The Vagabond – History of 514 Broad Street, Part II


By Danny Crownover

A couple of weeks back, The Vagabond wrote on 414 Broad Street, the new home of the J.P. King Auction Company, and the building’s historical connections. Craig King and other King families had restored and preserved the old historical building with great results.

The Etowah Historical Society is able to go back on old maps, insurance maps, documents, city directories, photos, etc. for a small fee.

Last week The Vagabond started on the history of 514 Broad Street where the Downtown Tavern currently is located at.

We continue our research on 514 Broad Street.…

In 1927-1930, [records] shows that Ralls Hardware Company occupied 514 Broad Street and was operated by Lacey P Ralls, the grandson of Dr. John Perkins, Sr.

Ralls who was born on Jan. 1, 1822, in Greensboro, Pennsylvania and died on Nov. 23, 1904, in Gadsden.

The 1930 Sanborn Map shows the building was extended in the back.

In 1931, [records] show Lacey’s brother Joseph C. (1898 – 1967) and step bro-ther A.W. Ralls Jr., as in charge of Ralls Hardware Company. In 1936, the Great Western Market occupied 514 Broad Street.

The building next became the Great Western Market. Giuseppe Tamburello “Joseph” Piazza was the owner of this market in the 1930s. He was born in Bisacquino, Sicilia, Italy, on Feb. 19, 1884, and died on Aug. 10, 1961 in Birmingham. He arrived in America on Nov. 2, 1913 in New York City.

At a market, there was chicken coop in the back on the left side of the store. A fan was installed to blow odor out the back of the store. The live chickens were stored in the crate, and the ladies wanted to see if the bird was healthy before selecting. The store would break the chicken’s neck and pluck it.

The Great Western Market once sold several geese purchased from a Mennonite man from Duck Springs during the drought. The woman paid 25 cents a pound.

The entire wall along the left side of the market was filled with meat, while the wall on the right was for seafood.

At the end of the day, everything that wasn’t sold went into the corned beef brine barrel. They store would then put a sale on corned beef. Corned beef and cabbage was a staple.

The store window held a display case where ice was placed in a bunker so the meat would stay cool.

In the 1930s, the adjoining store was the Capitol Theater (toward Sixth Street). Down from the theater were Manning Brothers Meat Market, Bon Ton Barber Shop, Blue Ribbon Shoe Shop, Sears and Roebuck, Jitney Jungle, Lowe’s Care, A&P and Singer Sewing Machine.

Snellgrove Drug Store was located on the corner and Gadsden’s first bowling alley with two lanes was located upstairs above the drugstore.

Piazza was in America from 1902 to 1908 and saved money to bring his future wife to the United States. But the future wife died, so he went back to Italy and re-married. Piazza loved it in America and felt he had the promise of a brighter future.

The family moved to Ensley, near Birmingham, and lived in an Italian neighborhood that was like a Little Italy. Everything was Italian. Even the preacher preached in Italian. The family later moved to Gadsden, and the Great Western Market opened in the early 1930s.

In 1938, Piazza relocated the business to Bay Street, where he worked until he sold the store to his brother-in-law Joe Troncale in 1944.

514 Broad Street was vacant from 1939 to 1940. In 1943, Hall Cafe operated at the location, with Charles W. Hall running that business.

From 1947 to 1953, the Star Cafe operated in the building with Gus Hagedorn as the owner.

Other stores that operated over the years at 514 Broad Street were Gadsden Sporting Goods Inc., Western Auto Associate Store, Top Dollar Store Inc., King Discount Variety Store, Kiddie Shop Children Clothes, Professional Uniforms & Accessories, Bear Video movie rentals, O’Suzannas women’s clothing stores and now the Downtown Ta-ern.

Bill Greer bought the building in 1996 and went to work, tearing away layers of linoleum and carpet and knocking plaster off the walls. What he found underneath was a yellowed tile floor that had probably been there 100 years. Underneath the plastered wall was crumbling and chalky brick that was sprayed with three layers of varnish to keep it from chipping away. The ceramic tile was cleaned and looks almost like new.

At some point an opening had been created next door and a fake, antique-looking fireplace was used to cover the rough, patched brick. The pressed tin on the ceilings was painted to the original white.

Next week: George White – Watch Patrolling

Latest News

Veterans park project underway with new funding
Gadsden approves measures to update city-wide zoning
GSCC police, security vehicles equipped with AEDs, Narcan
ECSO, GRMC offer summer safety tips
Kids Korner: The Trip, Part One

Latest Sports News

Westbrook ace highlights All-Messenger baseball team
Gaston thower sets new PR, named Nike All-American
Drew Noles inducted into Marshall County Sports HoF
Sardis’ Snead signs with Gadsden State
Ashville grad leaves mark in AHSAA record book