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Filed Under: Commentary/Editorial || By

December 31, 2009 | Link to this story

Happy New Year!

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

Cluttered items from an empty mind:

Holiday Ro-o-o-o-ad: Yes, we've been slacking off for the past two weeks. What do you expect? It's the holidays.

I had a big, long screed ready to publish a few days ago, and decided, nah.

Did you really want to read screeds about economic development or local politics? Hell, no. You wanted to eat Christmas cookies and drink egg nog.

Anyway, happy new year, and good riddance to 2009.

And don't worry, we'll have lots more screeds in 2010, and maybe even more blurry videos shot with a 20-year-old camcorder. Because that's the level of "quality" you've come to expect from Tube City Online, and by God, you're gonna get it good and hard.

. . .

TL in Town Feb. 13: In more interesting news, Terry Lee is returning to the Mon Valley for his first public appearance here in 22 years.

The longtime local radio personality (WMCK, WIXZ, WESA, WRUA, plus Channel 11 TV), entrepreneur and concert promoter will host a dance at the Palisades Ballroom on Valentine's Day weekend.

Writes Terry on his blog:

When I first came to McKeesport in early 1964, the very first dance that I did was at the Palisades.

Since I am returning to the Greater Pittsburgh area for the first time in over 22 years, many venues were suggested for my first appearance, but the Palisades has always held sentimental value to me, so that is where I will appear for the first time, on Saturday, Feb. 13 for a special Valentine's Music for Young Lovers Dance.

In the early days of 1964, one of the first people that I met when I arrived in McKeesport was Rich Antoncic. As time went by, Rich ended up working for me at some of my dances like Redd's Beach. He has been a good friend through all the years, and I have invited him to be with me on Feb. 13 at the Palisades.

In 1966, when I was operating the TL Nite Train, we would take 35mm slides of the audience and the entertainers, and the following week, we would show the slides on the walls. Pack rat that I am, I have saved all the slides, and at the Palisades that night, we are going to recreate the slide shows from the TL Nite Train.

I am looking forward to doing this dance, and hope you will join us for a night of music and memories.

Tickets are available via the Palisades' website.

. . .

Radio, Radio: On a related note, I have lately been busy tracking down people who worked at McKeesport's WEDO (810), WMCK and WIXZ (1360), Braddock's WLOA (1550), and Homestead's WHOD and WAMO (860).

"Why?" That's the question that Adam Lynch asked me. Lynch is a city native and McKeesport High School graduate who began his broadcasting career at WEDO.

Now retired, Lynch said he was suspicious of my motivations at first. Then, he said, "after talking to you for a while, I realized you were the only person in the world who would give a (expletive) about what WEDO was like in 1948."

So, the answer to Lynch's question is basically, "Why not?"

Besides Lynch, I've had very entertaining conversations with six or seven other people as well.

If you or someone you know worked at one of the Mon-Yough area's radio stations, please email me at j togyer at g mail dot com.

. . .

By the Way: Since leaving broadcasting, Lynch has had a productive second career as an aviation and military historian.

His most recent article appears in the new issue of WWII History. In it, Lynch reports the true, harrowing story of a group of naval aviators --- including John Kepchia of Westmoreland County --- taken prisoner by the Japanese on the island of New Britain.

WWII History is available at bookstores or can be ordered directly from the publisher, Sovereign Media of Herndon, Va. Make sure to ask for the January 2010 issue featuring the article "Hell on New Britain" by Adam Lynch.

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December 28, 2009 | Link to this story

How Green's Was My Valley?

Category: History || By

(It's rerun time again! After all, it's the holidays. The following originally appeared in Tube City Almanac on May 25, 2005. --- Editor)

. . .

Old photo time at Tube City Almanac! By my recollection, 2005 marked the 20th anniversary of the demolition of the old H.L. Green Co. store at the corner of Fifth and Walnut in Downtown Our Fair City.

Green's was a chain of variety stores --- five-and-10s --- much in the manner of G.C. Murphy Co. or F.W. Woolworth Co. Founded by former auto company executive Harold L. Green, it arrived on the dime-store scene fairly late --- 1932. (Most of its competitors had roots that went back to the 19th century.)

Green's, therefore, was never one of the largest variety store companies, but it was very successful and profitable for a number of years, and it grew quickly by absorbing a number of other chains.

. . .

This made the demise of the H.L. Green Co. name all the more ironic. Green's, through a subsidiary, acquired a large share of stock in two of its competitors --- McCrory Stores and McClellan Stores.

Through a complicated series of stock swaps, all three chains wound up merging, but the McCrory Stores gained control of the operation. But Green's executives continued to rise to positions of prominence in the new organization, which for a short time was known as "McCrory-McLellan-Green." Indeed, one of the last presidents of McCrory Stores was a former H.L. Green store manager J. Philip Lux.

Besides being a leading executive in the retail business for many years, Lux was also a minor footnote to major American history; he was the manager of the Green's store in Dallas, Texas, in 1964, and was subpoenaed to testify before the Warren Commission that his store had not sold Lee Harvey Oswald the rifle used to shoot President Kennedy.

(Of note to McKeesporters: Lux also was the man who years later engineered the purchase of the G.C. Murphy Co. five-and-10s from Ames Department Stores in 1989, which led to the final closing of the Murphy office in Our Fair City.)

. . .

In any event, I don't have any idea when H.L. Green opened its first store in Our Fair City, but I've seen reference to an earlier "Metropolitan Store" being located Downtown, which was one of the chains that Green's purchased.

In the mid-1940s, the Green's store burned down. Green's then cleared several buildings on the north side of the 200 block of Fifth Avenue for one of the company's largest stores. It opened in 1949. (These photos are from a 1950 feature in the magazine Chain Store Age.)

The corner entrance was (naturally) at the corner of Fifth and Walnut. The long side of the store, with the display windows, was along Fifth Avenue, Our Fair City's main commercial thoroughfare for many years. At the time the store opened, the other corners would have been occupied by People's Union Bank, the then-closed White's Opera House, and First National Bank of McKeesport.

White's was torn down in the mid-1950s to make way for Cox's, which was itself torn down 40 years later.

. . .

Green's closed their McKeesport store in the early 1980s, and the property was sold and the relatively-new building was torn down so the lot could be used as a Sheetz convenience store. Sheetz didn't last long, selling the store to Belle Vernon's Guttman Oil Co. for use as a "CrossRoads" convenience store, which was transformed into a "GetGo" a few years ago. But when it first opened, many people considered Green's to be a nicer store inside than the G.C. Murphy store and the F.W. Woolworth in the next block!

Of course, I may be biased; my maternal grandmother was a longtime sales girl, assistant manager and floorwalker at H.L. Green's, retiring a short time before the store closed.

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December 25, 2009 | Link to this story

Christmas Surprise!

Category: General Nonsense || By

Here's hoping you get the jump on everything you're waiting for over the holidays.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Tube City Online!

Tube City Community Media Inc.
Jason Togyer, executive director
Alycia Bencloski, Secretary
Daniel C. Malesky, treasurer

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December 21, 2009 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted: Development Notes, MSO on the Air

Category: News || By Staff and Wire Reports

Construction continues on a new 8,400-square-foot office building in the 500 block of Fifth Avenue, Downtown.

The developer is Lawrenceville-based JRA Development Inc., and the primary tenant will be the McKeesport Office of the Social Security Administration. The new building is valued at $2.5 million.

When complete, the building will be fully taxable. While the existing Social Security office located nearby will be vacated, city officials say it has attracted interest from at least one potential tenant.

In a related story, Mayor James Brewster says the city is actively marketing the building soon to be vacated by Dish Network at the RIDC Industrial Center of McKeesport.

"We have been working with RIDC, and we have three or four other businesses interested," Brewster says. The potential tenants have asked not to be identified.

Colorado-based Dish Network has announced plans to close its McKeesport call center in March. About 600 people are expected to lose their jobs.

The pending construction of a flyover ramp into the industrial park at the foot of Coursin Street will enhance the marketability of the location, Brewster says. The ramp will allow tenants to enter the industrial park without being stopped at the railroad crossings on Huey and Center streets.

Construction of the $14 million flyover ramp, expected to begin next year, will include about $6 million from the federal "stimulus" package approved earlier this year.

. . .

Symphony on the Air: McKeesport Symphony Orchestra's 2009 holiday concert will be broadcast over Carnegie Mellon University's radio station on Christmas Eve.

The broadcast begins at 3 p.m. Thursday on WRCT-FM (88.3) and will also be streamed online at

Sunday's concert at McKeesport Area High School featured soprano Alice Heatherington and the McKeesport Area Community Chorus under the direction of Kevin King. Selections included parts of Bach's Christmas Oratorio and Handel's Messiah, and medleys of traditional and popular holiday music.

The broadcast is a joint production of WRCT and Tube City Community Media Inc., parent organization of Tube City Almanac.
. . .

Consortium Posts Grants: The Consortium for Public Education has awarded 12 Mon-Yough school districts and two career and technology centers more than $32,000 in grants toward programs in science education, literacy and environmental projects.

The largest grant --- $4,791.50 --- goes to Clairton Elementary School for creation of a program to encourage parents and guardians to read with their children in kindergarten through sixth grade. More than 300 students will participate.

Charleroi Area Middle School receives the second largest grant of $4,650 to expand an outdoor classroom through construction of a greenhouse. Students will be able to start plants from seeds and experiment with hybridization and cross pollination.

The greenhouse is one of six environmental projects being funded this year by the city-based consortium, a spokeswoman says. Others grants will help Clairton Elementary School students study the weather; support students at Elizabeth Forward High School in recycling, gardening and Adopt-A-Highway projects; fund student research at McKeesport Area High School into bacteria; create a science lab at Steel Valley School District's Barrett Elementary School; and begin a science book discussion group at West Mifflin Area High School.

A complete list of projects is available at the Consortium for Public Education's website.

. . .

Food Bank Makes Last-Minute Pitch: Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne is making a last-minute pitch for holiday-themed contributions.

If donor make a gift to the food bank in honor of someone else, a spokeswoman says, the food bank will send the honoree an eCard recognizing the donation. More information is on the food bank's website.

Other holiday gifts that benefit the food bank include coffee mugs, travel mugs and etched-glass decorative plates.

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December 19, 2009 | Link to this story

To Do This Weekend

Category: Events || By

Soul Christmas Sunday: Bonedog Records presents Billy Price's Soul Christmas at the Palisades Ballroom, Fifth Avenue at Water Street, Downtown, at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Admission is $15. For more information, call (412) 678-3955.

Also, reservations are now being taken for the New Year's Eve gala at the Palisades featuring DJs Rich Antonic and "Germany."

The bar will be open all evening with traditional New Year's Eve foods, prizes, giveaways and a champagne toast at midnight. Guests will see the ball drop on the Palisades' eight-foot-tall TV screen.

Tickets cost $45 and only 300 will be sold. Tables for parties of eight or more are also available. Call (412) 672-2001 or (412) 370-2971 for more information.

. . .

Symphony Holiday Concert: McKeesport Symphony Pops presents its 2009 holiday concert, "Bells Are Ringing," at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the auditorium of McKeesport Area High School, 1960 Eden Park Blvd.

Soprano Alice Heatherington is back to help the MSP celebrate and the McKeesport Area Community Chorus will perform and lead the traditional audience sing-along under the direction of Kevin King.

Families are welcome for a program that will include Christmas carols and other traditional holiday tunes.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for senior citizens, or $8 for students. Call (412) 664-2854 or visit the MSP website.

. . .

Last Weekend for 'Seussical': McKeesport Little Theater Juniors closes its performance of "Seussical: The Musical" with a matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday.

A musical based on the works of Theodore "Dr. Seuss" Geisel, "Seussical" was written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Tickets are $12 for adults and $7 for students.

The theater is located at 1614 Coursin St., near Carnegie Library of McKeesport. Call (412) 673-1100 or visit the MLT website.

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December 18, 2009 | Link to this story

Professor Paints Pictures With Twitter Posts

Category: News || By

A meditation on race produces a pleasant multi-colored swirl of dots and dashes. An apparent denunciation of capitalism makes long red and green streaks. And a string of "R's" makes a hypnotic set of circles.

Local artist Lori Hepner is turning posts on Twitter into a colorful kaleidoscope while encouraging people to reconsider the picture they're creating of themselves when they post personal messages on social networking sites, including Facebook, Myspace and, of course, Twitter. She's calling the project "Status Symbols."

"The Internet is really making a portrait of people whether they think about it or not," says Hepner, a professor of integrative arts at Penn State's Greater Allegheny Campus in McKeesport for the past three years.

. . .

Hepner was commissioned by the Brooklyn Museum in New York to produce a series of works of art throughout the month of December for subscribers to the museum's Twitter account, 1stFans.

Twitter posts are limited to just 140 characters, so Hepner asked followers to describe themselves within that space. She's feeding their responses into a computer program that converts them into pulses on string of red, green and blue light-emitting diodes, which are mounted to a spinning platform.

Hepner then takes time-exposure photographs of the spinning LEDs and posts links to the pictures back to the Twitter feed, allowing the users to see the patterns created by the computer.

The abstract patterns could be seen to represent the fractured portrait that users create by "tweeting" their inner-most thoughts to both friends and strangers alike.

. . .

Hepner has posed several questions --- her most recent asked the Twitter subscribers to "tell me how you see yourself next year" --- and says the answers have ranged from "pretty thoughtful to 'in the moment.'"

"Sometimes there's a day or two lag time before they respond with what they want to write," she says. "But one person just sent back a string of 'RRRRRs.' It made for a very interesting photograph. I'm OK with whatever people are writing to me."

Hepner, a Carrick native, created the LED controller with help from HackPittsburgh, a non-profit group of artists, engineers and other technologists who meet to exchange ideas and skills for craft projects. It's programmed using an ordinary personal computer running the free Arduino software.

. . .

Despite the electronic nature of the material that Hepner's using to "paint" her pictures, the final product is decidedly low-tech --- she shoots her photos using conventional color-print film because she says it provides a richer, more colorful picture than a digital camera could produce.

She takes two versions of each picture --- one through a soft-focus diffuser, the other a sharper, focused photo. For now, the pictures can only be seen by members of the Brooklyn Museum, but at the end of the month Hepner can begin exhibiting them to the public.

Hepner, who teaches photography and video imaging classes at Penn State's city campus, says the month-long experiment is a form of performance art.

"There have been other experiments in 'crowd-sourced' art, but I wanted to try this because I'm trying to get people to really think about themselves, and how they put themselves out there on the Internet," she says.

. . .

A graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology and the Rhode Island School of Design, Hepner's photographs have been shown around the country and locally at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Silver Eye Center for Photography and the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

She's looking to expand this idea into a larger-scale installation that can be shown to the public.

"I've considered using these portraits to create wall-size works, and I've been playing with the idea of using the geo-tagging feature of Twitter to maybe make map-like drawings," Hepner says.

. . .

Right now, she's enjoying both the patterns that the computer generates from the Twitter posts, and the joy of discovering what develops --- quite literally --- when her prints are complete.

"I like that I don't really know what it's going to look like until it gets put on film," Hepner says. "I never really know what I'm going to get."

. . .

Samples of Hepner's work and a schedule of her upcoming gallery shows can be found at her website.

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December 17, 2009 | Link to this story

From the Archives: Visit to Santa, 1963

Category: History || By

(This article originally appeared in Tube City Almanac on Dec. 22, 2008.)

Longtime friend, mentor and Alert Reader Clarke emailed me over the weekend. He's addicted to Turner Classic Movies --- and when it comes to addictions, that's not a bad one to have.

If you ever watch TCM, you know that between the features, the network fills time with "short subjects" such as newsreels, "trailers," and advertising and public domain films.

"So I'm sitting here watching a short film on TCM, entitled 'A Visit to Santa (1963),'" Clarke writes. "I wasn't paying much attention until I noticed Santa was on the Gateway Clipper. A few minutes later, he's on a Christmas float going past the Penn-McKee."

Sweet baby you-know-who in a manger. He hit the motherlode. A quick dash around the Internet tubes turned up a copy at the Internet Archive, where you can download your very own copy of "A Visit to Santa."

. . .

It's almost all shot in Downtown McKeesport (except for a brief side trip to Olympia Shopping Center) with plenty of footage of what must have been the 1962 "Salute to Santa" parade.

A quick search found several websites that discussed "A Visit to Santa," and most people called it one of the worst films they've ever seen. ("What the holy hell is this crap?" is one of the kinder comments at Internet Archive, which describes the film as "grueling.")

As a work of art, it's definitely lacking something. Produced by Pittsburgh's Clem Williams Films, the 11-minute short follows two young children (called "Dick and Ann," because "Jane" was copyrighted) as they fly in a "magic helicopter" to the North Pole to visit Santa's workshop ... which turns out to look an awful lot like the toy department inside The Famous at the corner of Fifth and Market.

(At least I think it's the Famous. It's not Murphy's or Green's, and Cox's didn't have wooden floors or old fashioned wooden columns like the store in the film.)

The pace is glacial, the music (Christmas carols played on a chord organ) is insipid, and the narration is one step below story hour at the library.

But boy, check out some of the scenery!

I'm not sure where these shots were taken. It looks to me like it might be the old Point Park in Pittsburgh before the Manchester and Point bridges were torn down, but I wouldn't want to bet on it.

"Every year just before Thanksgiving, he starts the merry yuletide by visiting towns and cities all around the world," the narrator says. "He makes his jolly trip in many different ways. He arrives by riverboat and finds many new friends along the way."

(I must have missed the verse of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" when Santa needs to take a tugboat down the Monongahela, but I digress. We come not to bury "A Visit to Santa," but to spot the landmarks.)

That's the intersection of Fifth and Market, Downtown. The awning of Kadar's Men's Store is visible to the left, while in the background you can see the old Market Street School (soon to become part of CCAC South Campus), the Elks Temple and the Famous. (All of those buildings burned down in the 1976 fire. The space where the Famous was is currently occupied by the NSOF social hall.)

"In many towns, the marching bands step out and step lively to the merry Christmas tunes," the narrator says.

Says the narrator: "Now, isn't that nice? They even have a big mail box to help Santa collect his letters from the boys and girls!"

That's Market Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues. On the left is Hunter-Edmundson-Striffler Funeral Home. Directly behind the parade float is Market Street School, the Elks Temple (notice the "WMCK" sign hanging out front?) and the Famous.

"The little elves parade, too!" More shots of Market Street. The second view is taken from the corner of Sixth and Market, looking toward the Monongahela River. That's Immanuel United Presbyterian Church on the right.

Between the church and Fifth Avenue you can see a Western Union office, a loan agency (Beneficial Finance, maybe? HFC was in the Peoples Union Bank) and the Market Street exit of the Memorial Theater.

Notice what you don't see in the background --- U.S. Steel hadn't yet begun construction of its electric-resistance weld mill (the present Camp-Hill Corp. plant at the foot of Market Street), but slum clearance had already removed most of the old "First Ward."

At left, the corner of The Famous, and just visible are Ohringer's Furniture and the top of the old Stone's Furniture Store ("Try Stone's for Soft Beds").

In the 1960s, Stone's was occupied by Wander Sales and was used as a warehouse for Schulhof's Tires; I'm pretty sure the building was struck by lightning and burned circa 1963. (The lot is now the site of the state liquor store, check-cashing outlet, Family Dollar and Sherwin-Williams.)

(Incidentally, several people emailed me to say that this year's Salute to Santa parade was nice, but too long. I don't know about that, but I know that this parade seems much longer.)

"With all of the big new shopping centers opening, Santa has to use his new rocket to get around," the narrator says, "but he still uses his reindeer on Christmas eve."

(I'm glad he clarified that, because the thought of an ICBM streaking toward my house on Dec. 24 would make visions of Weird Al Yankovic dance in my head.)

That's Olympia Shopping Center, which was two years old in 1962 (if that's when these shots were filmed). Thrift Drugs --- whose successor, Rite Aid, just recently vacated its longtime corner location --- is visible in the background.

"For Dick and Ann, their visit is almost over, but Santa's saved his pride and joy 'til last," the narrator says, "they'll take his rocket to the super Toy Town trains!" (If Toy Town has a rocket, why does it need trains?)

The Famous burned when I was two years old, but I suspect that's the basement. None of McKeesport's other department stores would have looked like that, except maybe Hirshberg's and Helmstatder's. But I don't think Hirshberg's sold many toys, and I don't think Helmstatder's ever used its basement as a salesfloor.

Ditto for these scenes --- if they were shot in McKeesport, then I suspect they were shot at The Famous, because I don't think any of the other department stores had those high ceilings and wooden floors, nor would they have had the space to dedicate this much room to toys.

That's some stereotypical late 1950s department store scene, though. You can almost envision Jack Benny being confronted by an unctuous floorwalker (played by Frank Nelson).

. . .

And that's about it, except for the moral, delivered by the jolly old elf himself: "Always remember, the entire Christmas celebration commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, hundreds of years ago."

Why was this film made? Who knows? According to a newspaper obituary I found in an online database, Clem Williams died in 2003 in Seminole, Fla., so I can't ask him.

Clem Williams Films was founded sometime before 1945 (the earliest reference I can find) and lasted until at least the mid-1980s. A check of various library databases indicates that the company rented cartoons, popular movies and industrial films to high schools and colleges, but was probably best known for distributing highlight films from the Steelers, Pirates and other sports teams and was located at 2240 Noblestown Road until 1985. The building is now a church called Calvary Chapel.

If I had to make a guess, I'll bet this was designed to be shown at elementary schools to very small children who might be afraid of Santa.

(Every Catholic school kid of a certain age can remember the dreaded "movie day," usually right before the Christmas break, when everyone traipsed down to the cafeteria or gymnasium to watch a scratchy 16-mm film. My friend Steve called them "Scotch tape capers" because so many of the prints broke and had to be patched with you-know-what.)

. . .

This certainly isn't Clem Williams' best work (some Internet critics call it, unkindly, "the worst Christmas film ever produced"), and it sure doesn't hold much interest for anyone who isn't from McKeesport.

But for McKeesporters of a certain age, it's a sure-fire Academy Award-winner, and we can thank Mr. Williams for preserving --- albeit inadvertently --- some great shots of Our Fair City during the holidays!

. . .

(Watch "A Visit to Santa" in all of its grainy glory here. And if you spot yourself in the crowd scenes, post the information in the comments section.)

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December 16, 2009 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted: Red Kettles Down, PennDOT Slates Work

Category: News || By Staff and Wire Reports

Kettle Collection Down Again: Salvation Army kettles in the Mon Valley are once again falling behind target numbers, according to church officials.

Kettles benefiting the Salvation Army units in the city, Braddock and Homestead are all down by 10 percent from last year --- which itself was a down year for collections.

In all, more than half of the 40 worship and service centers in the Salvation Army's Western Pennsylvania Division are behind their 2008 collections, says spokeswoman Ginny Knor. This year's goal for the 28-county division is $2.5 million; the Allegheny County goal is almost $800,000.

Donations collected in Salvation Army kettles by the McKeesport Corps support after-school programs, an emergency food bank, heating assistance and other programs, a spokesperson said.

Besides the city, the McKeesport Corps also serves Glassport, Liberty, Lincoln, Port Vue, North and South Versailles townships, Versailles, White Oak, and parts of Elizabeth and Forward townships.

Besides depositing donations in the Salvation Army's kettles, contributions to the McKeesport Corps' Red Kettle Campaign can be mailed to 821 Walnut St., McKeesport 15132. Donations can also be made at

"We welcome any groups with unique fundraising ideas to partner with us," says Major Robert Reel, divisional commander of the Salvation Army. "Creativity is key at this point."

Donations for the Braddock Corps should be sent to Salvation Army, 300 Holland Ave., Braddock 15104; while the Steel Valley Corps can be reached at 104 E. Ninth Ave., Homestead 15120.

. . .

Forward Supe Subpoenas Website: A Forward Township supervisor has subpoenaed the operator of the website, demanding the identities of people posting in a discussion forum.

Supervisor Tom DeRosa is upset over a discussion thread from October and November that accused him of corruption and hiring relatives to work on the township's payroll, according to Eric Slagle in the Daily News.

DeRosa is demanding the IP addresses --- the number identifying an individual computer's connection on the Internet --- of at least three particular posters who made critical comments about him during the last week of October.

The thread has now been locked. Although federal law in most cases protects website owners from libel suits related to comments posted on their pages, posters can be targeted individually.

Website owner Richard Rattanni has posted copies of the subpoena online and urged the anonymous posters to call him personally or contact Sara Rose, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union in Pittsburgh.

Rattanni's network of websites includes individual pages and discussion boards for communities in the mid-Mon Valley, including Elizabeth and Lincoln boroughs, Elizabeth and Forward townships and the City of Monongahela.

. . .

Lincoln Way Closures Posted: Engineering work for the proposed widening of Lincoln Way through White Oak is causing periodic delays and traffic restrictions.

PennDOT District 11 spokesman Jim Struzzi says that restrictions will occur periodically on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., weather permitting, through Dec. 31. Engineering crews are taking samples under the surface of the road in preparation for the planned improvements between Route 48 and State Street.

Flag crews will be on duty, Struzzi says, but motorists should expect delays and changes to traffic patterns from time to time for the remainder of the month.

. . .

Single Lane on Westinghouse Bridge: Meanwhile, eastbound traffic over the Westinghouse Bridge in North Versailles Township is down to a single lane this week.

Crews are repairing bridge pylons, requiring the right, eastbound lane to close. The work should be complete by Friday, Struzzi says.

Approximately 24,000 vehicles daily use the Westinghouse Bridge, which was last rehabilitated in 1983. The 1,500-foot, four-lane bridge built in 1931 is one of many statewide that were rated "structurally deficient," Struzzi says.

The work is part of a $3.9 million project that includes concrete repairs and replacement, painting, weatherization and other improvements to the busy span that carries Route 30 over the Turtle Creek valley. General contractor on the project is Mosites Construction; work will continue through September 2010.

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December 14, 2009 | Link to this story


Category: Announcements || By

Since last week's announcement, a couple of people have called or emailed to ask questions, mainly: "Are you serious?"

Hell yes, I'm serious. We intend to pay freelance reporters for covering events in and around McKeesport. Ads will also be placed on Craiglist and elsewhere.

The other questions have been:

  • Why? Well, because as a member of the National Writers' Union, I don't think people should write for free.

    But on a less altruistic level, I think people will do better work if they're paid instead of volunteering.

  • How much? Crummy, frankly --- on the order of $25 per piece, maybe $50 for an article that requires more work. It's a pittance. We don't have any more money than that.

  • Where are you getting the money? Some meager advertising revenues and click referrals have generated between $400 and $500 over the past year. Obviously, that's not going to last long, but it's a start.

    In January, we will also begin an ongoing fund drive. We have about 2,100 regular readers; if each kicked in 50 cents, we'd have no problem raising $1,000. With the help of our treasurer, I'll also do a financial report so anyone who wants to donate can see where the money came from in 2009, and where it went; we've got nothing to hide.

  • Why would anyone give you money? On my desk is a partly completed application for tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. If it's approved sometime in 2010, contributions will become tax deductible. Also, we accept banner advertising at very reasonable rates (however, advertising is not tax-deductible as a charitable contribution).

  • Are you trying to compete with the Daily News? Certainly not. I think I have a pretty good relationship with the Daily News. And frankly, they can blow us into the weeds on any given day.

    But I've also noticed that if three people (myself, the News and the P-G) all attend the same event, we often come away with three completely different stories. I think those kinds of different perspectives are needed, and I don't see any thing else stepping in to fill the void.

Finally, someone (Alert Reader Officer Jim) wants to know: "Dude, Twitter? Really? What's that about?" We're just trying to reach the yoot market, dude.

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December 10, 2009 | Link to this story

We Want You

Category: Announcements || By

There's a hell of a lot of "writing" on the Internet, but there's not much "reporting."

"Writing" just requires having an opinion, and it doesn't have to be informed by facts. "Reporting" requires you to actually put on shoes and leave the house (or at least pick up a phone) and talk to people.

Sometimes, that's not fun. For instance, I could have had tickets to the Duquesne-Pitt men's basketball game last week --- a game where the Dukes almost upset the Panthers for the first time since the pope was an altar boy.

Instead, I got to cover city council and the Festival of Trees. I listened to the game go into double overtime sitting in the car, in the rain in Renziehausen Park.

. . .

But it's also rewarding, especially if you're a nebby person, because being a reporter (much like being a cop) gives you permission to butt into other people's business.

Everyone has a story to tell. Some of them are dumb, sure, but a lot of them are inspiring or sad or infuriating or just plain interesting.

And there are a lot of good stories in the McKeesport area --- many of them going untold.

For starters, name another city of McKeesport's size that has its own library system, symphony orchestra, community park, marina, public and Catholic high schools, and a branch campus of a Big Ten research university. It doesn't exist.

. . .

Now, maybe I've been drinking Mayor Jim Brewster's Kool-Aid (and some people have accused me of that) but I felt this way long before he was elected to office. The whole purpose of founding Tube City Online back in 1995 was to present an alternative viewpoint of the McKeesport area and counteract some of the negativity on the Internet and in the news media.

Unfortunately, the need is only becoming greater all the time. Based on some of the things written about McKeesporters, you'd think we were all stupid, violent, lazy, burned-out reprobates and drug fiends (when in my case, that's mostly untrue).

It's had an effect. I was somewhere recently when someone told me their child had graduated from McKeesport schools and gone onto a major, well-respected university. "Of course, that doesn't happen any more," she said.

"I went to school in McKeesport," I said, "and I went to a major, well-respected university." She looked at me like I had just grown another head.

. . .

If you live or work in McKeesport, Port Vue, Liberty, White Oak, Dravosburg, as well as North Versailles and West Mifflin, things like that ought to make you mad.

It's driving down the value of your home or business and it's turning you into a second-class citizen.

You can pout and be ashamed that you're from the McKeesport area, or you can help do something about it. And you might make a few bucks in the process.

. . .

Starting in January 2010, Tube City Community Media Inc. (the non-profit corporation that now holds Tube City Online) will be actively looking for freelance reporters.

You do not have to be from McKeesport or the neighboring communities! But you do need a legitimate interest in writing about this fascinating, frustrating community and its history.

We also will be paying for work, because we're filthy capitalist pigs. No, it won't be very much (see the "filthy capitalist" part), but it will be something, depending on how much money we can raise from advertising and donations.

And don't worry, we will tell you up-front, in writing, how much we'll pay for each story before you start working.

Prior writing experience is useful --- but this is also a good opportunity to get some experience. The most important qualities needed are dependability, accuracy and honesty.

There are some restrictions --- people who want to run for public office are going to be ruled out, for instance --- but we'll handle them on a case-by-case basis.
. . .

Here are the things we want to cover in the coming year. Ultimately we'd like one or two reliable people to focus on each of these areas, writing one or two stories every month.

Again, you don't have to be a great writer. I can help you with that. But you do have to be accurate, honest and reliable, and interested in one of the following areas:

  • Education (at minimum, the writer should plan to attend McKeesport Area school board meetings, but more importantly, we want profiles of teachers, students and projects they're working on at all city schools and Penn State)

  • Arts and Culture (review and preview McKeesport Little Theater shows, McKeesport Symphony Pops, concerts at the Palisades and Renziehausen Park, and any other appropriate live entertainment)

  • Businesses (new businesses, restaurant reviews, profiles of existing businesses)

  • Sports and Recreation (focus on sports not usually covered by the newspapers, TV and radio, including school teams and "sandlot" games)

So, do you want to do something to help your community, put a couple of bucks in your pocket and get to neb-nose into other people's business?

Then fill out the application and email it to me.

We may fall on our faces, but if we all don't pull together and try this, who else will?

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December 09, 2009 | Link to this story

Another Twit on Twitter

Category: Shameless Horn-Tooting || By Our Half-Vast Staff

Because you just can't get enough breaking news from Our Fair City, including the editor's "stream of unconsciousness," Tube City Online is now on Twitter.

Follow all of the "thrilling" action at

(You know what this means, don't you --- this fad is well and truly dead.)

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December 08, 2009 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted

Category: News || By Almanac Staff

Tedesco Takes Oath: Above, newly appointed city police Chief Al Tedesco accepts congratulations from Mayor Jim Brewster following his swearing-in at last week's council meeting. Tedesco replaces Chief Joe Pero, who retired in November after 20 years' service.

Brewster says that Tedesco --- who was serving as assistant police chief, and who also plans to retire shortly --- has agreed to accept the position temporarily as the city searches for a new police chief.

"Joe's accomplishments are well-documented, and Al was a big contributor to those accomplishments," the mayor said. "I feel very confident that we'll move on without skipping a beat."

Both Pero and Tedesco have promised to make themselves available to the new police chief to aid the transition, Brewster said.

. . .

Palisades Report Released: City officials released to the Almanac, Daily News and Post-Gazette a memo from the Redevelopment Authority of the City of McKeesport summarizing year-to-date expenses and revenues for the Palisades Ballroom.

The report (PDF, 430KB) shows the facility --- owned by the Redevelopment Authority but operated by a separate non-profit corporation --- generating $54,000 in income versus $58,000 in expenses through September.

An accompanying note from Robert Callen, authority chairman, notes that the Palisades should "break even or have a surplus" by the end of the year: "I see no city subsidy toward its operations in 2010."

City council last week called for an audited financial statement before a proposed 2010 subsidy of $36,000 is released to the Palisades; Callen's memo to the city, dated Nov. 12, notes that $24,000 of this year's subsidy had not yet been disbursed.

(Editor's Note: The low resolution of the PDF is the editor's fault, not the city's.)

. . .

Brunch with 'Cat': McKeesport Little Theater will hold a "green eggs and ham" brunch with "The Cat in the Hat" before this Sunday's matinee of "Seussical: The Musical."

Reservations are required and must be made before Thursday. The menu consists of scrambled eggs (green tint is optional), ham, muffins, juice, coffee and cookies, and the cost is $10 per person, plus tickets for the show.

Call (412) 673-1100 or visit the MLT website.

. . .

Rothermel to Deliver Commencement Address: The chief executive officer of the region's largest food bank will deliver next week's fall commencement address at Penn State's campus in McKeesport.

Joyce Rothermel, who helped found the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in 1980, is a graduate of St. John's College in Cleveland and the University of Dayton. Before helping to launch the food bank, now located in Duquesne, Rothermel was an elementary school teacher and associate director of the Thomas Merton Center's Ministry for Justice and Peace in Pittsburgh.

She currently serves as chair of the government relations committee of the Pennsylvania Association of Regional Food Banks and in leadership roles in other national and regional non-profit organizations. Last year, Rothermel was awarded the Frieda Shapira Medal for excellence in non-profit leadership by the Forbes Funds and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.

Greater Allegheny Campus' commencement ceremony for fall 2009 graduates is slated for 7 p.m. Dec. 17 in the Wunderley Gymnasium.

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December 07, 2009 | Link to this story

Mayor: City Must Continue Marketing, Makeover Efforts

Category: News || By

Despite ongoing challenges to the city's long-term financial health, Mayor James Brewster said there's more good news than bad news in the 2010 budget.

"Never in my 27 years in the banking business have I faced the challenges that we faced in the past year," said Brewster, a former vice president of operations at Mellon Bank. "Who would have thought that we would be hit with one the worst financial crises in the country's history in 2008? Every major business --- banks, airlines, insurance companies, auto manufacturers --- was shaken."

On top of the recession, the mayor said, the city has continued to serve one of Allegheny County's poorest and oldest populations, yet has avoided state-controlled Act 47 "distressed" status.

Brewster chalked that accomplishment up to "the help of the Lord" and "good business management" by city employees.

The pending loss of 600 jobs at Dish Network's call center is a blow the city anticipated, the mayor said, adding that "three or four" businesses have expressed interest in taking the company's place in the RIDC industrial park on the former National Works site.

"Businesses are going to come and go, just like people come and go," Brewster said. The city's focus should be on encouraging small business development, he said, ranging from "someone working out of their home" to a company such as Huckenstein Mechanical Services, which moved into McKeesport in 2005, bringing 125 jobs.

In the past five years, Brewster said, 150 new businesses have located in the city, though he noted that some had only a few employees.

In addition, the mayor said, the city will continue to focus on "quality of life" projects, such as the extension of Marshall Drive now underway and next year's planned reconstruction of Fifth Avenue, Downtown, and West Fifth Avenue in the 10th Ward. Those projects are largely funded by state and federal grants.

"When people say, 'Well, what does Fifth Avenue mean to me?' or 'What does (Marshall Drive) mean to me?' they're right," said Brewster, which is why the city will "aggressively" continue demolishing abandoned houses in all 12 wards.

"The good old days that we think of today are gone," he said. "We have to learn to accept the cultural changes that have occurred."

With luck, the mayor said, someone 50 years from now might remember the bike trail, Renziehausen Park or other city landmarks as part of their "good old days."

Brewster said he would have more to say in his second "state of the city" address, to be delivered to the public in February.

The largest single expenditure in the $19 million budget is nearly $4.5 million for the city's 60-person police department, which includes 10 detectives, 24 full-time patrol officers and part-time police. The next largest expenditure --- after payments on bonds and the annual tax-anticipation note --- is $2.4 million for the fire department.

Salaries for the mayor, councilors, solicitor and other city administrators tote up another $1.2 million, while property maintenance costs $1.1 million.

The city's biggest source of revenue --- accounting for $3.9 million --- is earned-income taxes, while property tax income amounts to a little more than $2.4 million.

McKeesport collects 1.2 percent earned-income tax and property taxes of 4.26 mills on buildings and 16.5 mills on land.

Unlike newer suburbs, the city cannot rely on new residential construction (Brewster called them "dream houses") to boost its revenues.

Instead, he said, McKeesport must continue seeking new revenue streams, which will include attempting to market the drilling rights for natural gas trapped in Marcellus shale under city-owned property, and continuing to offer services such as police protection to neighboring communities who request it.

But Brewster contrasted the city's present condition, in which it expects to complete 2009 with a small surplus, with its condition in 2004, when it faced a $1.5 million deficit and had pension plans that were underfunded by $4 million.

"Not another community can keep up with your city for the projects we're doing, pound for pound," he said.

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December 03, 2009 | Link to this story

Festival of Trees Underway in Renzie

Category: Events || By Almanac Staff

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Renziehausen Park, where the city's 24th annual Festival of Trees is now underway.

More than 60 trees are on display at Jacob Wall Pavilion, located just inside the University Drive entrance, representing groups, businesses and individuals from the McKeesport area.

Admission is $2 for adults, while children under 12 are admitted free if they bring a canned good for a needy family. The event runs 12 to 9 p.m. daily through Monday night.

Children may also have their photos taken with Santa (bring your own camera) daily from 12 to 4 and 5:30 to 9 p.m. Refreshments will be provided by the McKeesport High School Alumni and Friends Association, while the Semper Fidelis Club will hold a bake sale.

Live entertainment will be provided every day, including:
  • Friday: McKeesport High School Orchestra, 1:15 p.m.; St. Angela Merici School Ensemble, 7 p.m.

  • Sunday: Mikey Dee Band, 2:30 p.m., Chalice, 3:30 p.m., Northside Urban Pathways Sounds of Steel, 5 p.m., St. Agnes School, 7 p.m.

  • Monday: Brownie Troop No. 50161, 6 p.m.; Blotzer Music Studio, 7 p.m.; Penn-Sembles Adult Tamburitzans, 8 p.m.

Throughout the Festival of Trees, the McKeesport Heritage Center will be open with holiday displays from 12 to 8 p.m. daily. Activities at the Heritage Center include a train layout, holiday gift basket raffle, a free raffle for children and an ornament-making station, free popcorn and items for sale.

In addition, the Garden Club of McKeesport will open its clubhouse daily from 12 to 8 p.m. to sell fresh holiday wreaths and other handmade gifts and crafts. Baked goods and items for children will also be available.

"Sleigh" rides through Renzie will be provided by the city's public works department from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday and Monday and 12 to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

A list of tree entries is available after the jump.


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December 02, 2009 | Link to this story

Council OK's Budget, But Ties String to Palisades Subsidy

Category: News || By

A $36,000 subsidy toward next year's operation of the Palisades Ballroom will be withheld until the non-profit board that runs the landmark dance hall provides an audited statement of its finances.

Furthermore, several council members are angry over rumors that the Redevelopment Authority of the City of McKeesport wants to sell the Palisades after the city has invested more than a million dollars in community development money towards the building's improvement.

If neither the Redevelopment Authority or the non-profit corporation that runs the Palisades can provide audited financial reports, said Councilman Darryl Segina at Wednesday night's meeting, "then why are they requesting any money from this council?"

A one-page summary emailed to city council by the Palisades before the meeting was not adequate, he said.

"I've been involved in events at the Palisades, and I know how important it is to the city," Segina added, "but there is such a thing as accountability. We have asked for three years for these reports and have not gotten them."

. . .

A sometimes-testy argument over the future of the Palisades and the adjoining McKees Point Marina caused some sparks at an otherwise routine city council meeting.

Both the marina and Palisades are legally owned by the Redevelopment Authority; the marina is operated by the city and its finances are audited annually.

Council as expected passed the 2010 budget on a 6-0 vote; outgoing Councilman Paul Shelly Jr. was absent.

The budget reduces spending by about $1 million and includes no tax increases, but is being balanced with the help of an expected $720,000 "host fee" payment from the city's sewerage authority.

. . .

City officials expect to end 2009 with between $250,000 and $500,000 in a reserve fund, and will be able to make a $658,000 payment into McKeesport's municipal pension fund before Dec. 31 to avoid late fees and penalties, City Administrator Dennis Pittman said.

But the budget includes a caveat --- on Segina's suggestion, $36,000 of a proposed $48,000 subsidy toward the Palisades will be withheld pending a detailed statement about the ballroom's operations from the non-profit McKees Point Palisades Performing Arts Corp.

"The taxpayers have a right to know," Segina said. The summary sent to council on Wednesday, for instance, shows the Palisades breaking even or making a small profit, he said, but doesn't indicate where the city's subsidy was spent.

If the $36,000 isn't reflected in that statement, he said, then the Palisades is running at a loss.

The remaining $12,000 of the $48,000 line item represents part of the salary paid to marina manager Ray Dougherty, who also serves as the city's information systems administrator.

. . .

Mayor James Brewster said the Redevelopment Authority may not legally sell the Palisades or the marina without city council's consent.

Furthermore, the mayor said, he would be opposed to selling the Palisades or the marina unless the city realized a significant profit.

"If someone were to offer us $3 million, then we should listen," Brewster said. Otherwise, he said, council should treat them as "valuable attractions" that "add to the viability" of McKeesport.

"There's not a week that goes by that you don't hear the McKeesport Palisades being mentioned on the radio," Brewster said. "It has brought a great deal of notoriety to the city of McKeesport. And it has really flourished in the last couple of years.

. . .

"Between the Palisades, the marina and the new bike trail, if you don't think that part of the city has received a complete makeover, then I don't know what your vision is for the city," he said.

Brewster said council should not be overly eager to sell either the Palisades or the marina, predicting that the eventual arrival of riverboat gambling in Pennsylvania will only increase their market value.

"You've got two rivers and somebody's going to want to make money down there," he said. "There is huge potential on that site."

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December 01, 2009 | Link to this story

Council Wants Numbers from Palisades Board

Category: News || By

City councilors say they want some accountability --- and firm numbers --- on the costs of operating the Palisades Ballroom.

At a budget hearing Tuesday night, several members of council quizzed City Administrator Dennis Pittman on the purpose of a $48,000 line item earmarked for running the ballroom and the adjoining McKees Point Marina.

The $48,000 appropriation includes $12,000 for part-time, "casual" help employed at the marina in the summer, $12,000 toward the salary of marina manager Ray Dougherty, and a $24,000 subsidy that's supposed to be reimbursed by the authority, Pittman said.

The ballroom is owned by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of McKeesport and operated by the non-profit McKees Point Palisades Performing Arts Corp.

Home of what is reportedly the largest wooden dance floor in Western Pennsylvania, the Palisades is a former 19th century cigar factory and car dealership.

It's had a dance floor since the 1920s and was once also operated as a roller-skating rink. Professional boxing and wrestling matches were also a staple for many years.

Owned for decades by the Speney family, it was purchased by the Redevelopment Authority in 1997. It hosts dances, concerts and community events and serves as the city's de facto convention center.

But councilors said they have yet to see an audited financial statement from the authority describing the profits and losses --- if any --- of the Palisades.

A check of the Internal Revenue Service's database by the Almanac could not find a Form 990 --- the annual income statement required of most tax-deductible corporations --- on file for the McKees Point Palisades Performing Arts Corp. under any combination of those names.

(However, many non-profits, particularly those with income less than $25,000 per year, are not required to file Form 990 reports.)

Councilman Darryl Segina, who this year retired as chair of the International Village committee, said the Palisades should be providing the city with a detailed, audited statement similar to that provided by the annual ethnic food and folk music festival --- which, he noted, turned a profit this year.

. . .

Also Tuesday night, council held a hearing on a proposal to raise parking fines. The penalty for illegally parking in a handicapped parking space would go from $50 to $250, while certain other illegal parking fines would go from $10 to $50.

Solicitor J. Jason Elash said the fine for handicapped parking had apparently not been increased since 1979, and that the new fines would be more in line with other municipalities. According to the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, the fine for illegally parking in a handicapped space in that city is $200, and other fines range from $11 to $50.

McKeesport has been "judiciously" going after parking scofflaws since August 2008, Pittman said, with two tag officers --- police Officer Mike Mihalko and city treasurer's office employee Iris Russ --- assigned to track down repeat offenders. The effort has generated about $25,000 in additional revenue, he said.

Segina called on city administrators to attack other neglected sources of revenue. "It's like a dripping faucet," he said, "and the revenues that we could have had are going down the drain."

. . .

The $19 million spending plan proposed by Mayor Jim Brewster for 2010 is more than $1 million smaller than the 2009 budget. Council is expected to approve the budget at its meeting 7 p.m. Wednesday night.

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