Signs of OUR Times

As an Art and Design major, one of the rudimentary lessons I learned was that sometimes, “less is more.” I have been studying all of the photos I have from Duquesne and have concluded the following:

As much as I love the City of Duquesne, the buildings and environment weren’t exactly “pristine” or “breathtaking” by today’s standards. The early century buildings that were “down street” were showing signs of age by the 1950’s and 1960’s. So many of the edifices were blackened by the decades of mill dust and smoke that they were exposed to, and had all acquired the same ashen pallor.

As technologies and utilities had advanced, the buildings and the streets had begun to sprout countless wires that carried anything from electrical power to telephone conversations to cryptic messages in Morse code! Thick black wires crisscrossed overhead, creating Tic-Tac-Toe grids in the sky.

Well before the idea of underground utility cables had surfaced, oversized ceramic connection posts marred each building’s exterior surface. Unfortunately, the posts were not always applied in a uniform and balanced manner, so buildings began to look as if they had contracted a very bad case of smallpox with white eruptions dotting their surface in a random basis.

There wasn’t a single building in Duquesne that was exempt from the daily exposure to the elements from the mills, even the churches fell victim. When I was a student at Holy Name, nothing about Holy Name Church’s exterior really stood out. Although it was huge in a little boy’s eyes, nothing about the exterior of the building made an impression as the interior had. Again, the brick and stone façade looked just the same as the convent, the school, the Post Office and virtually every other building within the same proximity to the mills. Blackened, ashen, and rather dismal looking, Holy Name Stood for decades before an astonishing transformation took place during the 60’s.

One summer, I recall being over at my dad’s garage. Across the street at the church, I remember seeing workmen busily piecing together scaffolding around various sections of the church’s exterior. I was convinced that they were building some really big Monkey Bars for our use once we had returned to school in September, but was set straight by Dad. He explained that they were going to clean the outside of the church by sandblasting it.

Over the course of many weeks, years and years of soot and discoloration from the mills were dissolved from the church’s façade. Just like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, a golden hued church emerged to grace South First Street. To this day, probably 50 years later, the Holy Name is standing as majestically and brilliantly as the day it was built.

Sadly, not every building in Duquesne received the same reawakening as Holy Name did. Beginning with the Duquesne’s redevelopment projects of the 60’s, piece by piece, the Duquesne of our youth was dismantled and driven off to unnamed places to become landfill for unknown structures. Fortunately, we will always have the remnants of the place we hold dear, tucked away in our minds and in fortunate photographs that remain as testimony to days now lost in time.

I thought it would be interesting to share with you, a patchwork of images that are sure to evoke some of those warm memories that keep Duquesne alive in our minds. Each of us passed these icons hundreds of times as we were growing up, but probably never gave them a second thought! Only now, in retrospect do we realize how much we miss them and the town that they part of…..

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11 Responses to Signs of OUR Times

  1. Rich Racan says:

    To Bob Chermonitz: How do you remember all that. Yes, growing up in Duquesne Place was the best. Kennywood was close, the Dairy Queen, and yes the Duke Diner. French fries with brown gravy and the Bel Air Lounge where we got a bag of fries for a quarter. I remember when you kept trying to get me to call Kathy H. and finally ehen I did, she was vacationing in Italy. I married a girl from Indiana Pa and we have thre sons and 2 grandchildren. How bout you. I can’s explain why Duquesne was so great but everyone I’ve ever worked with knows of all the things we did back then. How about the high school football games on Friday nights, cool. I live in Philadelphia (West Chester) since 1980 but go back to the “burg” several times. I ride the streets of Duquesne Place and always show the kids Mary’s store, and of course go to Kennywood. What are you doing these days. Great to hear from a friend. Thanks Duquesne Hunky for this web site. See ya Bob.

    • Jim says:

      Rich, this Jim Volk, the Duquesne Hunky. I am glad you are enjoying my blog. My wife and I will be moving to West Chester soon and we’ll have to get together to officially meet and enjoy a cup of coffee and conversation about our hometown, Duquesne! – Jim

    • Bob Chermonitz says:

      Rich, You ask how I remember all that stuff? My only answer is how can I forget? Everyone on this blog can’t seem to forget Duquesne & it’s surrounds. Neither can you. And why should we? Perhaps it’s true that, as the book title says, you can never go home again, but I like to believe that if enough good people can remember all that they have on this blog, then it is possible. And you don’t even need ruby slippers to get home. Just the internet!
      To answer you other question, I live in South Park now after spending 10 years in Ohio as a teacher and a coach. Currently in pharmaceutical sales after having managed Chevrolet dealerships for 21 years. I have two sons 35 & 33, and 1 grandson. No girls anywhere in our family not even a niece!! I’m still keeping my fingers crossed, however. Oh, I usually get into Philly at least once a year for meetings, except this year we were in Atlanta, so we’ll have to tie up one night when I’m there. I would really like to see you again and BS about old times. God, I remember when we lived in the 60’s and now we are in our 60’s!!!
      Recently I picked up Duquesne as part of my territory along with McKeesport and Homestead/Munhall. So I pass through every few weeks. The city has changed and aged, like we have, but if you look hard enough and listen real good you can see her in her prime and hear the sounds of thousands of children raised within her outstretched arms. She did good! And, in time, she will again. And it’s okay to go home, again!

  2. Rich Racan says:

    Bob, I too remember Wesley Moyle. Indeed he was a hero. I was on the Moose Pirates in little league and our coach, Red, would march us down from Polish Hill to the Isalys on 3rd street and buy us a Klondike ice cream if we won (they were a dime). Isalys chipped ham sandwiches were the best thing next to Jim’s Hot Dogs. Bob, thanks for helping me out when I got back from Vietnam. You were always there as a friend, when I needed someone to talk to. Remember Palcheks drugstore on Kennywood Blvd and Topps baseball cards for a nickel and comic books for a dime. Great, great timers in Duquesne Place and Duquesne. Hope you’re doing well. Remember the Lonely Ones Rock and Roll Band I was in. We were the best!

    • Bob Chermonitz says:

      Rich, good to hear from you! Hope all is well. I forgot about the band and you’re right, it was very good. We had a lot of fun back then. Remember the frog pond at the bottom of Overland and how the Taylor brothers would shave their big shaggy dog to look like a lion every summer? One of the best memories is what became known as “The Cheat Lake Incident” when we met WV’s Andy Taylor and Barney Fife. And the Corvair you had. I thought you were the luckiest guy in town because you had a pinball machine in the cellar. You were a good friend. I hope the years have been good to you. And, if I never said it, thanks for your service!

  3. Bernie says:

    I remember all the signs. Grew up here in the 50s. The clock was on the corner of 1st St. & Grant Ave. I would go to Wed. afternoon movies at the Plaza to see Superman & the Mole men.
    Guess what ??? it only cost 9 cents. Opps, just gave away my age.

  4. Bob Chermonitz says:

    Wow, the signs bring other memories to mind. The Isaly’s sign was a great motovational tool to a kid playing Little League baseball back in the mid sixties. Mr. Moyle, our manager on the Yankees team, would often take us there if we won our game. Somehow the thought of winning an Isaly’s Skyscraper ice cream cone made us all work a little harder on a hot summer day. The last time I saw Mr. Moyle was years later at a wedding reception in the Knights of Columbus Hall in West Mifflin. He walked up behind me and asked if I wanted to pitch or play first base today. We had a good laugh, but I remember telling him what an influence his coaching had on me and how I used some of his lessons on the kids I was coaching in Ohio at the time. Today, I still have a picture in my office of his team which won the Duquesne “world series” in 1965. His son, Wesley Moyle, is in the picture. he helped his dad coach us. Wesley will always remain young in my mind, and a hero. As a US Marine, he won the Silver Star in Viet Nam saving the lives of fellow Marines, while giving up his own. That’s the kind of man he was. Always working a little harder, on a hot summer’s day.

  5. Paula N says:

    I agree with the other comments…those signs really sent me back to a simpler time. Once you leave Toyland you can never return again, as the song says.

  6. mary k. flesor says:

    Jim: Your recent post,Sign of our Times, was a breath of fresh air. Seeing all the photos brought back many memories…especially the one of the Victor Restaurant. Our parents owned the building and the restaurant . Talk about the good old days, my sister. and I grew up in that building …always on call if the help did not show. What fun!!! Kudos to you for a job well done.
    Mary Kotaras-Flesor and Theresa Kotaras-Kashlak

  7. Remember every single photo! Lived near Shrager’s Super Market and went to Holy Name School a looong time ago. Walked from Viola to the 5 & 10 and Alexander’s, at the age of 6 & 7, with a note from my Mom as to what my younger sister and I were to buy. Never a worry as to whether we would get back home safe. Thank you for all the memories!

  8. Diann M. Topley says:

    Jim, the photos of the wires criss-crossing the streets of Duquesne brought back a strange memory of a “Dumb Hunky goes to College”. In August of 1971 I moved into a dormitory on the Duquesne University campus. I was stunned when the room I was assigned to had an air conditioner. I spent my first day there wandering around the dorm looking for dresses on display. The only air conditioning I had ever been exposed to was in Cox’s!

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