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3.21.2014

My Surprise Today: Forbes and Meyran in Oakland, Pittsburgh: The Strand Building

This morning I snapped a couple shots of serene Oakland. I posted this photo on our Facebook page.
www.facebook.com/interestingpennsylvania 
Then I opened up the portal of archived photos and found this exact photo as the first photo that I saw. I found this to be a little creepy.
Almost the exact same vantage point. This photo is from 1910 and it apparently housed the "Turkish Bath and Swimming Pool."  You can still see the old streetcar tracks on Forbes. Those tracks are still buried in the street. Sometimes you will see a large pothole and part of the track will peek out.

On the right you can see the good old Iroquois Building which now houses places like Quaker Steak, Red Oak Cafe, ACE Shoes, Radio Shack, and others. Next to the Turkish Bath building you can see a little grassy park area. Nowadays there is a building there that houses a Verizon Store. Apparently we cannot get enough cell phone stores, with at least three that I can think of on Forbes in Oakland alone. That building has switched hands several times in the last few years. It went from being a bookstore to cell phone store, partially showing where our priorities are shifting.

The Turkish Bath building is a pretty cool building these days, housing many things like Oakland's only full service supermarket, IGA, on one of the floors, along with a Chinese buffet, a tanning salon, apartments, and (I think) a video game store. At different points in this building's lifetime it has housed a bowling alley, movie theater, and clubs. The building dates back to 1898 and has seen tons of tenants.

In doing a quick news archive search I found that the names of the clubs were "Club Laga" along with "The Attic," and "The Upstage." They appear to have been part of a complex. Similar to the former Beehive up the street at the Police Department building we researched the other day, this club was also known for live music, something that has all but disappeared from the Oakland scene. It appears that the clubs housed in this old building were considered to be a nuisance, with over a dozen articles about problems. 

 It appears to have closed in 2003 as a response to the club tragedy in Rhode Island and some public pressure. The owner said he planned to turn the building into apartments, which he partially ended up doing.
At some point in the 80s the bowling alley and movie theater that were located in the building closed and a plan was made to convert the building to offices. Either the plan never went off of the ground or it failed similar to the mall plan for East Liberty's Motor Square Gardens.
Into the 80s there was a bowling alley in the building named "The Strand Bowling Alley" along with "The Strand Movie Theater." I wish they were still there! They opened in 1916
We see that in 1994, a former owner of "The Strand," Anthony Cicero, passed away. It says that he also ran a restaurant called Cicero's which I would assume was located in the place that the Chinese Buffet is now.
We now go back to 1969. The theater manager, we are unaware of who it was at this time, was arrested along with the managers of three greatly missed Pittsburgh area Drive-In Theaters for playing a move called "The Female Bunch," a mildly ridiculous and cheesy, raunchy and mildly pornographic film about some wild women who flip the roles of the men in westerns and act as criminals, independent, and not willing to be pushed around. The movie was cheesy but also very controversial. I am not exactly sure of what law they had on the books back then to book them or if this was a knee jerk reaction. This movie is very emblematic of the free spirit movement of the 1960s. It seems this theater shared the same problem with controversy as the Kings Court Theater up the street that we researched the other day. It is a shame that no theaters remain in Oakland, or bowling alleys or major league ballparks for that matter.

The following three photos are one article from 1965, I just could not get them to splice well. I always like a feel-good type story, this one regards The Strand Bowling Alley having a bowling league for the blind. That photo may be one of the only that remains from inside the bowling alley.
This article from 1943 also shows how the bowling alley worked concurrently as a theater, also known as the "Strand Theater." I wonder how the sound of a bowling ball hitting the pins during a strike intensified the thrill of seeing a film. Judging by the time period you can also assume that the movie played the news and government messages prior to the films, especially in this time period in the midst of World War II. I wonder how they managed to use all of those new materials in the midst of the World War II rationing. Many projects during this time period were either put off or stopped completely due to the rationing. A great example of this would be a Flying Turns style ride that was to be built at Hersheypark by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company but never materialized. A similar ride of this style was recently opened at Knoebels in Elysburg, PA, a place that any of you history buffs would surely enjoy, but I digress.

Our next stop takes us to 1944 when some bandits failed to rob money from the bowling alley due to a safe. As we saw in the previous research about the old Police Station, there was not a chance that the local police would have stopped this crime.
This one from 1946 cracks me up. This is a situation that would likely not happen today due to the need for outward pushing doors for fire code. Funny situation
They really needed some MEN PIN SETTERS in 1946. I guess they thought women were incapable of lifting and placing bowling pins. You are always bound to find something ridiculous that is either sexist or racist when you look in old newspapers.
A few years prior it seems that the owner of the bowling alley was accused of unfair labor practices. It seems this dropped action did nothing. I wonder what the case was about because I cannot find any information about it. I would stand it had something to do with discriminatory practices judging by the sexist want ads a few years later. Granted that practice was acceptable at the time though.
You can see how hardcore folks were for bowling leagues back then. While the leagues are still around, they are definitely not as popular as they were back then. I wish more of these neighborhood alleys still existed.


I am imagining this bowling alley like the elegant and amazing Arsenal Lanes in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh. This is the view from inside that alley. 
Judging by the dimensions of the building, I would assume that the alley was similar in size to Arsenal. This is in the back bowling alley area of Arsenal. It is a really great place that I recommend everyone check out. The configuration and dimensions of the bowling alley mirror that of the IGA grocery store there today. 

This December 1929 editorial is funny to look at today. It ends up being the exact opposite of what would end up happening. Instead the opposite would end up happening, with the giant movie houses being split into smaller theaters and new theaters being built small and with many screens. I like the idea of discount in bulk, especially for the tough times that were starting  and would last for a very long time since the Depression had just started. While the Strand could not compare to the absolute giant movie houses, many of which are either gone today or would close not too far after this column was written, the Strand Theater would live on up into the 1980s and the size of it is pretty similar to the theaters that would be made in the future and today. It seems his perspective was still influenced by the Roaring 20s mentality with the grand movie houses like the old Warner Theater in Pittsburgh, the Michigan Theater in Detroit, Proctor's Palace in Newark, and countless others. The following like is a cool, yet sad, page of photos from inside some of these great Roaring 20s type theaters. Article showing photos from old Movie Houses. I wish his prediction was right, but the smaller theaters in large quantities would end up winning out with the growth of Hollywood. Even though the strand was smaller and more utilitarian and the Roaring 20s Movie Houses would outshine it in beauty, after this time period I would say that our movie going experience regressed in regards to viewing venues. I would take an old moviehouse over a megaplex any day. 
That is exactly why my theater of choice is the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill. It is less expensive, more awesome, has charm and leather reclining seats. I take local and unique over bland big-box type megaplexes. They recently restored the Manor and removed the many renovations to reveal the original marble and decorations. This beautiful lamp hangs in the lobby

Back to the Strand theater that we were talking about, according to discussion on Cinema Treasures, the original operator of the theater was Warner Brothers. They put the air conditioning system underneath the theater in the original pool area on the ground floor, where the tanning salon is located today. The grocery store floor was the theater area, which later on would become the "Upstage" club which closed in 2006. 

Here are some pictures of the Grocery Store floor today. The first photo would be looking diagonally across the theater. The screen would be located right behind where I was standing. 
This photo is a view looking towards where the back of the theater would be.
Below is the way the front of the building looks today. Notice the beautiful attention to decorative detail. That is all from the original "Turkish Bath and Swimming Pool" usage.
Below you can see the awesome Mr. Rogers mural that was part of a Sprout Public Art Project by Jonathan Laidacker. You also can't see in this shot, but on the side of the building you can see a little outline of an old mural that says "Bowling Alley," giving a hint to a previous use. 

We can now see how this building has evolved over the years. Now the use is more utilitarian and serves a great purpose as a grocery store, Chinese Buffet, and more. We can also see that the uses in the past were quite a bit more fun. I believe that we need to support our local movie theaters such as Squirrel Hill's Manor Theater and others. Every time we lose a place like a movie theater, roller rink, bowling alley, amusement park, and other places where folks go to relax, we lose places that bring the community together. Support these types of places. I am at least glad that this building is fully utilized for something useful, unlike the former Police Station/Kings Court theater up the street. 


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