A modest house with a photographic memory – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Interactive
He often took members of his family on missions. Lionel says he learned “every nook and cranny” of Pittsburgh on these outings. His father didn’t like to wait at traffic lights, so he circled the city in the alleys.
Lionel witnessed his father’s efficiency when he saw Teenie photographing a group of about 25 people. “He took these people and put them all in different spaces, in different places,” Lionel said. “Bam! He took the picture and left. I said, “How do you do that? “”
“I just know where people should be,” his father replied.
Sometimes Teenie would take a picture and then hang out for fun. Elsa accompanied her husband on a job to photograph a social event.
“Well, how was it?” Crystal asked him.
“Half the time I couldn’t see him,” his mother replied. “He’s over there doing the Charleston, with the rubber legs.”
“He was just a clown,” Crystal said. “He liked to have a good time.
‘As if by magic’
Although he is tired of work at the end of the day, Teenie takes care of her children. When Crystal was around 7, Teenie noticed she was unhappy and asked what was wrong.
“It seems like everyone is always doing something and not including me,” she said.
“What do you love doing?” He asked.
Crystal said she enjoyed watching old movies on TV.
“Then we’ll watch them together,” he said.
Crystal remembers her father coming home at night and waking her up so the two of them could sit by the glow of a TV and watch movies like “Top Hat” and “Swing Time”. Crystal loved Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
The other nights he would go down to his dark room in the basement. Surrounded by cans of paint, a washing machine and other household items, he develops film, then slides negatives into an enlarger to make prints on time. Images emerged in the faint red glow of darkroom lighting. “It just felt like magic,” Crystal said.
Sometimes people would stop by the Mulford Street house to see Teenie’s photos and visit. Her children remember singers Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne and Billy Eckstine. A visitor, dressed in a long trench coat and a wide-brimmed hat pulled to the side, left a strong impression on young Lionel.
“It scared me to death,” Lionel said. “I thought he was a gangster.”
The man was the jazz musician Lionel Hampton – Lionel Harris was named after him. Hampton sat at an upright piano in the living room and played a tune.
Cystal’s son, Arthur “PJ” Pass, 48, spent much of his childhood at the Mulford Street home. He remembers the day a fair-skinned man walked in through the front door.
“He was wearing a little polo cap,” PJ said. “My grandfather had all kinds of photos for him on the dining room table. I said, ‘Grandpa, who is that?’ He says, “It’s August” – playwright August Wilson.
Spic and Span
Teenie was an “old school” parent, her children say. They were to go home after the streetlights came on. He often summoned his children by standing on the porch, pursing his lips, and uttering a unique whistle heard throughout the block.
He once noticed that Crystal’s nails were glowing with color. “Get that nail polish off your fingers,” he said. “It’s just for athletic women.”
“I asked myself, ‘What is a sporty woman? “Said Crystal.
Cleanliness was important. Cheryl “Tiny” Watson said her father made sure the house was well taken care of. “I would wake up in the morning and smell the Spic and Span, and I knew it was cleaning the kitchen. “
He also cleaned the street and the sidewalk, the lawn immaculate. He paid special attention to the hedges. “He would sit on the porch and notice a branch sticking out a little too high, so he would go get the mower and cut it,” Crystal said.
Once, while shaving in the family bathroom, Teenie looked out the window and saw a rat across the street. He dropped his razor, ran down the stairs, through the front door, and grabbed the rodent. “Everyone on the street loved it,” Cheryl said.
Teenie took a number of photos on Mulford Street. Several depict everyday life – little Cheryl hanging on her mother’s dress as she works in the kitchen, baby Crystal with a pumpkin lantern, young Ira Vann and Lionel playing with a garden hose. Others show street dwellers, black and white, posing in front of houses, or with their children. The neighborhood looks peaceful, but racial tensions have erupted on at least one occasion.
“Ugh! He knocked the guy out. I will never forget him.
On a warm evening in the early 1950s, Lionel and Ira Vann were playing wrestling in the street when a wandering pitch bounced a baseball in the yard of a neighbor, who was relaxing on his porch. Teenie, on her own porch, yelled at him, “Hey, can you return the ball for these boys?”
The neighbor refused and used a racial epithet.
“Next thing I know, my dad is flying across the street on the guy’s porch,” Lionel said. “Ugh! He knocked the guy out. I will never forget him.
As a teenager, PJ Pass and his friends often ran down the street. One day Teenie, in her late sixties, decided to join us. Teenie was an athlete in her youth and has remained lean and lively in her later years. Still, PJ was worried.
“I said, ‘Grandpa, I don’t think you should be running,'” said PJ.
“I’m running,” Teenie insisted.
“Then all I saw was Grandpa’s shadow pass right in front of me,” PJ said. “He beat us all the way down the block.”
Other memories are more serene. Granddaughter Tina Harris, 58, remembers lying in a glider on the porch with her head in Elsa’s lap. “She rocked me to sleep,” she said. “I had this blanket – I can still smell it.”
Family members say Teenie and Elsa have had a special relationship. Teenie delivered morning coffee to his wife in the couple’s upstairs bedroom, Cheryl recalls. Elsa’s death in 1997 took its toll, she said. “He loved her so much.”
Teenie died on June 12 of the following year.
The future of the house
Ira Vann was the last member of the family to live on Mulford Street. He bought the property from his father’s estate for $ 1 in 2003. He died in 2019 and his girlfriend lived there for a time, according to family members. It is not known if anyone lives there now. Knocks on the door go unanswered.
“I didn’t know how to deal with the situation with the house,” said Tina, Ira Vann’s daughter. Its market value is $ 20,000, according to Allegheny County records.
Family members say they would like to fix the place. Official recognition as a place of historic significance would cement the house’s role in their father’s legacy, they say.
“It would be an honor for my dad,” Crystal said.
Steve Mellon: [email protected]