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McKean memories plentiful in Virgina; like reel ones in Ohio

| Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Demolition of the landmark building that housed the Columbus Hotel in Charleroi has stirred a variety of recollections.

Bob Beres, a Charleroi native now living in Virginia Beach, Va., is among those who recall the structure at the corner of Third Street and McKean Avenue with mixed emotions.

“It's kind of sad to see this chapter of our past closed out,” Beres said of the building that was constructed by David Gelb at the turn of the last century (circa 1902).

“As a child and as a young man, I went to the Columbus Hotel with my parents for dinner and to pick up Dad's morning coffee.

“They always had great food, and my father couldn't start his day without a hot cup of coffee from the Columbus.”

Beres is the son of the late George Beres Jr. and Zoe M. Beres.

The family lived at 707 Meadow Avenue in Charleroi and the elder Beres was a mechanic who owned and operated a garage behind their home.

Bob Beres also remembers other buildings in the 300 block of McKean Avenue that he frequented for business and social reasons.

“One was the Eagles Club,” he said. “It was right in the middle of the block, a big building facing McKean Avenue. It was razed many years ago and a new building was constructed by a doctor, an eye specialist, I believe.”

Dr. Lawrence L. Gipson, an ophthalmologist, opened The Eyesight Center at 305 McKean Avenue in 1981.

The modern brick structure currently housing the business was built in the early 1990s after a devastating fire.

It was separated from the Columbus Hotel by a large parking lot at the time the hotel building was razed.

Beres said he originally went to the Eagles with his parents for various social gatherings.

The Charleroi Aerie of the Eagles was one of the most active in western Pennsylvania for many years and was well known for hosting some of the best sports banquets in the region.

“My father eventually became president of the club at a time when it was struggling financially and he helped turn it around,” Beres said.

“When I was old enough, I joined the club. Later, when we visited in Charleroi, it was our favorite watering hole. I still have my membership card among my mementos.”

He also recalled Kinder and Mollenauer being located in that busy stretch of McKean Avenue.

“They were one of the best automobile parts houses in the entire Mon Valley,” Beres said. “I chased for parts for my father's garage. Sometimes I walked from the garage to the store (Kinder and Mollenauer) and at other times I rode my bicycle up and down Third Street and carried the parts in my (bike) basket. I was probably in that store five or six or more times a day. They were great people to deal with.”

Still another of the buildings in that area housed Marshall's Plumbing and Heating.

“Joe Marshall did some of the plumbing and furnace work on our family's home and he later was associated with a health benefits plan I worked for in Pittsburgh,” Beres said. “Anytime I visited in Charleroi, I would stop in say hello to Joe. What a nice guy he was.”

The other building that remains prominent in Beres' recollections is The Coyle Theater.

“My Mom and my godmother, Josephine (Josie) Rialti, would take me there at least once a week to see some Alan Ladd or Humphrey Bogart movie,” Beres said. “Most of the time I went up to the projection room and sat with Wayne Mickelson, who was the projectionist at The Coyle for many, many years. Wayne was one of Dad's customers at the garage. He was always very friendly and patient in showing me how the reels of film and the projection equipment worked. That was a big deal for a young kid.

“We were very fortunate to have four theaters in Charleroi at one time – The Coyle, The Palace, The State and The Menlo – when I was growing up. Lots of great memories in those places.”

Other theaters

Tom Roule, a Monongahela native who lives in Columbus, Ohio, also recalls theaters in the Mon Valley and had a question about one in Monessen.

“In the early 1960s, Charleroi seemed to offer more attractions and we usually only ventured across the bridge if The Manos Theater in Monessen had exclusivity to a particular film,” he said.

“But getting to The Manos required walking from the old bridge down Donner Avenue, and that's where I remember seeing the word ‘Vaudeville' pained on the facade of a building on a street connecting Donner and Schoonmaker (avenues.)

“For some strange reason, I want to say the theater was ‘underground' – that is, one had to enter it through a descending staircase from street level. Sounds odd, I know, but that's one of the reasons I recall the place. The other reason is that at that time, thought vaudeville was limited to big city locales like New York and Chicago.”

Further research directed Roule to information on The Star Theater, which was located on Sixth Street in Monessen.

“That name, Star, rang a definite bell,” he said. “Of course, I might be slightly biased because The Anton Theater in Monongahela was eventually renamed The Star.”

As for the unusual entrance to The Star in Monessen, Roule, 62, admits he might be “all wet about that.”

“That was 50-plus years ago,” he said with a laugh. “Perhaps I am confusing it with the combination bowling alley and pool hall that someone mention. It sounds like a place that certainly would be appealing to a 12-year-old boy.”

In reality, The Star Theater in Monessen was one of several vaudeville houses in the Mid-Mon Valley.

Roule's searches on the Internet also led him to a photo of The Star on the website.

“The word Vaudeville is cleary visible on a side wall,” he said. “The building's facade undoubtedly changed over the years but the painted brick was probably left to slowly disappear over time, like those old Mail Pouch tobacco ads. If anyone has more information about the theater and the building, I would love to hear from them.”

Information about other theaters and stage show venues in the Mon Valley rekindled more memories for Roule.

“I fondly recall thumbing rides to Donora to go to The Liberty Theater or hitch-hiking to Charleroi to catch a film at The Coyle or The State,” he said. “And who can forget the Hilltop Drive-In in Carroll Township? A dollar and ten cents a carload! What a great deal.”

Roule has lived in Philadelphia and Cincinnati but considers himself an “honorary Texan” after making his home in Dallas for 25 years.

He worked as a writer/editor/manager with “TV Guide” for 16 years before the publication was sold by Walter Annenburg to Rupert Murdoch.

He then switched gears and worked for many years as an oncology research technician at the Baylor Research Institute in Teaxs. That career, he said, “came to a crashing halt when the lab suddenly lost its funding and folded.”

Roule left the Mid-Mon Valley in 1965 when his family moved to Pittsburgh.

“I attended Williams Elementary School in Monongahela and Carroll Junior High School,” he said. “Shortly thereafter, Monongahela High School was closed and became part of the new Ringgold School District through the merger with Donora. I did attend MHS but for only one day. Although I'm not a bona fide graduate, I have many friends in the Class of 1968.”

Roule's brother, Bob Roule, a retired newspaper reporter and editor, lives in Durham, N.C., and also has some fond recollections of entertainment in the area.

“In the mid-1950s, the showboat Majestic, complete with a calliope, tied up at the Second Street landing in Monongahela,” recalled Bob, a 1958 Monongahela High graduate.

“The side-wheeler was owned by Hiram College and plied the Ohio River and its tributaries for a number of years. Melodramas were performed by the students from Hiram.

“I suppose the majestic also made stops at Charleroi and Brownsville as it sailed along the Monongahela River. I often wonder what happed to the boat, but it probably was banned from carrying passengers sometime in the 1960s when Congress decreed that only steel-bottomed boats could carry passengers.”

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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