a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, July 29, 2012

30-something collectors mad about mod

Customers line up to buy collectibles dating to the 1950s and 60s from dealer Bess Dunlevy, organizer of Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH – Step aside 50-something-year-old antiques collectors, today's younger consumers aren't interested in your grandmothers' things.

Collectors in their 30s want everything you grew up around, from avocado kitchenware to gold-rimmed, frosted-glass cocktail sets popularized by Hollywood's glamor days in the 1950s, says Bess Dunlevy, a dealer who organized the first Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer.

"People are buying it," Dunlevy, a newspaper editor at the Observer-Reporter, said Sunday at the event in the New Hazlett Theater on Pittsburgh's North Side.

More than 600 people had come through the front doors within four hours after the urban hipster flea market opened with 22 dealers, making it such a success that the mixer likely will become an annual event, organizers said.

"They appreciate old objects. They last a long time and are aesthetically pleasing," Dunlevy said.

True to its 1950s and 60s theme, a disc jockey spun 45 rpm vinyl records at this happening party while a bartender mixed Bloody Marys for the afternoon cocktail set.

Disc jockey David Pohl provides the right music at the urban hipster flea market. (Scott Beveridge photo)

This crowd isn't much interested, either, in the ordinary food that made it to many dining room tables 50 years ago.

Outside the sale a food truck known as Franktuary sold delicious organic locally-produced grass-fed all-beef hot dogs.

Dunlevy said members of her generation who love everything mod are attracted to the look because it reminds them of their grandmothers. These young collectors also are influenced by the popular television show "Mad Men," a sexy drama set in New York in the 1960s, she said.

At Sunday's mixer, dealers' tables boast such items as a pair of 1960s women's pants made with red and white material sporting the Coca-Cola pattern and tableware bearing logos of such manufacturers as Glasbake, Pyrex, Melmac and Frostking.

"We sold a lot," Dunlevy said. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Wanted: Old trolley furnishings

The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Chartiers Township, Pa., is dying to find these old leather chairs to complete an antique luxury street car it's restoring. 

By Scott Beveridge

WASHINGTON, Pa. – Big-shot railway executives lounged in over-stuffed leather chairs when they toured Ohio and beyond in a luxury Victorian parlor room on wheels in the early 20th Century.

When it was time to light up or chew tobacco, they retired to the smoking room in the 1906 Toledo Railways & Light Co. car to sit in straight-back chairs with wooden arms so as not to burn holes in fine upholstery, said Scott Becker, executive director of Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, which is restoring the vehicle.

The chairs are the missing pieces the Chartiers Township, Pa., museum would die to have to make whole this fancy trolley fitted with interior walls lined with inlaid mahogany. It found the original curtains in boxes in an Ohio transit office and will use them as patterns to create new versions to hang on windows that were purposely installed large to allow riders to view the passing scenery.

“Maybe they are somewhere in a board room in Cleveland,” Becker told the Observer-Reporter in a story published Sunday about this museum's extensive collection of old electric-powered street cars.

This wooden car possibly once made a trip to Detroit to allow exclusive guests to watch a World Series game before it became obsolete because of competition from buses, big cars and airplanes.

What is known is the car was abandoned along with the rail line it sat on near Lake Erie only to be converted there into a summer cabin at Sage's picnic grove in Huron, Ohio.

From there the Toledo landed in Cleveland in a failed attempt to open a trolley museum before the Chartiers Township tourist attraction purchased it and another car in 2009 for $35,000.

“It’s a very unique car,” Becker said. “This captures people’s imaginations about how the wealthy lived. It was an extra special car. You didn’t go to work in this car.”

The car is a top priority at this museum because it is that rare, he said.

If you or someone you know have seen the old chairs shown in the photos give the museum a ring.

In the meantime, watch the video, below, to learn more about its trolley collection:

Monday, July 16, 2012

My "dream" car

A 1970s Plymouth Valiant similar to models I once owned and photographed recently in the Pittsburgh area. (Mike Jones photo)

By Scott Beveridge

A reoccurring dream takes me back to my 20s and the first car I purchased.

It puts me behind the wheel again of a 1975 Plymouth Valiant that has returned to my life three decades after it went to a scrapyard, yet, it's looking as good as nearly new.

In the dream I still have my 2009 Ford Focus sedan, which is nearly as boring of a ride as the one conjured up in stage 5, or rapid eye movement sleep, when a brain is in gear while the body is partially paralyzed.

Yet, I prefer in this fantasy to drive that avocado Valiant sedan to work and play, while looking over my shoulder for the police because its inspection and registration stickers are illegal.

I pass several police officers in cruisers and they don't take notice of my old car. It's engine purrs perfectly so I give up worrying about a traffic violation and travel happily on down the road.

The morning greets me with a smile that soon disappears upon the realization that only my imagination had conjured my "dream car."

In reality the vehicle was anything but a chick magnet. I purchased it for maybe $1,400 in 1979 when I was raking in big tips as the main bartender at Mon Valley Country Club in Monongahela, Pa.. 

Club member Jim Hamilton owned the nearby Lazzari Motors Inc. car dealership at the Forward Township side of the old Monongahela Bridge, and he promised me a good deal over whatever it was he was drinking. And he soon delivered one in the form of an extremely dependable car about a sexy then as the 2012 Ford Transit Connect is today.

That Valiant needed little more attention than a few drops of oil when its engine started knocking and a change of spark plugs every 50,000 miles.

The car's slant six engine was so reliable and easy to work on that its lasting power likely prompted Plymouth to discontinue making the model in order to sell more cars. So other drivers of that vehicle said at the time.

Everyone who drove that car for long eventually had to have its rusted out rear quater panels repaired.

I drove mine so long that a hole formed in the floorboard around the switch on the driver's side floor that controlled the headlight's high beams. That problem was easily fixed with a one-foot square of sheet metal, drill and handful of pop rivets to piece together the floor and keep rain water on the road from creeping up my pantlegs.

The car was eventually retired  in 1982 after its odometer had rolled over some 200,000 miles on its engine. But, the car had proven so dependable that I bought another of the same color and style from a guy who had mostly kept it in his garage.

That car lasted longer on the road, retiring in 1988, but not before I pulled from it a souvenir chrome nameplate from one of its front fenders.

I pulled the logo out the other day after a friend began to pester me about trying to find an old Valiant to purchase and restore, possibly as an excuse to convince him to also buy an old car.

God only knows why he wants one of those ugly 1980 Chevy El Caminos and would even drive to North Carolina to buy one of them. In his defense, those cars are in demand by collectors, according to another friend who collects old cars.

Stange as it seems the vintage Valiants have become collectible, too.

It's rare to see one the road or at an antique car show around here.

And, too my surprise people have been bidding more money today for Valiants on eBay than what I paid for the used ones of my youth.

One souped-up Valiant can be found on YouTube in a drag race with a much-cooler automobile. Another video shows one burning some mean tire rubber to the point where it looks as if its about to catch fire.

Hell someone even once posted on eBay a 1970s chrome Plymouth Valiant logo, different from the one in the photo, below, listing its sale price at  $199.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined my old man car one day becoming a hot ride.

A chrome decoration pulled as a souviner from one of my old Plymouth Valiants.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A landmark lost

A landmark house in Webster, Pa., about a week before it was demolished. (Scott Beveridge photo filtered by Instagram)

By Scott Beveridge

WEBSTER, Pa. – It was nighttime and I was about 10 years old the first time I remember studying the big old house on the bend coming into my hometown.

One of Webster, Pa.'s, bullies had gathered a few children, including myself, across the street from that house, promising then he could draw out the witch who lived there.

After a few harassing remarks from him a woman with long red hair stepped out on the second-story front porch and screeched, sending all of us running home. Thus, I spent the remaining years of my childhood convinced the three-story clapboard house was haunted.

Over subsequent decades people often marveled that the white house with dark green trim at Elm and Third streets had to have once served as a hotel because it looked like one with 16 windows across its facade. Others thought it was built as an apartment building. I've also heard stories that its former owners operated a 19th Century flour mill that once sat across the street near where Webster Hollow Creek flows into the Monongahela River.

The Georgian-style house likely was built as a farmhouse for a growing family, sometime after balloon frame construction replaced the post and beam style of building. And I've heard historians say there were no others like it in all of Westmoreland County.

It's likely the history of the house was never written or forever lost when a bulldozer arrived Friday and flattened the structure that had stood near my home.

As a lover of old buildings and a preservationist I mourn for the house, which still had its original six-over-six double hung windows, and blame myself for its demise.

A broken up wooden desk sat Friday among the rubble, along with an old, damaged Roman Catholic print of the Madonna and Child and evidence that one of the rooms once boasted hand-painted wallpaper.

A few months ago a guy whose heart was racing offered to sell me the property for $5,000, on behalf the estate. He had called police that afternoon after fleeing from the house, telling me he had gone inside and noticed a large animal run past an upper room.

He also asked me if I had ever noticed anyone going in or out of the place.

I hadn't, I explained, seen anything other than raccoons crawling in an out of the back porch roof and any number of ferrel cats using the house for shelter.

Over the subsequent weeks friends and neighbors tried unsuccessfully to talk me into buying the house. One of them suggested we purchase it together and use it as a store to sell antiques.

"I don't have another old house in me," I said. "I can't find the time to cut my own grass."

It's nearly impossible to find the time or motivation to keep up with my own century-old house, which needs a fresh coat of paint and new gutters. It's next to impossible to find a roofer even willing to keep an appointment to provide an estimate on replacing the box gutters on my house.

So today I look out at a sprawling empty lot where this house once stood, and wonder if it'll become one more overgrown lot among hundreds that dot this neck of America's Rust Belt.