It’s been awhile since I visited Youngstown, Ohio. The last time was when I explored the now demolished Wean United Steel building, a relic of Youngstown’s hard working past. Being from Cleveland, I identified with this rust belt city, where the people take nothing for granted and always strive to improve and back their city.
The morning began documenting some of the abandoned houses on my way into the city. I noticed a large “Stand Up, Fight Blight” sign next to an abandoned apartment complex; a neighborhood initiative aimed to transform it into a place where residents are hopeful for the future of their city.
I then crossed over the Market Street bridge and downtown Youngstown came into view.
I started walking downtown and came across Youngstown Nation where I figured I could get some advice on how to plan the day. I met Phil Kidd, a passionate Youngstown loyalist and creator of the popular Defend Youngstown movement in the city. I knew right away I met the right person and Kidd rattled off numerous activities and points of interest. Inside the store, I also met Jim Cossler, the CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator, who changed the landscape of a largely deserted downtown business district into a start up powerhouse. Cossler informed me that the Incubator was just named the world’s best business incubator associated with a university; competing with the likes of Stanford, Cornell and UC Berkeley. Cossler told me to check out the gorgeous Deyor Center for Performing Arts and the beautiful Powers auditorium. I spoke with a lovely woman at the box office who gladly gave me a private tour and told me the interesting history of the auditorium. She said the Powers Auditorium was known as Warner Theater (of Warner Brothers fame who grew up and started careers in Youngstown) and it actually showed movies from 1931-1968 before it closed. It was almost demolished until stockbroker Edward Powers stepped in with a large donation. Powers turned ownership over to the famed Youngstown Symphony Society and the building still remains as a site out of 1931.
At the end of my tour, I was introduced to James Pernotto; an impressive contemporary fine artist; painter, and sculptor who is a curator at the Butler Institute of American Art. He went out of his way to show me around the city and offered to take me to his studio roof so I could get some skyline shots. On the walk over, we ran into none other than his longtime friend and native Youngstown son; the famed Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, who held the boxing lightweight championship of the world from 1982-1984. Mancini was also a part of the infamous 82′ bout with South Korean, Duk Koo Kim, which changed the sport of boxing forever. The match went 14 rounds in a hotly contested match which tragically left Kim in the hospital where he passed from his brain injuries four days later. I admittedly didn’t know who Mancini was when I met him but could tell Mancini was doing very well for himself in LA and was back in Youngstown for the holidays. The pair of friends chitchatted and it became clear that everyone in this town is well connected, friendly and looking out for each other.
Before saying my goodbyes, I realized how lucky I was to meet so many influential Youngstownians.
I decided to check out some of Kidd’s restaurant suggestions where I could grab a quick bite and a beer. He pointed out an old fashioned family restaurant called the Golden Dawn that has been around since 1934. The move was a delicious Jumbo sandwich, fries and a Genesee schooner (it was .85 cents a beer!) The restaurant hasn’t changed much from the good ole days and I instantly loved the place.
I next visited the Wick Park neighborhood which is a mix of forgotten abandoned homes set next to gorgeous and historically maintained architecture. An impressive site was the Parkway Towers. This pre-Depression era building was utilized as luxury apartments for professors, doctors, and professionals from Youngstown State University. It confused me to see this empty, beautiful building (located near the famous Stambaugh Auditorium) have absolutely no purpose. I know the owner has been contacted in reference to some possible violations and hopefully the building can be restored.
My last stop landed me at the eclectic Star Supply Bargain outlet where I browsed their collection of fun and interesting junk. Housing such novelties as gas masks, toy figurines made of Youngstown steel and household necessities, it’s a must stop. After passing the “You Can Change Youngstown” sign on the way out of the city, I realized that many of the residents took this saying to heart. The phrase along with my fantastic trip to the city made me hopeful that Youngstown will continue its strong comeback.