If you’re near downtown Uniontown today or Monday and and want to honor the fallen on Memorial Day weekend, drop by Five Corners, or the “triangle,” as they used to say.
The reason I know the part of town intersected by West Main and East Fayette streets was once referred to as the triangle is because I recently tracked down the newspaper articles about the origins of the handsome World War I soldier statue at the triangle’s apex; today it fronts Marshall Memorial Plaza.
Erected in 1936, the statue has graced downtown’s western gateway for 83 years, better than four generations.
It’s been maybe 20 years or so now that someone proposed to move the Doughboy in order to make room for a statue of George C. Marshall, the Uniontown native who led the U.S. Army in World War II and later became secretary of state and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
Fortunately, the plan was thwarted and the rendering of Marshall astride his horse was placed at the corner of Morgantown and Main.
With luck, the statue of “an American soldier in field uniform” will be around another nine decades and nine decades after that.
At the dedication ceremony on a drizzly Sunday afternoon in November 1936, a gentleman by the name of Nick Kronick, who spearheaded the statue project on behalf of VFW Post 47, said, “May we hope this monument will inspire in all of us the ambition to serve our community and our country, not for personal glory but for the good of all.”
Milton and Sidney Kronick, who were said to be “Sons of the VFW”, did the unveiling. A crowd of 500 looked on.
The granite base on which the soldier stands was donated, shaped, and placed by Post 47 member Alva Walters.
The statue, commissioned and paid for by Post 47 and stamped with the approval of the Pennsylvania Arts Commission, was created by sculptor Joseph Pollia, who as a two-year-old accompanied his parents to the United States from Sicily in 1896. The family settled in Boston.
Pollia burst on the scene in 1925 with a work in bronze called My Buddy, a World War I memorial in Forest Park, Queens, New York.
He went on to create scores of public tributes of one kind or another until his death in 1954.
The consensus of the arts community seems to be that his best work is the statue of Gen. Stonewall Jackson on Manassas Battlefield in Virginia. He also executed the statue of abolitionist John Brown at the Brown farm and gravesite in upstate New York.
Like the Uniontown soldier, Brown is depicted as strapping and virile, a warrior for freedom.
As for other gem on West Main: last week’s White Swan open house — a ribbon cutting for the refurbished old-folks’ public high-rise — was an eye-opener. For one thing, there were the heartfelt remarks of Nick Liokareas of Liokareas Construction Company, the project’s general contractor.
Nick is a big guy — tall with a thick, powerful physique. Seeming ill at ease behind the lectern speaking to a roomful of gazes both rapt and bored, Liokareas gave a brief, straight-from-the-shoulder talk that was at once frank, simple, and eloquent, far and away the best presentation of the morning, unscripted and, I suspected, unrehearsed. Its spontaneity was one of its delights.
(The ceremony, held in the banquet room accented by the building’s signature bay windows looking out on South Street, featured local officials, both elected and appointed, and state and federal bureaucrats, including a public servant from HUD, who brought greetings from her boss Secretary Ben Carson.)
Proud of the work he and his crew did in restoring the building’s functionality and grandeur, Liokareas told the gathering he was a tough boss who demanded that things be done right. The White Swan, with its architectural and historical pedigree, deserved nothing less than the best, he said.
He noted that when he drives past the building, which looks as good as new, he points with pride: the White Swan is his baby, a treasure he helped bring back to life, a legacy achievement.
Good job, Nick.
There was this, too: the money spent to refashion the old hotel building — $13 million — is the largest investment in Uniontown in this young century. Could it be the start of something bigger?
The White Swan Hotel checked out in June 1966. Management — The American Hotel Company operated the White Swan for every one of its 41-year stand — cited the construction that fall of the Holiday Inn, three miles west of town on Route 40 (where the Ramada by Wyndham stands today), as its reason for closing up shop. The rush to the townships was on. Uniontown Mall opened six years later, in 1972, leaving Main Street gasping for breath.
It would be the sweetest of ironies if the retooled White Swan signaled the reversal of the trend that started with the hotel’s demise. Things have recently been looking better for downtown Uniontown: Main Street restaurants are busy, the medical marijuana facility, among new businesses, is open, the State Theater continues to plug along.
Things could be far worse. They once were.
Richard Robbins lives in Uniontown. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.