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Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Pike Street of 1939.



The Pike Street of Bill Amon’s Photographs by James T. Herron, Jr.







Pike Street between Central and Greenside Avenues has changed a great deal since 1939. A few buildings remain on the south side of the street, but of the buildings on the north side of the street, none have survived.

Most of Bill Amon’s 1939 pictures were taken toward Greenside with the buildings in shadow. The photographs, below, show of the Canonsburg High School Band. In the picture on the left, the "Esso" sign is on the service station on the northeast corner of Pike and Greenside.

Coming toward the camera, the dark mass among the trees is a very large house. It was, for many years, the residence and office of James G. Dickson, M.D. The modern looking building with the arched window and door is the Manufacturers Light and Heat office. The drawing from Sanborn’s Map of circa-1940, farther below, shows it to be long and narrow. The map notes that the rear part of the building was used for pipe storage.

A bit of lawn separates the gas company building from a driveway that goes back to Slone’s Canonsburg Produce Company. A "Norge" sign is at the left edge of many of the photographs. That is the Canonsburg Radio Co., which billed itself the "Norge Store." A few years later Victor and Blanche Gangitana’s Blue Bird Restaurant occupied the store.




There are three businesses in the building, 45-49 East Pike, which had been built as a residence before 1840. The rest of the building does not show in the pictures. Albert Fickman’s was in the left-hand rooms, and Johnny’s Shoe Shop, operated by Chauncy DiCio, was in the middle.

The next building, 39 East Pike, also not in the 1939 photographs, is very long. The room on the street was Felix Tardio’s barber shop (Perry Como had long since left his employ). For many years the back of the building was the Brunswick Bowling Alley and Billiard Parlor. The shape, though, predated the bowling alley. The extension had been put on the back of the building in the teens, to house the Princess movie theater.

The Sanborn Map shows a building in the middle of the block, set back from the street a bit. It had a front porch very high above the sidewalk. This was Squire McCullough’s home in college days. He was an important man of affairs in the college, borough, school district, and even was on the board at Morganza. It was still a dwelling house in 1939, the home of Clark Sutherin and family, but later a lunch room was put in the lower story.

Above, Sanborn insurance map, 1925 updated to circa 1940.


The next building consists of two stores, 27 and 29 East Pike, with another building very close to the west wall. The store in the 1939 photograph is in shadows, but in another Amon picture from roughly the same period, above, indicates it was the A&P. An ad in the Notes in June 1939 gives the A&P’s address as 41 East Pike, the bowling alley’s address.

The adjacent store, 27 East Pike Street with the Kelvinator sign, was Wilbert Wise’s Radio and Electric Shop. He was one of the merchants who was involved with the Vacation Tour Contest.

The adjacent business started as a harness shop owned by George (Boss) Hiles in 1871. His brother, James, joined him in 1887 and still had the store in 1939, though he sold shoes, belts, and luggage instead of harness.

To the east, across an alley, was a brick building with two stores and a stairway to the second story between them. A sign proclaiming "MEAT" hangs over the store nearer the camera. It marks William Schriver’s Meat Market. On the other side of the building, on Ritchie Diamond, is the Diamond Grill.

Ritchie Diamond was an open space, rectangular, not diamond-shape. In the 1800s it was known as Ritchie’s Public Hitching Yard and was owned by the Ritchie family. Several generations of Ritchies lived and had stores on Central Avenue, adjacent to the hitching yard/diamond.

In 1939, H. Paul McPeake had a tobacco shop in a little tile building along the sidewalk. The police report mentioned in the parade article described Ritchie Diamond as "McPeake’s parking lot."





The photograph is from a glass negative exposed by William Amon, probably within a few years of 1939. The occasion for the parade and bunting is not known.

The fire engine in front is probably Canonsburg’s 1925 American LaFrance Type 75 (note the lack of a windshield). The engine behind it may have belonged to the Houston Fire Company.

Conditions for photography were much better than on Memorial Day 1939.





The brick building on the corner of Pike and Central is the oldest on the block, built by Joshua Emery as a tavern in 1823. At the time, Central Avenue was the town’s principal commercial district. For more than a hundred years the sidewalk along Pike Street was very narrow. Finally, in the 1920s, the building was remodeled, at which time a good four feet of the Pike Street side was removed.

The building was divided into three stores with entrances on Pike Street. In 1939, the corner store, 1 East Pike Street, was Hildegard’s Dress Shop. Next door, at 3 East Pike, was a men’s store owned by J. T. Gonda. A few years later the store was owned by Beese & Beese, Haberdashers. Before it was a men’s store, it had been the Children’s Shop, which had moved to the other side of Pike Street by 1939. The right-hand store room in the building was Andy Zacour’s Shoe Shine Parlor.

And now? Gone, all gone. Mellon Bank is on the corner where the old Emery Building and Ritchie Diamond were. The rest of the block is a parking lot for a strip mall. But before we shed too many tears for the good old days, it might be a good idea to look at the view of the block from a post card circa 1960, reproduced below.




(click on picture to enlarge)
Much of the material on the buildings and businesses on this block is from an article my father wrote: J. T. Herron, "A Walk Along Pike Street in 1941," JCTimes, Feb. 1983. Other sources are the 1936 and 1941 Directories, newspaper advertisements, and the list of participants (with addresses and slogans) in the 1939 Vacation Tours Contest.

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