1964 fire destroyed Route 88 landmark
By Ron Paglia
Published: Thursday, November 27, 2008
A reader from Monongahela who travels daily on Route 88 between Monongahela and Finleyville offers this week's Yesteryear question.
He writes: "I seem to remember a nightclub being located on Route 88 just outside of Finleyville. It was located, I believe, near a sharp bend going up the hill toward Finleyville."
Henry's Restaurant, a Route 88 landmark for more than 40 years, was the establishment. It was destroyed by fire in the early hours of Monday, August 31, 1964.
According to a story in The Valley Independent, more than 70 firemen from Finleyville, Peters Township and New Eagle battled the blaze for more than four hours before bringing it under control at 8 a.m.
Finleyville Fire Chief Charles S. Crayton estimated damage to the structure could reach $150,000. He said the fire, of undetermined origin, broke out around 3:30.
The building, which housed a restaurant, dance hall and apartments on the second floor and in the basement, was a total loss. The frame structure was about 50 feet wide and 150 feet long and was a popular teenage night spot during and after World War II. It offered a festive and romantic setting for high school post-prom parties for many years.
Owned and operated by John Henry Ritter, of Finleyville, Henry's was also the setting for meetings and social events of area service organizations and business groups.
An August 1, 1950, story in The Charleroi Mail, for instance, called attention to a "united gathering" of Quotarian clubs from Charleroi, Washington and Monongahela at Henry's.
And a classified ad in The Mail on May 29, 1950, noted that the restaurant was seeking "a woman or girl for kitchen help ... may travel or stay nights."
Crayton said Mr. Ritter and his family were not at home when the 1964 blaze broke out. He also said fireman were hampered in fighting the fire because of a lack of water.
He told reporters the fire was burning out of control when firemen arrived on the scene. Water tank-carrying fire trucks and a 1,000 gallon water truck owned by Frank Campbell joined in efforts to fight the blaze. There were no fire hydrants in the area.
Mr. Ritter was 72 when he died March 18, 1971.
In other headlines 44 years ago:
n Pittsburgh Steel Company's new $17-million BOF (basic oxygen furnace) plant in Monessen went into full production. The plant was producing one heat of seel per hour. The heats ranged up to 100 tons each. Total employment at the Monessen facilities was nearly 4,000.
n Art Artis of the Charleroi Chieftains was officially crowned the home run king of the Fayette County Baseball League. Artis captured the crown with nine roundtrippers to finish ahead of teammate Fran Celaschi, batting champion Casper Voithofer of Brownsville and Jack Garbutt of Buffington, each of whom hit eight. Voithofer, a California High School product, won the hitting title with a sizzling .438 average and had more hits (60) than any player in the league.
n High school football coaches Joe Gladys of Monessen, Jimmy Russell of Donora, Jim Weir of Rostraver and Paul Lapcevic of Mon Valley Catholic expressed satisfaction with the performances of their teams in pre-season scrimmages. Gladys, whose Greyhounds, played at Greensburg Salem, lauded the play of linebacker Gary Caruso, quarterback Sam Havrilak, end Bob Long and halfback Al Grant. Weir, whose Leopards were throttled by the absence of injured fullback Sam Driver, pointed to tackle Lee Yawonski, who replaced Driver in the backfield, halfbacks Ken Calloway and Ken Burkes and QB John Ottino for their work. Alan Velicky of Mon Valley Catholic intercepted four Rostraver passes to stand out for the Spartans. Larry Crawford, the Big 6 Conference scoring champion in 1963, led Donora over West Mifflin South, which was coached by former Dragon standout Tony Romantino. Veteran tackle Bill Urbanik paced Donora's strong defensive efforts.
n West Virginia University football coach Gene Corum was "pleased as punch" with the signing of center-linebacker Ron Yuss of Charleroi to a full scholarship with the Mountaineers. Corum lauded Yuss as "typical of the boys we've had from the Mon Valley, especially kids like Pete Goimarac, Keith Melenyzer and Bob Daugherty of Charleroi."
n "Lady Jane," from the loft of Leon Douylliez of Charleroi, won the Mon Valley Homing Club's feature pigeon race from Zanesville, Ohio. The winning time in the 113-mile venture was two hours, 43 minutes and 48 seconds. Finishing second in the field of 459 birds from 21 lofts was Joe Woytowich's "Ham Strung," also from Charleroi. Sam Scaccia's "Big Tom" gave Charleroi birds a clean sweep of the top honors.
Area supermarkets were touting the following specials to customers:
n A&P - One-pound bags of coffee including Eight O'Clock, 68 cents; Red Circle, 70 cents, Bokar, 72 cents.
n Bartolotta's Red and White, Monongahela - Sugardale bacon and shoulder lamb chops, 49 cents a pound.
n Kroger - Golden ripe bananas at 10 cents a pound and Big K beverages, 12 12-ounce cans for 89 cents.
n Foodland - Giant size box of Tide for 69 cents.
n Big D Markets - Oven fresh bread, seven 16-ounce loaves for 98 cents, and Clover Lane margarine, one- pound package for 13 cents.
n Thorofare - Back To School S&H Green Stamp Bonus Week, ground beef at 49 cents per pound, and Del Grosso spaghetti sauce, three cans for $1.
n Steinberg's, Fairhope - Softex paper napkins, two packages for 39 cents.
Top movies were playing at these theaters: Star, Monongahela; Coyle and State, Charleroi; Manos, Monessen; Hilltop Drive-In, Carroll Township; Super 71 (two screens), Rostraver Township.
For those who preferred to stay at home and watch TV, these shows were among the most popular: Captain Kangaroo, I've Got A Secret, Wagon Train, Vacation Playhouse, Outer Limits, To Tell The Truth, Steve Allen, The Tonight Show, Sermonette and Sign-Off.
Leading the excellent team of reporters, sales personnel, production staff and clerical workers at The Valley Independent during that era were Harry R. Pore Jr., president and editor; William H. Pore, vice president and general manager; Allen J. Kline, city editor; R. Mitchell Steen Jr., news editor; Kenneth Mahan, advertising manager; Lewis Jones, circulation manager; Anna Chuberka, office manager, and Jack C.F. Kerr, mechanical superintendent.
(If you have memories to share or a story idea, contact Ron Paglia at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o The Valley Independent, Eastgate 19, Monessen, PA 15062.)
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