Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — “Rocky Ridge”

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Sled Hill in the James L.Wick, Jr. Recreation Area, Courtesy of Mill Creek MetroParks. Used by permission.

“Rocky Ridge” was what we called the James L. Wick, Jr. Recreation Area in Mill Creek Park. The name comes from the rocky escarpment that runs along the southern border of the Recreation Area that descends to Bears Den Road and the Bears Den area below. Development of the Recreation Area began in 1949 and was completed in 1956. I have memories from every season. It was a 15 to 20 minute walk from my house, or a five minute drive, up the hill on Mahoning, a left turn down South Belle Vista past McCollum Road where the road ran through the area (it has now been closed off at the parking lots).

When we were young and it had snowed, we used to haul our sleds up to Rocky Ridge and ride down the hill by the playground area. If you had waxed the runners and the snow was packed, you could make it to the second hill. By the time I was in junior high, in 1968, the ice rink was opened. Many Friday and Saturday nights, my buddy Jim and I would walk up in the cold winter air, pay our money, lace up our skates on the benches in the indoor shelter, leaving our shoes underneath, and go out on the ice and try to meet girls. Occasionally we even succeeded!

Spring brought breezy weather in March, and it was time to pull out the kites. Again, we’d stand at the top of the highest hill by the playground, facing east. I remember one time when I had a ball of string, maybe 1000 feet long, and had my kite out nearly the whole length, and high up in the air, when the string broke. It was gone! I wonder where it ended up? Later spring brought class picnics when we were in elementary school, with games and time to climb the old “monkey bars” and swing on the swings and slide down the big sliding board. This was before the day when play areas had wood chips that made for soft landings. At that time, the surface was asphalt, and I recall more than one scraped knee!

As spring transitioned to summer, it was time for baseball! In high school, I played on a church league fast pitch softball team and we often played games on one of the baseball diamonds. I was never much of a baseball player and I think my career ended when I broke my thumb playing first base (as a right hander with my left hand being my glove hand). I didn’t usually play that position and was reaching to catch a ball thrown to put a runner out when the runner collided with me–spikes on the leg and a broken thumb. I actually finished the game and didn’t find out until later than night that the thumb was broken!

About then, I switched over to tennis, and often played tennis on the courts. It was cool because, at least then, you could play at night as well. I had several buddies on the tennis team at Chaney and thought about joining the team, because I could beat them at least half the time. I never got into golf, but lots of my friends caddied or played at the par 3 golf course that opened up some time in the 1960’s (I believe).

Another summer memory was concerts out on the lawn. I remember hearing Lionel Hampton as kid. I don’t think I realized what a jazz great he was then, though my parents were pretty excited to hear him. Sitting out on lawn chairs and hearing live music as the air cooled down on a summer evening was fun.

I kept playing tennis into the early fall, and then there were pickup touch football games with friends, or when we got to college, Ultimate Frisbee games on whatever field we could find that didn’t have another game going. Eventually, the cold and rainy weather of November drove us inside until the snows and cold came and the ice rink opened once again.

The James L. Wick, Jr. Recreation Area is still a year-round recreation area. Sadly, the ice rink closed some years ago. Now there is a “Sled Hill” with a Warming House and snack shop, as well as opportunities for cross country skiing. The play area is much more child-safe than in our day, with three different play areas. There is a permanent concert pavilion, the Judge Morley Performing Arts Pavilion, sand volleyball courts, and batting cages.

I have to admit, the name “The James L. Wick, Jr. Recreation Area” was always a mouthful for me. We always just called it “Rocky Ridge” (I’ve also heard Rock Ridge, occasionally). Now the name Rocky Ridge is used to describe the neighborhoods north of there between South Schenley and South Belle Vista Avenues up to Mahoning Avenue. There is even a Rocky Ridge Neighbors group. I’m glad they have kept the name alive!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Cathedral of St. Columba

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The Cathedral of St. Columba, by Nyttend — Own Work, Public Domain

I’m writing this post on St. Patrick’s Day and so it seems appropriate to write about one of the iconic places of Youngstown that bears the name of another Irish saint, the Cathedral of St. Columba. Columba was born in Ireland, educated in one of the monastic schools in that country, and with a band of twelve led a mission that spread Christianity to present day Scotland. He founded the famous abbey of Iona where he died in 597 AD.

St. Columba’s church and parish was founded in 1847 and the first church building completed in 1850. A larger church was completed in 1868, and a larger one yet in 1897, with copper covered spires completed in 1927. In 1943, the Diocese of Youngstown was established, and St. Columba was chosen as the cathedral for the new diocese.

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The Cathedral of St. Columba before the fire of 1954.

One of the big events in Youngstown in 1954 was the fire as a result of a lightning strike that left this cathedral in ruins. I heard about the fire growing up, and it must have been a heart-breaking event for the Catholic community of Youngstown. It occurred on September 2, 1954, less than a month after I was born. I suspect the fire was visible from many parts of the city, given its location at the corner of Wood and Elm Street on the hill overlooking downtown Youngstown.

A new cathedral was designed by the architectural firm Diehl & Diehl, based in Detroit with construction beginning in 1956 by The Charles Shutrump and Sons Company. The present structure was completed on November 9, 1958 and dedicated by Bishop Emmet M Welsh. The building is an example of modern church architecture with a “Romanesque” style. The soaring vertical lines, and particularly the campanile, or bell tower (132 feet above street level) immediately catch the eye and draw it upward toward the heavens.

There is so much that is distinctive about this structure beginning with the eleven foot Joseph M. LeLauro statue of St Columba on the southwest corner of the entrance. The other thing one immediately notices when entering the cathedral are the stain glass windows, portraying the Apostles, who are the foundation of the church. There is an architectural and liturgical guide to the cathedral printed at the time of the dedication of the building that wonderfully describes the cathedral. It may be accessed at: https://issuu.com/edelcolle/docs/st.columba_booklet.

The picture of the cathedral at the top of this post is roughly the view I saw out the third floor back windows in the Customer Service area at McKelvey’s. Whenever I finished dealing  with a particularly nasty customer, I could step back to the windows and be reminded to “look up” to get perspective and calm my heart.

In researching this post, I discovered that one of my high school classmates, Monsignor Peter M. Polando, is the Rector of the parish. I remember him as a person of character during our years together at Chaney High School, so it does not surprise me at all to see him in this role. Well done Monsignor Polando!

The Cathedral of Saint Columba looks out over the city of Youngstown and is visible from many points across the Valley. That seems fitting for a diocese cathedral whose patron saint had a deep care for spreading the Christian message widely through the lands beyond Christian Ireland. The church serves as a center for many diocesan and cultural events. May it continue to be a light in the Valley!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The View From Home

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“The Morning Drive,” Christopher Leeper, 2017. Image used by permission of the artist.

A relative recently posted the above image on Facebook and tagged me, asking if I recognized the location. When I saw this, I gasped, because I realized that this was the view of Youngstown I had grown up with. The painting portrays the view down Mahoning Avenue toward downtown, with the east and northeast sides of the city in the distance, from a point just west of the intersection of North and South Portland Avenues. I lived two houses in, on North Portland. The view is from almost exactly the place where I waited for the 9 Mahoning bus to go downtown to work, or to walk up to Youngstown State.

The image is reproduced from a 26 x 39 watercolor painting (available for sale!) by Christopher Leeper, a fine Youngstown area artist living in Canfield. It is one of several recent works portraying West Side scenes. Leeper is a 1988 BFA graduate from Youngstown State, an adjunct faculty at Youngstown State, and past president of the Ohio Watercolor Society. We have seen him on public television in Columbus, where his works have been shown. You may view his work, learn more about him, or even contact him via his website: christopherleeper.com.

Some details caught my eye. One is the car toward the left turning into a side street. That would be my street. On the left side of Mahoning, behind the car is the building that used to be Dave’s Appliance store. Obviously, you are seeing the city on one of those cold, probably single digit days (vapor coming from the chimneys) that often follow snowfalls. I will have you notice that the streets are clear. Those of us who don’t live in snow belt areas like Youngstown just can’t understand why it takes days to plow the streets.

Our street was also off a hill. It was a good thing they were so good about clearing the snow. I remember blizzards where we would listen to the tractor trailer rigs hauling steel from the mills struggling up the hill.  You will notice that the businesses (or at least the buildings where there used to be businesses) are all right next to the sidewalks. Some had parking lots on the side but many were meant to be walked to, or you would just park on the street.

The Youngstown area is often referred to as the Mahoning Valley. The painting gives one a sense of this with rising hills above the flood plains on each side of the Mahoning River. We were west and south of the river, which runs from northwest to southeast through the city. The faint hills in the distance were north and east of the river. This was more or less the view out my back window as a young boy, where I could look across and up and down the valley from our house.

The Beatles song, “In My Life” begins with these lines:

“There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain.”

This painting so caught my attention because the views, the vistas we grew up with are always there with us, always a part of us. True, some has changed, some not for the better, some gone, and some remaining. But the Valley is still there, the major downtown buildings, and even the utility poles lining the streets. The memories of cold, crisp sunny winter days come rushing back, with the vapor of a thousand chimneys rising across the Valley. May I never forget the view from home!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Iconic Places of the Past

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“IdoraDanceHall1920” by Youngstown News Agency, Youngstown, Ohio – Public domain

Last week I wrote about iconic places in Youngstown today. Doing so brought to mind many of the other iconic places of the past, places we re-visit in our memories. Some reflected a period, but many reflect what a different city the Youngstown of the past was from the Youngstown of today.

  1. Idora Park. Actually, this was the home to a number of iconic spots in our memories from the Merry-go-round to the Wildcat to the midway to the ballroom to the French Fry stand. Cotton candy, delight and a bit of terror, dates and dances. So much history. 

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    Palace Theater. Photo by Steveovig

  2. The Palace Theater. This was an absolutely gorgeous place just off Central Square. It was replaced by a parking lot. The Paramount hung on longer but it also is no more.
  3. Downtown department stores. McKelvey’s and Strouss’ were incredible old stores. As kids, we would dress up to shop there. Strouss’ building is still there.

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    Point Market –Source unknown

  4. The Point Market. Remember the big red revolving apple on this local grocery at the corner of South Avenue and Midlothian? Until I-680 was completed, I’d drive past there every time I visited my girl friend (now wife).
  5. The Newport Theater. One of the early suburban theaters where I first saw The Sound of Music.
  6. Uptown. The place to be on date nights–everything from the Pizza Oven to fine restaurants and the Uptown Theater.

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    20th Century Restaurant. Photo courtesy of Morris Levy, used with permission

  7. The 20th Century Restaurant. Spinning bowl salads, rolls, and great desserts served in an Art Deco style building.

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    Youngstown Masonic Temple, Nyttend – Own Work, Public Domain

  8. Masonic Temple. The building may still be standing but the last lodge of Masons could no longer afford the upkeep and gave up the building in 2016. Dad was a Mason, and I remember some really fun family events there as a kid.
  9. The Brown Derby. Another popular restaurant on the South Side of Youngstown. A favorite for family gatherings and date nights. I asked my wife to marry me there. Obviously she said “yes”.

  10. Steel mills. Of course the steel mills lining the Mahoning River are perhaps the iconic places of the past for Youngstown.

All cities change over time. Business owners die or competition drives places out of business. Industries change. Once popular institutions fade. It’s good to remember icons. And it is good for a new generation to create new ones. Let’s hope that happens for Youngstown.

What would you add to this list?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Iconic Places

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Old Mill and Lanterman Falls. Photo by Keith Roberts — Public Domain

Every town of any size has its iconic places. Sometimes they are places of natural beauty. Sometimes they are places of distinctive architecture. Sometimes the two elements come together. You might call them “iconic” places, because they are places distinguished by some excellence of form, and might even serve as an “icon” representing the place where they are situated. These are often the places that show up on postcards of a city.

I think Youngstown has more than its share of icons. Here are some that come to mind:

  1. Lanterman Falls and the Old Mill (photo above). This is quintessentially Youngstown. Early industry side by side with one of the most beautiful sights in Youngstown’s Mill Creek Park. The mill can be toured and hosts a number of special events. There is a covered bridge, and trails along the gorge offer a number of scenic views.

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    W. Federal Street in the 1960’s with Home Savings in the center of the image. (Source unknown)

  2. Home Savings and Loan Main Office. The lighted top of this building could be seen from many parts of town. A beacon of financial stability for the valley. My last visit there was to clean out my father’s safe deposit box.

    Isaly Dairy Plant

    Photo by Brian Butko. Used by permission with inclusion of the following: Klondikes, Chipped Ham, & Skyscraper Cones: The Story of Isaly’s by Brian Butko. For more information, contact Stackpole Books at (800) 732-3669 or sales@stackpolebooks.com

  3. The U-Haul Building (formerly the Isaly Dairy Plant). Located at the intersection of Glenwood Avenue and Mahoning Avenue, when one approached it over the Mahoning Bridge, you got a dramatic view of the art deco design as you anticipated a skyscraper cone.

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    Indian Scout Sculpture. From Butler Institute of American Art Facebook Page

  4. The Indian Scout Bronze Statue in front of the Butler. It represents the extraordinary American art collection inside including the Remington collection.

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    Jones Hall (Public Domain)

  5. Jones Hall. At one time, this was Youngstown State, and may be the place many of us who graduated think of when we think of the campus.

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    Gazebo, Photo by Robert C Trube, (c) 2010

  6. Gazebo at Fellows Riverside Gardens. One of the more recent iconic places but rapidly becoming a favorite place for wedding photos and other gatherings.

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    Stambaugh Auditorium by Nyttend — Own work, Public Domain

  7. Stambaugh Auditorium. This building, gracing Fifth Avenue looks like a classic Greek temple, and has been the site of many concerts, graduations and receptions.

    Mill_Creek_Park_Suspension_Bridge

    By Rg998 — Own Work, CC BY-SA 3.0

  8. The Silver Bridge. Another iconic structure in Mill Creek Park, one of Volney Rogers’ “fanciful entrances” to the scenic wonder of the park.

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    St Columba’s Cathedral, by Nyttend — Own Work, Public Domain

  9. St. Columba’s Cathedral. The Catholic cathedral of Youngstown, built in 1958, after a fire destroyed the first cathedral on the same site.

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    Stambaugh Stadium. By Greenstrat — Own Work, Public Domain

  10. Stambaugh Stadium. The home of the Youngstown State football Penguins and the site of many playoff victories. Also known as “The Ice Castle” and visible all over the city.

That’s my list, but I’m sure you can think of others. There are also a number of iconic places that are no more, perhaps the subject of a future post. Steel helped build at least some of these iconic places, but what is impressive is the aesthetic beauty of many, and their enduring presence in the city. If you are visiting the city and want to see it at its best, these are some of the places I would go.

What other “iconic places” would you include? And if you had to pick a “top one” which one would you choose?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Record Stores

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Photo (c) 2017, Robert C Trube

I saw this scene yesterday at our local Barnes & Noble and it brought back memories of the hours I spent as a teenager bent over bins of LPs at record stores around Youngstown. I find it amazing that vinyl is making a comeback–I think they were devoting more space to vinyl than to CD’s in this store. They said back in the late 1980’s that vinyl was dead. It has apparently experienced a resurrection. Actually for years, I’ve known people who prefer the sound of vinyl, including a number of young listeners. And I’ve picked up some great recordings in used record stores–yes, you can still sometimes find me over those record bins! It appears that CD’s are on the ropes as people either download or stream music they want to listen to digitally.

Perhaps the place to go for records at one time was Record Rendezvous in downtown Youngstown on W. Federal Street. This was the place where you could go and listen to music before you bought it, particularly on 45’s, and some LP’s. They advertised regularly in the Vindicator as I recall, with lists of the top 10 hits. As I understand it, they were part of a chain of Record Rendezvous stores in northeast Ohio. From a Vindicator obituary, I learned there was also a Record Rendezvous in Niles.

I have to admit, I didn’t shop there regularly personally. When I was downtown, I was usually at work at McKelvey’s, later Higbee’s, and they had a decent record department up on the fifth floor during the time I worked there, and I could use my employee discount, which often gave me the best price on new vinyl. It was one of my favorite places to go on break, other than Plaza Donuts in the old Parkade. In high school, my tastes were more to rock and roll–classic groups like The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revivial, and Jethro Tull. In college, I discovered jazz and artists like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Dave Brubeck (still one of my favorites!). And because of a friend at Dana School of Music who exposed me to classical music, I began to buy some of the great classical works.

I always loved the album art on LP’s. The little booklets in jewel cases just weren’t the same. I think, for example, that my love for my recording of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony has just as much to do with the beautiful forest scene on the cover with a woman in white in the midst. Remember trying to figure out the significance of the cover of Abbey Road? Was Paul dead? Or the minimalist cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon–a black background, a thin ray of light passing through a prism creating a spectrum of color? There were the surrealist covers by Mati Klarwein on Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew and Santana’s Abraxas. Great music, great art. This never shows up on “best” lists but Cream’s Disraeli Gears cover strikes me as one of the best psychedelic pieces of art.

Camelot Music and National Record Mart eventually came on the scene at the malls, with much bigger selections than the department stores but whenever we were in K-Mart or Woolco, we’d check out the record section because they usually had the best prices. Camelot became the place to go for me to build my jazz and classical collections as well as pick up some of the latest hits. But I remember  that the YSU bookstore had some great sales, usually on “cutouts” but I found some unusual classical and jazz at some of these, including a great collection of Schubert Symphonies.

I’ve been trying to rack my brain as to whether there was ever a Peaches Records in the Youngstown area. It would have had to be after I left. There was a place called Oasis records for a while in the Boardman Plaza and I loved to go over there while my wife took her mom shopping on visits back home.

Stores just dedicated to records are fewer and farther between these days. Barnes & Noble stores have a growing selection of vinyl as well as other media. I found online three independent stores in the Youngstown area, Geo’s Music in downtown Youngstown, Underdog Records in Hubbard, and the Record Connection in Niles. I’ll have to put these on my Youngstown Bucket List because I still love perusing through the bins of vinyl looking for that special recording.

Did you enjoy hanging out at record shops growing up? Where did you go to get your music?

 

 

 

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — YMCA

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The YMCA on N. Champion in its early years. It still looked much like this when I joined. From Cliff Smith YMCA Postcard Collection, Springfield College Archives and Special Collections, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Before “YMCA” was a hit song, it was a place where many generations of boys in Youngstown learned how to swim and participated in athletic and other activities, alongside volunteers and staff who cared about about their physical and character fitness (the initials stand for Young Men’s Christian Association). It also had low cost rooms that young men starting out could live in. The organization originally was founded in London, England and spread abroad. The idea was to promote a kind of “muscular Christianity” that promoted both physical and spiritual training.

By the time I became a member when I was in fourth grade, the spiritual part was pretty minimal. There was an induction ceremony that I remember that involved lighting candles, and an inspiring message, and we received our Y membership card, which we showed whenever we came into the building, the Central YMCA, located on North Champion Street off of E. Federal, where the Central Y has been located since 1915.

Growing up, I was what my parents called “husky” and my schoolmates called “fat.” Joining the Y was a way for me to get in better shape. I’m not sure it worked, but I gave it a try. I took swim lessons but never really graduated from the beginners. I’d go every Thursday after school and Saturday, but never quite got the hang of it. I still can’t swim. Maybe I’ll try learning in retirement some day!

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Pool, resident rooms, and cafeteria as it looked when I was a Y member. From Cliff Smith YMCA Postcard Collection, Springfield College Archives and Special Collections, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Saturdays were a fun day. You would come in the front entrance into the lobby where there were board games, puzzles, and even a chess board. In the morning, you went with other kids your age through a program that included swimming, exercise, some competitive games coached by the staff, running on the indoor track, and then off to the showers. Then it was time for lunch. They had this great cafeteria, and it was here that I discovered french fries with ketchup on them. After lunch, you could go see a movie, go to a craft room or play board games in the lobby until your parents picked you up.

Going to the Y meant getting my first gym bag and the stuff to go in it. The gym bag was blue vinyl with the Y logo on it. In it went shoes, gym shorts, t-shirt, swim suit, towel, deodorant, and this thing I had never worn before called an athletic supporter (alias jock strap). I had never thought of needing that kind of support before!

The first trip to the locker room was kind of intimidating–all these guys walking around naked taking showers at the same time. And you were supposed to do it too. I guess it was kind of a rite of passage into early adolescence. Thankfully, nothing weird ever happened and pretty soon, you didn’t think twice about it.

A Y membership when I was going up was $20 for the year. That made it accessible for most any family and the Y has always, and still does, offer financial assistance for children or families. The Central YMCA on North Champion is still there. It just finished the first major renovation in 46 years in January. In this video, taken in 2010, you can get a glimpse at what opportunities they offered at that time. It was amazing to see the old lower gym, still looking much as it had, with the indoor track above, as it did in the 1960’s. The pool looked pretty similar as well but everything else was different.

One other difference is that it serves women as well. There is still a YWCA in its historic building on Rayen Avenue. My wife took free swimming lessons there and we had friends in college who lived there because it was so inexpensive. I don’t know much else about it then or now except that it continues to serve women in the Youngstown area.

So much of what I remember in Youngstown is gone. It is a delight to know that these places of my youth are still standing, and still serving the people of Youngstown!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Sides of Town

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Map from the City of Youngstown, Ohio. Used by permission

 

Almost any time you ask someone who grew up in the city of Youngstown where they were from, they will answer you in terms of which side of town they grew up in. If they grew up in one of the distinctive or “named” neighborhoods of the city, they might add that as well, like Brier Hill, or Brownlee Woods. But in Youngstown you were East Side, West Side, North Side, or South Side.

The fascinating thing to me, living as I do in a much larger city, is that while we were geographically very close–a few miles–to each other and yet often knew little of other sides of town, unless we had relatives who lived there. All of Youngstown would fit into one “side” (yes we use this language where I now live as well) of the city where I live. It takes me longer to drive to my grocery store on the same side of town than it used to take me to drive from the West side to the South side to visit my girl friend (now wife) who lived in Brownlee Woods.

The West side, where I grew up, consists of the areas west of Mill Creek and the Mahoning River northwest of downtown extending to the north, west, and south city limits. The North side is the area north of downtown up to the north city limit between the Mahoning River on the west and Crab Creek on the east. The East side was the area east of Crab Creek, downtown, and the Mahoning River as it flows southeast out of the downtown area, bordered on the north, east and southeast by the city limits. The South side is the area south of downtown and I-680 to the southern city limits (which jut out to the south to incorporate the Pleasant Grove and Brownlee Woods neighborhoods) and is bordered on the west by Mill Creek and on the east by the Mahoning River, except for a portion of the Buckeye Plat east of the river.

Each side of the city included neighborhoods with distinctive names (forgive me if I’ve omitted any) as well as many neighborhoods that had none, including mine on the lower West side north of Mahoning Avenue:

  • West side: Garden District (more recent), Ohio Works, Salt Springs, Schenley, Kirkmere, Rocky Ridge, and Cornersburg.
  • North side: Brier Hill, Crandall Park North, Fifth Avenue, Golf View Acres East and West, Smoky Hollow, and Wick Park.
  • East side: Beachwood, Hazelton, Lansdowne, Lincoln Knolls, McGuffey Heights, and Sharon Line.
  • South side: Boulevard Park, Brownlee Woods, Buckeye, Handel’s, Idora, Indian Village, Lansingville, Lansingville Heights, Newport, Oak Hill, Pleasant Grove.

The sides of the city definitely had their own personality. But I have to admit that I don’t know the different parts of town, especially the East side, well enough to be sure I am accurately characterizing them, so take whatever I say with a grain of salt. The West side, where I grew up was known as the “white West side” (historically due to red-lining) and still is the one predominantly white area of the city. It was definitely home to a number of blue collar families, many who had someone working in the Ohio works or another manufacturing concern. As people prospered they moved further out on the west and southwest areas of the city.

The North side, I always thought of as the rich and cultured area, with the mansions on Fifth Avenue. But it was, and is, home to the vibrant Italian community of Brier Hill. The South side was the largest, most populous part of the city. Both of my grandparents lived there. I remember spacious homes, tree-lined streets in many of the neighborhoods between Glenwood and Market Street. Newport was always where we went to see the best Christmas displays, and it was obvious that those who lived there were successful in business.

As I said, the East side was the area I know the least about. My dad worked for a company along Crab Creek, Raymond Concrete Pile. We used to drive out Hubbard Rd to visit relatives in Hubbard. I recall that it seemed almost rural, with many houses on large lots quite a distance from each other. From what I read, this area has the most undeveloped and agricultural space in the city, as well as McKelvey Lake. I’d love for those who grew up on the East side to tell me more of what your side of town was like.

I suspect for all of us from Youngstown, we have special memories of the side of town on which we grew up. I’d love for you to share them, and what made your area of town special (no bashing other parts of town!).

 

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Brown Derby

brown-derbyDid you ever go on a date to the Brown Derby restaurant? It was one of those places where you went for a nice evening out. At one time, you had uniformed waiters, white table clothes, good steaks, decent house wines, a quiet atmosphere, and it wasn’t an absolute budget-breaker.

It’s a place that has special memories for me. That’s where I asked my wife to marry me, back in the spring of 1977, between dinner and dessert. She said “yes” and never was a dessert so good. We had many chances to re-live those memories because it was also one of my parent’s favorite places to which we took them for many birthday and anniversary celebrations. My mom always loved a good steak.

The Brown Derby Restaurant (later Roadhouse) at 2537 South Avenue was not a local family restaurant, but part of a chain started by Gus Girves in Akron in 1941. It is no longer in business but the restaurant chain still operates five restaurants in the Cleveland area. According to Classic Restaurants of Youngstown the restaurant opened in the 1950s on Market Street and later relocated to South Avenue.

We lived in Cleveland in the 1980’s and went to several Brown Derbys, one in North Randall, near where we lived and one in Hudson, a bit more upscale. They had great salad bars that were quite inexpensive at lunch.  We still talk about one visit when our son was just a toddler and we attempted to celebrate our anniversary with him rather than get a sitter. He thoroughly enjoyed his dinner. At his age utensils, unfortunately were optional and by the time we left it looked like we all had been in a food fight!

We moved to Columbus in 1990. Brown Derby used to have restaurants here, and we ate at one once or twice before they closed. Back in Youngstown, the restaurant on South Avenue as well as the one on 422 in Niles became Roadhouses, more casual in style. Eventually we started taking the parents out to one of the steakhouses in Boardman on our visits home.

The restaurant in Niles closed in the fall of 2013. I could not find out when the South Avenue restaurant closed but suspect it was some time earlier. While the Brown Derby was not a Youngstown original, in the 1960’s and ’70’s, it was a great, affordable place for a nice dinner out on a date night and a great place for family gatherings. It’s another one of those places that seemed to weave in and out of the fabric of our lives.

What are your memories of the Brown Derby?

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Occupying Ourselves

erector-set_01

An erector set like mine. Photo from Eli Whitney Museum — Erector Sets and Manuals

In the area where I live, we noticed that the minivan was the car of choice when our son was growing up. Parents were defined as “he or she who pays and drives.” We were kind of alarmed, actually, at the expectation that after school you were supposed to take your kid to leagues, lessons, “enrichment” opportunities and more. It seemed kind of weird to us, but we thought it might be weirder if our son didn’t get to do anything, and so we did a few things like Scouts, football in middle school, or later, voice lessons in high school.

It was weird because both my wife and I remember just keeping yourself occupied after school. In good weather you played pickup baseball, basketball or football, at least if you were a boy. You skated or sledded or built snow forts when it snowed. And in those seasons where it was chilly and damp, you found things to do indoors.

Girls might do sewing projects or weaving projects, drawing, painting, or crafts (gender roles were pretty well defined back then–what boys could do and what girls could do). I would sometimes fiddle around at my dad’s workbench cutting out wood into rubber band pistols or making contraptions out of scrap wood. We had various “kits” — electrical kits where we could wire up different circuits and learn about switches and electricity. There were crystal radio kits with a crystal tuner and and a long string of wire that served as an antenna and an earphone where you could listen to radio stations. It was so cool when it actually worked.

We had an Erector set that afforded hours of alternating frustration and pleasure. The set had a little electric motor that would drive various gear or pulley arrangements. There were instructions for building a draw bridge that would raise and lower, an amusement park ride like the Rockets at Idora Park that would turn, and various moving vehicles. The frustration was usually in tightening all those little nuts and bolts that held the various contraptions together. The sets even furnished screwdrivers and tiny wrenches. One time I decided to experiment and see what happened when you put both screwdrivers in an electrical socket. I got zapped, sparks flew, and I blew out the main fuses in our fuse box. Needless to say, I didn’t try that again.

Later on, it was building HO slot car racetracks in my basement. It was incredible the layout I built in a 6 foot by 2 foot space along one wall of our basement-spirals, loops, multiple levels, bridges and tunnels. I learned to make the cars run fast by cleaning oxidation, playing with gearing, swapping tires. I invited my buddies to join me. If I wasn’t racing slot cars, I was building models of my favorite hot rods.

We occupied ourselves by doing, by making, by puttering. We learned how things worked–or didn’t. We worked out compromises in pick up games, learned to take care of ourselves. I’m not sure when and how this different model of leagues, lessons, and other parent-organized activities became the dominant model. I have no idea which way is better. All I can say is that I never felt deprived, and learned a lot about the ways people and things worked. It was a great way to grow up.

Was it like this for you?