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Last updated: Thu. Jul. 10, 2014 - 01:11 am EDT

Selling pieces of city history

Dealer collects local memorabilia for nostalgic shop

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Like many antiques and collectibles dealers, Steve Cebalt tries to have something for everybody.

Everybody, that is, who loves Fort Wayne.

Pieces of the city’s past suitable to hang on a wall or display on a shelf or in a cubby are the specialty of Cebalt’s new business, Highview Art & Collectibles, tucked away in a shopping plaza at Parnell Avenue and East Coliseum Boulevard.

Longtime owner of a public relations company that he continues to run from the new shop, Cebalt lately has been scouring the stands of other dealers and soliciting the public to sell him pieces of old advertising art, prints, photos, posters, maps, postcards and other memorabilia connected to the city.

The 53-year-old wants to revive memories of Fort Wayne back in the day. And he doesn’t much care whether that day is in the 1890s or the 1980s.

“A lot of what we do is finding the right home for scarce, nostalgic, rare or even one-of-a-kind items,” he says. “I never was much of a collector, but since I started doing the collectibles business, I’ve learned a whole lot.”

One thing he’s learned, he says, is that old Fort Wayne had no shortage of beer drinkers – or locally made beer.

Centlivre, of course, ruled the roost during the 1890s from the spot now home to apartments north of West State Boulevard. Cebalt has a 1980s print showing an 1880s view of the sprawling brick plant from which it supplied brew to much of the Midwest.

But did you know, he asks, that Centlivre also had another product line? An ad for Centlivre Tonic “malt hops extract” features a white-capped nurse with a Red Cross armband and the slogan “Gives Strength and Enjoyment to Life.”

Then there was the Falstaff brewery, named after Shakespeare’s merry knighted tippler. Cebalt has him, depicted on a painted tin tray with his namesake beer, probably from the 1940s or 1950s.

That beer, which came from a brewery near Memorial Park, shaped its image in the middle of the last century with manly fly-fishing scenes, such as one on a wood-paneled sign Cebalt is showcasing.

But then there’s a large poster showing a smiling woman wearing a houndstooth fishing hat and a khaki fishing vest – and a coral-colored blouse with matching nail polish and lipstick.

Cebalt is convinced the fisherwoman sign is rare – “I haven’t been able to find one like it online,” he says, adding that an expert he’d found on a Falstaff memorabilia site also had never seen one like it.

Perhaps even rarer, Cebalt says, is another Falstaff poster – of a sultry-eyed, brown-haired señorita in a gold, low-cut, ruffled Mexican-style dress and beads.

The poster identifies her as Lillian Molieri, “celebre estrella Mexicana,” or famous Mexican star. When he researched her, Cebalt found she was a Nicaraguan-born actress who appeared with Johnny Weissmuller in a Tarzan movie in the 1940s, in Westerns and a horror movie and on TV episodes of “I Love Lucy” and “The Three Stooges” in the 1950s.

One of the publicity photos he found is nearly identical to her image on the poster. “She’s very pretty, and she’s just captivating,” Cebalt says.

Such such bar posters are rare because they were not meant to be saved, he says.

Cebalt also has ads for Fort Wayne’s Old Crown beer and ale and Berghoff beer, its first batch brewed in Fort Wayne in 1887, according to an online company history.

But he also has material about other Fort Wayne notables – an ad for International Harvester firetrucks and a painted tin from Parrot Meats with a tropical bird on it. Views of city scenes from the 1980s vie with maps of 19th-century Huntington and World War I-era postcards.

With the shop open for only about a month, Cebalt already has plans to expand into a neighboring storefront now housing a fireworks vendor. He says he’ll put current decorator-style wall pieces he buys from wholesalers there, while showcasing the local items in the original store.

Hardly a week goes by, he says, that someone doesn’t come in with a story. As a local newspaper copy editor before he turned to public relations, the bits of history always intrigue him.

“People come in and tell me, like with Harvester, of remembering when their dad or their uncle worked there, or maybe they worked there,” Cebalt says. “Anyone who’s been in Fort Wayne for any length of time connects with something they see on this wall.”

One of Cebalt’s favorite stories is about an ad for McCormick-Deering farm equipment. The ad, featuring a farm boy handing daisies to a little girl in Norman Rockwell-ish style, found its way back – thanks to Cebalt’s shop – to a building in Huntington that once was a McCormick dealership. The building now houses a collection of antique cars.

“That kind of thing is really neat,” he says.

For many people, he says, the items in the shop become both a walk down memory lane and “a way of expressing themselves.”

And, he adds, the business “attracts a lot of interesting people, and that’s what makes it interesting for me.”


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