This post was contributed by Caren Hiedovitz Lever and Barbara Hiedovitz Mandel, the daughters of Florence Stahlberg Hiedovitz (1924-2002). I first learned about Florence’s artwork, which she created in 1997, when Caren mentioned in early January that it was part of the art collection at the Carnegie Library of Homestead. Upon viewing it, I felt immediately her love for her home shining forth from the canvas. I’m excited to be able to share it with all of you, as I can’t imagine a more beautiful representation of the devotion so many feel towards the Homestead community.
I am indebted to Florence in another way. My research project would not have been possible if there hadn’t been something for me to research from — namely, the congregation’s records, oral histories, and professional photographs in the Rauh Jewish Archives. When the synagogue closed in 1993, she used her business connections to arrange for these donations to the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania (the predecessor of the Heinz History History Center). I often tell people that the Homestead Hebrew Congregation did all the right things when it closed, and much of that derives from Florence’s foresight.
Introduction by Caren and Barbara
Florence Stahlberg Hiedovitz’s pictorial memoir, My Homestead, is a highly personal collage that recalls her own roots in the Steel Valley community of Homestead during the early twentieth century. The painting depicts a collection of thirty-six images celebrating the life and change of that community. “My Homestead” combines many diverse pictures such as the Homestead Hebrew Congregation’s glass windows and women’s balcony, a steelworker’s emblem, and the early streets of Munhall. It’s a record to the founders of the now defunct Homestead Hebrew Congregation in 1894, just a year and a half after the famous Homestead Steel Strike. It is a reminder of the change in the steel industry that built that community.
“The area will never be what it was,” sighed Hiedovitz. “We can never go back to where we were. But it reminds us of past successes and gives us visions of what the future may be.” She felt it was bashert, a Yiddish word meaning that something is meant to happen, that her maiden name should be Stahlberg, for “stahl” in German means “steel” and “berg” means “town.”
After concentrating on fifty plus years of marriage to Harold, two wonderful daughters and their spouses, four of the most accomplished grandchildren, and a successful twenty-five year career in creative merchandising at Kaufmann’s Department Store, retirement permitted Florence to explore what she never had time to do. Number one on the list was to paint once again. After meeting with artist Kathleen Zimbicki on the JCC Art Scene tour, watercolor became her passion. Her 1995 cancer survival made her confront her own mortality. She realized that every day was a gift and that her time was not infinite. This experience provided her with the impetus to crystallize her inner feelings so that they could be reflected in her art. “My Homestead” gave her the opportunity to tell a story that was important in her life.
My Homestead—A Steel Town
What follows is Florence’s explanation of the scenes in her collage. Each number in the picture below corresponds to part of her description. At the end of this section, you’ll find a slideshow that will allow you to zoom in more closely on each section of the canvas.
The genesis of My Homestead was the Homestead Hebrew Congregation, Rodef Shalom (1894-1993).
Its progress and demise similarly mirrored the course of the Homestead Steel Works, whose history also became its legacy.
- THE HOLE IN THE WALL
Located on City Farm Lane, just outside the mill’s pay gate…everyone entered and left through the hole in the wall…gleefully on Tuesdays – that was payday.
- FIRST AND SECOND WARDS
The neighborhood…rows and rows of peaked roofs…rows and rows of smokestacks…few trees.
- BRICK-PAVED STREETS
Cars parked on the brick-paved streets reflected the long hours of work and overtime that it took for workers to be able to buy such items for themselves. Frequently bought on credit, people shopped locally…grocery stores, small businesses–before supermarkets and shopping malls.
- THE BOST BUILDING
Located on Eighth Avenue near Heisel Street, the top floor of this hotel was used by reporters and steelworkers during the Steel Strike to see what was happening in the mill. The Bost Building was restored by the Steel Industry Heritage Corporation.
- THE PUMP HOUSE
Built to provide water to temper steel. Located in Munhall, the Pump House figured prominently in the Homestead Strike of 1892. Strikers and townspeople waged a 4-hour battle against 300 Pinkerton guards hired by Henry Clay Frick to break the strike.
THE PEMICKEY RAILROAD BRIDGE
The steel workers, positioned on this bridge, acted as a lookout awaiting the arrival of the Pinkerton Guards who crossed the Monongahela River to the mill site.
- THE BATTLE OF HOMESTEAD
After the Pinkerton guards surrendered, 4,000 state militia men arrived to squelch the union’s brief triumph. Forty years later, the union re-emerged in the steel industry.
- THE CARNEGIE LIBRARY
Given to the borough by Andrew Carnegie after the unions were defeated in the bloody Homestead Strike. Under one big roof there were athletic facilities (that produced World Olympic winning swim teams), a free library housed in the center of the building, balanced by an impressive auditorium for concerts, plays, and dance presentations.
- THE CARNEGIE HALL
Recently restored and renovated with funds raised by good citizens in the area.
- THE BAND STAND IN THE ORIGINAL FRICK PARK (NOW KENNEDY PARK)
Located in Munhall directly in front of the Carnegie Library, it was the scene for concerts in the summer. Garden tools to groom the well-manicured lawn and flower beds were stored underneath.
- HOMESTEAD HIGH SCHOOL
Fourth Ward residents’ children attended the integrated school system known for highly qualified teachers, winning basketball and football teams, and fierce competition with Munhall.
- MOLTEN STEEL…HOT…DYNAMIC
One did not have to wait for the Fourth of July to see sparks fly…poured into ingot molds and later processed to order.
- THE NEIGHBORHOODS-MORE PEAKED ROOFS, MORE SMOKESTACKS
An ethnic tapestry…everyone knew their neighbors and their neighbors’ affairs…like an extended family, helping hands were always there.
- THE STORES – MOM & POP VARIETY
Before the supermarkets, before the shopping malls, local small businesses flourished and tried to make a living.
- THE SALOONS – CHIODO’S & MANY MORE
Any reason at all would do to go have a drink…Homestead had many…Munhall had a few…Chiodo’s had a theme and become a legend.
- LEONA…THEATRE AND SHOPS
A grand theatre for movies and stage presentations…movies for only 10 cents. The building complex had boutique shops on the street floor – including my cousin Fanny’s “Robbins Shop” and professional offices on the 2nd and 3rd floors…bingo in the basement.
- THE UNION…STEELWORKS
Brought about a better quality of life for the laborer, but ultimately, strike after strike brought about corruption and their own demise in power.
- THE BANKS
Monongahela…Great American…community banks who made it possible for area residents to borrow money to start a business…to buy a home. Monongahela used to take time to bring passbooks and “Mickey Mouse” banks to first graders in the schools to teach savings.
- MESTA MACHINE COMPANY
Producers of giant machinery located in West Homestead. Famous Pearle Mesta had a company mansion high on top of a hill overlooking the prosperous plant below.
- THE RAILROAD TRACKS
The great divide…above the tracks…below the tracks…marked the different where we lived.
- WWII – THE HOMESTEAD WORKS
With the tearing down of the old mill and entire neighborhoods for the construction of the new Homestead Works, migration to the suburbs or across the river turned the population flow away from the core of Homestead and Munhall. The decline accelerated for both the steel industry and the Homestead Hebrew Congregation – investment in oil instead of revitalizing the aging plans predicated the end of an era for the community.
- HOT INGOTS ON WHEELS – THE STRUCTURAL MILL
Most ingots were roughly square or rectangular with rounded corners tapers to facilitate removal from molds. Steel products were formed by rolling, forging, and extruding.
- THE HI-LEVEL BRIDGE
In 1935, excavation began on the new bridge that would replace Old Brown’s Bridge. It was completed in 1937 at a cost $2.8 million dollars. A new ramp was just built in the fall of 1997 leading to the Sandcastle Water Park in West Homestead.
- THE RR STATION BUILDING
A charming turn-of-the-century building with quaint tile roof that has been restored.
- THE STREET CARS
Three tokens for 25 cents, open air…wooden..cane back seats…modern streamliners. The Port Authority ended trolley service in Homestead in 1966…tracks removed.
- SIGN OF THE TIMES
Mail Pouch…Coca-Cola…signs painted on the sides of homes or stores provided extra income.
Trees…grass…flowers…It was the residential counterpart of the industry and business dominated Homestead. Spacious homes for the mill bosses circled the Carnegie Library on 11th Avenue.
- DEAR OLD MUNHALL HIGH SCHOOL
My Alma Mater.
- THE CARNEGIE LIBRARY – RESTORED
Proud citizens completely restored the athletic facilities…the library and the lecture hall…they polished a gem.
- 1211 LOUIS STREET, MUNHALL
My parents’ home…wonderful memories. We would walk to the Synagogue.
- THE STAINED GLASS WINDOWS ON THE WOMEN’S BALCONY
Not possible to move this blaze of color when the synagogue was sold – an awesome sight.
- MY FATHER’S WINDOW
Always remembered this window that towered next to my father’s seat.
- THE HOMESTEAD HEBREW CONGREGATION, RODEF SHALOM (1894-1993)
610 Tenth Avenue – “Pursuit of Peace.”
- THE ARK
Carefully taken apart and moved to Beth Shalom Synagogue’s Rice Auditorium for use by the young people’s congregation. Five Torahs, Judaica, prayer books, and memorial tablets were installed to perpetuate the memories of those who founded and nurtured this Congregation.
- THE FIRE AT BETH SHALOM ON OCTOBER 9, 1996
Rabbi Steindel comforts Cantor Taube as he prays, having seen fire come out of Beth Shalom’s Synagogue. Remnants of the two Torahs destroyed by the fire were buried in the Homestead Hebrew Cemetery – 400 attended the service for this first ever experience in Pittsburgh. A new Torah was commissioned and the building was restored. A new Homestead Hebrew Commons was reconstructed.
- DOUBLE CHAI (CHAI MEANING “LIFE”…SYMBOLIC OF THE NUMBER 18 MULTIPLIED BY 2)
The restoration at Beth Shalom means perpetuation of the life of the Homestead Hebrew Congregation’s precious legacy.The restoration and redevelopment by Park Corporation cooperating with local Heritage groups will perpetuate the steel heritage of the Steel Valley. Housing, businesses, entertainment facilities were redeveloped as “The Waterfront” in the vast area where the Homestead Works once prospered.
“We can never go back, but the 36 elements illustrated remind us of our past successes and visions to come.”
–Florence Stahlberg Hiedovitz, 1997
Florence S. Hiedovitz was Director of Triangle Corner, Ltd, a unique organized program conducted by Kaufmann’s with a commitment to serve the business and professional women in Pittsburgh. Reporting to the Senior Vice-President of Marketing and Advertising, Jerry Eccher, the program was part of the Creative Merchandising Division.
Started in 1968, Triangle Corner, Ltd. was comprised of a 20-member Advisory Board representing the corporate community and the 88 outstanding Pittsburgh women they saluted to represent the role model for their respective careers. Together, the Advisory Board and Salutes acted as catalysts in creating a varied agenda of programs of personal and professional interest to career women and men ranging from fashion update “clinics” to credit and non-credit college classes—and a host of seminars on health, investments, world affairs, book reviews, cultural samplers and public affairs. The Career Networking Day with a coalition of Pittsburgh colleges and universities and a Tennis and Golf Invitational co-sponsored with SAVVY Magazine were benchmarks for future development.
The facilitating of linkages and networking between the providers of information and services to career women was TCL’s greatest contribution. Often, events sponsored by TCL were benefits for commmunity-based institutions. Key in communicating was the publication of THE CORNER POST which Florence edited for l4,000, and “On the Agenda” calendars for l0,000—-plus, the Kaufmann ads in major newspapers and magazines in Pittsburgh.
There was need in 1984, to convene a coalition of presidents representing business and professional organizations in the greater Pittsburgh area who utilized the networking resources of Kaufmann’s Triangle Comer, Ltd. Forum members communicated with one another and worked together on mutual goals. At least ten organizations met weekly at networking luncheon tables reserved in Michael’s Restaurant on the Eleventh Floor.
Retirement from Kaufmann’s came on February l3, 1987, twenty-five years to the day that Florence started working at Kaufmann’s, High on the priority list of things to do became spending more time with husband, Harold, and with children, Caren and Dr. Harry Lever, Barbara and Alan Mandel-and grandchildren, Aaron, Jonathan, Allison and Michael…and as of June 29, 1997, Jodi Sered-Lever, Aaron’s wife. In addition, bridge and fine arts classes at Pitt’s College for Over Sixty were important. A fair amount of time was spent actively on the Boards of the Self-Help Group Network, the Jewish Archives of the Historical Society of Western PA, and the Visual Arts Committee of the Jewish Community Center.
Working with Ellie Turk Barmen on the Visual Arts Committee utilized Florence’s marketing and publicity skills to develop the Master Artists exhibitions. A cooperative partnership with the Historical Society of Western PA resulted in having the Master Artists III exhibit at the JCC in May, 1996; later viewed at the History Center in January/February, 1997 and at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Johnstown and Altoona. An extensive education outreach included the preparation of a study guide and slides that were used by the Master Artists as they lectured in 12 area schools. Projections were outlined for the development of a Visual Artists Archives at the History Center and the video taping of the Master Artists in their respective studios.
Now associated with the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, Kathryn Logan and Mary Culbertson-Stark assumed the leadership after Florence resigned in March of 1997. The WQED’s VITA Award will be given to Florence in April of 1998 for her work as Chairperson of the Ad Hoc Committee.
For about seven years before entering the work world, Florence dearly remembered classes taken at the Pittsburgh Center of the Arts with Mary Shaw Mahronic Horn and Jean Thoburn. Another priority was to paint again. One of Lila Hirsch Brody’s Art Scene visits included Studio Z. That sparked interest in Kathleen Zimbicki and the watercolor classes she was teaching at the JCC. Over the past decade, there were more classes with Kathleen Zimbicki, Dona Groer, Frank Webb, Donna Hollen-Bolmgren, Donna Rockwell Haas, Cynthia Cooley, Michel Tsouris and Sigrid Shafagh.
Lots of encouragement from friends and family—especially from our grandson, Aaron, made me take time out to do “My Homestead” and “Jewish Poland: A Lost Legacy.”
January 26, 1998