Back in my old hometown of Bellevue, things have changed. Much of the change has been good for the town, but some of it I wonder about. There has been a lot of press about some of the good things happening in Bellevue, including the new restaurants/cafes such as Vivo and Affogato, which received some props from Professor Pittsblog in his recent post, Way Up North.
Bellevue entrepreneur Sam DiBattista’s two establishments are just a part of what is happening in the small borough. Restaurants and antique stores are popping up all along Lincoln Avenue, Bellevue’s main street. People all over Pittsburgh and outside of Pittsburgh are hearing about my old town and its neat places, such as Frankfurter’s hot dog shop, or Luigi’s Pizzeria, where all of the food is excellent.
Still, those with perspective on the town recognize the evolutionary nature of its existence. Being a native of this town named for its “beautiful view,” when I go back to visit it, I sometimes can’t help but remember what is gone.
As I ride down the south end of Lincoln Avenue and past the old Young’s Drug Store, with its large marquee still sheltering the sidewalk, I think of old Mr. Young, and his employee, Jack. When I was a kid, I would head up to Young’s on days when I had some money after collecting for my paper route. I’d get a milkshake at the beautiful marble soda fountain, and I’d munch on candy bars as I stared at the huge stuffed blue marlin that was mounted high on the wall behind the soda fountain. When I got a little older, I would go into Young’s after school with some of my wilder buddies, whom Jack did not trust.
Though not as old as Mr. Young, Jack was an old man. He was black, about as dark and as hard as black walnut. He always had a half-smoked stogie clenched between his teeth, which muffled his voice some when he talked.
“Put your hands in your pockets and whistle,” Jack would always say to us when we’d come in after school, reminding us that he was watching to see that we stole nothing. My friends and me would read Mad magazines and Easy Rider, woofing down candy bars and a milkshakes as we read.
The marble soda bar, the blue marlin, Jack and old man Young are all long gone. The store now is an appliance store.
Across the street, catty-corner to Young’s, once was Miller’s Meat Market. The butcher was in the middle storefront of three in a small plaza across the street. Miller’s had good meat, and it had that old-time butcher feel. It also is long gone. Years ago the place was bought by an architecture firm, which has done a nice job renovating the building, but which doesn’t sell cold cuts.
We used to go to Bellevue Theater when I was a kid. I had my first dates with girls there, walking with them to the small two-screen theater. We boys would sneak into the place when we were kids. I wrote about the place closing three years back: Screen goes dark at Bellevue Theater .
One of the things I hated most to see go, though, was the famed Lone Sentinel. This giant of an American Elm, which the borough fathers decided to have cut down a few years ago, was so emblematic of the borough that the town’s leaders made an illustration of the tree a part of the borough’s new logo. Then they went ahead and cut down the tree.
Recently I went over to Bayne Park, the four-acre park in which the 92-foot-tall tree once stood, and I looked for where the Lone Sentinel grew. Fortunately, I was able to write a few stories about this tree, some years ago, before it was completely removed. You can check out one of those stories here: North Opinion/Jonathan Barnes: Reflections on an old friendThe other day when I walked over to where the mammoth tree once stood, at first I couldn’t find its old spot. The tree-killing men had so completely eradicated any trace of its existence that someone who wasn’t familiar with the long-gone tree wouldn’t know where it once stood. Instead of saving even the stump of a tree that supposedly was at least 450 years old, the tree guys even ground out the stump. All that’s left is a small depression in the grass, where the Sentinel once stood. But my sadness in seeing it was that of a middle-aged guy who’s irrevocably lost the wonder of his childhood years.