Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Exposing a forgotten architect
CHARLEROI, Pa. – Benjamin Trnavsky’s greatest gift to architecture might well have been a 1930s gasoline station in the shape of a tiny cottage with a turret and wood-shingled roof.
The cute brick building in downtown Charleroi, Pa., stood among a time capsule of old buildings that helped the borough’s downtown earn a listing last year on the National Register of Historic Places.
Built as the Diaz Gas Station at the corner of Tenth Street and McKean Ave., the building managed to survive while many others of its kind were dismantled over time, according to Charleroi Area Historical Society records.
Today, the building that also looks like a sunken castle is hardly noticed behind several parked vehicles, including one with a crude sign on its rear window that promotes a bait shop. The owner, Charles Diaz of Charleroi, said he just used the garage for his personal reasons and deflected most of my questions. He said he didn’t like publicity. Sometimes, it takes the will of such a strong-willed independent family to hold onto these types of rare buildings in downtowns, like Charleroi, that struggle to stay alive.
Meanwhile, Trnavsky preferred to be remembered as the architect of the Charleroi Area Junior-Senior High School, a rather plain two story set of classrooms. It’s most unusual feature is a 60s-inspired, curved roof over the auditorium.
His obituary published in June 1976 in The Valley Independent newspaper in nearby Monessen indicated he belonged to the local Lions Club and participated in its minstrel shows when white people, like him, thought it was socially acceptable to perform in blackface. There’s a good chance that the Syracuse University-trained architect who died at age 66 was among those who posed for the photograph, below, that was pulled from the local historical society’s files. If so, he should have spent more time venting his creativity on designing good buildings.