.

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August 26, 2009 | Link to this story

Wake Me for the Anti-Protest Protests

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

The more I hear about the protests surrounding the upcoming G-20 summit, the less I understand.

The Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh-based anti-war collective that's serving as a clearinghouse for G-20 demonstrators, has posted a list of its demands for the leaders of the G-20 nations:

  • Money for Human Needs, Not for Wars and Occupations

  • Environmental Justice for the Earth and its Inhabitant (sic)

  • Jobs and Health Care for All

. . .

Why not ask for lollipop trees and unicorns, too? Maybe I'm dense, but those seem like pretty vague demands.

"Environmental justice" means ... what, exactly? An end to strip mining? Elimination of fossil fuels? Smiley faces on toxic-waste dumps?

"Money for human needs" as determined by whom? (Here's an idea ... how about determined by the elected parliaments in each country represented at the G-20?)

"Jobs and health care for all." Look, anyone who wants a job can get a job. The problem is that a lot of the jobs are lousy jobs. Now, if someone wants to demonstrate against "favored nation" trading status for China, and for the return of American manufacturing jobs, then show me where the protest starts, and I'll help.

Of course, if we bring back a lot of smokestack industries, we run the risk of screwing up the whole "environmental justice" part ... so I guess that's not want they want, either.

. . .

One complaint I commonly hear voiced is that the G-20 leaders are meeting "behind closed doors, in secret." Which elicits a big "so what?" from me. Personally, I go to a fair number of public meetings, and almost no one attends them.

As reporter Jack Germond once observed, what some people call a "secret meeting" other people call "a meeting that no one else gives a s--t about."

Another complaint I hear is that the people at the G-20 summits aren't acting democratically, because they weren't elected. Actually, they were. The United States elected Barack Obama, the Germans elected Angela Merkel, etc.

. . .

As far as I can tell, then, G-20 protesters are not upset about any one thing in particular. They're like Marlon Brando in "The Wild One." When his motorcycle gang finishes tearing up a town, a bystander asks Brando what they're rebelling against.

"What've you got?" Brando says with a sneer.

I'm certainly not against dissent in the form of marches and protests.

The civil-rights movement wouldn't have gotten any where if people hadn't risked their lives and safety. Many of our labor protections wouldn't exist if steelworkers and autoworkers hadn't gone on strikes and often gotten their heads beat in.

But those kinds of protests had clear goals. Civil-rights marchers wanted the elimination of poll taxes and desegregation of schools and workplaces. Union organizers wanted collective bargaining and the protection of a contract.

. . .

The G-20 protesters are vaguely dissatisfied about something. They don't like capitalism, I guess ... although I can't help but notice that many of them are relatively well-off, educated, middle-class types who have benefited from the capitalist way of life.

Yet instead of doing something productive --- running for elected office, organizing their workplaces into unions, helping to tackle specific problems --- they just want to holler and get attention.

(And that doesn't even include the violent, self-described anarchists, who attend these demonstrations solely for the purpose of breaking windows, setting fires, and wreaking havoc. They're just anti-social goons with no higher purpose.)

. . .

In the process of venting their vague frustration at some undefined thing, the G-20 demonstrators next month are going to inconvenience a lot of people who will be unable to get to work, and will thus lose income, or who will see their property damaged, and will have to pay for it out of their own pockets.

They're actually harming people who have jobs to pay for their "human needs," and they're forcing people to replace manufactured goods (like windows), which harms the environment.

In other words, they're not sticking it to "the system," they're just screwing the people and causes they claim to be supporting.

Maybe you think that's noble, but I think it stinks.

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August 24, 2009 | Link to this story

Hoerr's 'Dusk' Looks at City Through Grit-Stained Glasses

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

Book Review: Of Youngstown, a notorious hotbed of organized crime, talk-show host Doug Hoerth has said: "In some cities, the forces of good are constantly at war with the forces of evil. But in Youngstown, everyone gets along."

That also describes the McKeesport of John Hoerr's novel Monongahela Dusk, just released this month by Autumn House Press.

Throughout Hoerr's story --- which spans the Great Depression and World War II --- it's hard to tell the heroes from the villains.

There's the union organizer who blows up coal tipples, but draws the line at murder. There are the company police officers, sworn to keep the peace, who instead break legs first and question suspects later.

And there's the small-time racketeer who's offended when outsiders wire a car bomb on his turf. ("Who do they think they are, bombing people in my f--king town!" he rails.)

. . .

The McKeesport of Monongahela Dusk is not the misty sepia-toned city of ice cream sundaes at Isaly's, horse-drawn Menzie Dairy wagons and twinkling lights at the Memorial Theater. It's not even the carefully airbrushed "city on the go" of photos in the Mansfields' Daily News.

Instead, this is the McKeesport that my grandfathers used to remember ruefully after a few drinks --- a place where mobsters and mill bosses bought and sold politicians, vice was as plentiful as "Allegheny whitefish" on the Monongahela, and African-Americans were welcome to hold the crummiest jobs in the open hearth, but not to eat in the restaurants on Fifth Avenue.

A native of McKeesport and a former editor of Business Week, Hoerr is best known for his seminal study of the decline of steelmaking in the Mon Valley, And the Wolf Finally Came, considered a classic of labor and business history.

Another book, Harry, Tom and Father Rice, examined the connections between one-time McKeesport congressman Harry Davenport, "labor priest" Charles Owen Rice, and the communist witch-hunts of the early Cold War era.

. . .

With Monongahela Dusk, his first novel, Hoerr uses his same reporter's eye to weave a tale from his childhood memories of McKeesport. The result is a re-creation so vivid, you can feel the soot on the pages.

This is not a novel that uses florid description to tell its story; instead, Hoerr employs a journalist's simple, solid nouns and verbs, and creates a fictional world all the more realistic because of it.

Dusk is the story of Albert "Pete" Bonner, a traveling salesman for Fort Pitt Beer, who in 1937 accidentally gets entangled with Joe Miravich, an organizer for the United Mine Workers.

After foiling a plot to assassinate steel union leader Philip Murray, they wind up targets both of the criminals hired to deliver the hit, and of the mysterious steel boss --- "Mr. Buck" --- who paid for it.

. . .

Bonner and Miravich avoid immediate retribution and use wartime's prosperity to build successful (though opposing) careers, but the knowledge that "Buck" is waiting to extract his revenge hangs over their heads like a blast furnace charge that refuses to drop.

Readers need not be McKeesporters to appreciate Monongahela Dusk, though natives will enjoy the local references.

Characters see one of the legendary brawls after a McKeesport-Duquesne football game at Tech High field, steal a Pittsburgh Railways trolley for a joyride, and "play the numbers" in a candy store near the old Ringgold Street waiting room.

. . .

Although this is a fictionalized McKeesport, it doesn't take much imagination to see that stiff-necked union-busting Republican Mayor D.R. Shoaf is inspired by McKeesport's real life stiff-necked union-busting Republican Mayor George H. Lysle.

Some of the other characters are clearly inspired by real-life figures as well --- Miravich seems to be an amalgam of former Steelworkers local union presidents Tony Tomko of McKeesport and Ron Weisen of Homestead.

Incidentally, this is at least the second novel --- David Chacko's Brick Alley is the other --- set against the rackets and politics of the "good ol' days" in McKeesport.

Those novels and K.C. Constantine's Rocksburg mysteries, which are set in a thinly disguised Greensburg, tell more about life in Western Pennsylvania in the 20th century than all of Rick Sebak's specials combined.

. . .

If there's a criticism to be leveled at Monongahela Dusk, it's that Hoerr's impartial, journalistic style doesn't always allow him to imagine what's inside the heads of his characters. Instead of getting their motivation, readers are often observers watching events unfold through Hoerr's neutral eyes.

The distance makes it tough to develop an emotional bond with some characters. Bonner's attempts to ingratiate himself with McKeesport's businessmen, for instance, have less of the pathos of Willy Loman and more of the shallowness of George Babbitt.

Miravich is one of Dusk's better-rounded characters --- brooding, conflicted, torn between his ideals and his practical goals.

Some readers might also complain that the central mystery of Buck's identity is a meaningless MacGuffin, there only so that Hoerr can sketch his warts-and-all portrait of McKeesport, and that the resolution is too off-handed to be truly satisfying.

. . .

But complaining that a novel about McKeesport's rough-and-rowdy past is "too workmanlike" or "too detached" is like complaining that the Westinghouse Bridge is "too concrete-y."

It's the detail and the detachment of Hoerr's no-bull prose that make Monongahela Dusk as valuable as history as it is enjoyable as a study of a bygone era.

If the resolution lacks an "ah-ha!" moment, that's because we were there for the journey, not the destination.

And though it's been many years since Hoerr lived here, his insights about the Mon Valley ring true. During a car trip down Route 837 to Donora, Miravich's girlfriend mentions that she's never been this far away in her life: "We never even took a streetcar to Pittsburgh."

Too many of us still have that lack of curiosity today. Though the mills and the rackets have faded, the parochial attitudes persist.

Sometimes, the more things stay the same, the more they should change.

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August 23, 2009 | Link to this story

And This Was News?

Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By

In case you've been living in a cave for the past several days, "PittGirl" --- the anonymous blogger whose Burgh Blog captured the hearts of thousands of Pittsburghers with her snarky commentary on politics, life, the Steelers and other weighty topics --- revealed her real name last week.

This was greeted with front-page coverage in both of Pittsburgh's newspapers and stories on TV and radio.

The Tribune-Review almost broke out the "WAR IS DECLARED" style headline type that it's previously reserved for such scoops as the news that Russ Grimm was the new coach of the Steelers.

The announcement even made CNN.

Many of those same media outlets did follow-up stories the next day when PittGirl --- whose real name turns out to be Virginia Montanez, 35, of North Huntingdon Township --- was dismissed from her job at a Pittsburgh non-profit agency that deals with many of the same elected officials that The Burgh Blog has been deftly skewering for four years.

. . .

You may remember that Tube City Almanac two years ago correctly guessed that PittGirl was from North Huntingdon, which led to people actually threatening me for "outing" Montanez.

Sorry, but when she mentioned that she lived 16 miles from downtown Pittsburgh and then started posting pictures of the North Huntingdon Giant Eagle and Berks' Men's Wear (the official sweater-vest supplier of Tube City Online), well, she was just daring me to note that she was from North Huntingdon, or as we like to say, "the McKeesport suburbs."

Naturally, when the news broke that PittGirl was Montanez, several (OK, two) people emailed me to ask if it was true that I had figured out who PittGirl really was.

I replied, no, I hadn't, and that actually ... I didn't really care.

. . .

Make no mistake --- I think Montanez is a talented writer. I also think she's demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that blogging provides a chance for independent voices to have an impact.

Think about it: With some free software and probably $200 worth of bandwidth, she's generated more buzz since 2005 than any of the Post-Gazette's stable of highly paid columnists. (And a little birdie tells the Almanac that PittGirl has been seen inside 34 Blvd. of the Allies, which could mean that she's about to move on up to the big time, to a deluxe apartment, or at least cubicle.)

But I just don't understand the fascination with her or with her real identity.

I'm really, truly not the least bit jealous. You may recall that I wrote a book, and I've been on TV, radio and in print promoting the dad-blamed thing, so it's not like I'm attention-starved.

. . .

Wasn't it enough for her to be writing funny things? Does knowing her real name make her any funnier? Does knowing that Little Richard's real name is "Richard Penniman" make "Good Golly, Miss Molly" a better song?

(And who owns more stiletto heels, Little Richard or PittGirl? But I digress.)

Also, without being unkind, PittGirl --- for all of her talent --- wouldn't be a celebrity in any other city. Try to imagine Chicago newspapers and TV reporters breathlessly announcing the identity of an anonymous blogger.

For that matter, I'm not sure she's a big celebrity in Pittsburgh, either. If I went to Monroeville Mall or Olympia Shopping Center and stopped the first 10 people I met, could eight of them correctly identify PittGirl as a local blogger?

. . .

Maybe the problem I'm having is that Pittsburgh is such a small media market that our reporters are obsessed with trivial nonsense --- and don't otherwise dig very hard for any stories that aren't Steelers related.

Honestly, with hard-hitting stories like last week's PittGirl revelations, it's hard to understand why newspaper circulation is in freefall, and why TV news viewership is down, too.

(Personally, I blame Google and Craigslist. Damn you, Craigslist!)

But since the media seems to be so hard up for blog-related news, I guess I should finally reveal my secret, too.

I've actually been writing for Tube City Almanac under a pseudonym for all of these years.

Yes, I'm actually the late Sen. William D. Mansfield. Alert Jim Lokay!

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August 21, 2009 | Link to this story

International Village: Day 3 Wrapup

Category: Events, News || By

The 50th edition of the city's signature summer event ended Thursday night with both a bang and a whimper.

With the International Village audience soaked by a torrential downpour and the skies threatening to deliver a severe electrical storm, officials canceled last night's headline entertainer, Irish folk singer Cahal Dunne.

But the closing fireworks over Renziehausen Park --- a display costing $10,000, according to City Councilman Darryl Segina, the outgoing chairman of International Village --- went off as planned, albeit about an hour early.

As it turned out, much of the severe storm that everyone was expecting bypassed the city. By the time that became apparent, unfortunately, many food and craft vendors were already closed. (One vendor told us privately she lost about two-thirds of her expected Thursday sales.)

With the infield at Stephen Barry Field already turning into a swamp --- and with a terrific lightning storm on the horizon --- the decision to close was probably a prudent one. But besides Dunne's performance, it also forced the city to skip a planned tribute to police, fire and emergency personnel.

During a break in the rain, Mayor Jim Brewster and Council President Regis McLaughlin honored longtime softball coach Eddie Stanko; the Daily News on the occasion of its 125th anniversary; and Segina, who served as chairman of International Village for 16 years.

Segina thanked his wife Barbara ("still the love of my life," he said) and International Village coordinator Dorothy Kuharski for their support and predicted "the Village" would remain a regional tradition for another 50 years "as long as the integrity of the ethnic food, music and dancing is maintained."

Noting that 30 different ethnic traditions had come together in harmony in Renziehausen Park this year, Segina also issued a heartfelt prayer that nations around the world would someday be able to live in similar peace.

Audio report from Day 3 (2.8 MB, MP3)

(Editor's Note: Unknown to me, water got into my microphone during the storm, wiping out much of Segina's remarks and resulting in poor quality audio for most of this report. My apologies.)

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August 20, 2009 | Link to this story

Local News You May Have Missed

Category: Events, News || By

It turns out that other things have been happening besides International Village ...

. . .

Penn State 'Pinning' Ceremony: Incoming students at Penn State's campus in McKeesport will be "pinned" during the annual academic convocation Friday morning in the Wunderley Gymnasium.

Chief Academic Officer Kurt Torell will welcome each student, who will receive a pin from Greater Allegheny Campus signifying their entrance into the university.

Torell says the convocation is the first day for students and their families to become "acclimated" to the campus.

The keynote speaker will be Veronica Montecinos, professor of sociology at the Greater Allegheny Campus, a spokeswoman said.

More details at Penn State's website.

. . .

Now Hear This: Mike Mauer, housing counselor at the Mon Valley Initiative, was a guest last Saturday on the Rev. Jay Geisler's talk show, "Focus on the Mon Valley."

Also interviewed was City Councilman Darryl Segina, who is retiring as chairman of the International Village Committee.

You can download the program at the TalkShoe website. "Focus on the Mon Valley" airs at 6 a.m. on McKeesport-licensed (but Greentree-based) WMNY (1360).

. . .

Blues Festival Successful: Joyce Rothermel, chief executive officer of Duquesne's Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, reports that last weekend's Pittsburgh Blues Festival was a success, despite the threat of rain on Saturday.

Although the financial reports aren't yet complete, she says, "the weekend was well attended, and revenues should be good." About 12 tons of food was donated on Friday by Blues Festival concertgoers, Rothermel says.

(A slideshow of the Blues Festival --- held at Hartwood Acres county park, north of Pittsburgh --- is available online.)

Meanwhile, the federal stimulus package has allowed the food bank to hire five workers through the AmeriCorps VISTA program. The workers will help other organizations that distribute food to improve their volunteer support and public relations.

Despite the fact that the economy seems to be recovering slowly, demand at the food bank remains high --- Rothermel says the August food distribution in Duquesne supported 750 families, up approximately 200 households from the month before.

. . .

Farm Stands Open Thru Nov. 12: In a related story, farm stands remain open on Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the Mon-Yough area, according to the Food Bank's Iris Valanti.

The Mon Yough Community Services Farm Stand at 500 Market St., Downtown, is open from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays, while another at the Westinghouse Valley Human Services Center, 519 Penn Ave., Turtle Creek, is open from 12 noon to 3 p.m. Wednesdays.

On Thursdays, a farm stand is open at the Dairy Mart on Second Avenue in Hazelwood from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m, and at Lifespan Senior Center, 530 Miller Ave., Clairton, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The farm stands are designed to provide fresh, Pennsylvania-grown produce to urban communities and are open to the public. They accept cash, WIC coupons, senior citizen nutrition coupons and EBT cards. Call (412) 460-3663, extension 216, for details.

. . .

Eat'n Park Threatened?: Pat Cloonan of the Daily News reports that Eat'n Park's city location --- a fixture Downtown from the very beginnings of the chain --- may close as a result of construction of the new "flyover" ramp connecting the Industrial Center of McKeesport to Lysle Boulevard.

Part of the restaurant's parking lot is likely to be taken by Allegheny County in an eminent domain proceeding.

City and county officials claim they're close to an agreement to trade Eat'n Park a portion of a neighboring alley for creation of a new parking lot. But Cloonan reported Wednesday that Eat'n Park executives aren't happy with the proposed swap but are "hopeful" they can come to an agreement.

An Eat'n Park spokesman told Cloonan that the restaurant chain would like to remain in the city, but "losing a good portion of our property is going to make it difficult."

Opened in 1952, the city location is the sixth-oldest in the Homestead-based chain.

Creation of the flyover ramp is considered crucial to marketing the industrial park on the former U.S. Steel National Works site. Access is currently limited to two narrow railroad crossings at Locust and Center streets.

Tube City Almanac file photos

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August 19, 2009 | Link to this story

International Village: Day 2 Wrapup

Category: News || By

It just wouldn't be International Village without at least one night of rain, and for the 50th annual event, the weather didn't disappoint.

Mikey Dee and the Internationals were about 30 minutes into their set on Wednesday when the traditional International Village deluge began, drenching the audience and knocking's webcast off the net for about an hour.

The good news is that once the skies cleared, the temperature and humidity dropped and a nice breeze dried things out. And the crowds seemed to return pretty quickly.

At 5:30, city officials and representatives of McKeesport Heritage Center went across Eden Park Boulevard to Helen Richey Field to rededicate a monument to the field's namesake. Pioneering aviatrix Helen Richey was the world's first female commercial airline pilot.

Thursday night, several longtime Village volunteers --- including city Councilman Darryl Segina, who is retiring as Village chairman --- will be honored, along with police, fire and emergency medical services personnel. And then --- boom! --- there's going to be fireworks.

Our traveling microphone caught up with city Mayor Jim Brewster after the Richey monument dedication:

Interview: McKeesport Mayor Jim Brewster, Aug. 19, 2009 (2.3 MB, MP3)*

(Edited to fix broken link)

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August 18, 2009 | Link to this story

Link to International Village Broadcast

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany, News || By

International Village logoWe will be broadcasting from International Village from 3 to 11 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 18 to Thursday, Aug. 20. At other times, the stream will be down (or may be live for testing purposes).

To listen during broadcast hours, click on this link:

It's an MP3 stream which should work in Winamp, iTunes, Quicktime, RealPlayer and other popular media players. It's also been tested --- and seems to work --- with popular brands of cell phones that can support streaming media. Sorry --- we can't guarantee it will work with your computer, and we can't provide technical support.

If the stream doesn't open:

If the stream doesn't open when you click the link, then open your streaming player (Winamp, iTunes, Quicktime, RealPlayer, etc.) manually.

Then select the option that allows you to "Open Stream" or "Open URL" and either "cut and paste" the above information, or manually type in the URL:

If the stream goes down:

We are using a broadband wi-fi network to connect to the Internet from Renzie Park. At times, the connection could go down, and the stream will disappear. If that happens, disconnect, wait a few minutes, and try reconnecting.

Bring a portable radio!

If you're coming to International Village, then bring a portable AM or FM radio with you and listen along! We'll be using low-power "Part 15" transmitters on 88.9 FM or 1640 AM that should cover Stephen Barry Field.

And make sure to stop by the Lightning FM/Tube City Online booth --- we're to the right of the main stage, along Eden Park Boulevard. And we'll see you at the Village!

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August 16, 2009 | Link to this story

More! Summer Reruns

Category: General Nonsense || By

I'm still buried under preparation for the International Village broadcast, so here's another "pearl" of "wisdom" from the Tube City Almanac archives. This entry originally appeared Jan. 28, 2005:

Jan. 28, 2005

Owner of a No-Track Mind

I can't remember my own phone number, where I put my brown sportcoat, or to get my wage tax payment in on time. But I can remember a piece of doggerel from a column that Peter Leo wrote in the Post-Gazette 20-odd years ago. And every time I see a salt truck, my brain coughs it up:

Over hill, over dale,
We will hit the snowy trail,
When the salt trucks go rolling along.
Hitch a ride, take the bus,
Even walking's dangerous,
When the salt trucks go rolling along.
For it's hi! Hi! Hey!
Here we are on the Parkway,
Hope you brought a change of clothes along.
If we weren't such boobs,
We'd have detoured 'round the tubes,
When the salt trucks went rolling along.

Then, last night, someone mentioned the '70s pop singer Phoebe Snow to me.

I replied: "Phoebe Snow was wont to go by railroad train to Buffalo. Her gown stays white from noon 'til night, upon The Road of Anthracite."

"How's that again?" he said.

"Phoebe Snow was an advertising character created for the old Lackawanna Railroad at the turn of the century," I said. "That was one of the little poems they created to go with the advertisements." I searched Google for "Phoebe Snow" and "Lackawanna" and within a few seconds had pulled up an entire page of Phoebe Snow rhymes.

"I assume that's where the singer Phoebe Snow got her name," I said. "The railroad's gimmick was that they burned hard anthracite coal, which didn't make as much soot, so people's clothes stayed cleaner."

My friend looked at me with astonishment. "How do you know this? Did you have to memorize this for school or something?"

"Um ... no. I just read it years ago, and it stuck with me."

I can't help it! Tell me something important, and you might as well be telling it to a brain-damaged poodle.

Give me some useless information, and it burrows into my noggin forever, such as the facts that there is no Winky's in Wilmerding; Y-97FM is where the Three Rivers Come to a Y; First National Bank of McKeesport became Western Pennsylvania National Bank, which became Equibank, which merged with Integra Bank and now the whole shootin' match is National City; or that to load a file off of the disc drive of a Commodore 64, you had to type LOAD "filename", 8,1.

(If you forgot to type the "8,1" the computer would think you were trying to load a program from a cassette, and would prompt: "PRESS PLAY ON TAPE." Typing "POKE 53281" and then a number would change the color of the screen.)

What in the name of the Great Gildersleeve (a character originated on radio by Harold Peary, who ultimately left the show in a contract dispute ... arrgh! I'm doing it again) is the use of any of that trivia?

I'll be sitting in a chair, minding my own damn business, when some dusty cog in my brain will slip into gear, and this will tumble out:

Happiest drivers in the world,
Don't say Olds, say Bendik Olds!
Get complete full-service care,
Don't say Olds, say Bendik Olds!
Ardmore Boulevard in Wilkinsburg,
That's the place!
You'll find satisfaction, so,

Put on a happy face, and remember,
Don't say Olds, say Bendik Olds!
Don't say Olds, say Bendik Olds!
Don't say Olds,
Make it a Bendik Olds!

"You have a mind like a steel trap," my friend said.

"Yep," I said, "nothing gets in, and nothing gets out."

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August 12, 2009 | Link to this story

Your Guide to International Village

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Listen worldwide to International Village at!

(Editor's note: As a public service to the thousands of people who will be attending the 50th International Village next week, as well as the tens of dozens who read Tube City Almanac, we are reprinting our annual handy guide to attending the area's premier food and music festival. As always, it's been updated slightly.

Feel free to clip and save it, or if you can't clip things from your monitor, just carry your computer around with you.

You may also enjoy this 1972 look at the Village, reprinted from
Ford Times.)

. . .

Every year, tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians descend on Our Fair City's Renziehausen Park for the ethnic food, dancing, food, music and food festival known as "International Village." Though other communities have imitated it (and I'm looking at you, Picksberg), they have not been able to duplicate the experience.

For months ahead of time, churches, ethnic clubs and other associations prepare foods and crafts for sale, while performance groups prepare traditional costumes and practice folk songs and dances. And there's great ethnic food.

Did I mention food? I did? Good.

Well, that time is almost here again! Next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the balalaikas, tamburas and bass guitars will be plunking, the dancers will be twirling, and thousands of Westinghouse electric roasters will have emerged from pantries and basements and been pressed into service to keep pierogies, pirohis, perogis, pirozhkis and pirogies warm.

Some people will even be making piroghies.

In the past, International Village was mostly made up of those "nations" that stretched from, oh, say, Dublin to Minsk, and south to Palermo. But over the years, as different ethnic groups have settled in Western Pennsylvania, more and more traditions of Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa are being represented at the "Village." For those of us who enjoy eating sweet and sour pork, cheese ravioli and halushki while listening to Slovenian music, this is a definite plus.

Lifelong residents of the Mon-Yough area know that the Village represents a great time and a chance to get in touch with your ethnic roots. But for those unfortunate Almanac visitors who didn't grow up within in the McKeesport area, here's an insider's guide to International Village, telling you the kinds of things that you don't get in the free souvenir program.

. . .

International Village is held at Stephen Barry Field in McKeesport's Renziehausen Park for three days every August.

Contrary to the belief of many Pittsburghers, you can reach McKeesport quickly and easily, and we do have paved roads in the Mon Valley. Renzie Park is particularly easy to get to --- from Westmoreland County, take Route 30 west to Route 48 south. Take Route 48 south to Route 148 north. Follow Route 148 north about three blocks to Eden Park Boulevard.

From Pittsburgh, you may take the Parkway East to Forest Hills, then take Route 30 east to East McKeesport. Turn right onto Route 148 south and follow Route 148 to Hartman Street, then turn left.

Unlike what you may have seen reported on the Pittsburgh TV news, we are largely friendly and harmless, and we do have such conveniences as electricity, telephones and indoor toilets. We don't have a Starbucks yet, but we're hopeful. (That trend is dead now, anyway, which means we'll get one any minute.)

. . .

Parking is at a premium during International Village. Some of the local churches offer paid parking in their lots, but any free parking near Stephen Barry Field tends to fill up quickly.

Luckily, Renzie Park is a large, regional park, so there are spaces available, but they're not necessarily adjacent to Stephen Barry Field. If you can walk, simply plan to wear comfortable shoes, and give yourself plenty of time. You will enjoy the stroll. Renzie is lovely on a summer evening.

If you are elderly or disabled, I hope you can find a space close to the entrances.

But if you're able-bodied, and you insist on circling the parking lots near the tennis courts endlessly for hours hoping that a space opens up, I reserve the right to steal your hubcaps.

. . .

In a related matter, have some common courtesy --- for crying out loud, don't park on the end of the aisle and block other people in. Your legs aren't broken. But maybe they should be. At the very least, someone should steal your hubcaps.

Also, there is no valet parking at International Village. So if you give your car keys to someone, I sure hope you have a bus schedule handy.

. . .

Other Activities: McKeesport Heritage Center, located on Arboretum Drive, will have special extended hours during International Village. If you haven't purchased a copy of Images of America: McKeesport, this is an ideal time to do so.

The Heritage Center also has copies of a recent documentary on the life of pioneer aviator Helen Richey and other memorabilia on sale, as well as exhibits documenting life around the Mon-Yough area and McKeesport's first school house. It's well worth a visit, and I say that not just because I'm on the board of directors.

Also, the Renzie Park Arboretum, which is surprisingly also located on Arboretum Drive, is open until sunset. It's one of only about 100 nationally recognized rose gardens in the United States, so take a break from the Village and stop to smell the roses. (Rimshot.)

. . .

Do: Wear your "Kiss Me, I'm Irish," "Treat Me, I'm Dutch," "Proud to Be Italian," etc., T-shirt.

Don't: Tell Polish jokes, or say something like, "Wow! Look at all the (insert ethnic group name here)!" And speaking in an exaggerated, "Mamma-mia! That's-a speecy-spicy meatsaballa!" accent around the Italian booth is considered bad form.

. . .

If you are over the age of 10, and are eating hot dogs at the "American" booth, you should be ashamed of yourself. You probably think burritos heated in the microwave at Uni-Mart are "authentic Mexican cuisine."

. . .

The food prices at the Village are set by the individual groups doing the vending. You may find $5 for a kolbassi sandwich too much to pay, and decide to eat somewhere else. That is your prerogative.

But for some of the groups exhibiting at International Village, this is the one big fundraising event they have each year. They will no doubt invest the profits from your $5 kolbassi sandwich into silly, frivolous extras like the water bill, the gas bill, the light bill, and educational and cultural programs.

Choose instead to stop for a 99-cent "extra value" cheeseburger on the way home, and contemplate all of the ethnic and social programs the Wendy's Corporation has funded in your community over the last year. I hope the mustard and pickles turn to ashes in your mouth, you cheapskate.

Or, buy something at the Village to eat. It's your choice. There's no pressure.

. . .

Admission: There is a small admission charge to enter International Village. For a long time, it was 50 cents, and before that, it was free.

There are still people who think it should be free, and mark the city's "decline" to the year that they started charging people four bits to walk around International Village. Many of these people are also still upset that CBS cancelled "Ed Sullivan."

If you're one of the people, I'm wondering how you made it onto the Web to read the Almanac, so please write to us from the library or wherever you've been sponging free Internet access.

A postcard to P.O. Box 94, McKeesport, PA 15134 is acceptable. Feel free to steam a stamp off of a Christmas card, or just send Bob Cratchit over to deliver it.

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August 11, 2009 | Link to this story

A 'Perverse Nonsense Feedback Loop'

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

Is there anyone out there who's happy with their current health insurance? (Besides members of Congress and executives at health insurance companies, that is.)

I have a friend in her early 30s who's happily employed, generally healthy and has good credit. She can't get health insurance at any price on the free market.

She used to have fainting spells. Blue Shield, UPMC Health Plan, HealthAmerica and the rest huffed that was a "pre-existing condition" and turned her down flat.

So, please, spare me any complaints that a federal health insurance program would be run by "bureaucrats who would deny you coverage!"

Bureaucrats are already denying us coverage. They just work for UPMC Health Plan or HealthAmerica, not the federal government.

. . .

Last month, the Almanac reported on the Ninth Street Clinic, located in the former YWCA, Downtown.

Most of their patients are working people who can't get insurance from their employers, or who can't afford $600 or $700 per month for insurance on the open market, or have been denied coverage.

Consequently, when they get sick, all they can do is wait until their illnesses get so bad that they have to go to the emergency room.

Hospital emergency rooms are required to treat them, so they cover their expenses by increasing the prices they charge to everyone else, including Medicare and private insurance companies.

. . .

Guess who pays for that? Taxpayers and people with health insurance!

In other words, we're already paying for a de facto national health insurance program. It just doesn't have any accountability or checks and balances.

And guess what else? If many of the conditions being treated in emergency rooms had been treated months or years earlier in a doctor's office --- before they became chronic or life threatening --- the treatments wouldn't have cost so much.

Last year, as reported in the Almanac and elsewhere, the city of McKeesport was faced with an 83 percent increase in its health insurance premiums.

The city isn't unique --- every municipality, school district and private business that offers health insurance is bearing the costs of an out-of-control health care system that costs too much and does too little.

. . .

Some people who object to the federal government taking any role in health care say that the United States has "the best health care system in the world." To this I say: Bull.

Take a look at this story from The Economist: We pay a far higher percentage of our Gross Domestic Product for health care than people in any other civilized nation.

In exchange for paying all of this money, the United States is ranked 50th in life expectancy, ahead of Albania, Kuwait and Cuba.

The United States is ranked 44th in infant mortality, below Cuba, Portugal and Slovenia.

Do you think that health care would get worse or more expensive if the federal government ran it? I guess it could get worse ... but it's hard to see where private companies are doing such a great job when left to their own devices.

. . .

There are legitimate questions that people can ask about a national health insurance program. Such as: Who should be covered? How should we pay for it?

But those aren't the questions being discussed. Instead, a group of far-right loonies --- many of whom dislike the president because he's black, or because they think he's a Muslim (for the nth time, he's not) --- have hijacked the debate to rant about crazy topics.

Notes Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

The health care debate is now being driven by a perverse nonsense feedback loop in which the Palin/Limbaugh crowd says all sorts of completely insane lies, gets a lot of ... how shall we put it, impressionable people totally jacked up over a bunch of complete nonsense ...

I see no evidence that even close to a majority of Americans believe completely preposterous things like this. But journalists have no capacity to deal with this stuff.

In any sane civic discourse Sarah Palin's comments about 'death panels' would have permanently written her out of any public debate about anything. But even though very few people actually believe this stuff, the entire debate gets knocked off the rails by this sort of freak show which allows the organized interests who want to prevent reform to gain the upper hand.

"Freak show" just about sums it up. These "impressionable people" are being used by Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and other highly paid talk-show goons --- none of whom lack health insurance, by the way --- to spike their own ratings.

They don't care about the people lined up on a Thursday night at the Ninth Street Clinic. They care about their own multi-million dollar paychecks.

. . .

What are Glenn and Sean and Rush and "Pittsburgh's own" Jim Quinn going to say if, God forbid, someone spends all day listening to them spew "perverse nonsense" and then goes to a town hall meeting, where he shoots someone?

Glenn and Sean and Quinn will tut-tut about how sad it is, and how a "permissive society" has led to a decline in decency.

But they'll take no responsibility. To borrow a metaphor from P.J. O'Rourke, they're like people who give whiskey and car keys to teen-age boys: "Hey, how was I to know they'd get drunk and drive?"

. . .

We have a crazy health care system that doesn't work, and the president has done what a president is supposed to do --- lead a discussion about fixing the problem.

Yet instead of having that discussion, our elected officials are getting shouted down by crazy people.

I don't support censorship or the return of the "Fairness Doctrine," which was supposed to force TV and radio to present "both sides" of every issue --- it resulted in a lot of mush being broadcast instead.

But I do wish that more journalists would do their jobs, stand up and call these protesters what they are --- lunatics who are derailing an important debate.

And also I wish more journalists would place the blame for these lunatics right where it belongs --- on the talk show industry, which thrives on inciting pure, white-hot rage, regardless of the consequences to a healthy, functioning democracy.

. . .

One daily national broadcast has had the courage to tell people about this "perverse nonsense feedback loop." It's not on ABC, CBS, NBC or PBS.

No, once again, the only nightly news program pulling back the curtain has been "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Healther Skelter

(Tube City hard hat tip: KGB Report.)

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August 10, 2009 | Link to this story

Summer Reruns!

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

Editor's Note: Much of the brain power --- such as it is --- at Tube City Online World News Headquarters on Dravosburg Hill has been diverted to planning for next week's International Village broadcast. We'll be filling the gaps by reprinting some "classic" (read: old) Almanac entries from the past.

This one's from five years ago --- Aug. 31, 2004, to be exact. You may recall that there was a presidential election that year, and that the Democratic candidate was Yawn ... I mean, John ... Kerry.

. . .

Hamsters Steel Themselves for Election Battle

(Originally appeared Aug. 31, 2004)

As a big fan of "Bloom County" back during the late paleozoic era, I've been faithfully reading Berke Breathed's new Sunday-only comic strip, "Opus" (it runs in the Post-Gazette locally), in the hope that it would eventually be funny. I had almost given up until this week's episode, when Pittsburgh's favorite press critic made an appearance, along with Dick Cheney ... in a hamster suit, no less. I actually laughed out loud.

Give Breathed credit; unlike Garry Trudeau, he actually draws caricatures of the people he's lampooning, and not waffles or feathers. In this case, by the way, it wasn't so much a caricature of Teresa Kerry as it was character assassination.

And a tip'o the Tube City hard hat to Alert Reader Stunt Violist, who discusses John Kerry's daring hamster rescue and asks "What if rodents were involved in American politics?"

What does she mean, if?


Speaking of hard hats, I respect Professor Pittsblog, but he's talking out of his hat. He was piqued recently when a guest speaker at a professional association was given a Steeler hard hat as a token of gratitude:
Here's what I see when I look at the Steeler hard hat ... I see a tribute to two industries --- steel and mining --- which have their best days behind them. I see an idealization of Pittsburgh's history. Does it hold Pittsburgh back to say that this is still a steel town, even metaphorically? Ask your friends around the country and around the world about their impressions of Pittsburgh. Are they good ones? I hope so. Are those positive associations based on the history (and continuing presence) of steel? I'd like to know the answer, but I'd wager that the answer is no.

Well, here's what I see when people tell Pittsburghers to "put steel behind them": "Yes, steelworkers and all that, look, that was a long time ago, and really, who wants to associate with such a group of lower-class ruffians like steelworkers, much less commemorate them?"

That's one small step up from "Those steelworkers were a bunch of blue-collar greedy buffoons," which I heard a lot when I was growing up. And that's just one short step removed from, "Those dumb ignorant hunkies, who do they think they are?"

. . .

Sorry. Maybe I'm over-reacting. But it gets my Irish (or is that Hungarian?) up. You're telling me that what my grandfathers and father did to build America wasn't worthwhile, and that they didn't do anything to make this country great, and that I should forget about it. I take that very personally.

Setting aside the obvious --- that Pennsylvania steel built the great buildings, bridges and ships of the world for nearly a century --- the leadership of steelworkers and coal miners made possible such "radical" concepts as overtime pay, paid vacations and holidays, and health insurance. Those didn't exist until men and women struck for their rights, often at great personal risk to themselves.

And don't forget the impact that Big Steel had on the northern migration of African-Americans to Pennsylvania in search of a better life; the steel companies pitted whites and blacks against one another, hiring blacks to break strikes by white steelworkers and helping to solidify racist attitudes that still exist to this day.

We're supposed to get past that? We're still living with the consequences of decisions that happened 50, 75 or 100 years ago. How can we expect to move forward without understanding what happened in the past?

. . .

Remembering history, and understanding it, is not the same as "idealizing" it. I'd agree that too many Pittsburghers live in the past --- the continued success of classic rock radio stations is evidence enough of that --- but too few of them remember their history. That history includes steel and coal, just as the history of New England includes the American Revolution (or should we rename the New England "Patriots," too?), and we should be doing a better job of teaching it to our young people.

Right now, most young Pittsburghers have little more than a vague awareness that there was such a thing called the steel industry, but no real memories of what life was like in the days of Big Steel. Maybe they think the decaying buildings on the riverfronts in Duquesne and Our Fair City were built as ruins.

Good on the Rivers of Steel Heritage Project for what it's doing in Homestead to teach people about the impact of the steel industry.

. . .

It's a shame that the Carnegie Museums have been so busy over the years building monuments to their wealthy patrons that they never thought to build a museum explaining how the patrons got wealthy in the first place.

Instead, they built a museum for Andy Warhol --- whose most creative and groundbreaking period lasted about 15 years, and whose art will be all but forgotten 100 years from now, when Pittsburgh steel is still holding up bridges and buildings around the world.

That doesn't mean "idealizing" the steel industry; just because I think the era of big steel was crucial to Western Pennsylvania and American history doesn't mean that I'm pining for the days of choking smog and rivers that ran thick with pollution.

But without steel and coal, Western Pennsylvania would still be wilderness. Telling us to "get past" that is like trying to conceal the unpleasant parts of history because they're inconvenient, and frankly, I find it a little snobbish.

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August 08, 2009 | Link to this story

35 Years Ago, Nixon Was the One (On the Way Out)

Category: History || By

From 35 years ago this weekend, it's a special historical treat for folks on the Duquesne-West Mifflin side of the river.

These are the front pages of the late, lamented Homestead Daily Messenger from Thursday, Aug. 8, 1974 and Friday, Aug. 9, 1974 --- the day that President Nixon left office in disgrace and his successor, Gerald Ford, took office.

Click either front page to enlarge it.

Incidentally, you may be wondering what major stories were sharing the front page of the Messenger on Aug. 9, 1974 besides the resignation of the leader of the free world?

Those stories were a discussion of whether Whitaker Borough would pave Riverview and Hamilton avenues, and Munhall Borough Council's approval of a sewer line extension. Paul Shaffer --- cue up that "Small Town News" theme!

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

. . .

In case you were wondering, the Messenger was founded in 1882 as a weekly, went daily in 1899, went back to weekly publication in August 1979 and folded in December of that year.

(One of the Messenger's editors in the '70s was a youthful Kevin G. Barkes, better known these days as editor of Fayette City's most popular blog, the KGB Report.)

The weekly Valley Mirror, founded by former Messenger Editor Earle Wittpenn, picked up the baton in 1981.

Then, in 1983, new owners tried to revive the paper, but they unfortunately went bankrupt two years later.

The Valley Mirror has continued, and although Wittpenn sold the paper to Tony Munson, publisher of the Braddock Free Press, back in 1998, he has continued to write his weekly column, "Earle's Pearls."

. . .

Alas, community journalism in the Homestead-Munhall-West Mifflin area could be in danger yet again. Munson recently announced that he intends to retire, and he's looking for a buyer for the newspaper.

Here's a sincere wish that some budding entrepreneur steps up to keep the Mirror in business and independent.

Remember, Nixon said the "press was the enemy," and that's reason enough to keep as many news outlets in business as possible.

Let's make Dick as miserable as possible in the afterlife ... as if the demons sticking him with pitchforks for all eternity weren't enough.

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August 07, 2009 | Link to this story

To Do This Weekend

Category: Events || By

Irwin Heritage Days: Five Guys Named Moe and The Dallas Marks Band headline a weekend of entertainment, food and crafts in downtown Irwin.

Irwin Heritage Days runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 12 to 8 p.m. Sunday and is sponsored by The Irwin Project, the collective name for a group of community development projects aimed at revitalizing the borough's downtown.

The concerts are slated for 6:30 p.m. each night in Irwin Park, with Five Guys Named Moe on Saturday and Dallas Marks on Sunday.

Middle Earth Studios will have costumed storytelling for children at 11 a.m. Saturday and at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

. . .

Relay for Life at Stadium: American Cancer Society is sponsoring a Relay for Life Saturday and Sunday on the walking track at Weigle-Schaeffer Memorial Stadium, McKeesport Area High School, 1960 Eden Park Blvd.

We counted nine teams registered already on Friday night. The walk gets underway at 12 p.m. Saturday. Visit the website for details.

. . .

Shakespeare in the Park: See "Romeo and Juliet" where it was meant to be seen --- in Monroeville.

Poor Yorick's Players present Shakespeare's timeless tragedy at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Tall Trees Amphitheater in Monroeville Park. (From McKeesport, take Route 48 north across Route 130 to the left turn at Cambridge Square Drive, then take the next left onto Tilbrook Road.)

Performances are free, but visitors must bring a lawn chair or blanket to sit on. Call (412) 537-1705 or visit the website. Just don't mention the Scottish play.

. . .

To list your weekend event in Tube City Almanac, email j togyer at gmail dot com or write to P.O. Box 94, McKeesport 15134. Enclose $1 million for a chance to win 25 words or less about why we like Tube City Almanac. Employees of Tube City Community Media Inc. are eligible to participate, but extremely unlikely to exist.

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August 05, 2009 | Link to this story

Muted 50th Birthday for 'Old' City Hall

Category: History || By

An interesting anniversary went almost entirely unremarked in May --- the 50th anniversary of the dedication of McKeesport City Hall.

It's also variously known as the "Municipal Building" or maybe as "that ugly thing down on Lysle Boulevard."

But the building wasn't considered ugly when it was completed in March 1959 at a cost of $491,000.

In fact, the Post-Gazette called the building "an attractive but utilitarian three-level structure."

. . .

With its glass and aluminum curtain walls, glazed bricks and V-shaped entrance way, the building is a small but interesting artifact from the late 1950s-early '60s style of construction that's often called "space-age" or "Googie" architecture.

The most extreme examples of "Googie" would include the TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport in New York City or the Space Needle in Seattle.

More prosaic examples would include the motels on the Wildwood strip in New Jersey ... or 201 Lysle Blvd.

. . .

When it opened, the Municipal Building had some literal flash of its own, in the form of a lighted neon "Welcome to McKeesport" sign that greeted drivers approaching Downtown from the Jerome Avenue Bridge.

Visitors entered the building by crossing a goldfish pond (complete with bullrushes) and once inside were confronted with a zig-zag stairway that seemed to float in the lobby. Like McKeesport High (discussed in Tuesday's Almanac), the Municipal Building was the work of Celli-Flynn, the architecture firm then based on Shaw Avenue in the city.

"Mayor Andrew J. Jakomas took newsmen on a tour of the 66 rooms in the new building at Market Street and Lysle Boulevard, and, like most new tenants, he was proud of the city government's new quarters," the Post-Gazette noted.

. . .

Funded by a half-million-dollar bond issue, it was the first city hall McKeesport could call its own. From 1909 until 1959, city offices were located on the sixth and seventh floors of the People's Union Bank Building. Before that, municipal offices were in the National Bank of McKeesport Building --- ironically, the building currently used as city hall.

Pennsylvania Gov. David Lawrence, who attended the May 1, 1959 dedication, called the structure "a symbol of the city's rebirth." Lawrence, former mayor of Pittsburgh, also praised the city's plans to redevelop the Downtown business district, noting that the most difficult obstacle to overcome would be the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's 23 grade crossings.

It took another 10 years before B&O trains were rerouted around Downtown via Port Vue and Liberty.

. . .

On a more practical level, the building allowed the central police and fire stations to exit their 1893 building on Market Street in the First Ward. Similar in appearance to Duquesne's present city hall, that structure was demolished --- along with much of the surrounding neighborhood --- to make way for a new electric-resistance weld mill at U.S. Steel's National Works.

Like many 1950s and '60s structures of similar design, the glass walls and flat roof of the Municipal Building proved prone to leaks. And like similar buildings from the 1950s and '60s, the compact structure --- hard against Lysle Boulevard and Fourth Avenue --- is difficult to update.

. . .

When municipal offices moved to the National Bank Building in 2006, city officials discussed building a new public-safety building and demolishing the old structure.

Luckily for fans (there are a few) of the quirky building, officials decided to replace the roof, remodel the upstairs office suites, and recruited new tenants --- the Twin Rivers Council of Governments and the Regional Business Alliance.

Those two leases are expected to net the city more than $100,000 over the next five years.

Still, some people think of the building as a misfit. But consider how many of us love nostalgia and "doo-wop" music: In many ways, the Mon Valley has never quite gotten out of the 1950s.

In that case, the "old" McKeesport Municipal Building is actually the perfect symbol for the entire region.

So, a happy belated birthday to it! It's no Space Needle, but I think it's fun to look at.

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August 04, 2009 | Link to this story

School Days, School Days

Category: History, News || By

Hey, moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas, you'll be happy to know that the first day of classes for McKeesport Area schools is less than four weeks away ... Friday, Aug. 28, to be exact.

Students at Serra Catholic High School return the same day, although new and transfer students must report one day earlier --- Thursday, Aug. 27.

If your little ones go to Wilson Christian Academy in West Mifflin, their summer screeches to a halt even sooner --- Aug. 18.

Other first days of school are:

No first days have been set yet for Duquesne Village Institute of Graffiti Art in West Mifflin; Glassport Montessori School for Sullenness; the Noble J. Dick Bus Driving School in Large; or the St. Regis School for the Boisterous in Wall.

. . .

The above postcard depicts McKeesport Area High School shortly after its completion in 1961, and on a extremely sunny day.

Says the back, "Multi-million dollar campus type school consisting of six specialized buildings: Auditorium-administration, business education, physical education-health, homemaking-cafeteria, science and classroom-library buildings. The school, erected 1960-1961, accommodates 2,000 students and has an auditorium with 1,222 upholstered seats."

We learn more from a Jan. 1961 article in The Charette, the journal of the Pittsburgh Architectural Club.

According to the magazine, McKeesport Senior High School, which replaced the old "Tech High" on Cornell Avenue, was designed by Celli-Flynn Architects. Now located in Pittsburgh, Celli-Flynn was then based on Shaw Avenue in McKeesport and specialized in academic and public-use buildings.

. . .

The Charette calls the school "a uniquely designed and efficiently planned campus-type high school for cold weather country" having "all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of campus-type schools in this climate; the only extra cost involves four 40-foot connecting corridors."

With an original capacity of 1,500 students, the 172,200-square-foot complex cost almost $3.2 million. That's about $23 million in today's money.

For comparison, each of the new elementary schools currently proposed by McKeesport Area School Board are estimated to cost somewhere between $12 million and $18 million, and modern schools require millions of dollars in telecommunications cables, electrical wiring and handicapped-accessible improvements that weren't even on the drawing board in 1960.

. . .

"Among the most interesting construction features is the wide use of prefabricated glass-block curtain wall --- the largest school use to date," Charette reports. "This system is made up of two-inch-thick hollow glass tile which combines high insulation value with daylight control qualities that eliminate the necessity for shading devices. Factory-fabricated ... on-the-job installation of the system is both fast and inexpensive."

Other features included "terrazzo floors in all corridors and lobbies" and "glazed structural face tile" on the walls of corridors and stairs (which are great for making noises echo whenever students change classes).

So if you're a teacher or a student at MAHS, take time this fall to check out some of the architectural details. They may seem mundane, but they were big news and something to be proud of a half-century ago.

And if you're a student at Wilson Christian Academy, you better get in all the trouble you can for the next two weeks. The clock is ticking.

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August 03, 2009 | Link to this story

Lightning FM, Tube City Online to broadcast International Village

Category: Shameless Horn-Tooting || By P.R. Flack

"International Village" will be really "international" this year when it takes to the World Wide Web.

Lightning Community Broadcasting and Tube City Online will provide live, streaming coverage of McKeesport's 50th annual International Village, a spokesman said.

The coverage will begin daily at 3 p.m. Aug. 18, 19 and 20 and will be available online at

In addition, two small radio transmitters will provide additional coverage in the Renzie Park area on AM and FM. Visitors in the vicinity of Stephen Barry Field will be able to listen on 1640 AM and 88.9 FM using portable or car radios.

The groups received permission last week to stream the event from Village Co-Chair and City Councilman Darryl Segina and Mayor James Brewster.

An annual ethnic food and music festival that attracts tens of thousands of visitors to McKeesport's Renziehausen Park, International Village presents live entertainment from 6 to 11 p.m. nightly, with fireworks on the final night.

One of the largest ethnic festivals in Western Pennsylvania, International Village evolved from McKeesport's "Old Home Week," first held in 1960. The festival moved to Renzie a few years later.

International Village will be held this year on Aug. 18, 19 and 20.

Lightning, which merged into Tube City Online's parent organization earlier this year, will present interviews and a live feed of the entertainment on the main stage at International Village, says Jason Togyer, editor of Tube City Almanac and executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc.

The two radio transmitters in Renzie will operate under the restrictions of the Federal Communications Commission's so-called "Part 15" regulations, which allow groups to provide limited, ultra-low-power AM and FM service to restricted areas such as public parks and college campuses.

Lightning, as a subsidiary of Tube City, plans to seek one of the FCC's low-power FM licenses when applications are accepted, hopefully later this year.

If such a license is granted by the FCC, the group will operate --- either by itself or in partnership with other local organizations --- a 100-watt, non-profit, non-commercial FM transmitter to provide public service programming to the McKeesport area.

The station's goals will be to promote the McKeesport area and provide an outlet for local residents --- especially young people --- to learn about radio.

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