A Beautiful Duquesne

    2It appears that Spring 2013 has officially arrived. I’ve been busy clipping, racking, mulching and planting around my house, hoping to make it as neat and attractive as possible. Although the methods have changed in the last 99 years, the intention of making one’s home attractive as possible hasn’t wavered.

For instance, today if we are faced with a lawn full of dandelions, we’re able to trot off to the nearest Lowe’s or Home Depot and pick-up a bag or container of specialized weed killer to eradicate the whole population with one application. I recall fastidious little hunkys kneeling in their yards on weekends and patiently and meticulously digging out each individual weed. Once removed, they would carefully fill the hole with rich black soil and then lovingly spread grass seed over the bare spot followed by another thin layer of top soil. They were very diligent in the weeks that followed to assure the newly seeded patches were watered and nurtured into healthy areas of lawn. I remember that my Uncle Lou, whose house was on Martin Street next to the substation that runs along Mifflin Street, was relentless when it came to battling weeds in his yard! His yard was always pristine. My dad, on the other hand, felt that if God allowed something to take root in his yard, it was meant to be. His best defense was to mow it down each week and pray for the best! Understand that his point-of-view was nurtured by long hours of discussion with his friends each day at the G.B.U. or the Croatian Club!

Landscaping as we know it today was different for our parents. The majority of beautification efforts were centered around the creation of working gardens. In most cases, vegetables and flowers were cultivated from seeds that were planted in a patch of land in backyards throughout Duquesne. Tidy little roses of plantings would eventually emerge each Spring to eventually produce an array of vegetables that were used to cook or preserve and flowers that were often clipped and brought indoors to brighten up the home.

The US Steel Company, Duquesne Plant,  used to hold a beautification contest for its employees each year in the early party of the 20th Century. I thought you might enjoy a retrospective look to the care, grace, dignity and pride the residents of Duquesne took in their city. The results of one such beautification contest were published in what was then, the local paper, The Times-Observer. The year was 1914, 99 years ago. Although the contest judging took place at the end of July, it was this time of year, 99 years ago, that the busy little hunky hands were readying the gardens and lawns throughout the city. The stark contrast in what some of the homes looked like then, what they evolved into during our youth, and then how the appear today is quite dramatic. Here’s to the prodder times!

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The following are random pictures from the same timeframe of the various entries into the Beautify Duquesne Contest. Foliage, gardens and residences took on a much more natural look as opposed to the minimalistic and sculptured style that’s used today.

When I look at these photos, the one point that I find to be rather “haunting,” is the presence of a child or children somewhere in the photo. I wonder how many of these kids grew up to be our grandparents. It somewhat reminds of those eerie pictures that you occasionally see in a movie about haunted homes. I would be very interested if any of you know about these children and who they grew up to be!





This entry was posted in Duquesne Buildings, Duquesne History, Life in General, Miscellaneous, Springtime, The Steel Mills. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to A Beautiful Duquesne

  1. Barry Long says:

    Jack: That was Barbara Poljack. She lived at 1008 Kennedy. I was born on the 3rd floor of 1014 Kennedy but we moved to Sherman, Dell, 1045 Grant Ave, 6th St; & finally back to 1010 Kennedy when I was13. Thats when you I ran together. Bob Vislay lived at 1016 then, & you lived the street behind UMHOLTZ’S candy store in 1949. We sure had fun in the “Flying Dukes” & great summers when i’d help with your paper deliveries. You went on vacation & i delivered for you once.Money was scarce then but things were cheap. GONE ARE THE DAYS!….BL

  2. Becky says:

    Way back in the day….we moved from Dravosburg to Duquesne..thought my life was RUINED! Now, such fond memories of that steel valley…thanks for the posts

  3. Karen says:

    Thank you so much for these great memories. My Grandparents lived on Oak Street. Although the property was on a hillside, which some may have thought impossile to be useful, they terraced the entire property. It had beautiful hedges, flowers, fruit trees and vegetable gardens. I remember in the 60’s just going outside and picking fresh fruit off the trees. Grandpap built a four story house from a two room bunglow in the side of a hill. Amazing, he was schooled just to the third grade. I love my memories of Duquese, running around on the hills with all my cousins, going to Ivans, playing on the swings in the playground, movie night, all the “hunky” neighbors. Now most of the houses are empty, and it is used as a dump. I was just back there to visit some relatives in the Pittsburgh area. I’m going to remember it as it once was, a safe, friendly neighborhood. Thanks again for this blog!

  4. Jim Obrien says:

    Jim, I admire your efforts to keep alive the memories of a better Duquesne, the one you knew in your youth, the one your parents and grandparents were proud of, and enjoyed living there. It would be interesting for you to go back to Duquesne and take photos of the same properties or empty lots to compare with the pictures in this posting. I found it fascinating. We had a modest 15-foot wide row house in Glenwood and I was responsible as a kid to cut the grass and trim the hedges and pull the weeds and sweep the sidewalk and porch of our home, and of the next door neighbor’s home because the two women who lived there wouldn’t do it on their own, and my mother wanted their yard to look like ours. Our home cost $2,500 in 1947 and it took my parents 18 years to pay it off. It was leveled about two years ago and now there’s an empty lot there, but many memories. I took pictures of it before it was razed. I am the kid (and old kid, mind you) standing in front of the home. We enjoyed living there. Jim, thanks for the memories. The people of Duquesne weren’t any different from the people I grew up with in Glenwood and Hazelwood. My father and his two brothers and my brother all worked at Mesta Machine Co. in West Homestead. I had no desire to get dirty so I became a writer, a clean positive writer at that. Best wishes, your third cousin by marriage, Jim O’Brien, Pittsburgh sports author

    • Jim says:

      Jim, I think the memories I have, as well as everyone who reads this blog, are shared with all of those fortunate enough to have grown up in the steel valley. Looking back, by today’s standards, times were tough and money was always tight…..but as kids, we never knew it or felt it. To us, it was just a great place to live and play, surrounded by the family we loved and the best group of childhood friends! Give my love to Kathy, I think of you guys often!

    • Cliff Warner says:

      You mentioned Mesta Machine. It’s demise was a terrible loss for manufacturing in the USA.. In the mid 1970’s while working on the Union Railroad I was called in on a Saturday to make sure a huge armature manufactured by Mesta would clear some signal masts that were situated closer to the tracks then standard practice. . From what I understand the machines that Mesta used to manufacture such a large apparatus were later sold and shipped to China.

  5. Debbie Carr Gavlik says:

    As I grew up on Peter, Zewe Street and Simon Alley were a part of my neighborhood. Also my grandparents, Joseph and Margaret Vavra Gall, lived in the little red brick house next to what I always called the ‘power plant’ on Martin Street. I’ve been told that Grandpap built the house himself. It’s the only house on that side of the street. And grandpap sure did have a green thumb! He planted beautiful flowers that grew pretty high along the fence, I guess to try to block the view of the power plant. On the other side of the house was the St. Joseph’s Cemetery fence and he also grew many beautiful flowers, bushes and trees there. He learned all of this on his family’s farm which is located on the bend going up Duquesne-Homestead Rd towards the light by Duquesne Village. The house is located on the right and was always landscaped beautifully. It was home to many vegetable gardens. We loved when Grandpap walked up our sidewalk with a ‘chip basket’ of weird shaped, but delicious, tomatoes and cukes! My great grandparents, Matthew (Mike) and Elizabeth Gall, lived on the farm when I visited as well as my great aunt Emma and great uncle Mitzi. I loved stopping in for a visit, and a drink of water, when I walked from Peter Street up to Woolworths to buy a record and have lunch. You sat at the counter and watched them grill your burger and mix your milksake! Thanks for awakening a lot of wonderful memories by writing this post.

    • Jim says:

      Debbie, the two homes that were such an important part of your youth were part of my life too! My Aunt Mary(Goldman)lived on Martin Street directly across from the power plant. I recall sitting on her front porch glider, under her awnings, an hearing stories of how hard you grandfather worked on his yard, and how beautiful it always was. Every trip to my grandparent’s house as well as to most of my relatives meant “rounding the bend” on Homestead-Duquesne Rd and your family’s farm. It was always pristine and a welcomed sight. As I grew older, I too would walk up to Duquesne Village with “destination Woolworth’s” in mind. I was a hot dog kid myself and love how they would grill them and the buns in gobs of butter…unhealthy by today’s standards, but OH SO GOOD!! Thanks so much for following my blog, its great having neighbors aboard!

  6. patty dennis says:

    what I would give to live again in one of those homes (lived in Franklin Borough section of Johnstown)……the “old” homes were beautiful and people loved to take care of their yards, gardens and flowers…..thanks for the memories.

  7. John Dillinger says:

    The first picture was the top floors of Markovitz’s store.

  8. Lolly says:

    Such beauty! Loved the photos of the homes with great porches, too. I’ m sure that when the gardening was completed, lazy afternoons were spent on those great verandas, sipping homemade lemonade. I really enjoyed this one, Jim….keep writing!

  9. Cliff Warner says:

    I noticed two of the winning gardens were located on Zewe Street. My mother’s maiden name was Zewe and her family lived on Zewe Alley,not Zewe Street. I wonder if the name of the thoroughfare was changed over the years? Peter Street,located in the same area was named after my maternal Grandmother’s father, Peter Simon and Simon Alley was also named after him from what I’ve been told. My wife and I bought our first tiny home on Zewe Alley, at the time many of my mother’s relatives on both sides still lived in the surrounding neighborhood. . We have long since left and my relatives have all passed or moved away,but my fond memories of living .amongst family in Duquesne still linger on.

  10. Lou A. says:

    I must still BE one of those ‘fastidious little hunkies’, as I spend WAY too much for the lawn care company to weed/fertilize my grass lawn, which just means it grows faster and needs mowed more often, like today! I just finished and sat down at the computer to learn that I come by it honestly. Two things come to mind. 1st – I remember when we had a brick sidewalk out front and it was MY job to get down on my knees & use an old butter knife to clear away the dandelions; minimum wage back then was a penny a piece. Never could convince Mom to make dandelion salad, something about cats and dogs and, well, you know…. 2nd – Spend a few minutes with Google map and punch in the addresses on the photos; it’s like going to Heaven or Hell, you’ll be surprised who you see and disappointed at who you don’t… a few of the houses are still standing, but in others, the whole block is gone….

    • Jim says:

      Lou, you’ll ALWAYS be a fastidious little hunky to me!!! LOL

    • Lou A. says:

      Just to keep things positive, look at the three saplings in front of 1004 Kennedy in the photo above, then Google map the address to see the size of those three large sycamores still shading the avenue after 100 years; and the cement retaining wall is still intact. What will be left of our homes a century from now?

      • Bob Chermonitz says:

        Lou, you’re killing me! I gave up on my lawn about ten years ago. Whatever grows is still green and it all gets cut once a week by a high school kid I pay. It was always cut twice a week when I did it. When my sons still lived at home they cut the grass and called me the “lawn warden”. Lines had to be straight and grass cut at at certain height and all the trimming done perfectly including the flowers and the trees. Oh, and Chem Lawn took a real bite out of my checkbook! I hate to say it but I would recut the grass if the lines weren’t perfect but only if company was coming. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t important anymore. I just quit like when Forest Gump stopped running in the movie. Now the only flowers I tend are the ones on my deck and I take alot of satisfaction in them. Yep, just me and my wife, the flowers and the hummingbirds, sitting on the deck watching the high school kid ruin my lawnmower. Life can be good at times. 🙂

      • Jim says:

        Bob, I’m with you. Long ago I adopted my dad’s point-of-view regarding lawns. He stuck to the viewpoint that “If God planted it there, he intended for it to grow there, so who are we to judge!?!” He felt that if you cut it short enough and its green, what’s the difference. Besides, he had buddies waiting down at the Croatian Club and the Bucs were playing that day and Bob Prince was calling!! LOL

      • Cliff Warner says:

        My Dad’s dream lawn was one made up of bright green astro-turf.

      • Lou A. says:

        Well, Bob, I admit I am slowing down too; I don’t ALWAYS crisscross double-cut my front yard to look like an infield…. can’t do the back, too many trees. “It’s better to be looking DOWN at the grass than looking UP at the roots”

      • Jack Schalk says:

        That house on Kennedy caught my eye right away Lou.
        My first love lived there. Her first name was Barbara and we had to be all of 10 years old.
        That would put it at 1946. I lived at 1016 Kennedy then.

        Thanks Jim for your ability to keep our thoughts alive!

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