View of the WPA quarry project with Bottoms in the foreground. (Sun-Telegraph photo) Panoramic view of the mound in 1946. (Sun-Telegraph photo) Man and mound in the late 1930s. (Sun-Telegraph photo) Newspaper article about the mound in 1926.

Aug. 7, 1938:  McKees Rocks Indian Mound.

One day in the mid-1890s, a boy playing baseball with his buddies in McKees Rocks looked down and saw what he thought was a tree root sticking out of the ground.

The boy had a bat, and so he took a swat at the root. What bounded out of the ground, however, was a shin bone, not part of a tree. He and his friends did what every other American kid would do — they dug further. Eventually, they unearthed a human skeleton.

That’s one story of the discovery of the ancient McKees Rocks Indian Mound. We’ve also read that early farmers in the area sometimes plowed up skulls of those buried in a sitting position.

Few people talk about the mound anymore. But at one time it was one of the area’s most striking features. It rises above the Bottoms neighborhood of McKees Rocks and overlooks the Ohio River near Brunot Island.

In 1896, an Andrew Carnegie-funded excavation turned up the remains of up to 39 people, along with some pottery, beads, an axe and other artifacts of the Adena people who lived thousands of years ago.

Since then, the mound has been mauled and otherwise mistreated. As early as 1926, The Pittsburgh Press worried that “the public is standing by in utter apathy and indifference while the mound is being hauled down and destroyed.”

During the Depression years, the WPA quarried rock from the mound. Kids climbed over its heights in search of arrow heads. People picnicked there. Later, an oil company and other industrial firms chopped into the mound and the once-imposing cliff at its eastern edge.

In May 1951, newspapers made a big deal out of spirits rising up in revenge after two boys nearly got killed while digging a cave into the mound. The roof collapsed, burying the boys, ages 9 and 10. Two pals ran for help. The boys were uncovered after several minutes and, though unconscious, were revived.

A marker on the site calls the McKees Rocks mound the largest Native American burial ground in Western Pennsylvania.

But the years — and development — have taken their toll. We glimpsed the mound yesterday while driving across the McKees Rocks Bridge. It’s mostly covered in trees now and looks like any other rise in the Western Pennsylvania landscape.

— Steve Mellon

Top picture: WPA quarried rock from the mound in 1938. (Sun-Telegraph photo)

Police mug shot of Valenti from 1933. Marcelean Williams, former wife of Valenti, was an early witness at an inquest into the Evans-Garrow murders. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Stella Falbo, alleged girl friend of murder victim Frankie Evans, spent two days at the inquest hiding behind a newspaper. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Valenti in 1947. (Pittsburgh Press photo)

June 18, 1946: Mob murder suspect takes a fall.

(Second of two parts)

Pittsburgh homicide detective Peter Connors was driving to work along Cape May Avenue one day when he looked up and saw a man wearing a dark suit and slicked-back hair walk into a gas station near West Liberty Avenue.

That’s Frank Valenti, Connors said to himself.

Police had spent the last four weeks searching for Valenti. The dapper gangster was suspected in the murders of two small-time numbers guys, Frank Evans and Freddie Garrow. Evans and Garrow were shot to death in May, their bodies stuffed in the back seat and floorboard of a Pontiac found near Washington Boulevard. Police traced an inspection sticker on the vehicle to Valenti.

Connors couldn’t believe his luck. He stopped his vehicle and followed Valenti into the gas station. Valenti was on a pay phone. Connors slapped the cuffs on him and said, “Let’s go.”

Next stop for Valenti was the Oakland police station, and this is where things got dicey. Valenti would later claim that one of his legs was handcuffed to a bench and three men began simultaneously throwing questions and punches at him. Blows landed on his face and ribs, he said. A guy wearing overalls whacked Valenti with a foot-long section of rubber hose.

When Valenti passed out, he was revived with the smell of ammonia.

Finally, Inspector John Flavin entered the room.

“Frank, you had better tell these people what you know,” Flavin said. “We know you’re not the one, but we know that you know who did it.”

Valenti wouldn’t talk. So the beating resumed.

Later, Flavin returned. Ice was applied to Valenti’s battered face. Possibly in an attempt to make up for the plastering his boys had applied, Flavin got the suspect a milkshake with a double scoop of ice cream.

“How are my boys treating you?” Flavin asked.

“Fine,” Valenti said with a gasp.

Police hauled Valenti to Allegheny General Hospital, where he was bandaged and x-rayed, then sent to the county jail. Newspaper photographers got wind of the arrest and were waiting.

Evans and Garrow had been shot a total of 22 times. The excessive violence fascinated and shocked the city. And now police had a suspect — Valenti, impeccably dressed owner of both a chain of Pittsburgh restaurants called Spaghetti Village and an extensive criminal record that dated back more than a decade.

Reporters saw Valenti’s battered face, his stunned expression. How’d he get hurt? they inquired.

“I asked him what happened and he said he fell in his cell,” Flavin replied.

Charges against Valenti were eventually dropped for lack of evidence. Five years later a grand jury investigation of the killings recommended no indictments. Too many “untruthful” witnesses, the jurors said.

Valenti eventually left Pittsburgh and become a founder and boss of the Rochester, N.Y., crime family. He’s perhaps best known as the mastermind of a 1970 scheme in which his organization detonated a series of bombs in Rochester. His intent was to deflect attention from his organization’s criminal activities. Crazy as it was, the scheme worked. Police focused their energies and attention on suspected Vietnam war protesters.

Valenti headed the Rochester mob from 1964 until he was convicted of extortion in 1972. He moved to Arizona and died at age 97 at a nursing home near Houston.

— Steve Mellon

Top picture: A battered Valenti heads to the Allegheny County Jail. (Pittsburgh Press photo)

Detectives brush the death car for fingerprints while Garrow lies jammed awkwardly in the back floorboard. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Scene where the bodies were found. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Detectives examine the body of Evans. (Pittsburgh Press photo) The unfortunate Garrow (left) and Evans. Map showing where the bodies were found. (Pittsburgh Press)

May 17, 1946: Double murder in the East End.

(This post contains graphic images.)

Fred Garrow was a Uniontown coal miner and boxer until he joined the vaudeville circuit as a baritone with a barbershop quartet known as The Dixie Four. Once the singing gigs dried up he operated pool halls and eventually moved to Pittsburgh.

And he continued singing. In East Liberty nightclubs, he’d croon a few tunes and get paid in coffee and cakes — Garrow didn’t drink. He gained a reputation as a happy-go-lucky chap who loved to chew tobacco, even when eating a sandwich.

Still, he was a tough guy. Tough enough to act as an unofficial bouncer at a Penn Avenue joint called Allen’s Restaurant.

It was there on a Thursday night in May 1946 that Garrow met with a man named Frank Evans. This bothered restaurant manager Red Drosnes, one of Garrow’s buddies. Drosnes knew about this Evans guy. He was bad news.

Drosnes watched as the two chatted quietly. When Evans and Garrow prepared to leave. Drosnes pulled Garrow aside and gave him a warning. “Don’t leave with him,” Drosnes said, “or you may never come back.”

Garrow brushed off the advice.

Early the next morning, two East End men driving to work noticed blood on a black Pontiac parked on a short stretch of road near Washington Avenue. They checked out the vehicle and saw Evans sitting upright in the back seat. He’d been shot 14 times. Eight bullets had torn apart his face.

Garrow’s body was jammed face down in the back floorboard. He’d been shot eight times. A bizarre photograph published in The Pittsburgh Press shows his foot sticking awkwardly from the rear of the back of the vehicle while detectives dust the steering wheel for fingerprints.

Police figured the killings were part of a war in the city’s lucrative numbers racket. They searched Evans’ clothing and found an adding machine slip indicating he’d collected $6,000 in numbers plays the previous week. Evans’ take was $600.

The numbers racket was big business. Authorities said the East Liberty numbers syndicate took in $20,000 each day. And it had just embarked on a business expansion plan, pushing into Homewood-Brushton.

Evans was tied up with the Homewood gang, which is probably what got him killed. He had an extensive police record and had, in fact, recently received a “quickie” parole from a judge moved to leniency by the “Easter spirit.” If not for the celebration of a resurrection, Evans may have stayed in jail and lived to be murdered another day.

And Garrow? Police had picked him up a few times on gambling raids, but Garrow had never been held for court. He was, police said, a small-time player with the misfortune to have as his companion a doomed man.

Read part two: Dapper suspect in the killings takes a “fall” in his jail cell.

— Steve Mellon

Top picture: A detective brushed for fingerprints while the body of Garrow was jammed awkwardly in the back floorboard. (Pittsburgh Press photo) 

Fitzpatrick in a 1951 photo. (Photo credit unknown) Fitzpatrick at his victorian home on Fifth Avenue in Oakland. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Fitzpatrick as artist of the year in 1973. (Ed Morgan/The Pittsburgh Press) Fitzpatrick at his home in 1988. (Tom Ondrey/The Pittsburgh Press)

April 27, 1971: Pittsburgh’s legendary art teacher

For 50 years, the urbane Joseph C. Fitzpatrick taught Saturday art classes in Oakland’s Carnegie Music Hall, where he inspired generations of Pittsburgh children “to look, to see, to remember, to enjoy.”

Each “Tam O’ Shanter” class ended with that admonition and many students took it seriously. At 6 feet 2 inches tall, the silver haired, blue-eyed Irishman had no trouble commanding the attention of fifth, sixth and seventh grade students from public and private schools. He wore suits, an air of confidence and spoke with a firm voice.

His successful students included Andy Warhol, Philip Pearlstein, Raymond Saunders, Mel Bochner, Jonathan Borofsky, Holly Brubach and Annie Dillard. Donald Miller, the Post-Gazette’s retired art and architecture critic, also was a graduate of his classes.

The son of a mine foreman and the youngest of 10 children, Fitzpatrick grew up in Williamstown, northeast of Harrisburg. As a child, he asked his older sisters to explain art to him. Their unclear answers led him to read about his favorite subject.

That was the start of a career filled with teaching, drawing, painting, sculpting and collecting. He earned a bachelor’s degree in art education from Edinboro State College in 1931. He received a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1934. In 1938, he took a grand tour of the art collections in Europe. Later in life he traveled to Africa and the Mideast and also tramped through the pyramids of Egypt.

For more than three decades, he taught art in Pittsburgh’s public schools, where he spent 33 years.

In the late 1950s, Fitzpatrick created a 13-week series called “World of Art.” for public television station WQED. The half-hour programs aired on WQED and 25 other public television stations. He was the painter, sculptor, researcher, narrator and script writer. The series explained art to the layman, beginning with paintings by cave men and continuing to the modern era.

He was named artist of the year in 1973. In 1988, 800 of his former students stood and applauded enthusiastically when he walked onto the Carnegie Music Hall stage once again. On that same occasion, he was honored with a champagne brunch held in Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hall of Architecture.

A bachelor, Fitzpatrick lived much of his life in a Victorian-era townhouse at 2707 Fifth Ave., where he gardened, listened to classical music and painted. He never owned a car so he walked or took taxis. He was 86 when he died in 1994 at a nursing home in Saint Mary’s, Elk County.

During a 1974 interview, he reminisced about his most famous student.

“I can remember getting Andy Warhol to do a lot of pencil portraits at a demonstration. He was good — he’s shocking people now but he always had talent.”

— Marylynne Pitz

Top picture: Fitzpatrick, art supervisor at the Carnegie Institute, with award-winning high school artists in 1971. (Kent Badger/The Pittsburgh Press)

An arrow in this photo pointed to where the diamond used to be. (Robert J. Pavuchak/Pittsburgh Press) This was the front-page Pittsburgh Press story about the theft Kurt Fischer read in July 1981. August 1984: Kurt Fischer worked as a Pittsburgh city detective for 10 years. The missing Carnegie Museum diamond was one of the cases he never solved. (Thomas Ondrey/The Pittsburgh Press) August 1984: The Pittsburgh Press ran a large magazine spread with Fischer featured prominently on the steps of the Carnegie Museum three years after the theft. (Thomas Ondrey/The Pittsburgh Press)

1981: Pittsburgh’s unsolved diamond theft

Pittsburgh city detective Kurt Fischer was reading the Sunday paper on July 26, 1981, when a story about the Carnegie Museum of Natural History caught his eye.

“Museum ‘Out’ $75,000 Gem,” read a Pittsburgh Press headline.

“I sure hope to heck I don’t get that one,” thought Fischer.

On Monday morning, when he walked into his office, the case was his.

“I knew it was going to be a bear,” Fischer said in a phone conversation yesterday. “Sometimes you get the easy ones.”

And other times you’re tasked with finding a pale-yellow, 16-carat diamond from India valued at $75,000. The gem apparently went missing on Friday afternoon, July 24, 1981, but officials discovered the loss on Saturday during a daily walk-through.

Later in the week, Fischer received a call from a woman. She said her husband had recently been jailed in Pittsburgh, and while there he met a man who was bragging about stealing a giant diamond. The man had since been released, was living back in Erie, and police there knew him well.

Stealing a diamond sounded like something the man might do, Erie detectives told Fischer.

It was the best lead he would get on the case, and it went nowhere. The Pittsburgh chief of detectives at the time declined Fischer’s travel to Erie. The trail has remained cold, though Leigh Kish, the museum’s current marketing director, said a replacement diamond has since been purchased.

“…but no other updates on the case. I’d guess I’d assume that nothing was ever solved,” Kish wrote in an email.

Fischer, 64, retired from the city in 2001 and now works as private security at federal offices around Pittsburgh. The 1981 diamond theft is a case he still thinks about.

“The statute of limitations has long since expired,” Fischer said. “It would be nice just to get it back and parade it over to the museum and say, ‘Here it is!’”

Ethan Magoc

October 1977: An empty wooden roller coaster, shortly after the park closed. (Credit: Marlene Karas/The Pittsburgh Press) By November 1977, when this photo was taken, there were neither fun nor prizes at West View Park. (Credit: The Pittsburgh Press) July 5, 1979: Two years after the park was abandoned, concession stands and amusement building were leveled. Coasters still stood, but not for long. (Credit: Marlene Karas/The Pittsburgh Press) Sept. 3, 1980: After three summers without passengers, this is what remained of the Kiddie Dips, a smaller version of the signature coaster in the park. (Credit: Kent Badger/The Pittsburgh Press) Sept. 3, 1980: After a fire, final demolition began on the remains of West View. (Kent Badger/The Pittsburgh Press) Sept. 3, 1980: A Sunday night fire leveled much of what remained of Big Dips roller coaster. (Credit: Kent Badger/The Pittsburgh Press) Dec. 29, 1980: What was an amusement park became a shopping center. Here, bulldozers continued that transformation in the middle of winter. (Credit: Mark Murphy/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

1977: The end of West View Park

When school picnics were a tradition, there were two places where the station wagon would take kids of the district: Kennywood or West View Park. 

But Pittsburghers’ fondness for West View Park dwindled in 1977 and the Route 19 park closed forever after 71 years of operation. 

"The directors blamed rising costs and reduced attendance as the reasons <…> The park was opened for only 80 days in 1977 because of the lack of school picnics," the Post-Gazette reported.

Jack Hickey, who used to sell tickets and arrange picnics at the park blamed the closing of the park on the cultural change: “It’s not the park, it’s the people that have changed. This is a picnic park, where families can pack a lunch and stay all day. But people just don’t do that anymore,” he said.

West View Park was more than just a picnic park, though. It had  famous rides like “The Whip” and “Tumblebug,” “Scrambler” and “Tempest.” In fact, in 1910, four years after park’s grand opening, Pittsburgh native T.M. Harton, the founder and original owner of the park, unveiled the Dips, the first coaster in Pennsylvania to have dips and drops over 50 feet. 

The park was a happy place: laughter, plenty of entertainment, lots of screaming and even dancing.  West View Park was home to West View Danceland, a dance hall, with music, flashing lights and the big crystal ball that illuminated the dancing floor. People danced there to big bands music, rock groups, jazz musicians and records. But then in 1973 it was turned into ashes overnight. The famous dance hall that hosted Guy Lombardo, Harry James, Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey was leveled by an eight alarm fire and was never rebuilt. 

Some would say that Danceland’s fire was a turning point, things went downhill from there and financial woes of West View Park worsened. 

In November 1977, everything inside the amusement park went up for sale: the choo-choo train, distortion mirrors, the 40 “Fascination” games, lots of coasters and even the handcrafted merry-go-round built in 1906. 

Since 1981, the grounds of West View Park have been occupied by the West View Park Shopping Center, offering a different kind of American entertainment.

On the day when West View Park closed its doors never to reopen them again, the Post-Gazette wrote: “In the deafening quiet that has shrouded the place, there seems to be nothing sadder than a merry-go-round fenced off with aluminum chain link, a boarded up cotton candy stand or an entire abandoned amusement park.”

Check out this video showing what it was like to have fun at West View Park (h/t John Schalcosky).

— Mila Sanina

Rooftop cheering on Walnut Street in Shadyside. (Bill Wade/The Pittsburgh Press) Women leaders were in a pack as they passed the 21-mile mark in Shadyside. (Bill Wade/Post-Gazette) The J&L steel mill served as a backdrop on East Carson Street. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Ralph Montgomery of West View was arrested for entering the race on roller skates. (Photo by Greg Ellis) Ken Martin, who was the first male to cross the finish line. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Ken Martin gives his wife, Lisa, a kiss on the head after the race. They were the first husband and wife to win their respective categories at a marathon. (Pittsburgh Press photo)

1985: First Pittsburgh Marathon

About 1,500 men and 221 women competed in the first Pittsburgh marathon, held on May 5, 1985. Nearly 300,000 spectators cheered as competitors ran over the city’s hills, bridges and abandoned street car tracks into Point State Park.

It was a profitable day for Lisa and Ken Martin, the first husband and wife to be marathon winners. The couple, who had trained in the hot sun of Mesa, Ariz., left Pittsburgh $55,000 richer. 

Lisa Martin, a 24-year-old native of Australia, had become one of the world’s best marathon runners while training for the Olympics as a student at the University of Oregon.

Her husband, Ken Martin, was a collegiate track coach. The couple praised the city, the race organizers and the people of Pittsburgh for cheering on the runners.

The city was in a celebratory mood. Bands played, people hosted parties and there was a break dancing competition in Homewood. On race day, weather conditions were 63 degrees with partly cloudy skies. By the time the last runner finished, the temperature had risen to 74 degrees.

Ken Turpin, 44, of Penn Hills, was the first person to cross the finish line in a wheelchair. Spectators greeted him with thunderous applause. 

One local competitor placed fourth. Only three of the elite runners finished ahead of Don Freedline, then a 29-year-old graduate student in exercise physiology at the University of Pittsburgh. 

A native of Apollo, Pa., Freedline was living in Squirrel Hill when he trained for the 26-mile, 385-yard course.  He placed fourth with a personal record of 2:17:17 and won $7,000. He received an additional $2,000 for being the second United States male finisher. The Pittsburgh Marathon served as The Athletics Congress men’s national marathon championship, adding $6,000 to the race’s purse.

A man on roller skates did not finish the race. Ralph Montgomery, 38, of West View, started the race between wheelchair competitors and runners. He was arrested after weaving back and forth in front of runners.

— Marylynne Pitz

August Wilson Center under construction, 2008 (Bill Wade/Post-Gazette) Otis Fugate, of Imperial, Pa., works on one of the forms for the lower level of the August Wilson Center for African Culture. (Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette) Local leaders got together to break ground for the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette) Freda Ellis,  oldest sister of August Wilson, and her daughter, performer Kim Ellis, attend a ground breaking ceremony for the August Wilson Center in 2006. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette) Franco Harris at a ground breaking ceremony for the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, 2006. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

2006: The August Wilson Center being built 

The August Wilson Center for African American Culture isn’t quite a decade old, but its fate is already on the line. In Pittsburgh, the story has been one of the top stories this year and the debates are ongoing about its future and what will become of the building, which not so far ago was an inspiration and hope for the fans of Pittsburgh-born Pulitzer-prize winning playwright August Wilson and the community at large. 

What will happen to the 65,000 square-foot building at 980 Liberty Avenue? Will it be a hotel? A museum? A concert hall? An apartment building? Will it preserve its name?

The August Wilson Center had so much promise that hasn’t quite pan out, exciting plans that were never implemented and bills that never got paid. It was supposed to be a model for other cultural institutions, instead the unsolvable problems that mired its financial situation could be at the center of a play by the playwright whose name it bears.

An idea to create an African American museum was born in 1996. The groundbreaking ceremony for the Center took place almost exactly a year after August Wilson died — October, 2006.

San Francisco-based architect Allison G. Williams, a prominent African-American architect at Perkins+Will, won a competition to design the Center. When the building was completed, city newspapers reported, “There is a new jewel in Pittsburgh’s crown: the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. It is a two-story structure punctuated by the glass that made so many Pittsburgh fortunes.”

It is uniquely shaped like a ship made in glass and stone inspired by Swahili trading ships that carried East African culture to shores across the Atlantic.  

“It’s inspiring to see such enthusiasm from the Pittsburgh community. This is an incredible opportunity for all of us to do something to ensure that our collective history will be preserved, presented and interpreted for generations to come,” August Wilson Center Board member Farmer White said in 2006. 

In 2014, the story of the Wilson Center is drastically different, it is all about disappointment, unfulfilled expectations and a whole lot of uncertainty.

— Mila Sanina

Arrested for using a false name while attempting to register at Letsche School in the Third Ward, William Ott tried to hide his identity with a handkerchief. (Pittsburgh Press photo) The Pittsburgh Press published a series of pictures showing where ghost voters had been found. (Pittsburgh Press photo) The Pittsburgh Press published a series of pictures showing where ghost voters had been found. (Pittsburgh Press photo) The Pittsburgh Press published a series of pictures showing where ghost voters had been found. (Pittsburgh Press photo)

Sept. 9, 1931: Pittsburgh’s great voting scandal

Poor Clayton Swisher. He had the misfortune of being broke and hungry in 1931, one of the worst of the Depression years. Swisher was hanging around outside the Pittsburgh Association for the Improvement of the Poor when he thought his luck had changed. He met a “big-hearted” man who gave him 10 cents for a meal.

There was a catch. The man was a ward politician and wanted Swisher to vote in the primary election scheduled Sept. 15, less than a week away. He handed Swisher a small piece of paper. Register using this name, Swisher was told.

So Swisher dutifully went to a polling place and stood in line. Then things went bad. Swisher was arrested by state police and sent to jail. He had company — man named William Lapinska was arrested at the same location. He gave authorities four different names before coughing up the real one.

The next day, Swisher’s picture ended up on the front page of the newspaper. “A 10-Cent Vote,” the headline snickered.

His was a small part of a much bigger story the investigators and newspapers had been unpeeling for months. Padding of voter lists in the early 1930s was so widespread as to be laughable. The Pittsburgh Press indicated 50,000 illegal tax receipts had been issued in preparation for the 1931 primary election.

Sometimes political gangs stole votes by paying taxes in the names of unsuspecting citizens and then securing a receipt to register. The citizen would discover the fraud, only to be told duplicate receipts were not allowed. No vote for you, they were told.

“Ghost” voters were commonly registered at false addresses — vacant houses, parking lots, boiler yards, hotels. Eleven thousand more people were assessed for taxes than the total population of Pittsburgh.

The primary that year was a mess of riots, kidnappings, voting machine failures and arrests. It made great headlines, if not great democracy. “Stop This Wholesale Election Steal!” pleaded The Pittsburgh Press.

Pittsburgh at the time was awash in corruption. Mayor Charles H. Kline would prove to be one of the city’s most dapper and dirty politicians. Indicted, tried and convicted of malfeasance, he’d escape jail only by dying of ill health before he could be sent to the pokey.

And poor Clayton Swisher? He was charged with conspiracy to violate the registration laws and held on $1,000 bail. The newspaper story failed to indicate whether he got his 10-cent meal.

— Steve Mellon 

The loading docks at Smallman Street in the early evening of Oct. 9, 1978. (The Pittsburgh Press/Michael Chikiris) A March 1924 caption reads: At the produce yards, streets are littered with refuse, a mute reminder of the daily business. (Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph photo) A May 11, 1948 view of the terminal. (Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph) Fully loaded cars, ready to be unloaded on Nov. 20, 1949. (The Pittsburgh Press) An owner of Paskoff Bros. & Co., founded in 1912, stands among thousands of potatoes in the terminal on Oct. 4, 1966. (The Pittsburgh Press) Dick Battaglia and Alan L. Siger, leaders of Pittsburgh's produce industry. In 1982, the city announced plans to renovate the terminal. (James Klingensmith/Post-Gazette) A Nov. 23, 1982 view of the terminal. (Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette) The produce terminal on a Saturday morning earlier this month. (Ethan Magoc/Post-Gazette)

"The long view of the Produce Terminal"

Pittsburghers know that a visit to the Strip District on a Saturday morning means fresh food, jaywalking, witty t-shirts and street musicians.

Often, it also means paying for parking on the southern side of the Produce Terminal, whose future has been in doubt for quite a while.

The latest reporting by PG’s Mark Belko puts three developers in the mix to define the future of the Produce Terminal in the Strip: Ferchill Group, McCaffery Interests and Rubino Partners. Buncher Co. wants to buy it from the city, tear down a portion and spend $20 million to rehab the rest. Mayor Bill Peduto is not in favor of that plan.

A brief history of the Produce Terminal reveals that it opened in 1929 and cost about $10 million (about $130 million today) to build, according to old  clippings from The Pittsburgh Press.

For much of the 20th century, it was the entry point for fresh produce that would feed thousands of Pittsburghers. Seventy wholesalers once operated inside its brick walls.

Mark Belko wrote this past fall: “…it appears that only two produce wholesalers remain — Premier and Coosemans — and they are at the mercy of month-to-month leases. That’s down from seven just three years ago.”

Judging from these photos from the 1900s, it was a thriving place. The heaps of trash attested to that in the ’20s.

What do you think should become of the structure?

Ethan Magoc

Top photo caption: The loading docks at Smallman Street in the early evening of Oct. 9, 1978. (The Pittsburgh Press/Michael Chikiris)

1986: ”Washington’s Landing”

Almost thirty years ago, as developers and officials clashed in discussions over the future of Herrs Island on the Allegheny River, the Post-Gazette wrote, “it is crucial that development of Herrs Island be done right with close attention to the best land use. Because of its location within sight of Downtown two miles away, Herrs Island can be a jewel in Pittsburgh’s crown if things are done right.” 

Maybe not everything was done right, but since the 1980s the sight of what was previously known as Herrs Island has changed dramatically. A former brownfield site has been turned into an exemplary project of urban redevelopment and luxurious riverfront living. Not far from where a foul-smelling factory used to grind up the remains of dead animals, people now park luxury boats. Instead of soap works and saw mills, the island hosts parks, town homes and a marina. 

The name changed in 1987. Herrs Island became Washington’s Landing to honor a story that during the French and Indian War George Washington himself slept on the island after his raft capsized on the Allegheny River.

The development of old Herrs Island into shiny, new Washington’s Landing was a long process, with lots of setbacks. The discovery of hazardous wastes threatened plans for a riverside marina and a residential complex, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Buncher Corp. negotiated over terms of the agreement and the price. Estimates for the cleanup costs were enormous and no one wanted to be responsible. The cleanup was eventually completed. 

In 1999, the final parcel of land on the island has been sold to a developer, the Rubinoff Co., that planned to have its corporate offices along with several small high technology companies. In 1999, the Post-Gazette wrote, “A few years ago it seemed as if no one wanted to be on Washington’s Landing, then known as Herrs Island, because of the smelly animal-rendering plants there. But for the past several years, the small island has become hot <…> Companies located on the island include Sports Technology Group, Silicon Graphics, Automated Healthcare and the Three Rivers Rowing Association.

"There also are 88 new housing units on the island, with prices from $249,350 to $580,000." That was almost 15 years ago. 

— Mila Sanina

Burke in 1976. (Post-Gazette photo) At age 92, Burke worked with children from East Hills Elementary School in an art class. (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette) This bronze relief, created in 1975 by the Burke and titled Together, was installed in an outdoor courtyard of the Kaufmann Center. (Bill Wade/Post-Gazette)

Jan. 17, 1976: Sculptor Selma Burke

Selma Burke, one of the 20th century’s most prolific artists and sculptors, went to the White House in 1943 to draw President Franklin Roosevelt. The semi-classical image she created showed the nation’s leader with his head held high, prominent cheekbones and a taut jaw.

The likeness was intended for a new Recorder of Deeds building in Washington, D.C.  but was later adopted for the dime. First, however, all of the Roosevelts had to approve it.

Eleanor Roosevelt dropped by Burke’s New York studio on Jan. 10, 1945. While Mrs. Roosevelt liked the drawing, she felt the artist had made her husband look too young. But Ms. Burke replied that she wanted the presidential profile to be timeless.

Born into poverty in Mooresville, North Carolina, Ms. Burke dug her fingers into riverbank clay as child. She was one of 10 children born to an Episcopal minister and a mother who did clerical work and lived to be 103. The family moved to Washington, D.C.  and Philadelphia.

Ms. Burke arrived in Harlem for that neighborhood’s famous cultural renaissance during the 1920s. She earned her living as a nurse but continued to study art during the Depression.

She married Claude McKay, a poet and one of the older Harlem Renaissance figures. The couple’s social circle included the witty Dorothy Parker, novelist Sinclair Lewis, the playwright Eugene O’Neill, poet Langston Hughes, singer Ethel Waters and artist Max Eastman.

The couple had a stormy marriage and later divorced.

In the 1930s, Ms. Burke traveled to Europe, where, along with photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, she studied drawing with Henri Matisse in Paris.

After World War II broke out, Ms. Burke joined the U.S. Navy, driving a truck at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  While on the job, she injured three discs in her back and was hospitalized. Doctors told her she would not walk again.

Regardless, she entered the nationwide competition to draw President Roosevelt and won.

Her other work included likenesses of Booker T. Washington, abolitionist John Brown and President Calvin Coolidge. Her sculpture also can be seen at Hill House in the city’s Hill District.  

Ms. Burke taught art in Pittsburgh for 17 years and operated her Selma Burke Art Center in East Liberty from 1972 to 1981.

In 1979, Ms. Burke was 78 when she was honored for her contributions to visual arts at the White House by President Jimmy Carter. He praised her as a “shining beacon” for aspiring artists.

Ms. Burke retired to New Hope, Pa., where she died at age 94 in 1995.

— Marylynne Pitz

Munhall's Eighth Avenue on Dec. 5, 1929. (Photo credit: The Pittsburgh Press) A house near the source of the explosion in Munhall. (The Pittsburgh Press) Volunteers turned out in droves to assist with rescue and recovery. (Ray Gallivan/The Pittsburgh Press) The wreckage of Eighth Avenue. (The Pittsburgh Press) Munhall following the 1929 post office explosion. (Pittsburgh Press photo) An image of the rescue effort, aided by dozens of men in hats, and transport to the hospital. (Ray Gallivan/The Pittsburgh Press) The Star Drug Store, whose gas line was the source of the Friday explosion. (The Pittsburgh Press)

1929: "Double gas explosions in Munhall"

When the first gas line exploded, Anna Fincisky thought it was just another noisy blast from the nearby steel mill in Homestead.

Fincisky was a store clerk working next to the post office in Munhall on Thursday, Dec. 5, 1929, when a faulty gas line exploded and killed six people. More than 50 others were injured; four of them were in “precarious condition,” including the assistant postmaster and the conductor of a street car that was passing by when the explosion happened.

The aftermath resembled “the sweepings of a carpenter’s shop,” with jagged pieces of wood, metal and glass filling a block on Eighth Avenue. Scores of volunteers went to the streets to help comb through the wreckage.

The explosion caused more than superficial damage. Other portions of the gas line were damaged by the blast, including one that had been patched.

Less than 24 hours later, a line under the Star Drug Store blew when a plumber — investigating the source of the first blast — lit a lamp in the shop’s basement.

Four more injuries resulted.

Equitable Gas Co. owned the problematic lines (and the gas tanks in the 1927 explosion on the city’s North Side). After the second explosion, the coroner ordered all lines in Eighth Avenue’s vicinity to be turned off. Equitable announced the entire main would be replaced.

The town was on edge after the double blast.

After the tragedy, loud pops like tire blasts were cause for frequent calls to the Munhall police department, officers had to reassure residents that things were under control by Friday afternoon.

In the Post-Gazette’s photo archive, there are about a dozen photos from that terrible week in Munhall’s history, including small headshots. These are presumably those of the injured or deceased, it’s hard to tell though: none of them are labeled.

Palmer and other officers found moonshine in this ice cream shop. (Stewart Love/The Pittsburgh Press) No caption accompanied this picture of Palmer searching a man. (Stewart Love/The Pittsburgh Press) Palmer chatted with a business owner.(Stewart Love/The Pittsburgh Press) Palmer and another officer speak with a stabbing victim. (Stewart Love/The Pittsburgh Press)

Feb. 17, 1952:Baby Face” Palmer and the Hill District

Arthur “Baby Face” Palmer had a tough gig. In the course of doing his job, he was shot, stabbed, stoned and beaten. Once he was “kicked black and blue up to the hips by three dope addicts.”

Palmer was a Pittsburgh police officer who patrolled a portion of the Hill District described in a 1952 Pittsburgh Press article as “the city’s toughest, bloodiest beat.”

The article focuses on crime and law enforcement — it is very much an outsider’s view of a complex and often misunderstood minority community. And it is accompanied by a collection of extraordinary pictures that, perhaps unintentionally, hint at a strained relationship between some members of the city’s African-American community and those who wielded so much power over them.

We stumbled upon the file of photographs a few weeks ago. It was an accidental discovery, made possible by the fact that our archives are organized alphabetically. While searching for pictures of golfer Arnold Palmer, we saw a folder labeled “Arthur (Baby Face) Palmer,” and it is our rule at the Digs to always examine folders that include the nickname “Baby Face.”

The pictures show Palmer on the job, patrolling a 78-acre portion of the Hill District that centered on the intersection of Fullerton Street and Wylie Avenue.

Palmer’s beat included 30 “murky streets and trash-filled alleys” and approximately 6,500 residents. It was presented to readers of The Pittsburgh Press as a place of drug dealers, prostitutes and thieves who “preyed on the good people of the Hill.”

The pictures reflect the newspaper’s view — Palmer is shown making arrests and questioning people he finds suspicious. In one photograph, he stands over a stabbing victim. In another, he searches a well-dressed young man whose face reflects both resignation and anger.

History and those who lived in his portion of the Hill District before it was demolished to make way for the Civic Arena tell us another, more complex story of the neighborhood. Residents lived in crumbling tenements, but the area pulsed with activity. It was a place of churches, grocery stores, barber shops, bakeries, book stores, restaurants and schools.

Children played ball or tag in the streets and at night watched a parade of well-dressed and sometimes famous people stroll by on their way to nightclubs. Some of the world’s best jazz musicians cut their chops in Hill District spots like the Musician’s Club, The Savoy Ballroom, the Crawford Grill and The Ritz Club.

According to the Press article, though, the neighborhood exhibited a violent streak. Twelve killings were reported on Palmer’s beat in 1951. “The dead he’s discovered would fill a morgue, the shot and stabbed a hospital,” the Press noted. Each year Palmer jailed at least 1,000 men and women.  

For his efforts, he was paid $345 each month. And his nickname? It was the result of genetics — “his chubby face with its ruddy cheeks and smiling, gray eyes.”

— Steve Mellon 

Milliones with Mayor Richard S. Caliguiri in 1978. (Albert French/Post-Gazette) Milliones relaxed by playing a bass at his home. (Jim Fetters/The Pittsburgh Press) Milliones was a Pittsburgh School Board member when he led a demonstration against South Africa and its Apartheid policies in 1984. (Bill Wade/The Pittsburgh Press) Barbara Burns, left, took over for Milliones as school board president in 1988. (Robin Rombach/The Pittsburgh Press) Milliones toured the Ammon Recreation Center in the Hill District in 1990.(John Beale/Post-Gazette)

March 3, 1991: Jake Milliones in the Hill District

During the 1960s, Jake Milliones was a soldier in the local civil rights movement before he became the city’s most respected black leader. He believed in helping those who were willing to help themselves.

He grew up in the predominantly white city neighborhood of Beechview and graduated from Westinghouse High School. Between 1966 and 1973, he earned  bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. He was a clinical psychologist at Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic.

A foe of South Africa’s apartheid, he was arrested while leading local picketers who urged people to stop buying kruggerands, a South Africa coin minted to promote that country’s gold.

His wife, Margaret, an activist and member of the Pittsburgh Board of Education, suffered a stroke and died in 1978. As her campaign manager, Mr. Milliones knew how hard she had fought to win that seat. He also was a grieving widower with four young children. Reluctantly, he entered public life and embraced it.

Appointed to fill his late wife’s seat on the school  board, he carried on her efforts to desegregate Pittsburgh public schools. He was elected president of the school board for five consecutive years and became a skilled conciliator. He advocated for regular evaluations of teachers and administrators, recruitment of blacks to fill those roles and elimination of the racial achievement gap.

He quit the school board in December 1988 to run for City Council. As the first black City Councilman elected from a district, he represented the Hill District plus parts of Downtown and  the North Side. He pushed for the development of Crawford Square, a $20 million housing complex in the Hill District for low and moderate-income residents.

He emerged as the city’s pre-eminent black political leader without the traditional promises of patronage or contracts in return for support. Earnest and multi-faceted, he loved the music of John Coltrane and bebop.  Later in life, his afro was streaked with white and he wore glasses, a look that gave him a professorial air. But when he glowered, people paid attention.

Mr. Milliones once led a reporter on a tour of Ammon Recreation Center on Bedford Avenue in the Hill District. There was open garbage, peeling lead paint, dank and dirty locker rooms plus cracked basketball and tennis courts. The attendant publicity spurred a blitz clean-up of city parks and pools.

Mr. Milliones suffered a heart attack on Jan. 2, 1993 and he died at age 52.

In an editorial, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette praised him as “a public servant who promoted the city’s general well being. If anyone, in the short history of City Council’s by-district system, had mastered how to balance representation for his constituents with leadership for the entire city, it was Jake Milliones.”

— Marylynne Pitz

Top photo: Councilman Jake Milliones walks along Tannehill Street in the Hill District. (Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette)