Friday, February 26, 2010

How Admiral King High School was named

Hey, don't miss my Letter to the Editor that ran in today's Morning Journal. My letter quotes part of an article that ran in the Journal back in February 1959 to shed a little light as to how Admiral King High School got its name in the first place. Contrary to the tacky email campaign underway right now to rename AKHS, a lot of effort went into the original campaign to get the school named after Admiral Ernest J. King.

If you don't have access to a printed Journal, you can read my letter online here.

No matter what the final name ends up being, at least a lot of people have written letters in support of keeping the name Admiral King High School. The momentum is definitely on the side of the Admiral, judging by the letters.

A nice compromise would be for the school to have "Lorain High School" as its name, and the  'Admirals' or the 'Kings' as its mascot. As long as Admiral King continues to be honored in some way by his hometown, I'll be happy.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Remembering Alex Visci, 1910-2010

It was especially sad to pick up the Morning Journal today and see that Alex Visci had passed away a few days ago. To those who knew him, enjoyed his music or took trumpet lessons from him (or all three), he was a truly unforgettable character.

My family's relationship with Mr. Visci goes back to the late 1960's, when my older brother Ken began to take trumpet lessons from him once a week, and my younger brother Ed and I soon followed. Going downtown on Saturday mornings for trumpet lessons was a fixture in our house for years.

Mr. Visci's music studio and instrument repair shop was originally in a rather creepy building at 356 Broadway. The building was largely vacant except for a couple of insurance companies, a lawyer and a letter shop. Eventually the building came down thanks to urban renewal and Mr. Visci was forced to relocate around 1974 to 438 Broadway above Faroh's Candy.

Taking trumpet lessons from Mr. Visci was a unique experience. His raspy voice and larger-than-life personality could be rather intimidating to an elementary school student. During your music lesson, you never knew what would happen. He might flip lighted matches at you or pretend to smack you around – but it was all in fun. One of his favorite bits was to tell you to put your hand on the table as he threateningly held a hammer above it, ready to flatten it. (Of course, he would smack the table a few inches away from your hand.) And woe to you if you hadn't practiced your lesson during the week!

I remember that he would make pencil marks on our music books, indicating what exercises we were to practice that week. Sometimes he would make a simple X, and sometimes he would get more creative and draw a skull and crossbones. Once he even drew a teepee with smoke coming out of it and decided to explain why.

"Do you know what that is?" he asked. "A teepee," I replied.

"Do you know why there's smoke coming out of it?" he asked.  I shrugged.

"Because you're gonna get BURNED AT THE STAKE if you don't practice!" he yelled, smacking me in the arm. Then he would laugh that raspy laugh. Then you would laugh along with him until he suddenly stopped and became serious. But it was always a gag.

He had several favorite terms that he would use as nicknames for people. "Bigack" was one. No one knew what it meant. "Erbs" was another. I was surprised to see that according to his obituary, it was his nickname as well.

The memories of those Saturday mornings are still quite vivid. I can still remember the stack of old Life magazines in his waiting area, the pile of instruments waiting to be repaired, the steady stream of old friends stopping in to see him. I also remember being sent over to the Flame Cafeteria to get him a cup of coffee. And when the trumpet lessons were through, Mr. Visci would admonish us to practice and chase us out of his studio and down the stairs, waving a hammer!

He made trumpet lessons fun, and I've never forgot the music principles that he taught me either. Braces later kept me from continuing as a trumpeter and that was the end of my lessons with Mr. Visci.

For a while, like many of his ex-students and friends, I would stop in as an adult to see him once in a while, always bringing him a cup of coffee. As the years went on, he wasn't always sure which one of the Brady boys I was, but he was always glad to see me and asked about my brothers and parents.

As Mr. Visci entered his 90's, he looked pretty much the same as he always did. To me, he became a Lorain icon much like Woody Mathna and Rosie Brest (of "Rosie's Pizza" fame), who also made it to their 90's and seemed as if they would go on forever. It's sad to know that he's no longer with us.

He was a great guy and will be missed.

So long, Bigack.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When Admiral King High School was New Part 2

Here's a photo that ran in the Journal a few days before Admiral King High School opened in September 1961. And here's the article that accompanied it as well.

57,000 Students To Enter Area Schools This Week

Upwards of 57,000 public and parochial students will enter Lorain area schools this week as classes resume for another year.

While a few of the area schools opened today, most will begin the 1961-62 school year on Wednesday.

Students at one school, Tenneyson Junior High in Sheffield Lake, won't have to report until Thursday, however, as construction workers are still cleaning up the hallways. All other students in the Sheffield Lake public school district will report to classes on Wednesday.

Highlight of the new school year will be in Lorain, where Admiral King High School will be filled with students and teachers for the first time.

Construction on the new $4.5 million high school began in March, 1960, and although not completed will open Wednesday. Workers will remain in the building until mid-October, but according to Principal J. F. Calta they will not interfere with classroom studies.

A tentative total of approximately 2,050 students is expected at Admiral King when the doors are officially opened Wednesday morning.

Throughout Lorain, almost 14,000 students are scheduled to enter the public schools.

Lorain High School is expecting a population of a tentative 1,577 students, including 272 seniors, 309 juniors, 444 sophomores and 552 freshmen.

Total enrollment of the two high schools in Lorain will be approximately 3,625 students.

Teachers in the Lorain public school system attended a general staff meeting held at the LHS auditorium this morning. It was followed by a luncheon, sponsored by the Lorain PTA Council, at the Emmanuel Evangelical United Brethren Church. In the afternoon teachers reported to their respective schools for further meetings.


Student populations sure aren't what they used to be. According to information found on a website called Public School Review, there are approximately one thousand less high school students in the two high schools in Lorain now as there were in AKHS and LHS in 1961. (3,625 students in 1961 versus 2,660 now.) In my opinion, if Lorain waits a few years, it won't even be necessary to build a new high school, whatever its name may be.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Closing the book on "An Open Book" by Michael Dirda

Gee, I've been so distracted by all of the ruckus surrounding the high school situation in Lorain that I forgot to wrap up my look at An Open Book by Michael Dirda. Like I said, I enjoyed the book very much. It gets a little ponderous at times with a lot of literary references, poetry and lists of books, but I think Dirda was just trying to encourage others to read just for the enjoyment of it.

As someone who is big on nostalgia, I think it's great that Dirda wrote a book that contains references to the places and things that symbolized Lorain at the height of some of its most prosperous years. His book will help keep them alive for future generations (although I'm sure there will always be a Yala's Pizza.)

For those of you who haven't read the book, but would enjoy a taste of Dirda's Lorain memories, here's a link to a great essay entitled "Sweet Lorain" that he wrote for Preservation magazine.

Photo of Michael Dirda courtesy of the Library of Congress website.

Monday, February 22, 2010

When Admiral King High School was New

Since I've got Lorain high schools on my mind, I might as well keep going with it as a topic. Here's another photo and caption that ran in the Journal on December 7, 1960. (Click on it for a close view.) It shows a nice aerial view of Admiral King High School, which was then under construction.

Since I've been out of there for more than 30 years, the labeled photo is a nice refresher course to reacquaint myself with the layout of the building and campus. (This knowledge will come in handy during my next trip to the building, which will undoubtedly be in a few years when the inevitable 'say goodbye' open house occurs before the wrecking ball swings!)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Oh When the Saints Go Marching Out...

As usual, I stumble on interesting things on microfilm while looking for something else, and here's one of them. It's a photo and caption that ran in the Journal on September 3, 1970, announcing that the 'Southview Saints' name had been added to the front of George Daniel Stadium. (Click on it so you can read it.) This is the classic painted sign that is well-remembered by many, and it is an impressive bit of artwork. I also mentioned it here in an earlier blog. The photo's kind of interesting in view of the fact that by next school year, both the 'Saints' and 'Admirals' will be no more, and will join the 'Steelmen' name in High School Limbo.

I accept the fact that when a new high school is built in a different location in the city, a new name would probably be in order. A few people (including my mother and the clerk at the dry cleaners) think it should be called Lorain High School, since it will be the only high school in Lorain – and I tend to agree. However, I still think the quick abandoning of the Admiral King name by this September is a disgrace.

If by some miracle the new high school name is Lorain High School, I'm not sure that the Steelmen name would necessarily be revived for the mascot, since Lorain isn't exactly making a lot of steel – or anything – anymore. It could be a real problem coming up with a mascot that sums up what Lorain is all about.

Not to worry, though. Your friendly blogger has come up with a few (tongue-in-cheek) mascot names for the new high school:
  • the Fighting Democrats
  • the Internationals (gotta promote the Festival, right?)
  • the Woody's (in honor of Mayor Mathna)
  • the River Rats (why do I think this one has a real chance?)
Okay all of you regular readers of this blog (both of you)! What do you think would make a good mascot for the new high school?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Admiral Ernest J. King: soon-to-be-forgotten by his own hometown

I'll have more to say about this in a future blog series, but it is a sad thing that the decision has already been made to quickly abandon the 'Admiral King' name when the Southview students are consolidated next school year at the current Admiral King High School location. Click here to read the story.

It's almost mind-boggling that Lorain would do this in a feel-good effort to make the two currently separated high school student populations get along at the new location.

Ernest J. King is Lorain's number-one son, arguably its most famous and accomplished citizen – a true hero. He was Commander in Chief of the United States Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations during World War II and a Five Star Admiral. And, as you will see in my blog series, he never forgot Lorain.

He deserves better than this.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Look at "An Open Book" Part 4

An Open Book is mainly about Michael Dirda's love of reading played out against a backdrop of growing up in Lorain. As one regular reader of this blog noted in a post, Dirda spends much of the book telling us what he was reading at the time, and the reader watches him progress from Golden Books to the Hardy Boys to Crime and Punishment. Since I also loved to read while growing up, it was fun to see that Dirda enjoyed reading many of the same things that I did as a young boy.

He mentions several of my favorites including Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and a few that I only vaguely remember, such as the Miss Pickerell series (I only remember that she once went to Mars).

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Dirda specifically cites the Beverly Cleary books such as Henry Huggins, Ribsy and the rest.
He discusses them on pages 93-94.
He notes, "Even though I was sometimes picking up more "advanced" books, I retained a longstanding fondness for Cleary's numerous juveniles. But I only remember one with vividness: Henry Huggins. In this novel the series hero finds the stray dog he dubs Ribsy. Henry nurses the starving creature back to health, gives him a name, a home and his heart. Unexpectedly, Ribsy's original owner reappears. But Henry doesn't want to give him up. Who then, should take the dog?"

Dirda describes his feelings of 'moral complexity' when Ribsy chooses Henry over his original owner, who was also a good guy. I just remember being relieved. I also remember wanting a dog after reading that book! (But I had to settle for a hamster.)

I still had my copy of one of Cleary's follow-up books, Ribsy, up until a few years ago, when I either donated it to a young relative or a thrift shop; I can't remember. But who knows? I may be forced to infiltrate the kiddie section of the Lorain Public Library to reacquaint myself with Henry, Ribsy, Beezus, Ramona and the rest.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Look at "An Open Book" Part 3

One of the things that I enjoyed about An Open Book was Michael Dirda's look at what the Lorain Journal was like while he was growing up. One of the features that he mentioned was "Tell Me Why!", which was one of my favorites.

He describes it like this on pages 50 -51 of his book: "Not least, though, the comics pages also offered A. Leokum's "Why, Daddy" column, later reslugged "Tell Me Why" at about the same time its author's first initial was revealed to stand for the clearly un-American name Arkady. Kids would mail in "scientific" questions such as, "Why does the earth go around the sun?" and Leokum would explain in the simplest possible English. My father, less an actual than a would-be autodidact, judged this feature inordinately fascinating and frequently shared its fascination aloud at the dinner table. "So that's what blue whales eat." As we grew older he urged his inquisitive brood to send in questions, partly for the glory of seeing our names in the paper (if our letters were lucky enough to be chosen), but also for the award of various educational prizes. In due course, the Dirdas received several collegiate dictionaries, an atlas and, eventually, when we'd already outgrown it, a Junior Encyclopedia Britannica."

Another feature that Dirda mentions on the same page of his book is "There Oughta Be a Law", which was another favorite of mine. He points out that it was more of an adult feature, and this example from 1969 proves him right. I wonder – is this strip is still around?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Look at "An Open Book" Part 2

Much of my enjoyment of An Open Book stems from the fact that Michael Dirda grew up on W. 29th Street and my house was a street away on W. 30th. (That's a recent photo of the Dirda house in the photo above.)

Since we had almost identical geographic vantage points of 1950's/1960's Lorain, it was easy to relate to the first part of the book focusing on his childhood. Even though he is 11 years older than me, the Lorain of his youth was the same as mine.
Consequently, all of the iconic Lorain businesses and landmarks of the west side are represented in the early pages of the book: Yala's Pizza, Willow Hardware, Meyer Goldberg's, Rebman's, Whalen Drug, Lorain Plaza Shopping Center, etc. It's a nice snapshot of a Lorain that is beginning to slowly disappear.
Also enhancing my enjoyment of the book is the fact that Dirda and I had similar blue-collar upbringings. Many of his memories made me smile as they were the same as mine: stopping at Whalen's to check out the rack of comic books; playing in the fields that at that time were not yet developed into housing subdivisions; poking around construction sites; and most hilariously, dreading the wooden spoon that his mother would use to administer punishment.
I guess any Baby Boomer Lorainite, especially those who grew up on the west side, will see much of themselves in the early part of the book.
Next: memories of the Journal

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Look at "An Open Book" Part 1

Back here, I mentioned that for Christmas my wife had bought me a copy of An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland by Lorain native Michael Dirda. Well, I finally finished it this past weekend and I enjoyed it very much.
Although I had planned to review the book for this blog, I'm not going to. (The last book report I wrote was probably about one of the Happy Hollister books!) As a lowly blogger, I'm really not qualified to review a book written by a person who reviews books for The Washington Post for a living – and wins Pulitzer Prizes while doing it!
However, in my next few posts I'll make a few observations about the book from a Lorain nostalgia perspective (I think I can handle that!)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Old Lorain City Hall Demolition Edition of the Passing Scene

Since I was always a big fan of artist Gene Patrick's The Passing Scene comic feature in the Journal, I'm always happy to find an excuse to include one here in this blog. (You can find several old Passing Scene strips here, here and here.)

Here is Mr. Patrick's humorous look at the demolition of the old City Hall, that ran on Saturday, April 6, 1974. (Click on it for a larger view.) He always drew a great Woody Mathna!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Old Lorain City Hall & Police Station Part 7

To bring this blog series to an appropriate conclusion, I decided to pay a visit to Lorain City Hall last Sunday morning to see if the triangular plaque rescued from the old City Hall was still on display. Since the old City Hall had been demolished more than 35 years ago, I wondered if the plaque would still be there.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the plaque was still hanging prominently in the lobby. Below the sign was a terrific painting of the old City Hall in autumn, signed "Zurkan." (Shown at right.)
Together they make a nice tribute, making sure that Lorain's original City Hall will not be forgotten anytime soon.
(Incidentally, the "pirate's treasure chest" sitting on the floor beneath the sign and painting is a time capsule prepared by USS/Kobe Steel Co. to commemorate the 100th anniversary of steelmaking in Lorain in 1996. At least when 2095 rolls around, city officials won't have trouble remembering where the time capsule is.)
UPDATE (October 9, 2023)
Here's a photo of Lorain artist Ambrose J. Zurkan posing with his painting of old Lorain City Hall along with Mayor Joseph Zahorec. It appeared in the Journal back on November 19, 1973.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Old Lorain City Hall & Police Station Part 6

On March 27, 1974 a small article appeared near the bottom of the front page of the Journal.

City Hall Will Fall By Friday
The old Lorain city hall building will be torn down either tomorrow or Friday, Mayor Joseph Zahorec said this morning.
The century-old onetime mansion is now being stripped of anything of value and will be prepared for demolition soon along with the old police station behind it.
A large bulldozer is now sitting to one side of the former city hall, ready to start work. Shrubbery has already been stripped from behind the building.
The weathered plaque with the words "Lorain City Hall" has been removed from the brick structure. It will be saved and displayed in the new city hall next door.
On Friday, March 29 the city hall sadly came tumbling down. Staff Writer Steve Sidlo prepared the following report for the Journal.
Shed a Tear for Old Lorain City Hall
The old Lorain city hall is no more.
At precisely 8:27 this morning, the steel snout of a huge bulldozer unceremoniously bit into a century of history and began to reduce the former mansion to a pile of rubble.
A crowd of city employees, officials and bystanders gathered to watch the destruction. Some, led by Service Director Elio Jacobozzi, threw rocks through remaining windows. There was an almost festive atmosphere.
"I think it's the end of an era," Mayor Joseph Zahorec said as he watched a wall crumble into a cloud of dust that drove back people standing near the building.
"It's sad. It has some good memories." Zahorec reflected. "But I also think this is the beginning of big things happening in Lorain."
Jerry Eschtruth of Eschtruth Wrecking drove the bulldozer that was used to demolish the city hall and the old police station behind it.
He said a structure like the former city hall could be ripped down in a half day if the rubble could be hauled away fast enough. "It's not too tough, really," he said. As city hall crumbled, some of its heritage could be seen. Remains of the many fireplaces it once had could be seen, a hint of what it was when it was built in 1870 by shipbuilder William Jones.
The mansion, one of the finest in the city at the time, was purchased in 1877 by John Stang, a prominent citizen, banker and landowner. Stang helped develop Lorain's harbor in those days.
In 1903 the house became City Hall, after officials purchased it in the wake of a fire which destroyed the building being used for office space where the Broadway Building stands today.
Through the years, 22 mayors have occupied offices in the old city hall, starting with F. J. King and ending with Zahorec.
The site of the old city hall and police station will now become a parking lot for the new city hall complex. Eschtruth said that rubble from the old buildings will be used to fill in the basements and provide a bed for the parking lot.
Even though I was living in Lorain at the time, I don't remember too much about all this. I was probably preoccupied with high school.
Looking back, I wish that the old City Hall could have been saved and used as a museum or something. The current City Hall looks dated and garish, too big for a city that is shrinking and going through some tough times. And with Lorain's city jail closed, all the horse thieves and hobos are being sent to the county jail.
Well, if they ever tear down the current Lorain City Hall, I'll be there with my camera. (I'll bring some rocks too.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Old Lorain City Hall & Police Station Part 5

Remember when I said that I'd visited the old central police station as a kid while working on a science project on forensic science? I remembered getting a tour of the jail and taking a few pictures with my trusty Kodak 126 camera. Well, it turns out that I still had the film negatives (from around 1972) – and the above image is the proof. (Click on it for the full "You are there" effect!)

Now that is how a jail cell should look – dark, filthy and disgusting. Note the names scratched into the walls, and the uncomfortable beds. And check out the toilet! Sorry, Charlie – toilet seats are for free men! If I didn't know better, I'd believe it if someone told me that this was right out of Alcatraz.
Seeing this as an eighth grader probably convinced me to stay on the straight and narrow!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Old Lorain City Hall & Police Station Part 4

The Journal ran a nice feature about the old central police station behind the old City Hall on December 16, 1973, the day that the new City Hall complex was dedicated. (The above photo is actually from the 1968 Greater Lorain Chamber of Commerce promotional booklet.)
The article collected a series of Lorain Times Herald and Lorain Journal News newspaper accounts from the days when the soon-to-be-demolished police station was new. Here are a few excerpts, courtesy of the Morning Journal.
NOVEMBER 10, 1910 – John "Zins" Zinsmeister rocked back in his chair, the ends of his droopy mustache drooping with max and his mind groggy from the radiator heat.
Outside it was bitter cold and the veteran patrolman bragged he didn't have to wear itchy woolens under his stiff blue uniform.
The brand new Lorain Central Police Station came to life today with the hissing and pinging of its monster steam furnace in the cellar, but the jail has yet to be completed.
With deep set eyes, high cheek bones and floppy ears, Zinsmeister looked more like a prisoner than a deskman. Today he found himself entombed in an office of iron bars. "A real caged attraction," a reporter cracked.
By 8:30 this morning Zims booked in the usual number of tramps and hobos, one horse thief and two gamblers, rounded up from the city's four other boxcar jails.
These prisoners would be brought before the mayor for trial.
NOVEMBER 15, 1910 – A disgruntled Chief Williams today said it wouldn't be until January before prisoners could be placed in the jail. Plans call for 20 cells capable of holding 40 prisoners.
H.E. Ford, the creator of this $14,000 fortress, could not be reached for comment. The station is engineered to hold in its iron-ribbed stomach, the crooks of the boom town of 28,000 people.
The upstairs of the station will feature an airy courtroom, store room, electrician's apartment and spacious room for police officers. Each patrolman will have his own locker.
JANUARY 12, 1911 – The new central police station was officially opened today as city fathers toured the building. Conspicuously missing was a cornerstone.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Old Lorain City Hall & Police Station Part 3

Here's a photo that ran on the front page of the Journal on Tuesday, December 4, 1973. It accompanied the lead story, which was written by Staff Writer Steve Sidlo. The headline read: Dedicate New City Hall Dec. 16
"With little fanfare and no speeches, the end of an era in Lorain's history was marked last night as City Council met for the last time in regular session in the old council chambers," the story began. "Mayor Zahorec announced this morning that council will meet Dec. 17 for the first time in the new council chambers in the nearly completed city hall complex."
"For the last half-century the now-dilapidated, old city courtroom has served double duty as the place where a good portion of Lorain's laws were passed."
I guess nobody was feeling particularly sentimental about the old City Hall. The article also noted, "The only ceremony at the meeting was when councilmen posed for photographs of their last session in the old chambers."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Old Lorain City Hall & Police Station Part 2

By the early 1970's urban renewal plans for downtown Lorain were taking shape, and this included a new City Hall for Lorain. Here's an interesting transitional photo featuring both City Halls, with the new one still under construction.
At right is the "now" view, shot last Saturday. (Click on each for a larger view.)
I feel a twinge of sadness when I look at the top photo, because the photo shows Lorain just at the brink of losing a lot of its heritage and unique character, thanks to urban renewal.
Next week I'll be posting some photos and newspaper articles about the demolition of the old City Hall, which took place in March of '74.
By the way, I purchased the print of the old City Hall at The 530 Shop at – where else? – 530 Broadway in Lorain. It's a great place to shop for antiques, collectibles and gifts, especially one-of-a-kind items from Lorain's past. The 530 Shop dates back to the mid-1960's at the same location, and it's great to see a downtown store from Lorain's past still around.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Old Lorain City Hall & Police Station Part 1

I've been blogging the last few weeks about downtown Lorain of the 1960's. As long as I'm in the neighborhood, I might as well pay a nostalgic visit to the old Lorain City Hall. Above is a photo of City Hall from the Images of America book published by the Black River Historical Society. (Click on it for a larger view.) The brick building behind City Hall is the old central police station.

As a Lorain Baby Boomer, I remember this City Hall well. I drew it during a 1968 Saturday morning art class (which I blogged about here.) About two years later, I paid a visit to the police station behind City Hall while working on a science project (remember those?) on forensic science. (Columbo was on TV at the time and it seemed like a good topic.)
Now for a little history. According to a Journal article from the 1970's, at one time the building was one of the finest mansions in the city. It was built by William Jones.
In 1877 it was purchased by John Stang, a prominent citizen, banker and landowner. In 1903 the City of Lorain bought the house for use as City Hall after a fire destroyed the building which previously housed the city offices. The building then served as Lorain's City Hall for 22 mayors, until its demolition in March 1974.
Here's a link to Loraine Ritchey's website, where she has a nice collection of vintage photos of the original brick building, as well as a few with the later peeling yellow paint.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fire Station Number One

Here's a great old postcard of Fire Station Number One that I found on the internet. (Ebay is a great source of Lorain memorabilia.)

I guess I'm going to have to do some research, because I am just now noticing that it is a different church building next door.
What's nice is that when you compare this postcard to the recent photo from my last blog entry, it looks like someone decided to restore the dormer on the roof to make it look like it did originally. (The dormer is not in the 1968 photo.) It's a nice touch.
One thing though. Why do I think of the Keystone Kops when I look at this postcard?