The Kapsch Family
One of Brookline's Early Homeowners
The South Hills Art Center is located at 1017 Brookline Boulevard, directly across from the Veteran's Memorial and cannon. Owned by local artist Robert Daley, the building has a long history, both as a Brookline business establishment and as the former home of Agnes Daley, daughter of one of Brookline's pioneer clans, the Kapsch family. Here in Pittsburgh, her son Robert is now the last in that long line of Kapsch aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents.
The Kapsch story begins back in the old country, in the town of Novo Mesto, Slovenia, where Josef Kapsch was born on February 16, 1878. At that time the town was called Rudolfsvert, a part of Southern Austria. Amalia Giandre was born in Trieste, Italy, four years later, in 1882. The two met and married, starting a family in Rudolfsvert with dreams of coming to America.
Josef emigrated to America, passing through Ellis Island in late-1902. He settled in Pittsburgh along East Ohio Street. Amalia and their two children, Amelia (born 1901) and Marie (born 1903), made the ocean voyage to join Josef here in Pittsburgh two years later.
In 1906, the couple moved to the fledgling community of Brookline, settling in a home at 1118 Milan Avenue, along the isolated part of the street off Edgebrook Avenue. Their lot was once owned by nearby farmer Philip Fisher, and stood along the Baldwin Township boundary next to the John Dobe farm, soon to become the East Brookline development. The Kapsch home was situated at the intersection with Lynnwood (Lynnbrook) Avenue.
The family grew to six members with the addition of daughter Josephine (1906) and son Joseph (1907). The Kapschs owned a substantial block of property lots along Milan and Lynnwood Avenue, extending all the way up to Whited Street.
There they raised livestock and grew food for their own consumption, but never made a living as farmers. Josef worked as a stainless steel fabricator for a firm called Demmer and Schenk, located on Penn Avenue. He made ornamental fixtures for restaurants and other concerns.
Josef and Amalia were devout Roman Catholics, and quite pleased when the Church of the Resurrection was formed in 1909, only a short distance from their home. They were two of the original twelve members to join the new parish.
While construction began on a permanent church along Creedmoor Avenue, the Kapschs attended the first Mass, celebrated on May 30, 1909, by Father Quinn in the basement of the Reed Building at 1057 Brookline Boulevard.
A month later, Amalia gave birth to John, one of the few children to be baptized at the temporary Reed Building sanctuary. The family continued to grow over the next fifteen years. Theodore was born in 1911, followed by Leonard in 1915, Agnes in 1918, Alfred in 1920, Lillian in 1922 and James in 1924. Joseph and Amalia were proud parents of five girls and six boys, with a twenty-four year age gap between their oldest, Amelia, and their youngest, James.
Beginning in 1914, the Kapsch family read the newspaper articles about the war in Europe. Josef was of Austro-Hungarian background, a kingdom allied with Germany. Amalia's homeland, Italy, was among the Allied Powers. In 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. Both naturalized American citizens, it was no surprise to Amalia when, on September 12, 1918, forty-year old Josef chose to stand tall for his new country and register for the draft.
The Kapsch children all attended Resurrection School, which opened in 1912. Amelia was among the first graduating class on June 25, 1914. Graduations followed for the rest of the kids, until 1938, when Father Quinn handed James his 8th Grade diploma. Marie, an accomplished pianist, served as church organist and, for a few years, both she and Amelia worked for the parish as stenographers.
Amelia, often referred to as Molly, was page thirty-one news in the Pittsburgh Press on October 28, 1927, when she was involved in an automobile accident inside of the Liberty Tunnels. As a passenger in a northbound car driven by Carl Meusser, also of Brookline, Amelia was thrown from the vehicle when it crashed into another near the North Portal during the morning rush.
She suffered lacerations and was taken to St. Joseph's hospital. The accident itself raised serious concerns because it caused a line of stalled cars extending from one end of the tunnel to the other. Fears of a repeat of the May 1924 Carbon Monoxide Crisis prompted a rush of South Side police and fire units to clear the wrecked vehicles and get traffic flowing again.
Then, on July 20, 1930, it was page thirty-six news in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, when Molly married attorney Charles O. Lane of Harbison Street in Brighton Heights. Their July 12th wedding was held at the Eighth United Presbyterian Church on Perrysville Avenue. They honeymooned in New York and Canada.
Joseph was the first son to marry. His marriage to Sara Haney of Gary, Indiana, on August 17, 1932, was noted in the Pittsburgh Press. "The marriage service was read in the Church of the Resurrection by Rev. J. L. Quinn. The bride wore a gown of white satin fashioned empire style and a veil of net and lace. She carried orchids and lillies of the valley. Mr. and Mrs. Edward Happe of Pioneer Avenue had the wedding breakfast in their home. Mr. Kapsch and his bride then left for a Canadian honeymoon."
According to data from in the 1940 Census, the Kapschs were employed as follows: Joseph was still working as a sheet metal fabricator. Amalia, who spoke a number of languages but wrote in Italian, was a housewife. Amelia, Marie and Josephine were all stenographers. Joseph, who formerly worked on a milk truck, was now a carpenter.
John, a college graduate, was a sheet metal worker and fabricator like his father. Theodore, formerly a bank cashier, was now in Railroad Management. Leonard was a compositor, Agnes a secretary, Alfred a delivery boy, James a student in the Connelly trade school and Lillian a Junior in high school.
When World War II began in 1941, Leonard and Theodore enlisted within the first few months. James, John and Alfred soon followed. Leonard and James both saw combat deployments overseas in Europe, each reaching the rank of Tech Sergeant. Ted and John both served in domestic military roles. Ted, who like his sister Marie was a schooled pianist, was the longest serving and ranking Army brother, retiring as Master Sergeant.
Alfred, who was called Fritz, was an All-Catholic High School tackle in 1938 for South Hills. Five years later, in August 1943, Fritz was at the Civil Aeronautics Authority Training School in Lancaster during flight training to become a pilot. He was severely injured in a plane crash, resulting in a medical discharge.
Although registered for the draft, elder son Joseph, then employed by Meadowbrook Construction in Alexandria, Virginia, was not called into service. After the war, some of the family members began drifting in different directions, relocating to other states. Josephine moved to Annapolis, Maryland, Lillian to Edinboro, Pennsylvania, John to Cleveland, Ohio, and Theodore to Boca Raton, Florida.
Agnes married Fred Daley on September 10, 1938. They moved into a home at 1519 Belasco Avenue in Beechview. During the war, Fred served overseas in the Medical Corps. Afterwards, he became an architect. Upon his return home, he and Agnes built a two-story building at 1017 Brookline Boulevard. The upper floor would serve as the family residence.
The ground-level floor would feature their new business venture, a small neighborhood diner called the Park Side Grill. Fred and Agnes partnered with Alfred Kapsch to finance the restaurant, which was chartered on August 26, 1947, and opened the following year.
In 1950, at age thirty-two, Agnes gave birth to her only son, Robert. For the new mother and shop owner, business downstairs at the Park Side Grill was beginning to take off. As young Robert grew, the restaurant became one of the hot spots in Brookline, a favorite with the teen crowd. They came to eat, hang out and listen to rock n' roll music. It was a bit like American Graffiti, Brookline syle.
Jack Dolan's mom worked there for a while when the diner first opened. He recalls, "The Park Side had the best hamburgers. Demma's Market ground meat was used. Mom made fifty cents an hour, plus tips."
Arlene LeClaire Hanlon used to eat lunch there just about every day, and Marylee Lacey loved the french fries. Maureen Gartside exclaimed, "This place made our summers! What fun we had! Great memories!"
With a busy transit stop right outside the front door, a lot of local commuters just stopped in to get out of the weather while waiting for the streetcar or the bus.
Brian Fornear remembers, "I spent many days and early nights in the Park Side Grill. We used to see Agnes going to Melmans for her groceries. She hand pressed her hamburger meat - she made the best hamburgers! On those cold snowy or rainy Pittsburgh mornings you could always pop in and have a coffee or a chat with Agnes or the other waitresses while waiting for the 39 Brookline."
He continued, "There was a pinball machine in the back corner that got me in trouble with Agnes because of my language. It would TILT at the slightest push. Fred used to come down at night to keep us young guys in line. Agnes ran a tight ship, though. If you misbehaved or cussed you were out, and had to wait for her to cool down before you could even ask for forgiveness."
Brian added, "Agnes' husband Fred was a great guy that everyone liked to talk to. He would sit on the steps next to the grill and talk baseball, football, Brookline or just about anything else. Great people, great times, great memories. The Park Side Grill was one of the kind."
Fred Daley's principle job was as a design architect. In 1952, he helped design the stylized American eagles that decorated the facade of the Greater Pittsburgh Airport's entrance. He also designed the airplane silhouettes in the terrazzo floor and a large brass compass in the concourse floor. That same year, those same stylized American eagles made their way into the design for the Brookline Savings and Trust building.
Carol Ireland also remembers what a fine lady Agnes was with the kids. "That's where I was when Bill Mazeroski hit his famous, World Series-winning homerun in 1960. Agnes Daley invited the current young customers to watch the celebration on her TV. What a classy gesture! South Hill High School closed for a day of celebration."
One person who missed that Pirate celebration was Josef Kapsch. He had seen the 1909 and 1925 teams win the World Series, and the 1956 team marked a turning point in the struggling Pirates' fortunes. Sadly, Josef passed away on April 13, 1957. His wife Amalia, however, was present to hear the broadcast of Mazeroski's homer, and she lived to see the Pirates win their fourth title in 1971.
Prior to his passing, Josef was honored by the Sheet Metal Workers Local 12 during a gala celebration at Gateway Plaza on October 15, 1955. He was one of six members in good standing for fifty years and was presented with a diamond-studded pin by the union's General President.
On August 29, 1972, Amalia Giandre-Kapsch passed away at the age of ninety. At the time of her death, she was survived by all eleven children, eleven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. After a funeral litergy at Resurrection Church, she was interred at Holy Souls Roman Catholic Cemetery alongside her husband Josef.
Agnes continued to run the Park Side Grill until mid-sixties when, at age forty-seven, she admitted that she had grown tired of running the business. The "Happy Days" era came to an end when the diner was closed in 1965. Agnes' son Robert Daley, raised at the diner since birth and a 1964 graduate of Resurrection School, remembers those formative years fondly, "I had the pleasure of knowing hundreds of Brookline's finest as I grew up."
After high school, Robert went on to study art at the University of Pittsburgh, earning a B.A. in Studio Arts in 1972. After college he moved into a home on Lynnbrook Avenue. Seven years later, in 1979, Bob opened his studio gallery, South Hills Art Center, located in his childhood home, the same storefront that once housed the Park Side Grill.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on September 22, 1989, ran an article where Buzz Griffith, the owner of Griffith Gallery who was highlighting some of Robert Daley's paintings, heaped praises upon the young artist, "a talented young Brookline man who often emulates the fluid brushwork of John Singer Sargent in his portraits. I have seen him intently studying Sargent paintings at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Daley comes close to a Sargentesque quality with "Solitude," an oil showing a woman in hip clothing sitting on a bench. He has considerable skill and sensitivity."
In August 2011, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., and formerly bishop of Pittsburgh, asked Bob to paint portraits of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Bob had worked for the cardinal before, painting pictures of Bishop Bevilacqua, Cardinal Wright and Cardinal Dearden. Done from photographs supplied by the Vatican, the papal paintings were unveiled on October 22, 2011, during the dedication of the Pope John Paul II Seminary.
Bob paints a variety of different scenes, including one of the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport as a way of honoring his father Fred, who had worked on the airport design. The painting was featured in an article in the June 14, 1997, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Closer to home, he has painted several random Brookline scenes and one picture, shown above, entitled "Old Soldiers" that really captures the look of the aging veterans from our Greatest Generation. It shows three old soldiers, sitting by the cannon in Brookline, with shared experiences that has created a brotherly bond like no other.
Most recently, Bob volunteered his skill and steady hand by helping out with a small restoration project at the Veteran's Memorial across the street from his studio. In preparation for the installation of a new memorial plaque, he painted the engraved lettering "Lest We Forget" on the back of the granite bench so the phrase would stand out above the veteran's plaque.
With over thirty years teaching experience, Robert is now an award-winning artist specializing in portraiture. Recognized by the Pittsburgh Society of Artists, in May of 2019 he celebrated his 40th year in business on Brookline Boulevard.
Robert is the last surviving member of the Kapsch family still living in the Pittsburgh area. Josef and Amalia's children have all passed: Amelia in 1993, Marie 1973, Josephine 1998, Joseph 1988, John 1985, Theodore 1996, Leonard 2002, Alfred 2007 and Lillian 2009.
James, or "Jimmy," a decorated veteran and dog lover who struggled his entire adult life with the memories of World War II, was the last member of the Kapsch family to live at the original home at 1114 Milan Avenue*, He passed away in 2004. Robert's father Fred passed on March 28, 1997, followed by his mother Agnes on July 7, 2001.
Josephine's obituary ran on December 31, 1998, in the Annapolis Capital. She was known as a political activist and civic leader for many years. She helped save the Tiffany skylight windows at the Maryland State House and was a Republican Central Committee member from 1973 to 1977. Josephine managed two Eisenhower election headquarters in Mississippi in 1952. She was an active member of the AARP and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
At Holy Souls Roman Catholic Cemetery in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, stands this lovely headstone marking the final resting place of six members of the Kapsch family.
* Note that the postal service
renumbered homes along Milan Avenue at some point in time after 1940.
Photos and information provided by Robert Daley; Written by Clint Burton - February 29, 2020
<Personalities> <> <Brookline Connection>