One of Duquesne’s Icons – A Cultural Playground

“The loss of valued places diminishes us all, and the most unnecessary losses, the most indefensible, result from ignorance.”
English Heritage 2002
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I recently had the opportunity to visit my old stomping grounds in Duquesne. I have been fortunate to be able to visit the area once or twice a year since I moved away back in 1972. The past few years have been an exception however. As is often the case, “issues” creep up that cause unexpected changes and cancelled plans. My regular visit schedule somehow was put on hold, so it had been a number of years since I had last been to visit my remaining family in the Duquesne area.

The drive from my home in Maryland to Duquesne takes about 8 hours. By the time I roll into Duquesne, I am usually quite road weary and ready to kick back at one of my relative’s homes. For some reason, my trip back to my hometown in December felt differently. I had arrived via the same route as always. Once I turned off of westbound Rt. 30 at Lincoln Way toward White Oak, it felt like “home.” The sights and names as I head to Duquesne bring back great memories. I have a cadence of mental images of what would have been in view as I travel along Lincoln Way. In my youth, the world didn’t extend too far beyond the borders of White Oak. Even as a teenager, The White Elephant was about the furthest I’d travel.

I pass by the corner of Jacks Run Rd (Rt 48) where I vaguely remember Rainbow Gardens Amusement Park. I don’t think my parents ever took us there. There was never a need. After all, we had Kennywood!!  Perhaps the most memorable landmark along the way was at the end of Lincoln Way where it dead ended into Rt 148, aka 5th Avenue Extension. There is a mystical and magical store that exists there to this day. Not unlike the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, stands Blooms Cut Rate!

Since my Aunt Bubs (yes, that’s what we called her) and my Uncle Clell, along with cousins Kathy and Buddy lived in White Oak, we always drove past Bloom’s Cut Rate when visiting. Mind you, we never stopped and actually went into Bloom’s, but I was always in awe. Huge stuffed animals and over-the-top kitschy statues lined the windows. At Christmas time, the place virtually pulsed with Christmas light and novelty decorations. Rumor had it that it was actually a “numbers joint”, what ever that means. My bucket list now officially contains “shop at Bloom’s Cut Rate” as an official “must do before I die” item.

As I closed in on Duquesne, I knew I had arrived once I rounded the bend and saw the familiar Duquesne–McKeesport Bridge. Just on the other side of Monongahela River was home, at last. I rushed across the bridge, past Center Street, and onward toward Duquesne’s City Center. Just around what are now the remnants of the Cochrandale projects, I remembered the row houses that used to line the street. Debbie Abbatangelo used to live in that area and I remember visiting and being up close and personal with the steel mills across the street.

 

I finally reached Library Place and turned left to head to my Aunt Peggy’s place for a visit. As I made that turn onto Library Place, old frustrations as well as fond memories came rushing back. The fond memory was of the Carnegie Library that once was majestically perched at the top of Library Place. The frustration I felt, was knowing that a gem and a friend of the Duquesne hunkys had needlessly been taken from us in 1968.

Duquesne’s Cultural Playground

The library was a magnificent building, built in 1904 by Andrew Carnegie to serve the employees of Carnegie Steel Company mill and their families. In the beginning, the company paid for the operation of the Carnegie Free Library of Duquesne. However, Andrew Carnegie sold the Carnegie Steel Company to J.P. Morgan of New York City, and the United States Steel Corporation was formed. To take care of the library in Duquesne as well as two others in the area, Mr. Carnegie endowed one million dollars to be shared among the three libraries. Obviously, the money ran out at some point along the way.

The Duquesne Library used to be our cultural playground, our educator, our spa, our trainer, our meeting ground, our playground and our right of passage. When I think back, so many components of my early years involved the library. Although I enjoyed reading, I was by no means a “bookworm.” However, I remember how joining the library for the first time was a revered and time honored tradition for  the students of Holy Name Grade School. I remember being marched over to the library when I think I was in 2nd grade. Sister Martin de Porres was our drum major as we marched up the front steps of the Carnegie to be initiated in the “system.”

The librarian wasn’t your prototypical stern, bespectacled, pencil totin’ and bun wearing individual. I remember how patient she was, not have to utter a single  “shhhhhhh!” Of course, the good Sister would never have let us forget it if we had not been perfect angels. We all patiently waited our turn to become official card carrying library members. Once that feat was accomplished, we were given a tour of the library, complete with an explanation of the Dewey Decimal System and the card file, which went completely over our heads! I think it was how the librarian and Sister got their kicks, by turning all of our excited faces into a “deer in headlights” group. We eventually were able to gather our three book limit and proceed to the desk to be stamped and checked out. What a thrill.

I remember the library portion of the Carnegie was to the left of the front entrance, in the building’s south wing. The front main entrance brought you into the lobby area of the theater. I recall that there was a grand staircase that led to the upper areas of the theater. The lobby area and every part of the building was laden with highly detailed oak columns, panels and trim. There were loads of huge windows and Carrera marble floors. Even the treads of the steps were marble. I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently, Mr. Carnegie spared no expense when building a library for his employees. There was no detail overlooked and the building exuded elegance at every turn.

The children’s portion of the library was located behind the librarian’s desk complex. The room was huge and populated with very sturdy and very “sensible” oak tables and chairs. The bookcases that lined the walls were also made from the same sturdy oak and each book was perfectly placed on the shelves. There were large hanging pendant light fixtures throughout the room as well as large oak trimmed windows at the top of each 20 ft. wall. Being able to have enough light to see to read was never a problem.

My second “rite of passage” at the library was as eagerly anticipated as my initial joining of “the system.” I believe it was in 6th or 7th grade that students were initiated into adulthood by having full access to all parts of the library. This meant  that we were now able to cross the marbled hall that separated the children’s and adult’s library areas and be able to enter and use the adult area. The best part was that we could now have access to the open stacks at the very end of the library. There were three levels (I think) of books connected by curved iron stairs and the best part were the floors that were made of glass!! Mind you, it was opaque glass about the thickness of Mr. Magoo’s glasses, but none the less, it was WAY COOL!!! Ahhh, life was good.

Of course, the lending library wasn’t the only wonderful part of Duquesne’s Carnegie. The theater was the venue for many a little girl’s dreams. Pat’s Dance Studio in Duquesne Place held its annual Dance Review on stage at the Carnegie each year. I think I may have been in the theater only once or twice for my cousin Karla’s recitals, but I remember it being dark and ominous. I have tried to research if any people or shows of notoriety appeared there, but I had no luck. I guess Karla’s appearances MUST have been the most famous.

The north wing of the building housed the athletic portion of the Carnegie. I, along with at least 99% of Duquesne kids, learned to swim there. You had to descend into the lower portion of the building to reach the pool area. As soon as you started down the steps you would smell the chlorine and hear the splashing from swimmers and divers. From what I can recall, the pool was fairly large and the deep end was exactly that…. deep! There was a diving board at the deep end and I eventually, after considerable coaxing, became brave enough to try it out. I had swimming lessons every week and at first, I wasn’t that excited and rather apprehensive. Holding onto the rails at the edge and practicing kicking seemed boring to me. However, I soon felt right at home and “almost” never was accused of holding onto the side for too long.

Although I enjoyed swimming, I never got adept enough or brave enough to join the Carnegie’s swim club/team, The Dolphins. Being a Dolphin was considered a real status symbol around the pool you know. My cousin Paula was a Dolphin team member and was my swimming idol! I remember one part of my swimming experience at the library above all others. I recall the very first time I was able to roll up my wet bathing suit into my towel and carry my terrycloth jellyroll as a status symbol as I walked home. What can I say? Sometimes you’ve just got to celebrate those small successes!

Unfortunately, I was never able to make use of the second floor of the athletic wing. It contained a huge basketball court and exercise room. I remember seeing the parallel bars and the pummel horse, although I didn’t know what they were at the time. It was always bright and sunny up there, but when I was daring enough to climb the stairs and check it out, I  don’t  recall ever seeing the facilities being used. Not really the Gold’s Gym of yesteryear.

I’ve rambled on forever about the library, but I suppose that’s a good indication that it was a child’s wonderland. Even the handrails that were firmly cemented in place at the front and Kennedy Ave. entrances were fun. They were double barred and GREAT for safely sliding down the course of steps on. Who would have ever thought that my generation would be the last to enjoy the Carnegie. I still shake my head in disbelief whenever I pass by the former site of our cultural upbringing. Mr. Carnegie, thank you for the gift of a lifetime.

 

So, what did actually happen to the Duquesne Carnegie Free Library?

In the 1960s, the Duquesne library was sold to the school district for one dollar. Shortly after taking control of he Carnegie Free Library of Duquesne, the Duquesne City School District razed the structure, in June of 1968, to make-way for a school district annex (possibly a new gymnasium for the high school, located across the street). However, when the school district learned that the construction of a such an annex would result in a partial loss of state funding, the project was quickly dropped. Thirteen 1970s-era split-level houses now occupy the former library property, a cul-de-sac named “Library Place.”

This entry was posted in Duquesne Buildings, Duquesne Carnegie Library, Playing and Games, The Steel Mills and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to One of Duquesne’s Icons – A Cultural Playground

  1. Lawrence M Loya says:

    Next to my house at 304 South First Street, the library was 2 blocks from my house and it remains forever my most cherished building in Duquesne. I lived in Duquense from January 1945 to June 1968. One of the best memories of the library was playing “King of the Hill” on the library grassy double rolling hills. To a youngster those rolling mounds looked like hills. Jim, your articles are beautifully written and they bring to my mind many wonderfully memories of growing up in Duqueuse. One last memoriy, Kennywwod was always great fun and adventurous but don’t forget Kennywood Woods.

  2. Bill Pilcher says:

    Pam the fun times at the Rainbow bar and grill Lived at 3 s 5th street

  3. Glenn Choate says:

    I have meant to write to you for years. Somehow, I never found the time.

    My name is Glenn Choate. My father, Peter M. Choate was the superintendent /swimming coach for the Carnegie Library in Duquesne for several years until its closure.

    Me, I was my dad’s right hand man. I was a combination lifeguard, swimming instructor, landscaper, electrician, plumber, exterminator, candy machine repairman, stagehand, all around handyman, and night watchman. From junior high to graduation, I worked at the library. It was my home away from home. Having the keys and access to every part of her, and the time to explore I probably knew the building better than anyone, including all her secret places.

    I was there when she was in her glory and I was there when they destroyed her. The stories I have to tell about that grand old lady would fill a book.

    I am using some of my experiences in a novel I am writing.

    Maybe if there is any interest I could post some of my memories of the place.

    Sincerely

    Glenn James Choate

  4. Liz Heaps Shiner says:

    I danced at the Library and would swim in the pool. It was saad when they tore it down, my kids never got to experience that wonderful place and it saddened me.

    • Dennis Kerrigan says:

      Hi Liz from an old classmate (HNS 1964). I hope you are well. My family and I lived in Duquesne Place from 1976-1982. My career forced us to move to Ohio in 1982, and we never did move back, although we visit what’s left of our families occasionally. I was there to bury my Mom in 2005 and shocked to find our old school was gone. This website has brought back a lot of memories I hadn’t thought of in years.

  5. Alan D. says:

    while performing due diligence on a wall clock, I read your article concerning the Duquesne Library. My mom in West Mifflin has the oak Seth Thomas clock that hung in the library’s library.

    It was removed during the library razing in 1968. She is considering selling it, if you might be interested email me

    • Jim says:

      WOW! Alan, that’s awesome. I didn’t know any artifacts existed from the Library. If you have a picture, please share it with all of us and let us know what she’s asking for the clock. Who knows, perhaps one of the readers would be interested. You can email the picture to duquesnehunky@gmail.com, and Ii’ll be happy to post it. You have a captive audience here! – Jim

    • Bill Vojnovich says:

      I was born and raised in Duquesne and lived one block from the library; which was our second home. I would be interested in buying the Seth Thomas clock you mentioned. Could you send me a photo of it and your asking price.

  6. Jack schalk says:

    I just recently had the Rainbow Gardens reenter my life.
    My clients still request that I supervise their trade show setups and even though I will be 75 this year, I do it because I love it and I still can.
    I was in Vegas for a week in July and was driving down Charleston and there was a business there called Rainbow Gardens.. This brought back a lot of memories of good times at the facility of my youth. This blog has jogged the past tense portion of my brain, in a good way!

  7. Don Madak says:

    Jim
    I don’t know you, but this brings back memories ! I was just made aware of your blog by one of my 1960 DHS classmates, Sue Cunningham. I learned to swim at the library when I was 7 yrs. old. Back then, the men swam in the nude ! Men’s day at the pool was M-Wed – Sat. – Women on tues- thurs – Fri. Mr. Depot was the pool mgr. You first had to shower, and then pass by his chair near the diving board to be ” inspected ” . Sometimes he would tell you to go back to the shower and “use soap this time ” Then he gave you the OK to enter the pool. His wife was the kindergarden teacher at Crawford school in Duq. Back then, a 3 month pass to the library was sixty cents !
    Don Madak

  8. Pam Ashoff Roberts says:

    I am Jerry’s oldest daughter of Jerry and Bud’s Donut Shop. My dad just turned 85 and still dreams of his donuts. Bud passed away a few years ago. I am looking for old photos. My Grampap, John Patrick JP Ashoff owned a bar on Grant Ave possibly called the Rainbow Bar and Grill. My dad is the only one left of his 13 Brothers and sisters. Aunt Mildred and Uncle Al Zeok lived at the family homestead 15 South Fifth St. What great memories this blog has…

    • Jim says:

      Pam, thanks so much for your feedback! Let you father know that when Father Shaughnessy was the pastor at Holy Name, I was the designated “go-fer” when it came to getting his two sugar donuts each morning at Jerry and Bud’s Donut Shop. My father was Steve Volk who owned the service station on First Street across from the Holy Name Rectory. Please give you Dad my best!

  9. Debbie Carr Gavlik says:

    Oh, how I loved that library! It was such a magical place for me. I got a lump in my throat when I saw the picture of it. It’s funny, but I also remembered how it smelled… I still love going to the library and go to the one in Homestead. As soon as I walk in I take a deep breath… and remember…. I still shake my head when I drive up Library Street and see houses instead of that magnificent building. What were they thinking? It is truly a ‘lost treasure’ for those of us whose love of reading began there.

  10. Tom Lane says:

    I have traveled all over the country and I look for Carnegie libraries, especially in small towns, and I have never seen one that comes close to the elegance of our old one. The oak woodwork and tables were amazing.

  11. Debra Faust-Clancy says:

    Hi Jim,

    Just to actually see an old postcard (that’s what your photo is, right?) of the Library brought back lots of old memories and actually choked me up. You are correct when you say the kids were taught that it was a priviledge to have a library card. I loved mine and I went to the library every week or two. I’ve always been a reader and I was able to take out I think it four books at a time. I did that for years and the librarian was always nice to us kids and helped us pick out appropriate books for our age range and abilities. I seem to remember an “adult” section where kids were not allowed to take out books, and maybe it was just a reference section, but I always thought that there was something “very adult” about those books! My memories are not half as clear as yours and those of some of the postings here. As a majorette in high school we used to go to band practise in the library theatre and practise our baton routines out in the lobby of the theatre and up and down the darkened aisles.

    The DHS band had concerts in the theatre once or twice a year in the spring and we sold tickets to those concerts to raise money for our activities. After the library was torn down all use of the theatre was transferred to the HS auditorium. But I remember thinking how dreadful it was to tear that building down. The library interior and front stairs were marble like someone else said and walking up the magnificent and grand stairway, you could imagine you were going into a castle or mansion and your imagination would get quite a workout. As you enter the foyer lobby before going to the library on the left, that area echoed. So if you were lucky, and not get caught, you could whisper “hello” and hear it come back to you and give you a little thrill! Thanks for your stories about the wonderful town Duquesne was to grow up in. They are so precious to all of us.

  12. Tom McLaughlin says:

    Jim,

    This brings back a lot of memories of the library. I did play some basketball there, but I remember learning to swim there. In my day, the boys used to skinny dip during there free swim times. I was on the original Duquesne Dolphins swim team. Of course, we had to wear suits as it was coed (shucks). Other tings I remember was a pool hall in the one end where we used to play, and Joe Ondrey started a high school rifle team which I was on. He talked them into converting the old four lane bowling alley that was down there into a rifle range. Joe Ondrey was one of the best teachers I had in high school (physics class) and did so many extra curricular activities with kids that he was amazing.

    Hope this fills in a few memory blanks about the library.

  13. Michael Sobeck says:

    Hi, you talk about Bud & Jerry’s, next door was the A&P my dad was the meat manager there Mickey, also you mention Rainbow Gardens well me and my buddies loafed at Nalders hamberger joint on the corner of 48 & Lincoln Way, and don’t forget about Olympia Park it was were Olympia shopping center is today, they had to close it because of all the burning mines, remember them, I do not know a lot of the people but I remember all the locations. I would boor you with them Mike

  14. Steve Fodo says:

    Jim Volk- darn we should have know each other- but I may be a bit older than you- DHS – class of 1960 – South First and Whitfield was where I grew up- it is too bad you did not venture up to the gym at the library – decent weight room – plenty of pick up basket ball games – also a few leagues – mostly Serb / Croation leagues- and for a number of years – boxing lessons given by a former pug – in any event thanks for raising memories- PS- the library also served as a shower facility for the good number of steel workers / and other who only had bath tubs at home- most of the time the pool was men only and nude swimimg was the rule. Regretablly – whites only in the gym -pool and large billards room – while I don’t have evidence, desegregating the facility had an influence in the decision to tear the building down- all was not good during the times.
    Steve Fodo

  15. Laurine Emert says:

    I also remember Rainbow Gardens – I think the main ride was Mighty Mouse – which was a roller coaster (and obviously not as big as any at Kennywood). I also remember their pool – which would have fit into one end of Kennywood’s pool. One of the things you forgot about the theater was the annual Passion Play (how could any Holy Namer forget that? I am not a Holy Namer by religion but by growing up across the street from Father Shaughnessy and Father Hanlon and Betty, the housekeeper, and Cleo, Blackie and the third dog whose name I can’t remember. My neighbors were all jealous because I had been in the house, including the kitchen and the bathroom upstairs, and spent a lot of time over there with the dogs and the young preists who got their feet wet at Holy Name. When Father Shaughnessy was in the hospital on the way to the Pittsburgh Zoo, my mom drove Betty down there every day to see him. I knew Father Turner and Father O’Brian pretty well too. When my grandfather died and Father O’Brian saw the ambulance, he came over to the house and stayed with my grandmother until my mother and I got home from a shopping trip to Pittsburgh. I loved and admired many of the priests who made Holy Name home – mostly because they treated me like a neighbor not a paritioner. Father Hanlon gave me my first nickname – Giggles, and Father Turner used to call me Troubles. Father Turner explained to us that the Monopoly board was based on Atlantic City where he grew up. [Sorry, talk about digressions!!!]). Anyhow, my neighbor, George Howard, usually played the Centurion who stabbed Christ on the Cross, and I always went to the play with his daughters. Another thing the Library was used for was a meeting place. My grandmother belonged to the Eastern Star and the White Shrine and both of those organizations used the second floor meeting rooms, as did various other organizations. One thing you forgot was that across from the children’s library was the yound adult section, the halfway point to the main, adult, library. I loved the Library, too. I remember seeing “South Pacific” and seeing that it was based on a book by James Michener and going to the Library the next day and getting the book “Tales of the South Pacific” by JM. I was soooo suprised to see that the whole movie was based on two chapters!! I also remember reading every single James Bond book by Ian Fleming after seeing Dr. No. I cried so much when they told me the Library was going to close. My mom said it was a “hinky” deal to give some political contributor the property for development. I never found out if that was true or not but my mom knew the “movers and shakers” so I kinda think there was some truth to it. I was part of the 99% who learned to swim and dive at the Library. I can remember Mr. Mateya (which I think is the right spelling, but I’m not 100% sure about that) coaching me on diving. I learned the forward dive and also the back dive there, and learned to swim “under water” there, too.

    Anyhow, I’ve written a lot more than I intended, but your blog has brought back so many memories. We lived in an apartment above the Wonder Bar which was next to Max Goltz’s green grocery store (the only competition Alexander’s had – remember the corner door entrance?) When we got “kicked out” for the razing of First Street we moved to Kennedy Avenue (back when it went all the way down to Rte 837). Duquesne in those days was a great place to live and grow up. Thanks for reminding me about it. And an especial thanks for the picture of the Library (its just a shame the railings are not visible – I used to use them all the way down to Second Street and then I would walk half a block down Library Place and cut through the alley to get home.)

    • Jim says:

      Laurine,
      Wow! You really conjured up some additional memories. This is what has been so gratifying about doing this blog. I had totally forgotten about the Passion Play! Fr. Shaughnessy was my buddy. I had just begun being an altar buy, and Fr. Shaughnessy made took me under his wings. He and my dad were friends and he sort of favored me. In retrospect, I was actually his gopher. It seems that the only thing I would acually “go for” were donuts from a bakery that was on First Street called “Bud and Jerry’s.” I am pretty sure about the Jerry part, but not so sure of the Bud part. Too many duos to sort through in my mind I guess… Ben and Jerry’s, Tom and Jerry, Jerry and Dean… but I digress too!! Laurine, keep reading and commenting, its great connecting with other hometown buddies!

      • Carole Snyder Binkney says:

        Yes Jim, the donut shop on First St. was Jerry & Bud’s. Haven’t found a donut in the whole world as good as they were. However, when my husband and I retired, we had already traveled the world and decided to buy a cottage at Canadohta Lake, up near Meadville and the Erie area since we had spent lots of time there as teenagers. One morning, we rowed across the lake to this little general store where they made fresh donuts every morning; only to find out it was Jerry Ashoff from Duquesne and the Jerry of Jerry & Bud’s. Couldn’t believe this! but there again, small world. He is still there, but last summer was in very poor health & hospitalized but he’s in his 80’s. Bud is also still living but a resident of Florida and of course, either of them make donuts anymore.

  16. Dave Bonga says:

    I have a little better memory of Rainbow Gardens Jim only because my dad’s annual company picnic was held there (he worked for Westinghouse in East Pittsburgh). As I recall, we usually went swimming there first that day, then went on the handful of rides the park had the rest of the day. It was no Kennywood but it was a “freebie” for my parents.

    I too was one of many who learned to swim at the library. I believe the instructor was Mr. Choat (sp.?). Don’t believe I was ever dedicated or good enough to join the “Dolphins” 🙂 My only other memories of the Library were of playing weekend pick-up basketball in the gym upstairs.

    Thanks for the memories Jim !!

    • Jim says:

      Dave, I can’t believe you remebered the coach’s name! I think your spelling is correct and if I’m not mistaken, wasn’t his first name Pete?

      • Chris Miklos Drecnik says:

        His name was indeed Pete Choate and his assistant was Stanley Madeya. One of the most outstanding members of that swim team was David Fath, who still resides in the West Mifflin area.

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