Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Paul J. Ricciuti

Paul J. Ricciuti. Photo courtesy of Paul J. Ricciuti

Good cities are places where the natural and built environment complement each other. In Youngstown, the Wick Avenue corridor running through the university district is one of the showplaces of the city. St. John’s Episcopal Church. the Reuben MacMillan Library. Maag Library. The McDonough Museum of Art. The Butler Museum of Art. The Wick-Pollock Inn. The Arms Museum Carriage House. One man and the architecture firm he headed was involved in the design, preservation, restoration, or enlargement of each of these buildings. Paul J. Ricciuti.

I first became acquainted with Mr. Ricciuti when I wrote an article about my childhood pediatrician, beloved throughout Youngstown, Dr. James B. Birch. If you visit that post and scroll through the comments, you will see one from Mr, Ricciuti:

Good morning,
Thank you for the wonderful story about my wife’s (Katie Birch Ricciuti) father, Dr Birch. After he retired, he lived with us for three years in Liberty where he enjoyed his last years with his faithful dog Chico. He was a remarkable man and it gives Katie great pleasure that he is still thought of by his patients. We still have the famous “black bag”, which will be donated to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

We became Facebook friends around that time. As I continued to write about Youngstown, his name kept turning up, whether in connection with the design of Maag Library (where I spent many hours studying my last years of college) or the exterior restoration of the Mahoning County Court House (as a design consultant) or the Tod Cemetery Office and Chapel or the Tyler History Center. This summer, I happened to note on Facebook that Mr. Ricciuti had celebrated his 87th birthday and thought that maybe I ought to write an article about this man that has had such an influence on the built environment of Youngstown. Shortly after, a note from one of his children suggesting an article confirmed my instinct.

Paul Ricciuti is a Youngstown native, a first generation American of parents who immigrated from Italy. He grew up in Brownlee Woods and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1953. His interest in architecture traces back to his drawing teacher at Wilson who “started me drawing house plans and I loved the idea of creating a building on paper.” He went on to Kent State, studying architecture with Joseph Morbitto, who introduced him to Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan, two major American architects. During the summer, he worked with Walter Damon, a Youngstown architect who taught him the value of historic preservation and restoration, which would become a major part of his career.

Maag Library, a contemporary design by Paul Ricciuti built in 1975. Notice how well it fits into the natural landscape. Photo by Robert C. Trube

He finished his work at Kent State in 1959 after taking a year out to work in Washington, DC. It was through a dinner invitation from a friend in the art department at Kent that he met Katherine Birch. After a tour of duty with the Air Force and passing his state boards in 1962, he was married to Katherine in 1963. Three children and eight grandchildren followed. They were married for 59 years until Katherine’s recent passing in October of 2022.

He joined the firm of Smith, Buchanan, & Smith, which later became Buchanan Ricciuti and Partners and later, Ricciuti Balog, and Partners. A major focus of his work has been education and the arts. A number of his projects were at Youngstown State: Maag Library, DeBartolo Hall, Cafaro and Lyden Houses, the McDonough Museum and the Wick Avenue Pedestrian Bridge. Other education-related projects included both the Mahoning County and Trumbull County Career and Technical Centers, a restoration project at McDonald High School, and projects at Geneva Ohio Schools, Kent City Schools, Wooster City Schools, Columbus City Schools, Alliance City Schools, Lake Local, Plain Local, Sebring Local and West Branch Local School Districts.

In his later career and in retirement, Ricciuti focused on historic preservation and adaptive reuse projects. A good example locally is the Tyler Center of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, as well as the Carriage House of the Arms Museum. In Youngstown, he also did restoration and adaptive reuse work on the Strouss’ building, the McCrory Building, the Tod Cemetery Office and Chapel, the Ursuline Motherhouse, the Youngstown YWCA and the McKinley Memorial Library.

Perhaps his favorite project, his pride and joy, was the Lackawanna Station Building in Scranton, Pennsylvania, now the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel. I’m going to let pictures tell the story of this grand structure, restored to its former glory

Highsmith, C. M., photographer. (2019) The massive Lackawanna Station building in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Scranton Pennsylvania Lackawanna County United States, 2019. -06-01. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

From Maag Library to the Tyler to the Lackawanna Station, and so much in between, Paul Ricciuti has produced an impressive body of work. A measure of this was his investiture in 1996 in the College of Fellows in the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the first architect from Youngstown to receive this honor. He had previously been awarded a Gold Medal in 1994 from the AIA Eastern Ohio and the Charles Marr Award in 1993 from the AIA Ohio Foundation. In addition, he received the Directors Award of Achievement (2007) from the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, the Preservation Merit Award (2008) from the Ohio Historic Preservation Office for his work on the Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings, the Woodrow Wilson Hall of Fame (2015) and the Tod Homestead Cemetery Trustee Award (2022).

He remains actively involved not only with his church, St. John’s Episcopal, but also in a number of community causes that reflect his interests. His community involvement includes being the President of the Youngstown Symphony Society, Youngstown Hearing & Speech Center, and the Liberty Rotary Club; a Trustee or Director of the Tod Homestead Cemetery, YSU McDonough Museum of Art, Mahoning Valley Historical Society and Stambaugh Auditorium Association.

I asked Mr. Ricciuti why he stayed in Youngstown when someone with his talents could well have worked in a major city. He wrote back to me:

While still in college, I was offered a position with a national firm in Chicago, but I decided after completing my service with the U.S. Air Force to stay in Youngstown. My roots, family and friends were here and having worked the summers with a local architectural firm, I understood the opportunities here in the early 1960’s. I’m glad I stayed!

Mr. Ricciuti, I’m glad you stayed as well. Thank you for all you have contributed to Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. Well done, sir!

[A special thanks to Paul J. Ricciuti who provided in writing much of the background information in this article, the photograph of himself, and gave me an informal phone interview.]

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

7 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Paul J. Ricciuti

  1. Thank you Bob, for this wonderful piece on my father. Dad embodies all what is great about Youngstown and why I am so proud to call Ytown my hometown. I wish my mother was still with us to read your words, but then again, Mom knew that he is an amazing man, husband, father and grandfather. I am sure Dad’s eight grandchildren will very much appreciate this, as much as I did. My sincerest gratitude, J. Bruce Ricciuti

    Like

  2. Thank you for this great biography of Paul J. Ricciuti! What amazing an amazing career and accomplishments.
    I also enjoyed the one of legendary Dr. Birch, whom my Mom, Helen Knuff, quoted for years and years. I can close my eyes and picture his office and the wooden toys like I’m stepping back in time.
    Thanks… Karen Knuff-Liddy

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Who knew such talent was behind many buildings in Youngstown. Thanks once again for article on Mr. Riccuiti. Went to YSU late 70s and spent hours in the library. For me it wasn’t about studying but rather seek,ing out information about California. I moved in 1980 and spent 42 years out west.

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  4. Thank you so much for this wonderful documentation of the life and career of one of our most distinguished citizens and our good friend, Paul Ricciuti. We are all proud of his many accomplishments in our community and indeed privileged to consider him our dear friend and colleague.

    Bravo for this richly deserved tribute and our grateful thanks for sharing.

    Ron/Marcia Gould

    Liked by 1 person

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