Caption for cover photo: An engraving of Gene Albert bedecks the new plaque commemorating his Sales and Service Station at Village Park. Albert’s business strengthened the downtown community and endured for 45 years before Point Park University bought the land. Photo by Matt Nemeth.
Three generations of the Albert family attended a ceremony and reception in Lawrence Hall on Monday to honor their father, grandfather and great-grandfather’s contribution to what is now the vibrant Academic Village.
“[Albert] was a unique asset to Pittsburgh and the name will never be forgotten by daily Downtowners,” University President Paul Hennigan said.
Village Park now occupies the space where Albert’s Sales and Service Station stood from 1953 to 1998, before being sold to Point Park in 2000.
“Thanks to Mr. Albert, the corner is now a cornerstone of [Point Park’s] academic initiative,” Hennigan said during the ceremony.
The corner was a hub of activity in Downtown, a natural meeting spot for everyone from students at the then Point Park College to city officials, with many a deal made and intellectual discussion had on the what is now the center of Point Park’s campus.
Called “Pittsburgh’s unofficial mayor,” Albert ran the business through floods, gas shortages and the 1960’s riots.
“He made the task of running a small business look easy,” said Dean Albert, Gene’s son and Point Park class of 1975 graduate during the ceremony.
During the reception, Albert’s children – Dean and Gene Albert and Jan Sloss – reminisced over the corner.
“There’s been tremendous change,” Dean Albert said. “The school used to park shuttle vans with us.”
Sloss has a memory of beautiful dancers walking through the streets.
Albert’s adult children also remembered their father’s kindness.
A homeless man who spoke no English worked for them, and slept in the lube room.
“[Albert] brought him blankets, but he refused,” Dean Albert said.
“All he had was a hot plate, and he cooked great smelling food,” Gene said.
“He would sew his possessions into his coat, it was huge,” Dean Albert said. “His whole life was in that coat.”
One of the family’s greatest challenges came during the two gas crises that happened during the time the station was operating.
“They were trying times,” Dean Albert said. “We had to block the pumps with cars, so we could allocate to our regular customers. They would give you so much gas and once you were out, they wouldn’t give you another drop.”
But there were also laughs shared, some of the loudest surrounding stories of unusual gas station character, Bobo, a rhesus monkey.
Edward Meena, Point Park professor and class of 1970 graduate, was close with the Albert family during the life of the station, attending St. George (Syrian) Orthodox church with the family.
“The Alberts were a Pittsburgh family,” Meena said after the ceremony. “I’m happy the University recognized their contribution.”
According to Meena, the sale of the corner to Point Park was a key in putting the academic village together.
“It was the first step, and the most important one,” Meena said. “Recognizing the family reinforces [the University’s] commitment to Downtown; supporting local businesses, engaging with city and county agencies, our thousands of on-campus students. We offer so many non-traditional opportunities for working students.”
The torch has been passed from the Alberts to Point Park to represent “intersection of lives and fueling of minds” in Downtown, according to Hennigan.