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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.