Then & Now

Looking at historical photographs through the lens of what’s there now

Times Observer file photo/Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry The same portion of Second Avenue in downtown Warren – 81 years apart.

We probably all agree that we take modern conveniences for granted.

But what about when the modern convenience is new.

And we don’t know how well it can convenience our lives.

Back in the 1930s, such was the case with the refrigerator.

And a local merchant in the 1930s knew he had his work cut out for him.

In case you can’t tell, I love old photography – especially places that are familiar.

I recently flipped through William Frassanito’s Gettysburg Then & Now which, in essence, takes the photos of the war-era and juxtaposes them with the modern scene.

It’s mesmerizing to see how the landscape was ravaged by battle, how it had changed by the turn of the century when veterans were returning to the field to dedicate monuments and how it looks today with so many of the sight lines vastly different than they would have been 150 years ago.

It takes imagination to look past what is there now and not only picture what was but also how those changes impacted what happened there.

Comparing photos tells the story in ways that mere words never can.

So that’s where Diversions is headed for a while – photos from our collective past in Warren County with, as best we can, the modern equivalent.

We hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed tracking them down.

Our first foray is admittedly low-hanging fruit.

What you’re looking at is Second Ave. in Warren between Liberty St. and Pennsylvania Avenue.

We anchored the modern photo on the “Warren Savings Bank & Trust Co.” marker that remains.

The building to the left of that, however is long gone, replaced by Northwest Bank space.

This one is also low-hanging fruit because the date, which is the key to unlocking these old photos just as much as location, is right on the sign.

But flash back to 1936 and forget what you know about modern refrigeration.

While the technology dates back to the 1830s, refrigeration didn’t become readily domestically available until the second decade of the 20th century.

But even into the 1930s, we didn’t know just how far the technology could convenience our lives.

Phelps Radio Sales aimed to make sure we knew.

Raymond Phelps opened the store in February 1926 and “built the business on a sound basis and adapted himself to the changing condition to such an extent that the business prospered during all of the depression years,” a 1936 advertisement in the Warren Times-Mirror explains.

“His taste for quality rather than for price has not only added hundreds of satisfied customers but has also eliminated many headaches, especially during the depression years when so much cheaply constructed merchandise was available,” the advertisement claimed. “The other partner in Phelps Radio Sales is Mrs. Phelps and she inlays a very important part in the business activities as well. The fact that Mrs. Phelps is the only Norge Viking Chieftain outside of Metropolitan New York is further proof of her sales ability, and she is not of the high-pressure type either.”

By the early 1930s, Phelps had gone into the refrigerator market, dealing in Norge appliances.

More well known for their munitions production during World War II, Norge was a common home appliance company of the era, ultimately purchased by Magic Chef in 1979 and subsequently absorbed by Maytag and now Whirlpool Corporation.

In 1935, Phelps coordinated a kitchen carnival at the auditorium of the Woman’s Club

“By special arrangement with the Norge Corporation of Detroit, Miss Jane Cavanaugh, home economics expert, who is conducting constant scientific research at the Norge model kitchen in Detroit, will make a special trip here to conduct this demonstration, entirely educational in nature,” the Times-Mirror reported.

“Hundreds of women,” said Mr. Phelps, in charge of arrangements, “have recently bought electric refrigerators of some kind, who are not aware of the many use values, economics, conveniences and many delightful cold cookery recipes which have been lately discovered It is our purpose in the school to be conducted by Miss Cavanaugh to bring these important considerations to their attention.”

The effort must have been a success.

Because that brings us to the 1936 photo.

Phelps took out a full-age advertisement in the on March 27, 1936, anchored on this photo.

The headline was bold:




The specifics of the delivery were included. “This is to certify that the Phelps Radio Sales, 305 Second Avenue, Warren, Pennsylvania, received a solid carload shipment of Norge refrigerators direct from the Norge factory in Muskegon, Michigan. A forty foot freight car was used, car initials and number CB&Q 40919. The net weight of the shipment was twelve tons. THE PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD, (Signed) P. D. BELKNAP, Agent.”

“The desire for progress–for improvement of product has been constantly in the forefront of the mind of every Norge man. In every executive office, in drafting rooms, in experimental departments, in draftsmen, and the entire sales personnel this desire for achievement of the ultimate has been fanned to white heat.

“In 1932 the typical electric refrigerator still followed the ice box tradition in overall design, square and box like– Just as the first horseless carriage imitated the phaeton, or buggy of the gay nineties.”

They took great pride in being able to offer a 10 year warranty.

“After a careful survey of the service in the field of hundreds of thousands of Norge users over a period of 10 years, the Norge Corporation is more than proud to express confidence in its merchandise by this unequaled guarantee.

“Come in. Ask us about the sensationally easy terms.”