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Downtown from the 7th floor of the Realty Building: Recalling life in 1940s Youngstown

This vintage postcard depicts the Realty Building in downtown Youngstown.

This vintage postcard depicts the Realty Building in downtown Youngstown.

The following article appeared in the April 2001 edition of The Metro Monthly.

By Lee Meadows

The year is 1946. I am on the seventh floor of the Realty Building, where I worked as a receptionist in the Department of Industrial Relations.

I’m looking out the window to the hustle and bustle of downtown Youngstown. Traffic is circling around Central Square and up and down Federal Street, which was open to traffic at the time. As I watched all this, I had no idea that the downtown area would some day give way to progress.

My memories are many. Some of the most vivid are when downtown Youngstown was where it all was happening – the office buildings, the department stores, the five and dimes, and the specialty shops for men and women. The many restaurants, movie houses and banks. It was a very special place at that time.

We had the most beautiful and unique theaters. The Palace, Paramount, State and the Warner (Powers Auditorium). Each theater had remarkable interiors, ornate and grand. But of all the theaters, the Palace stands out in my mind because as a young girl I went there to see Frank Sinatra, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, and others. There were many musicals – like “Annie Get Your Gun.” It was all so exciting, and everyone went! We were known to sit in the theater aisles because it was so packed.  I doubt that I could ever forget those special moments.

After the performance, we went next door for sodas at Friedman’s. When we went to the Paramount Theater, we always stopped at Fanny Farmer Candies before the movie. Such delectables!

Of course, the shopping was great. Strouss-Hirschberg’s and McKelvey’s were the major department stores, and, for the women, Livingston’s was the place.

Livingston’s had beautiful selections and a beautiful decor. I remember buying all my clothes for my honeymoon there. And a frosted malt was a must when shopping at Strouss-Hirschberg’s. We never missed an opportunity to have a malt; it was part of our shopping experience.

Let’s talk about dining. The Italian Restaurant was a must. On the lighter side, there was the Purple Cow. And last, but not least, the elegant Mural Room – where we went to dinner before going to see Mantavoni at Stambaugh Auditorium.

In those days, “going downtown” meant getting dressed up in your Sunday finest. We sometimes wore hats and gloves, which seems formal compared to today’s casual attire. And there was always a roving photographer snapping your picture as you walked along Federal Street – a memento of a lovely day downtown.

My most vivid memory of downtown was the day World War II ended. The town went wild and we all tried to get to downtown Youngstown to celebrate. Most of us walked, no matter where we lived in town because the busses had stopped running – they just couldn’t keep up with the crowds. The downtown area became our own Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Everyone was hugging, kissing and crying. The emotion was electric. We cheered for our victory and our boys who would be coming home, and we cried for so many of our boys that had fought so bravely and died for our country.

 For those too young to remember, downtown Youngstown was part of another time, in a bustling place … sadly missed.

© 2009, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.


2 Comments on “Downtown from the 7th floor of the Realty Building: Recalling life in 1940s Youngstown”

  1. John Reilly says:

    I remember downtown Youngstown also. I was just 5 years old on VJ Day but my mother took me downtown on the Ford Ave bus to be part of the celebration. It was as the writer describes a veritable New Years Eve celebration.

    Younstown was a thriving city back in the forties and fifties. You could get just about anything you needed in the downtown area. One store that was not mentioned in the article was Stambaugh-Thompsons Hardware. This was THE major hardware store in Youngstown. I can remember carrying gallons of paint from Stambaugh-Thompsons on the bus back home to paint our house.

    The bus was the major mode of transportation for most people in Youngstown. You could get anywhere in town by just getting a transfer when you got on the first bus. The entire ride cost you ten cents.

    January White Sales were very big back then and my mother and I would go downtown early in the morning to be standing out front of Strouss’s or McKelvey’s when the doors opened. It was just a madhouse with people pushing and shoving and trying to get the bargains that were advertised. There were times that we actually made two complete round trips on the bus because we could not carry everything we needed in one trip.

    My best friend and I rode the bus back and forth to Ursuline High School on a regular basis but sometimes we walked from school all the way home to Madera Ave. on the North Side. We did this without fear of being accosted, robbed or worse. In fact we walked all over Youngstown without fear of any kind.

    We went to all of the theaters mentioned and only paid ten cents to get in until we were twelve and then we had to pony up twelve cents to get in. That was major inflation for two kids who had to mow the front and back yards, trim the edges and sweep all the grass off of the driveway and walks for a buck.

    I loved the Christmas season in downtown with all of the stores being decorated and the windows of Strouss’s and McKelveys decorated with animated Christmas scenes, toys and all manner of gifts for Christmas. It was a veritable Winter Wonderland.

    If you have ever seen the movie “Christmas Story” you have an idea of what Youngstown looked like at Christmas. That is one of the reasons why this is one of my favorite movies of all time.

    My aunt worked downtown for Hunter Construction Company in the Dollar Bank building for many years and we would sometimes meet her downtown and have lunch at Strouss’s or the Tod House. When she retired from Hunter’s she worked as an accountant at the Mural Room and we would meet her there for lunch. At that time that was the best place to eat in town. Although the dining room at the Pick-Ohio Hotel was great also.

    As teenagers my buddies and I would go to Jay’s for lunch where you could get five chili dogs for a buck. Those were some of the best chili dogs made, and to this day I can still taste them.

    Later on there was the Colonial House and Cicero’s on Market Street where you could get really good food.

    There was also an Italian grocery store (I can’t remember the name) on west Federal street where we always shopped for REAL Italian products for making spaghetti, Lasagna,etc. The smell of olives, cheeses, salami, fresh bread and cappacola in that store was to die for.

    These are just a few things I remember of life in Youngstown in the 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s.

  2. […] Downtown from the 7th floor of the Realty Building: Recalling life in 1940s Youngstown January 2009 1 comment 4 […]

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