Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Neighborhood

There I am on the front stairs of my maternal grandparents' house at 5897 Ellsworth Avenue with a bowl in my mouth; some things never change!

The part of Pittsburgh that I grew up in is called Shadyside. My family had four houses near the top of Ellsworth Ave., near the junction of Ravenna St., Spahr Street and Ellsworth. I lived at 5893 Ellsworth Ave.. To the east stretched the body of the city, to the west was the area of the city that tapers off to the downtown business area, the "Golden Triangle", and the confluence of the Monongahela, and the Allegheny rivers into the beginning of the Ohio river; the "gateway to the west".
Our block of Ellsworth Ave. began at Spahr St. to the east was the Ellsworth Ave. bridge into East Liberty and the central interior of the city; to the west our block ended in College Ave. heading towards "downtown". One block north of Ellsworth ave. off College Ave. was Pierce street which ended there and began two blocks west at Sumerlea Street. The eastern block of Pierce was white and the western block black in the 1950s. In the 60s it was more mixed with the east block becoming more black and the west block became mostly dismantled and after 2000, slightly gentrified.
One can probably visit some website and access a street map of the Shadyside district of Pittsburgh, PA and follow along with the reminences that i will be blogging here concerning my youth spent mostly between the Shadyside and Homewood neighborhoods.
This part of Ellsworth Ave. was best to grow up on; East Liberty was one block across the Ellsworth Ave Bridge. A four lane railroad track ran directly behind my house. Bell Telephone had a facility on the southeast corner of Ellsworth and Spahr street. Their yard had larger than life cable spools we could climb over and through. We had the smell of the Sunshine Bakery(factory size) a block away east across the Ellsworth Ave. bridge and 1/2 block off Highland Ave.; half of a mile beyond that, the huge Nabisco Baking Company bakery socking out Saltines & Fig Newtons!
At the east end of our side of Ellsworth Ave.(the north side of the street)sat the last building before the footbridge to Centre Ave., and the Ellsworth Ave. Bridge to East Liberty, which was Kate Grecco's tiny grocery. Across from her on the southwest corner of Ellsworth and Spahr was Henry's Pie Shoppe. A short block south down Spahr on the corner was a tiny Mr. Softie(a fleet of neighborhood touring ice cream trucks) garage.
On the southwest corner of Ellsworth and College Aves. was a 7UP plant, and just across the railroad tracks to the north of Ellsworth Ave. was a large Coca-Cola bottleing plant. We kids took full advantage of these places into our 'tweens.
In the 1950s as now, Shadyside was a mix of families and college and university students due to it's proximity to the Oakland section to the west towards town, and Chatham Women's College was at across the street from where College Ave. intersected with 5th Ave.; this meant that when I was a child Ellsworth Ave. to the west between Spahr and Sumerlea Ave. were families, and hipster beatnic students, coffeehouses and art galleries, drugstores, bars, small mom & pop groceries, a Krogers and such.
So we had this, to me, wonderful mix of white, black, jewish, working, middle, and lower class, and hipster artists poets and musicians in our immediate vicinity.
I can remember that between 1955 and 59 my older cousins and their peers, white and black, used to stand on the footbridge to Centre Ave, or sometimes right in front of Kate's Grocery and harmonize early doo wop and r&b, I remember wishing I was older so I could sing with them.
There were these two black hipsters that would sometimes play bass & conga on the corner of College and Ellsworth Aves. outside the coffeehouse. I think the bass players name was Bat. He was an artist as well, a painter and sculptor, I think.

Things I miss: The mailman used to come twice a day; morning then late afternoon deliveries. The coffee men in there trucks with fresh hot coffee, cold and hot chocolate, and bags of fresh beans for purchase. The milkmen in their trucks. On horsedrawn carts, the junkmen. These guys would comb the alleys and pick through the shit you threw outback. They had notebooks and would jot down the larger items, then come back later with a helper or 2 to pick up the big shit. They would let you ride on the carts and sometimes on the horse's back. The vegetable man, also with a horsedrawn cart. Ours was this old Italian guy. He had a beautiful white stallion. He would come down Ellsworth Avenue crying his wares and bargains. Once a week he would yell/sing, "Everything today!" "Can I get a bunch of Scallions?" "No! Scallions tomorrow. EVERYTHING TODAY!" Mr. Softie had a garage on Spahr St.. In late afternoon they would return in there trucks and give us kids leftover ice cream treats. Coca Cola bottleing was on Centre Ave near Negley, 7up was on College and Ell sworth. At both, on Saturday afternoons in the summer would have a case of cold sodas sitting near the loading dock and would let each kid "steal" a bottle and then a guy would "chase" us somehow never being able to catch us. Fishing in Panther Hollow. The old Shadyside Boys Club in that house on Ellsworth Avenue across from Liberty School. This old cab driver named Bert who on Saturdays would gather a bunch of us kids and take us ALL to a Saturday Matineeat one of the theatres in East Liberty. The Theatres were the Roosevelt, Sheraden Square, Regent, Liberty, and the Cameraphone. Sawdust on the floors of the grocery stores, meat markets and bars. You could spit on the sawdust if you felt the need. If you went in a bar with your folks you had to generally sit in the women's section because there was a latrine at the foot of the bar where a rail is now and guys would stand up next to their stool, whip out their dick and piss, never leaving the bar. Some bars even had a separate LADIES entrance. If anyone puked it would hit the sawdust and that bit of sawdust would be swept up and tossed out. By sawdust I mean a mixture of sawdust and hay. All food markets and bars had a thick layer of this on the floor. I miss the old trolly to Kennywood Amusement Park from East Liberty through Squirrel Hill. I miss being able to keep your seat on a ride at Kenneywood and riding more than once if you had the right ticket.(50 cents) Pony rides on Walnut St.. O, yea. The egg man and HIS horse drawn cart. Being able to keep chickens, ducks, geese pigs, and goats in your back yard. All of the guys with horses would let you ride. At the bars you could buy a whole bottle of whiskey or wine and not have to buy it shot by shot! The diaper men and laundry trucks! In the 1950s there were several beatnik coffeehouses and a couple art galleries on Ellsworth Avenue. On the NE corner of Ellsworth and College was the FAT BLACK PUSSYCAT coffee house. They screened silent flix, had poetry readings and such. In the summer there were these 3 guys, a bass, bongos and sax who would stand out front and play jazz. At the top of Ellsworth by Spahr St. there was a bridge to East Liberty( it's gone now) teenagers would hang out there and sing early rock and doo wop. On the NW corner of Spahr and Ellsworth was HENRY'S PIE SHOPPE. Man they would make the street smell sweet, their pie baking smells would mix with the smells of the old Nabisco Bakery and Sunshine Bakery on Stevenson street behind where Kelly's is. Up on Shady Ave where the entrance to the GIANT EAGLE lot is was a place called the Penn-Shady Ballroom. They had great R&B, early rock and jazz shows. James Brown before his funk days! Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, etc. A lot of these shows were put on by PORKY CHEDWICK. Or KQV and KDKA. The kids would DANCE at these shows. No seats. There were also rock shows and circus events at the HUNT ARMORY on Emerson off of Walnut St. They would put the tanks and trucks outside on the street to acomodate the audiences.Back to the 1950s. Up on Shady Ave. where the entrance to the GIANT EAGLE lot is was a place called the Penn-Shady Ballroom. They had great R&B, early rock and jazz shows. James Brown before his funk days! Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, etc. A lot of these shows were put on by PORKY CHEDWICK. Or KQV and KDKA. The kids would DANCE at these shows. No seats. There were also rock shows and circus events at the HUNT ARMORY on Emerson off of Walnut St. They would put the tanks and trucks outside on the street to accomodate the audiences. Coal trucks, delivering coal to the basement coal bin through a special little door. Most Pgh homes had coal burning furnaces.


2 comments:

  1. Wow this is incredible! I want to know more about Pittsburgh!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Damn cuz you been in the game for a minute

    ReplyDelete