Harveys Lake History


Grotto Pizza and Modern Sunset


Courtesy www.DiscoverNEPA.com. Used by permission.


I. Introduction

Sunset was the earliest site at the Lake where tourist accommodations were built: the Lake House was built in 1855; the most famous was the Oneonta Hotel (1898-1919). Tourists reached Sunset by stagecoach until a trolley service from Wilkes-Barre to Sunset was completed in 1898. A steam boat service regularly ran from Sunset to the Picnic Grounds across the Lake. But recreational activity at early Sunset was largely leisurely: fishing, boating, bathing, and walking. Trolley passengers to Sunset generally sought to take the Lake's steamboat services to the Picnic Grounds across the Lake which had opened in 1891. The Picnic Grounds (later Hanson's Amusement Park) had a significant three-decade lead over Sunset and Sandy Beach as the Lake's tourist and amusement destination.

Sunset gained more prominence with the construction of the Sunset Pavilion in 1919, a dance hall on the Lake front built by L. C. Schwab. The popularity of the Sunset Pavilion gave the name Sunset to this section of the Lake. The development of Sunset as a major recreational area can be credited to George W. Bennethum's Lake Improvement Company (1922-1946). With its massive development of the Lake front with bath houses, lengthy swimming docks, a bowling alley, gas station, restaurants and amusement attractions, Bennethum's company fully rivaled the Picnic Grounds for the visitors' trade. Sunset also developed a significant concentrated cottage community. The Lake Improvement Company's facilities and the Sunset Pavilion were largely destroyed in a 1928 fire, but the company's recreational services, along with restaurant interests, were partially rebuilt by the Bennethum company.

The Bennethum interests were acquired by Francis Ambrose in 1947 who created Sunset Park (1949-1965). The Ambrose interests impacted Sunset for three decades. The basin behind the Sunset bridge was considerably filled and raised by Ambrose to support Sunset Park. After the park closed, Ambrose continued to operate a marine service and docking facility in the basin. He also owned a 100 foot plus section of Sunset waterfront and he leased cottages along Annebelle Avenue. His holdings are largely the foundation of several present-day Sunset interests.

In the modern era Joseph A. Paglianite's Grotto Pizza has dominated the Sunset scene not only with his "legendary" pizza business but also with his extraordinary civic and charitable support to the Lake community. With the closure of Hanson's Amusement Park in 1984, Sunset again became, as it was over 150 years ago, the Lake's principal destination that attracts the public to the Lake, and Grotto Pizza is the heart of Sunset.

Sophia Osko's Grotto c. 1927
Courtesy Lisa Lang and FCP Collection

II. The Early Grotto

In mid-June 1922 the Grotto Cote D'Asur restaurant was opened at Sunset by three partners, the Polish-born Sophia Oskierko (Osko), Stella Starr and Helen Ambrose. It was a 100 -seat facility serving a general menu, not pizza. In April 1924 the partnership was dissolved with Sophia Osko (1890-1957) and Stella Starr forming the New Grotto near the Casino. The New Grotto survived a massive Sunset fire in August 1928. Stella Starr left the New Grotto business in 1931. In 1938 Osko leased the New Grotto to Jack Nothoff until Nothoff entered the Navy in early 1943 when Osko's husband, Oliver Burke, Jr., managed the New Grotto. After the War Nothoff would open his own bar at Sunset in 1947. Osko and Oliver Burke, Jr., sold the New Grotto to Joseph DiCarlo in November 1945. In October 1947 the New Grotto was acquired by Joseph Stuccio, a Nanticoke-based pizza maker, who opened the restaurant and a next-door bar as the New Grotto in July 1948 and by the simpler trade name "Grotto" the following season on May 20, 1949.

In March 1951 Stuccio sold the Grotto bar location to Joseph Zelinsky, Luzerne, who advertised the site for lease the following month. In early 1953 Stuccio consolidated his pizza locations in Nanticoke and Carey Avenue, Wilkes-Barre, to a new Nanticoke location. For many years afterwards Stuccio continued to sell his pizza at Sandy Beach.

Dominick Paglianite,
Joseph A. Paglianite Collection
(hereafter Paglianite Collection)

III. Joe's Pizza Shop

On September 30, 1952, Joseph "Pizza Joe" Paglianite opened his pizza shop at 131 E. Main Street in Plymouth. He had previously been a pizza baker for Wyoming Valley bars and in the summer of 1952 he was a pizza baker at the Lake for his uncle Joseph Stuccio. In 1953 Joseph Paglianite opened his second shop at the Grotto site now vacated by Stuccio and purchased by the Paglianite family. Joe Paglianite utilized the fire-brick gas-fired pizza oven left by Stuccio. (He still owns the original oven.) A graduate of Wyoming Memorial High School '43, Paglianite had learned the pizza trade from an uncle, Dominick Paglianete, who had operated the Fort Café in Forty Fort since 1933. Dominick Paglianete (a variation of Paglianite) was born in 1886 in Calabria, Italy.

Pizza or 'tomato pie' had its origin in Italy with early versions traceable to the tenth century. Modern pizza is credited to Naples, Italy, developed over time in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Immigrants from Southern Italy to the United States in the early twentieth century brought pizza recipes to America. The earliest pizzeria in the United States was Lombardi's in 1905, which is still in business on Spring Street in lower Manhattan.

Fort Cafe 2019

Surprisingly, with a large population of Italian descent, the commercial sale of pizza in the Wyoming Valley occurred rather late. This was also true in Scranton and Hazleton. Pizza in Lackawanna County was first offered by Pagnotti's Recreation Academy, an Old Forge bowling alley, in September 1937 followed by the Square Restaurant in Scranton with 5 cent pizza and spaghetti for 20 cents in March 1939. Senape's Beer Garden in Hazleton offered pizza as early as August 1933. The earliest Valley restaurant to sell pizza was the Cat and Canary in West Pittston in September 1934, followed by the Fox Hill Inn in Exeter in August 1935. The following month Manganiello's along Sullivan Trail (which became Emma's) offered pizza as a special to its dance crowd. Pizza arrived later in lower Valley towns. By June 1939 Deluca's in Wanamie sold pizza, followed by the Italian Garden restaurant in Wilkes-Barre. But there was still no full-scale pizzeria in the Valley.

In 1939 Dominick Paglianete, 43, owner of the Fort Café in Forty Fort since 1933, attended the World's Fair in New York City. While at the Fair Paglianete visited a Jersey City pizzeria and realized there was no similar pizzeria in the Wyoming Valley. The Jersey City pizza-maker, with typical Italian hospitality, shared his recipe and 'fire-brick pizza oven' baking technique with Dominick who had a similar oven built at the Fort Café. The Fort Café held a Grand Opening featuring "Pizza Napoletana" on April 30, 1940. Dominick Paglianete's Fort Café was the first Valley restaurant to specialize in Pizza baked to order. A four-cut tray cost 15 cents. For a time Joseph Paglianite worked at the Fort Café and both Grotto Pizza and Sabatini's Pizza share a variation of the original Fort Café pizza.

Antonio Paglianite,
Paglianite Collection

In later years Dominick Paglianete opened branch locations at the Gateway in Edwardsville and on both Blackman Street and North Main Street in Wilkes-Barre. During the 1940s pizza became more common among Valley restaurants. But it was after World War II ended when American GI's who served in Italy returned to the States with a continuing hunger for the 'tomato pies' they enjoyed in Italy that the pizza boom really blossomed. Tragically, Dominick Paglianete, 60, was fatally injured while crossing Wyoming Avenue during a rainy evening from his home opposite the Fort Café in February 1956. He was crossing the avenue in front of a bus stopped at the curb. As he continued into the passing lane he was struck by a 19-year old driver who had crossed into the passing lane from behind the bus. Due to the circumstances, weather and inadequate lighting along Wyoming Avenue, the driver was found not guilty of criminal negligence in a court trial.

The earliest advertisement for Joseph Paglianite's Sunset business was in the Sunday Independent on July 4, 1954, when "pizza lovers" where invited to Joe's Pizza Shop at the Lake under the management of Joe Paglianite and Corso Mascioli.

Joseph, Mary Jean,
and Lisa Paglianite,
Paglianite Collection

With the 1955 season the Grotto Bar was acquired from Zelinsky by the Paglianite family: Joseph Paglianite, his wife Mary Jean Paglianite, and his father and mother Antonio and Mary Paglianite. Antonio Paglianite (1886-1974) immigrated from Calabria, Italy, in the early 1900s and initially settled in Pittston before moving to Wyoming. Calabria is the southernmost province of Italy. Antonio Paglianite was a miner with the Pennsylvania Coal Company and had married Mary Paglianite (1896-1980). On July 2, 1955, an ad in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader noted the "Grotto" was under the continuing management of Joe Paglianite and Corso Mascioli (1915-2007) offering both pizza and spaghetti. Born in Scranton, Corso Mascioli was a graduate of Old Forge High School. He was married to Anna Paglianite, a sister of Joseph Paglianite. Mascioli also operated Corso's Barber Shop in Old Forge for nearly 40 years.

Joe's Pizza Shop,
Mary Jean Paglianite at Grotto bar entrance, c. 1955

On June 20, 1956, Paglianite and Mascioli held a grand opening for the Grotto Bar, next to the pizza restaurant, which partially restored the historic Grotto name to the site, but Joe's Pizza Shop was retained for the restaurant.

Usually, an ad would appear in the Times Leader in April that Joe's Pizza Shop was opening for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In late May the pizza shop was typically open Tuesdays through Sundays. In mid-September the Friday-Sunday schedule returned, and in December to mid-April the Lake shop was only open on Sundays.

For a little more than another decade Joe's Pizza in Plymouth continued to operate on a year-round basis. Joe Paglianite was a generous member of the Plymouth Rotary Club and continued his association with the club for more than 50 years. In late 1967 he sold the Plymouth business to Arnold Mascioli (1942-1995), Old Forge, who established Arnold's Pizza at the original Joe's Pizza site before relocating to 151 E. Main St., in Plymouth, in August 1979.

Jone's Pancake House 2019

IV. The Sunset Scene - 1950s

In the 1950s Joe's Pizza Shop joined a family of commercial interests which contributed to Sunset's importance as a recreation and dining destination. Sophia Osko and her husband, Oliver Burke, Jr., opened Burke's restaurant in the 1940s. Burke's eventually was best known for bar-b-cues. The restaurant was sold in 1971 and converted into Carmen's pizza restaurant.

Tommy O'Brien opened his scuba-diving service in 1955 nearly opposite Burke's restaurant. He rode the wave of popular interest in the new sport prompted by the success of the Lloyd Bridges TV series "Sea Hunt" (1958-1961). Stories from Tommy O'Brien, a beloved colorful legend, are covered elsewhere on this website.

Peter Ambrose, brother of Francis Ambrose, acquired the Cotton Club bar in 1947. This famous Sunset site once faced the Lake but Ambrose had it turned 90 degrees facing the highway and renamed it the Circle Inn in mid-1949 and re-naming it again as the Top Shelf in 1961. In late September 1962, the Top Shelf was extensively damaged in a fire. On July 3, 1963, the Top Shelf was re-opened but in August 1965 the Top Shelf, in financial distress, was acquired by Helen Sgarlet and would become Vince and Marge Angelicola's Flagstone House in August 1977.

Francis Ambrose's Sunset Park operated from 1949 to 1965. It had its own merry-go-round (now at Knoebel's Park), miniature railroad and miniature golf course. An article on Sunset Park appears elsewhere on this website.

Jack Nothoff had operated the New Grotto restaurant during the late 1930s and early 1940s. In late January 1943 he enlisted as a lieutenant in the US Navy during World War II. In 1947 he opened his Nothoff's bar at Sunset but experienced legal issues which closed it in 1957. In time the extensively renovated site became the Villa Roma restaurant.

Ice Cream Bar, Gonda's (center left),
"The Drug Store", Paglianite Collection

Other Sunset interests in the '50s era included Jones' Potato Pancakes which Howard E. and Jeanne Jones opened in May 1955. Sons Terry and Kent Jones succeeded their parents in operating the seasonal business and it is currently run by third generation Chris Jones. The Jones family uses original family recipes and draws substantial customers each summer. Walter and Eleanor Puterbaugh acquired the Eugene Duffy bar in 1947. The Puterbaugh grocery store housed the Shawanese post office with daughter Mable Puterbaugh as postmaster. Nick DiVeronica later purchased the store. The post office closed in 2011 and the store was demolished in 2015.

Opposite Joe's Pizza on the beach was a substantial pavilion owned by Francis Ambrose which was generally known as "the drug store." It sold over-the-counter personal aid items but it was primarily a summer refreshment stand. Into the 60s John M. Gonda served Gonda's hoagies at an adjoining pavilion. Gonda was a pioneer vendor of corn-on-the cob at the Lake. His shop was often open until late at night and in the early morning hours to serve the after-hours crowd leaving Sunset bars. He had his main shop on North Main Street near Public Square in Wilkes-Barre. A third pavilion next to Gonda's also served refreshments; for a time in the 50s it was Williams Ice Cream Bar.

Girls Day Out, Sunset - Traffic Island 1957,
Paglianite Collection

The six-unit Jay's Motel on Old Lake Road near the Sunset bridge was created by Nicholas and Julia Arnone. "Jay" is for Julia. The Arnone family originally had hotel interests in Wilkes-Barre. Jay's Motel Bar and Grill operated for nearly 30 years and it is now rented as private units. The former motel's neighbor, Ann's Café, was once known as "Barefoot Annie's." Ann Zimniski Mickalus acquired her famous bar in September 1945. Following her death in late 1960 the bar passed to William Zimniski (Bill's Café) and it is now in its seventh decade.

Dominating the 1950s Sunset waterfront was the Casino next to the bridge. Built as the Casino in 1920, it originally held bowling alleys and a restaurant on the first floor, with a large second floor dance hall. In late December 1953 a Casino bingo operator, Dorothy Gilhool, was evidently murdered. The suspected murderer was later acquitted in a sensational trial. The story of the Gilhool murder case is treated elsewhere on this website. Behind the main Casino was Casino Hall, a smaller structure. In 1955 Casino Hall held "party nights" which were hours of continuous games of chance and sometimes musical entertainment. These "party nights" were also popular at Sandy Beach, Sans Souci Park and with Wyoming Valley lodge and other organizations. The Lehman Township Firemen's Association operated the Casino Hall parties to financially benefit the volunteer fire company.

Original Grotto Deleware 1960,
Paglianite Collection

V. The Delaware Grotto

In 1960 Joseph Paglianite opened a Grotto outpost on Rehoboth Avenue in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where pizza was virtually unknown. He invited his brother-in-law Dominick A. Pulieri to manage the Delaware restaurant. Pulieri is a Wilkes-Barre native and graduate of Kings College. As a teenager Pulieri had worked at the Grotto at Harvey's Lake. He worked at the Rehoboth Beach Grotto both during his college years and while teaching in Delaware. In 1967 Grotto Pizza opened its second pizza shop on the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach. Dominick Pulieri joined the Delaware operation full-time in 1970. Joe Paglianite and Pulieri are partners in Grotto Pizza, Inc., which in 2019 has 16 locations in Delaware and three in Maryland along with a Grotto Pizza gift shop at First Street Station in Rehoboth Beach. In 2007, Dominick Pulieri was named Delaware's Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Joseph A. Paglianite, left, Dominick Pulieri, right,
Paglianite Collection

VI. Grotto Pizza

In late 1963 Joe's Pizza Shop began to use the trade name Joe's Grotto Pizza. In August 1974 Paglianite registered the name Grotto Pizza with the State and thereafter Grotto Pizza was generally the uniform business name. For several years in the 1970s the Grotto sponsored a team in the Wyoming Valley bowling league but the team continued under the name Joe's Grotto Pizza. A men's baseball team competed as Grotto Pizza. Grotto Pizza also had trout tagged for stocking at Sunset and fishermen who caught the stocked trout as the season opened would receive prizes from the Grotto. The "trout tag" was an early example of many imaginative promotional ideas which would advertise the business or support community causes over the years. One year the Grotto tagged six trout and all six were caught--one from the Sandy Beach area.

Casino 1980, FCP Collection

In 1977 Joe Paglianite purchased most of the Sunset holdings of Francis Ambrose who had closed Sunset Park after the 1965 season. Paglianite also purchased the Casino from Mack Novelty in November 1979. The last advertised community functions at the Casino were a party to support St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in early September 1977 and a "turkey party" the following month sponsored by Our Lady of Victory Church, Warden Place. In 1978 the Casino was essentially a pin-ball joint - burglarized in early September 1978. In early November 1980 Paglianite began demolition of the Casino to permit expansion of the Grotto's dining area and for the parking lot. A series of garages behind the Grotto, originally built by the Lake Improvement Company, were also razed.

In late 1977 Joe Paglianite and his daughter, Lisa, lost his wife, Mary Jean, who shared her husband's passion for the business and was his most valuable partner in the success of Grotto Pizza in both Pennsylvania and Delaware. A few years later Joe Paglianite married Irma Bettelli, daughter of Eugene and Estrina Bettelli. The Bettelli family founded a restaurant in north Wilkes-Barre, later the La Casa on Public Square, and after the 1972 Agnas flood Bettelli's Villa near the Wyoming Valley Mall.

The Citizens' Voice newspaper reported on Grotto Pizza's success on May 26, 1982:

Grotto Pizza c. 1980, Paglianite Collection

Making pizza is a breeze for Joe Paglianite!
He makes up to 1,000 pizzas a week for his business, Joe's Grotto Pizza at Harveys Lake, which he has owned and operated the past 30 years. Paglianite comes from a family of pizza makers. He uses a recipe handed down from his uncle, Dominick Paglianete, who operated the Fort Café many years in Forty Fort. Joe prepares the dough and the ingredients for pizza on the premises each day.
Joe works swiftly when making pizza. Each deliberate motion is another step in the process. As he stretches and shapes the ball of dough around his hands, he forms a perfect circle every time. After tossing the circled dough on the tray, Joe's nimble fingers quickly crimp the edges, sprinkle slivered cheese onto the surface and cover the pie with sauce with the aid of a sauce pump.

Joe Paglianite - Grotto Pizza, Paglianite Collection

In a matter of minutes the pie is in the oven, and a pleasant, familiar aroma fills the air. The baking process seems to take the longest, because one can hardly wait to taste the pizza, a favorite in the area. Paglianite admits he should have a fifth oven.
The family business that includes a bar/lounge and dining room, employs up to 40 people during the summer months. Paglianite's wife, Irma, assists in the kitchen. His daughter, Lisa, serves as hostess. Pizza and spaghetti are specialties in the dining room.
Joe's Grotto Pizza is open year 'round, although the business is open only evenings in the winter.

In the Summer of 1985 Paglianite expanded the Grotto Marina at the rear of the Grotto. This was an addition to an earlier marina he acquired from Ambrose which by 1985 had 75 slips and 20 were now to be added.

In 1984 Grotto Pizza added a 45- inch TV to its bar and additional features were soon added. There were expanded dining areas, a new bar and patio deck, and atrium by 1986. And the Grotto was now open seven days weekly during the Summer season. Grotto Pizza sponsored a women's softball team in the Back Mountain, and offered its facilities in support of numerous organizations including the Wilkes-Barre YMCA, Bass Challenger, the Irish Heritage Games, and the American Cancer Society.


Labor Day Weekend Fireworks Display
Courtesy Bruce Hanson, 1988. Used by permission

The Grotto Pizza Fire
Courtesy Bruce Hanson, 1988. Used by permission


The Grotto was a co-sponsor with other Lake businesses in an annual fireworks celebration on Labor Day weekends at Sunset. On Labor Day, Monday, September 5, 1988, wind blew smoldering fireworks onto the roof of Grotto Pizza and firefighters had to wet down the roof.

Two days later, on Wednesday, September 7, 1988, at 7:00 AM both Dan Parise and Mark Sobeck, Lake residents, were each driving to work and saw white smoke rising from a skylight on the roof of the Grotto. Both stopped to survey the smoke. Parise went to the rear of the building and peered through a rear door window and saw a stuffed animal machine was burning and Sobeck used his car phone to call the fire department. Shortly, the interior of the Grotto was filling with black smoke. The Harvey's Lake Fire Department arrived and would be supported by five other area fire companies with a total of 75 fire fighters on the scene from Shavertown, Idetown, Dallas, Kunkle and an aerial ladder truck from Kingston.

Grotto Fire 1988, Courtesy Citizens Voice

The fire companies were able to control the main fire in the Grotto dining room and control of the blaze appeared likely. During this time Paglianite arrived and with the help of others began to remove contents from the building. But then flames reached the ceiling area. Due to remodeling of the building over the years there were false ceilings, partitions and a rubber roof, which rendered it difficult to reach the fire from either inside or outside the building and the roof would soon be collapsing. Tommy O'Brien assisted the fire fighters by filling air tanks for the fire departments from his own air tanks at his Sunset scuba-diving shop.

The fire destroyed Grotto Pizza which was not fully insured for the loss which Paglianite estimated at $750,000. As the fire fighters were spraying the burning Grotto Pizza Wednesday morning, the rising sun created a rainbow over the building. Joe Paglianite had no doubt he would rebuild Grotto Pizza.

The patio and gazebo survived the fire and would be incorporated into a new Grotto. A bronze plaque which was dedicated in 1983 to Paglianite's parents was also saved and would be placed at the entrance of a new building.

Ten months after the September 1988 fire, Paglianite completed a 3,000 square-foot restaurant next to the patio in order to become operational. A new kitchen would prepare pizza and other menu items for customers on the deck and gazebo which survived the 1988 fire. The 150-seat dining area would be enclosed by sliding glass doors. However, plans to open the temporary restaurant in May were postponed by an unusually wet Spring and it did not open until Wednesday, July 12, 1989. The ceremonial "first pizza" was made on Monday, July 10 for Nick DiVeronica, owner of the Sunset grocery store, who had paid for it the previous Fall in a friendly deal with Paglianite. Then on May 2, 1990, ground was broken for a $1 million- dollar expansion at the Lake site which included raising the dining rooms for a scenic view of the Lake and a two-story iconic tower to symbolize the new Grotto Pizza.

Grotto Fire 1988, Courtesy Citizens Voice

During this time Joe Paglianite sought to create a public beach at Sunset. Since 1967 Joe Paglianite had leased beach- front he owned for $1.00 a year to the Sunset Beach Association which would later acquire adjoining water front for association members.

In May 1987 the Harvey's Lake Beach Association (formerly the Sunset Beach Association) and Joe Paglianite jointly leased their Sunset beach holdings to Harveys Lake Borough to test the feasibility of operating a public beach. The Grotto's restrooms were made available to Sunset Beach swimmers in 1987 and 1988. The county funded lifeguards for the beach. In a referendum on the Borough ballot on May 16, 1988, Borough voters decided it would not fund a public beach with 403 no-votes and 214 yes votes. The last public lake beach closed at Sunset on September 18, 1988. Hanson's beach, open to the public for a nominal fee, had finally closed on Labor Day earlier in the month.

By 1990 the association, with a membership limit of only 85 members, was having financial issues along with compliance problems with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources. In the Summer of 1990 Paglianite offered to purchase the association's 170-foot beach in order to maintain the joint holdings as a public beach. A pro-beach faction of the association supported the sale but a faction of the association filed a lawsuit to halt the sale. Paglianite withdrew the offer of purchase and thereafter has utilized his water front for his business rise. The association continues to maintain its own water front for private membership bathing.



Copyright 2019 F. Charles Petrillo