By Elizabeth Perry
For more than 80 years, the annual week-long West Park Town Fair in Stowe was a huge event for families and young people in the area.
Like a lot of couples, Robinson residents Mario and Carla Ulizzi met at the fair.
“I know exactly where she was standing, what she was wearing,” Mario said.
They met when Carla was 14 and Mario was 15 in 1990. Carla said she wasn’t even supposed to be at the fair that day, because her parents were very strict. She knew Mario’s friend, which was how he got an introduction. Mario said his friend had a crush on Carla before that.
“Once he introduced us it was kind of over. Mario takes another one. (She) was the last one I ever took,” Mario said.
The couple, who now have three children, celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this year. Mario wanted to get something to commemorate his meeting with Carla.
“I thought how many times can people actually say they met at an event? To have a poster in the house, to say this is how we met, I kind of like the idea,” Mario said.
Carla reached out to McKees Rocks Historical Society President Sandy Saban to try and find a poster from the fair, because she knew Mario had wanted to have one for such a long time.
Saban wanted to help. She had fond memories of the fair herself.
“I can remember my daughter Chrissie walking in that parade. People would line up all the way down Broadway,” Saban said. “She marched when she was a Brownie.”
Saban’s husband would drive his 1926 Model T down the street during the parade.
Immediately after speaking with Carla, Saban contacted Marty Jacobs, the former fire chief who’d organized the fair from 1967 until it ended in 2018. Prior to that, Jacobs’ father had planned the fair, so Saban surmised if anyone had access to a poster, it would be him.
Saban said “three seconds later,” Jacobs sent her an image of the poster.
The West Park Town Fair was once a massive six-day-long carnival with a parade that stretched all the way from Stowe into Kennedy.
Jacobs inherited the job from his father, who had been organizing the fair since the early 1930s.
“I was working at the fair when I was 5 years old, I took it over when he retired,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said the fairgrounds were initially at the Foster School and it was eventually moved to Sto-Rox High School around 1995.
“We used to draw thousands to the fair, the last couple years we were drawing hundreds,” Jacobs said.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he estimated the number of attendees at 100,000.
“The Wednesday of the fair was the Fireman’s Parade,” Jacobs said.
At one time there were at least eight to 10 marching bands, 20 majorette groups, all the local fire departments and several clown groups, Jacobs said. The parade could last up to four hours. Pittsburgh-area artists like the Vogues and Johnny Angel and the Halos played to the crowds.
At the height of its popularity, the event would generate around $30,000 in revenue for the West Park Fire Department, Jacobs said.
“It was bigger than Kennywood. It was just awesome for young kids,” Mario said.
In 2012, West Park merged with the Fleming Park Fire Department because of the shrinking population to create Stowe Township Volunteer Fire Department Station 275. The township’s Presston Volunteer Fire Department (Independent Hose Company No. 5) refused to be a part of the merger and is currently serving as the main department for neighboring McKees Rocks.
Attendance at the fair began to dwindle around that time, too. Jacobs said toward the end they were lucky to net $5,000. Jacobs said the fair went from 20 rides down to five. In his opinion, problems with crime in Stowe led to low attendance.
“People were afraid to come to it,” Jacobs said.
Despite the end of that era in Stowe, the fair remains an important moment for the Ulizzis and many others. In fact, their son’s girlfriend’s parents met at the fair in 1987.
They fell in love, making way to a second generation of people who wouldn’t exist without the West Park Street Fair.
“I wonder how many couples got introduced at the West Park Street Fair,” Mario said.