Part II of In Sight’s in-depth coverage of Pennsylvania steel town Aliquippa explores the community residing on both sides of the town’s tracks and looks at how, if possible, it can survive on limited resources.
One of the few old-timers left from the Jones & Laughlin mill that used to surround West Aliquippa, Gino DiNardo, reads the paper in Mahoney’s. The bar has been in operation in West Aliquippa for 40 years. (Pete Marovich) Frank Purrachio, 86, reminisces about the old days in his home in West Aliquippa. (Pete Marovich)
In Sight: What were the perceptions you had about Aliquippa vs. the reality once you began documenting the community and the people more closely?
Marovich: I had heard that people living in surrounding areas believed there was serious crime and lingering racial issues in Aliquippa. But after doing some research and talking with community leaders and police, I found that the reality is not as scary as the perception.
The city has a history of racial issues in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but that was true in many areas in the United States at that time. Speaking with police during a ride-along one night, I was told that most violence that occurs in Aliquippa involves people that know each other arguing about any number of things, but race really does not play a part in the altercations, which are usually related to domestic violence or drug deals gone bad.
While there are drug problems, there is not much violent crime. There have been three homicides in the past five years.
The Plan 12 Market in Aliquippa is a mainstay for the local community. Operated by Jehad “Jerry” Jaber, 68, (second from right) and his brother Sammy, 58, the market supplies food staples, household goods, tobacco products and food prepared by Sammy to the residents of Plan 12. (Pete Marovich) Bert Hart, 80, has been cutting hair in his Aliquippa barber shop for the past 60 years. Hart moved to Aliquippa in the boom times of the 1960s and opened Bert’s Barber Shop in 1966. (Pete Marovich) Plan 12 is one of the city’s most crime-ridden areas where the police enforce a “no loitering” ordinance. But many residents say there’s not enough to keep the youth of the city from hanging out on street corners. (Pete Marovich)
In Sight: What do you feel, if anything, can be done for Aliquippa to survive?
Marovich: Some of the old-timers still long for the good old days and talk about how things will be when the mill comes back. But most people realize those days are gone. Most of the storefronts along the main thoroughfare of Franklin Avenue are still boarded up, and there are a lot of empty lots between buildings.
Recently the city was able to attract United States Gypsum to the area, and they built a plant along the Ohio River located on part of what was the former J&L site. There is still a lot of land on the old mill site — land that sits on the river and a rail line. It is a prime spot for some new industry, such as a car manufacturer.
The residents understand that the city needs to attract more businesses and jobs if Aliquippa is to fully recover. New businesses will raise the tax base and provide funds to rebuild the decaying infrastructure. The people of Aliquippa are strong, resilient and proud of their heritage. They are doing their best in difficult times, and they are continuing to press forward.
Tony Gennaro, 84, stands in his collection of magazines and books in his home in West Aliquippa. Gennaro, a weightlifter who held both national and world titles is also a former steelworker who worked in the blooming mill at the J&L facility in Aliquippa. (Pete Marovich) The area behind the rusting steel and wooden bleachers of Carl A. Aschman Stadium is blocked off to the public in a stadium that was built in 1937. (Pete Marovich) Aliquippa High School has one of the smallest enrollments in the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) with the class of 2013 having only 58 kids, including 28 boys. (Pete Marovich) Aliquippa head coach Mike Zmijanac watches over his team during warmups before their homecoming game. (Pete Marovich) The Aliquippa High School football team takes the field for their 2015 homecoming game. (Pete Marovich) Uncommon Grounds Cafe Ministry Director Herb Bailey outside of the cafe in Aliquippa. The cafe is a safe haven for people from all walks of life. (Pete Marovich) A crucifix stands between homes in the Sheffield Terrace neighborhood where the San Rocco Festa procession is to begin. The festival, a three-day religious celebration, is held annually in August honoring St. Rocco, a patron saint of the city of Potenza, Italy, to where many Italian Americans in Aliquippa can trace their ancestry. (Pete Marovich) A truck leaves the former site of the Jones & Laughlin Steel mill that occupied a seven-mile stretch along the Ohio River in Aliquippa from 1905 until its closure and demolition in 1988. (Pete Marovich)
More In Sight:
Part I: The life and slow death of a former Pennsylvania steel town