Waxing Warren nostalgia

Tribune Chronicle / Robert Lebzelter Josh Nativio shows some of the prints he has collected of downtown Warren decades ago.

WARREN — Josh Nativio is fascinated by downtown Warren.

Not the one you walk down today. Nativio would like to jump into a time machine and visit the district as it was in the 1930s or ’40s or ’50s.

“I’d love to walk around these blocks and choose from dozens of diners to go to,” he said.

He thinks of the days when the Robins Theater showed Cary Grant movies with comfortable air conditioning or S.S. Kresge cooked meals in its basement and sent the food via dumbwaiter to its restaurant on the first floor. In fact, he paid $35 for a Robins Theater print, one of his favorites.

It was when downtown Warren was still home to Sears. The store boasted so many employees that they filled the front facade of its building when a photo was taken. JCPenney store also had not exited for the malls.

About a decade ago, Nativio started collecting photos of old Warren, mostly the downtown district.

He houses his original collection where he works, at All American Cards and Comics on West Market Street, a storefront that dates to the Civil War that previously housed Fischer and Sons Dry Goods Store, as well as a furniture store and a drug store in the 1970s into the 1980s.

His 300-some photos are as close as your computer. He posts them online for others who share his fascination for nostalgia.

“Just being around here, I was interested in what was here,” the Boardman native said.

“This was such a hotspot of activity for department stores up until the late ’70s. I’m fascinated by that. All the employment, the lunch counters.”

Nativio isn’t the only one preserving Warren history. The Trumbull Memory Project at Warren-Trumbull County Library is a collection that goes far beyond downtown photographs. It is an online archive of photographs, postcards, illustrations and documents celebrating the history of Trumbull County.

Elizabeth A. Glasgow, local history and genealogy librarian at the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library, said the collection was sparked by a donation of photos of the May 31,1985, tornado that hit, among many communities, Newton Falls. The Trumbull Memory Project went online in 2011.

There you will discover perfectly preserved photos of a grandfather and granddaughter that looks Civil War era. Local veterans are also a big part of the library site.

“Veterans of World War II are more likely. Today, their families bring us photos and we scan them and give them back because the family will want them,” she said.

“We work mainly through donations. People come in. Somebody passes away, a relative, and they don’t know what to do with their photos,” Glasgow said.

After items are scanned and placed online, the originals are placed in the manuscripts room.

“There is a lot of interest,” Glasgow said. “There is more interest in school photos, yearbooks. We have great old photos going into the 1950s,” she said.

Some photos can’t be used, simply because it can’t be verified they are from Trumbull County. Location and approximate date must be verified, too. Date can be approximated based on things like clothing and vintage cars or horse and buggies.

“We try not to accept photos if we can’t identify them. Space is an issue and labor is an issue, no matter how wonderful of a photograph it may be,” she said.

One reason Nativio started his site was, well, selfishness.

“I heard a lot of people collect this stuff and weren’t loaning it out, weren’t sharing. What I did have, I threw up on a public site so people can enjoy it. If I get hit by a car tomorrow, my photos won’t end up in a burn pile,” Nativio said.

Nativio watches eBay for photos, sometimes bidding against another Warren resident.

He found an Australian man selling a photo of Warren and decided he wanted it. He won the auction but was less than pleased when he discovered it was his own photograph. The Australian had printed a photo from his website and placed it for sale on eBay.

One photo has received 17,000 hits, that of the Packard pool in the early 1960s.

A favorite of Nativio is a mid-century photograph of the Horseshoe Bar and all of the stores around it.

“Look at this,” he says, pointing at the photo.

“You can meet someone at the bar, go next door and buy a ring, then go next door and get a wedding dress, and then go next door and get finances and get married, all in this area,” he said.

While he does peruse eBay for photos, he invites people to email pictures as well. But he doesn’t take pictures of today’s Warren.

“I have little interest in the way the place looks today,” Nativio said.

Nativio and Glasgow agree finding photographs of the interior of stores from decades ago are almost non-existent.

“They are few and far between,” said Glasgow. “We have a picture of a diner, all neat and tidy like it is ready for diners, but no pictures of diners.”

A favorite topic is the burning of City Hall 100 years ago. Nativio said the city held a contest to come up with a slogan. There were plenty of entries. Judges couldn’t decide on whether to use “Opportunity, It’s Here” or “Warren: City of Modern Methods.” So they decided to use both and place both slogans on an electric sign on the top of City Hall. Alas, all of that electrical verbiage proved too much for the ancient electrical system and the building burned.

Glasgow said she is about 75 percent through categorizing, identifying and putting photographs the library has online. When complete, there are other files the library has that need sorted and which may contain more photographs.

The library has accepted whole collections of people like photographer Bruce McIntyre, who chronicled life in Warren from the Prohibition era into the 1970s.

Besides photos and postcards, the Memory Project includes newspapers and obituaries dating to 1812. It is a center for genealogical research.

“All of this is somebody’s personal history. The world changes quickly. People miss this time of their lives. For people who live in the area, this is a part of their personal identity,” Glasgow said.