Showing posts with label Bill Austin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bill Austin. Show all posts

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sepia Saturday 110 Movie Theaters and how we were


About 1954 me and my Grandma
ready to go to the movies
 A challenge this week with Theater as our theme, but I think back to growing up in New Kensingon, PA in it's glory days when we had 3 movie theaters in a town that is all ashambles to the dregs today. Stroll along my memories with me to back before televisions became  a standard home furnishing, many Sundays, after mass and family dinner, from as early as I can remember, my grandmother,  Rose and I went to the matinee movies downtown and would stop for a big ice cream cone on our way home.  She enjoyed her movie theaters which she always referred to as just that, "movie theaters".  Some Sundays we'd  catch  two, a musical or drama  for her and cowboys and Indians  in technicolor for me.

Baba which I called her all my life, from the Polish word for Grandmother, made her money for our day out and about by playing the numbers at the local bookie who took bets at the butcher shop.  She was quite lucky most times and kept her stash for our treats, saying that was for us to have fun.  I spent lots of my time at their house and each morning when I awoke she'd ask me about my dreams and then get a small black book from the cupboard drawer.  I learned years later from her that was her Dream Book which translated the subject of dreams into numbers and those were the bets she placed,  always winning when she played Patty's dreams.  How I wish I knew what became of that book, imagine if  today I could use it for the lottery.


 I  learned that the reason we could afford two movies was we frequently got in free at the Liberty where her brother Bill worked as a projectionist, when movies came on the big reels.  I have shared photos of Bill before, here's a newspaper clipping she  saved of the  man at work.  Notice the name Walter Austin, somehow Bill came from Walter and he'd changed the  Polish Ostroski aka Ostrowski to Austin, generating much  fuss and disdain from his sisters.   But today's theater theme  showed photos of the buildings and I  had to dig and  search to find any photographs of the big time days in New Kensington when we had the Liberty, the Dattola, the Circle and the Ritz theaters.  I was amazed to find a Library of Congress photo of our own old Liberty theater which was demolished.   These movie theaters were grand seating from 700 to 1000 with more balcony seating, plush carpets, draperies, gilded to the max.  Wish I had photos of the insides, they sure don't make 'em like that anymore.  Todays movie theaters  use a sardine pack seating system,  superior technology does not make up for lack of grandeur and class. 

Downstairs  where I watch movies today
Back of my recliner looking toward the big screen
Today, I wait for DVD's and the latest Netflix offerings and take my self downstairs to our own big screen, surround sound put my feet up in the recliner and enjoy the movies, I often think how Baba would have loved this.   

A Westmoreland county historical site shows  that:  On May 2, 1921, the first of the new theaters, the Liberty Theater (demolished 1996) opened on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street and the Ritz Theater (958 Fifth Avenue) opened the next year.

The Liberty courtesy of the Library of Congress

Dowtown  Fifth Avenue as it looked when we walked to the movies
The old Liberty  is on the left

From a historic website the Dattola theater

The Dattola movie Theater on the other end of Fifth Avenue
Photo from 1969 coverage in the Valley Dispatch,
taken sometime in the  1960's.


The newspaper article tells the sad tale of the Dattola.


I have no photos of the Circle nor the Ritz.  At one time they had both become bingo halls and today that is likely gone as well.  Will New Kensington ever  be revivied to it's glory days when  we grew up in the  50's and 60's.  Who knows

To see more wonderful Sepia posts go to the Sepi site here:

Friday, April 30, 2010

Bill Austin SEPIA SATURDAY Week 21 Click here to link to others' posts

Bill Austin 1889-1956 


This is my Great Uncle Bill, another Ostrowski, my grandmother Rose’s brother and his wife, Louise in 1944.Check out his white shoes and she in heels. Sometime early in his life as happened all too often in those times Bill may have experienced discrimination toward the Polish because he changed his last name to Austin. Not only that he changed his first name from Walter F to William, no middle name or initial. I can only imagine what went through his head to do this but surely wish I knew the story to share here. Maybe it was just as simple as a wish to fully assimilate—as far as he was concerned he was American. Maybe the Polish last name did not match is idea of being an American. As if I do not have enough to deal with in my genealogy with the changing of the spelling of Ostrowski, Uncle Bill had to go further.

He was born to Frank Ostroski and his second wife, Frances Swartz in Detroit Michigan according to my research. But Frank and Frances moved on to the mines of PA and there they settled; Bill lived in the New Kensington, PA area all his life.

Well my grandma Rose did not care if changed his name to “Yehudi” as she would say; he was her brother and that was that, though she thought it was very silly. When I was learning to spell, I asked her if the name change was because Ostrowski was just too hard to spell , to which she said that Uncle Bill was educated and could read, write and spell. I do not know what schools he attended, or how far he went in school, but she recalled he was the smartest boy in the family. I remember going to visit with my grandmother and my Aunt Virginia to the Anderson St. house where Bill and his wife Louise lived all their life and where she stayed after his death. I was fascinated with that area of our town known as Parnassus, and I imagined that Parnassus was a mythical name. Bill and Louise had no children and so far I do not know Louise’s maiden name. I know that she was my godmother, so identified on my Baptismal Certificate.

I enjoyed our visits to Uncle Bill and Aunt Louise because she always made fresh cold lemonade or freshly squeezed orange juice. My Grandmother would tell her not to bother that we only had a short time to spend, but that was Louise’s hospitality. Louise always had glasses being iced in the refrigerator, so they would be cold; this fascinated me, something no one else did. And more remarkable, Louise lined the glass rims with sugar and served proudly to each of us, even me the kid with gorgeous linen and crochet coasters. Mostly grandma made sure that Bill knew about family events, so anytime anyone had a new addition to the family, a baptism, a confirmation, a graduation whatever, my grandma would visit Bill. I never understood why she didn’t just call him on the phone, but suppose that was her way of being sure that her brother heard the news and would attend the upcoming event. I don’t recall him coming to many of the family gatherings or if he did it was just brief. Perhaps the others were not pleased with his Americanization attempt; my family were all proud of their Polishness.

I found his WWII draft card on ancestry.com showng his residence as the Anderson Street address. At that time he was still using the name Walter Ostrowski. But I learned something else from that. I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog that I grew up very close with my grandmother, she and I went to the movies every Sunday. In our small town which thrived in the days of the steel mills and the Alcoa Plant, there were three movie theaters. And some Sunday’s she and I would go to two of the theaters.   But we always went to the Liberty first, sometimes they were not showing a movie I preferred, I really liked cowboys and Indians in Technicolor so we had to take in one of those. I found this clipping about Uncle Bill in my grandma’s collection which shows that was his employment; evidently he loaded the films and ran them. This was a newsclip which I love showing the old equipment.  It explains why we always went there first, no matter what was on. I imagine we got free passes. On his WWII draft card Warner Brothers is identified as the owner of the theater, formerly known as the Ritz. I’d thought our three theaters were independently owned. Interesting to learn that Warner Brothers owned theaters across the country and in our little town in PA. This is my limited information about Uncle Bill and Aunt Louise for our  21st week of Sepia posts.