How did a Hoosier muralist wind up in Belgrade?
By Carmen Gentile
Philip Victor Sunseri opened this New Castle barber shop in 1935. His son, Philip Salvatore Sunseri, took over the shop in 1961 and is still cutting hair today in the same location. At 83, Sunseri has lived in New Castle his entire life. From his shop window since 1961, he has watched New Castle transform from a once-bustling city to one of despair. Discussing the lack of industry there, Phil Sunseri recalls, “At one time in this town, you could quit your job in the morning and be working somewhere else in the afternoon.”
By Willis Bretz, column and photographs
Located in the heart of Postindustrial America, New Castle, Pa., has been struggling ever since the decline of the steel industry.
Losing its industry brought hard times as people lost jobs and, eventually, businesses closed. Population began to drop in the 1960s and continues to decline — New Castle, after all these years, remains a shell of a city just waiting to be reborn.
At a time, East Long Avenue in New Castle, was lined with storefronts selling clothing, furniture, groceries, and hardware. It was also home to a movie theater and eateries making it one of the busiest streets in the city. Now only a few storefronts remain as buildings have been boarded up or demolished. In 1987, the movie theater was purchased by New Castle Playhouse where the theater group continues putting on productions today.
New Castle holds a special place in my heart. I grew up in Pulaski, just 10 miles away. After graduating from college, I worked as a photojournalist for the local newspaper, New Castle News, for a year before moving to the Washington, D.C., metro area.
Each time I visit my hometown, my heart breaks for New Castle.
Dorian Stewart Sr., 49, sits in his 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS in New Castle, Pa., on Nov. 9, 2021. A lifelong resident of New Castle and father of seven, Stewart was raised by his great grandmother and graduated from New Castle High School in 1990. Today he is self-employed working in landscaping. When asked about New Castle, Stewart replied, “There's nothing here. Nothing for kids to do. Anyone to do.”
Considering all that New Castle has lost over the years, in every direction, there is potential.
Empty storefronts; aged, ornate buildings; and tattered park facilities all could be reimagined for a new era. These transformations will not come easily. There is a lot of work to be done if New Castle is to shake off the past and see its own resurgence. It needs a new industry — something to give the city a heartbeat again and pump life back into its streets.
One of several historical homes in New Castle, the Raney mansion was built in 1890 on North Jefferson Street. Over the years, it was used as a private residence, both a college and nurse dormitory, and most recently a personal care home before being damaged by fire in 1998. In 2011, Joe and Zenia Goodge purchased the Raney mansion. The Goodge’s are restoring the mansion to its original condition with plans to rent it out as an events center.
City leaders should fight to bring big retail back into its storefronts to revitalize the local economy and existing small businesses. Recreation options need to be developed for residents and their neighbors.
Regardless, I hold onto hope for New Castle.
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Willis Bretz is a portrait and documentary photographer based in Washington, D.C. Raised in a small town, Bretz is drawn to people and places that remind him of his hometown in Western Pennsylvania. His work highlights people and places that are often overlooked. When possible, Bretz likes to escape to his family’s cabin in Allegheny National Forest. Find more about him at willisbretz.com.
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