Category Archives: When I was a kid…

‘Feel the Love of Christmas’ one final time

Monday night was the first last “Feel the Love of Christmas” concert at Heinz Hall. Tuesday night was the last last “Feel the Love” concert there.

For more than 20 years, B.E. Taylor lit up the holiday season with his recognizable voice, smile and positivity – selling out concerts across the tri-state region.

The beloved Aliquippa native died in August 2016. His son – B.C. Taylor – and other family members and longtime friends have celebrated his life and love of the holiday season with fans for the last three years.

But the show will come to an end Dec. 23 with a final performance where it all began – Wheeling, West Virginia.

I’ve loved B.E. Taylor’s Christmas music for as long as I can recall. I’d watch him sing at the old Horne’s/WPXI sing-along shows and the Kaufmann’s Celebrate the Season parade, as well as his performances on WQED-TV and on 94.5 3WS and Wish 99.7.

The tribute shows have served as a time to celebrate the season and to reflect on a talented man who loved his family, the season and his fans. Portions of a live recording at Heinz Hall were embedded into the show, letting B.E. Taylor’s voice shine for all to hear.

“The fact that people still want to come and celebrate, even with dad begin gone, is such a tribute to what he created and what everyone on stage created and the fact that we get to say goodbye on our terms and let this go and send everybody out feeling the love of Christmas one more time, it’s the way I wanted to do this,” B.C. Taylor told WTOV-TV.

B.C. Taylor said the family decided to end the show’s run because of the emotional toll it takes.

“It weighs on me or my family, and I just feel that it’s time to move on, but I wanted anyone that wanted to come and sing ‘Feel the Love’ or ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ or whatever, see the drumline come down, I wanted them to have the opportunity to do it one more time,” B.C. Taylor said.

When B.E. Taylor released his first Christmas album in 1994, he had already been a solidified musician, reaching No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1984 with “Vitamin L,” which was written by fellow bandmate and friend Rick Witkowski.

In a 2016 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obituary story, bandmate Hermie Granati talked about who B.E. Taylor was as a person and not a musician.

“All the superlatives have been said about his musicianship, but the guy that we knew, when he talked to you, he made you feel like you were the most important person in the room,” Granati said. “Very at ease and very comfortable being himself. There was a light emanating from Bill, and he pulled everyone into that light. He wore his faith on his sleeve and he lived it.”

At the time of B.E. Taylor’s death, WDVE’s morning show host said he was “the kind of person that you strive to be. He was kind, he was thoughtful, he was happy and full of love for his friends and family. There wasn’t an ounce of pretense to B.E.”

The final performances for the show are Dec. 21 in Indiana and Dec. 23 in Wheeling. For ticket information, visit the concert site.

Have ‘A Very Merry Pittsburgh’ with Heinz History Center’s holiday exhibit

Pittsburghers love traditions – especially during the Steelers season and the holiday season.

And, as the years go by, the beginnings of holiday traditions that made Pittsburgh’s once-vibrant Downtown shopping district shine are nothing but a memory.

Horne’s, Kaufmann’s, Gimbels all had extravagant holiday season traditions: windows, tree lightings, amazing interior decorating, Santa.

While those landmarks and many of the events are gone, the memories will live on through a very special exhibit at the Heinz History Center: “A Very Merry Pittsburgh.”

It’s the second year for the unique display (it first appeared in 2017).

The display, which opens Nov. 16, features:

  • The original Santa’s chair from Kaufmann’s Santaland, the giant mailbox where Pittsburgh area children used to mail wish lists to Santa
  • Holiday window display items and other memorable objects from Kaufmann’s, Horne’s and Macy’s
  • An interactive retro toy display showcasing toys from several generations
  • Gifts and toys dating to the 1840s, which show the evolution of gift-giving for the holidays

And, of course, Santa! The History Center welcomes Santa on select days and times.

I visited this exhibit during its premiere year in 2017 and took my mother, who fondly recalled so many toys and items from Kaufmann’s and Horne’s. I loved getting a chance to see old window display pieces up close and to learn more about those pieces.

This is a must-see exhibit for any Pittsburgher!

More details:

A Very Merry Pittsburgh opens Nov. 16 and continues through Jan. 5. The exhibit is included as part of a regular admission ticket to the Heinz History Center.

Santa will be at the History Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the following days: Nov. 16, 17, 23, 24, 29; and Dec. 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 23, 24.

The History Center is located at 1212 Smallman St. in the Strip District. You’ll want to block off several hours to visit the History Center because of all of the wonderful exhibits, including pieces from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and the massive Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, and so much more! Or, just get a membership and return multiple times throughout the year!


Get event listings and more holiday fun in the It’s Christmas 365 newsletter!

Remembering the Sears Wish Book

For decades, many kids eagerly browsed through Sears’ Wish Book, seeking out the items they most wanted to see under their tree on Christmas morning.

The catalog first appeared in 1933, offering a glimpse of the best-selling items Sears had to offer.

Of course, it offered more than toys. The Wish Book consisted of popular gift ideas and other products for the home.

As the years went on, the size of the catalog grew, reaching 600-plus pages in the 1960s.

In 1990, the Wish Book offered 728 pages. The publication highlighted some of the items that are very ’90s.

But later in the ’90s, Sears discounted printing its Big Book catalog. And, in turn, the Wish Book also began to dwindle.

The most recent Wish Book I found evidence of is a digital version from 2017.

Sears printed the catalog from 1933 to 2011, and then again printed it in 2017, according to Business Insider.

As a child, I remember sitting with my grandma circling items that I wanted, and getting excited when Santa came through!

I recently picked up Target’s toy catalog. While it pales in comparison to the Wish Book of my childhood, it’s still great to see kids have a catalog to thumb through — and that kids still want toys beyond iPads and iPhones!


Get event listings, TV shows and more holiday fun in the It’s Christmas 365 newsletter!

The Great Downtown Pittsburgh Holiday Walking Journey!

Thousands of steps and a soaked hoodie later, I saw all of the holiday things in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Inspired by The Incline’s nine-stop holiday walking tour, two friends and I set out on our adventure on Dec. 1.

Light blue highlights walking. We also went to the Penguins game.

A constant rain and tickets to the Pens game changed our walking course, which, according to my Google Maps timeline, looks more like a wayward drunk than a holiday decoration seeker!

But we saw it all and then some!

We started our tour with a quick stop into Prantl’s Bakery on Market Street for some classic Pittsburgh thumbprints and some free smells of delicious treats.

Fifth Avenue Place

From there, we headed into Fifth Avenue Place to check out the Arcade Shops.

This site once was home of Jenkins Arcade, which, along with the Horne’s Department Store, helped to anchor one end of Pittsburgh’s then-vibrant retail corridor.

The multi-level center connected to Horne’s and had a myriad of shops and eateries over the years. Jenkins was torn down in 1984 and replaced with Fifth Avenue Place.

The retail portion of Fifth Avenue Place offers a few stores, including Dave DiCello’s photography gallery, Katie’s Kandy, a Hallmark store and food court.

But the headliner is the Welcome Pittsburgh store, which doubles as a visitor information center and retail shop.

The place has a plethora of Pittsburgh gifts — from local artisans to DVDs, games, books and so much more. The staff is extremely help (and also very knowledgeable about the city and region).

If you’re looking for a Pittsburgh gift, go there!

We spotted our first tree of the day inside Fifth Avenue Place.

The tree isn’t particularly wide, but its height allows for a great view from the second floor.

 

 

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While you’re in Fifth Avenue Place, check out the couple of great window displays. This is Pittsburgh’s first holiday season without any storefront holiday windows. So finding a few in Fifth Avenue Place was a special treat!

Point State Park

After walking through Fifth Avenue Place, we went toward the confluence to take a selfie with the tree at Point State Park. I’d already figured the view wouldn’t be terrific since it was daylight and raining.

But because of the weather and the muddy field, we opted to not get close to the tree.

The dumpster at the tree doesn’t necessarily make for a good daytime view, but nonetheless, we checked off this tree!

The views of this tree from Heinz Field, Mount Washington and parts of the South Side are great. It also makes for some great selfies up close and personal.

Horne’s Tree

Next up, we took a stroll to the old Horne’s building to take in the beautiful sights of what I think is Pittsburgh’s most iconic tree.

Now referred to as the Unity tree, the Horne’s Tree was part of the department store’s holiday tradition for decades until Horne’s closed its iconic location in the early 1990s. Highmark has continued this special Pittsburgh tradition.

The tree is part of this website’s banner image, and also makes appearances in at least one Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.

Market Square

After the Horne’s tree, we diverted to Market Square to check out the Holiday Market at Market Square. The square offers a variety of artisans and vendors — many of which are from the Pittsburgh region.

The 2018 market includes artisans such as Pittsburgh artist Linda Barnicott, local photographer J.P. Driscoll, Monmade, Pittsburgh Pottery and many others.

Along with the open-air shops, the event offers music and entertainment, too. The event is open daily through Dec. 23. It is not open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

And, of course, there is a tree at Market Square!

PPG Place

Following our trip through Market Square, we took a stroll over to PPG Place to see the tree, rink and gingerbread houses inside the Wintergarden.

The rink at PPG Place is actually larger than the one at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Pretty cool, eh?

Inside, gingerbread houses created mostly by students in area schools dot the Wintergarden. Winning creations typically are placed in the center underneath a large tree.

A collection of life-size Santas from around the world also are part of this magical wonderland.

 

 

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Local musicians perform throughout the holiday season inside the Wintergarden as well.

The Giant Red Ornament

After PPG Place, our journey took us to the giant ornament outside of K&L Gates Center.

I’m not sure how long this ornament has been here, but it’s certainly fun! (There are giant clusters of similar ornaments in NYC, and also giant Christmas lights, that I want to see one day!)

Smithfield Street

After our trek for a quick photo with the giant ornament, we set our sights toward Smithfield Street. At one time, Pittsburgh’s retail mecca included a massive corridor along Smithfield Street.

The days of a vibrant Downtown shopping district are long gone, but there still are great local shops — new and old — to explore.

The first stop we made was to Steel City Clothing (625 Smithfield St). Check them out for some pretty rad Pittsburgh designs, including my current favorite T-shirt: “Wish Yinz a Merry Christmas.”

After, Steel City Clothing, we walked over to S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes (630 Smithfield St).

The classic store bills itself as Pittsburgh’s “largest and oldest speciality toy store.” And with three floors of toys, it’s safe to say that’s accurate.

My friends seemed a little skeptical at first, but after a few minutes inside, I think they began to enjoy it.

If you’ve never been, take a gander inside. The store certainly has that classic locally-owned shop feel — from the display cases to the steps up to each floor.

While the shop doesn’t seem to sell video game systems, it’s full of popular toys such as Lego sets, Barbie dolls, new board games and more. Plus, there is a very great collection of trinkets, gifts, collectibles, Funko pops, Christmas village sets, trains, dolls and so much more.

There were several things I found that I’d like to buy for the holidays and afterward. Also, if you’re someone who enjoys model trains, they’ve got so many items to choose from!

By the way, S.W. Randall has three brick and mortar locations — Downtown Pittsburgh, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill — and an expansive online store.

PPG Paints Arena

From there, our holiday excursion paused so that a friend and I could get to the Penguins game.

And, yes, we found trees!

Creche

But after the Pens game, we walked to the to the creche at Steel Plaza (600 Grant St). It is the only authorized replica of the creche at St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Italy.

It has been on display each holiday season since the late 1990s in Pittsburgh. A smaller nativity scene was displayed on public property. But local government leaders sought to find a permanent and private space for it.

There also is a menorah on site.

City-County Building Tree

This gigantic tree was our last official stop on the day of Downtown Pittsburgh holiday decorations journey!

There is so much to love about this tree.

The black and gold bridge ornaments that celebrate Pittsburgh’s 200th anniversary of the city’s founding. They identify each of the 90 neighborhoods.

 

 

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There are the Wendell August ornaments.

There is good ol’ David Lawrence keeping watch on the tree.

But. The best part is the illuminated portico with music playing around the tree. It’s such a serene setting.

I like going at night, when it’s dark and mostly empty.

There’s also a menorah on display.

But wait! There’s more!

Oxford Centre

There is a beautifully lit tree in the atrium of Oxford Centre. We took a quick stroll over to view it from above before walking back to where we parked near Market Square.

There’s not much in the retail area of Oxford Centre these days, but if you get a chance, swing by the tree to see it in person!

 

The ‘Confluence’: Where Pittsburgh and the holidays come together

photo by WESAI was graciously invited to return to 90.5 WESA’s “The Confluence” program to share my love of Pittsburgh and the holiday season with listeners.

We talked PPG Place gingerbread houses, local artisan markets, walking tours, and, of course Kennywood Park’s Holiday Lights.

I joined Rossilynne Culgan, at The Incline and Katie Blackley, of WESA.

Tune in around the 24-minute mark to hear the interview.

Holiday TV for Dec. 1: Freeform’s 25 Days begins, animated classics, original ‘Miracle,’ ‘Elf’

Here’s a look at the holiday specials, reruns, classics and more on TV today!

  • “25 Days of Christmas” begins on Freeform!
  • Rankin/Bass animated classics have shifted from Freeform to AMC.

Shows:

  • 11 a.m. — “The Little Drummer Boy: Book II (1976, Rankin/Bass), AMC
  • 11:10 a.m. — “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” with Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Freeform
  • 11:30 a.m. — “The Story of the First Christmas Snow (1975, Rankin/Bass), AMC
  • Noon — “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985, Rankin/Bass), AMC
  • Noon — “Christmas Everlasting” with Tatyana Ali and Patti LaBelle, Hallmark
  • 1:15 p.m. — “The Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold” (1981, Rankin/Bass), AMC
  • 1:45 p.m. — “Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey” (1977, Rankin/Bass), AMC
  • 2 p.m. — “The Sweetest Christmas (2017) with Lacey Chabert, Hallmark
  • 2 p.m. — “Christmas Perfection (2018), Lifetime
  • 2:15 p.m. — “Jack Frost” (1979, Rankin/Bass), AMC
  • 3:20 p.m. — “Christmas With the Kranks,” Freeform
  • 3:30 p.m. — “Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (1976, Rankin/Bass), AMC
  • 4 p.m. “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974, Rankin/Bass), AMC
  • 4 p.m. — “It’s Christmas, Eve” (2018) with LeAnn Rimes, Hallmark
  • 4 p.m. — “Poinsettias for Christmas” (2018), Lifetime
  • 4:30 p.m. — “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976, Rankin/Bass), AMC
  • 5 p.m. — “Romance at Reindeer Lodge,” Hallmark Movies & Mysteries
  • 5:45 p.m. — “The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974, Rankin/Bass), AMC
  • 7:35 p.m. — “The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Freeform
  • 8 p.m. — “Disney Parks Presents a 25 Days of Christmas Holiday Party,” Disney
  • 8 p.m. — “Mingle All the Way (2018), Hallmark
  • 8 p.m. — “A Twist of Christmas (2018), Lifetime
  • 8:55 p.m. — “Muppet Babies, Disney Jr.
  • 9 p.m. — “Elf,” AMC
  • 9 p.m. — “Christmas Wonderland” (2018), Hallmark Movies & Mysteries
  • 9 p.m. — “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas,” USA
  • 9:15 p.m. — “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” 2000) with Jim Carrey, Freeform
  • 9:45 p.m. — “The Bishop’s Wife” (1947) with Cary Grant, TCM
  • 10 p.m. — “Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe (2018) with Lacey Chabert, Hallmark
  • 11 p.m. — “The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974, Rankin/Bass), AMC
  • 12:15 a.m. — “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year” (1976, Rankin/Bass) (AMC)
  • 1:30 a.m. — “Miracle on 34th Street (1947) with Natalie Wood, AMC