Men of Honor
October 1955, the brilliant businessman John Bertera, along with his brothers (Jim, Bill, and Mario) welcomed into existence a life-long dream when they opened the nation’s finest supper club and motel in Monroeville at 3755 William Penn Highway. It would be called the Holiday House.
The Berteras envisioned this a supper club with elegant dining that featured live entertainment for banquets, luncheons, and parties. It grew to be so much more. Along the main road in suburban Monroeville, the Holiday House was very much in the tradition of the country roadhouse of stagecoach days - - coaching inns set along the route to provide food, drinks, and rest to the traveling public.
This famed motel and nightclub had so much to offer with three main attractions: the main room - Tuillo’s, a coffee shop and café, and the lounge which had a dance floor. Banquets, club meetings, proms, bar mitzvas, showers, and seminars were held in one of the social rooms: the larger Crystal, Gold, or Red rooms or the smaller Blue, Walnut, or Oak rooms.
The notorious entertainment venue also had an outdoor pool, a swim club, a video game room, kitchens, a bakery, laundry area, and many offices. The hotel had 160 rooms.
The Holiday House was owned by the Bertera family from Turtle Creek. Patriarch John, his wife, and 2 children lived onsite. John was the most visible of the Bertera brothers and John’s son Robert and sister Patty grew up there. When Robert was 9 years old, he had the exciting pleasure of meeting and spending time with the Three Stooges.
Time passed and in 1982, Robert married his beautiful sweetheart Tamara and together they had many roles. One responsibility in particular was picking up the Stars from the airport and seeing to all of their comforts and requests. They have fond memories of spending time with the R&B and Soul vocal group from Detroit, The Temptations.
In August of 1985, they welcomed into the world their baby son Robert John. Nicknamed RJ, he would eventually be seen buzzing through the hallways amongst the guests in his battery-operated Power Wheels – a gift from his grandfather replicated after his personal full sized red Mercedes.
George Herr, an architect from McKeesport was commissioned to draw up plans for the sprawling modern facility which would include a motel of 18 units and a dining room capable of seating 350. Paul E. Peoples of Wilkinsburg would be named Manager and Edith Merlin the Supervisor of a staff of some 20 waitresses. Head Chef, Jimmy Versames, a Greek immigrant with more than 40 years’ experience was hired. There were also key staffers, such as Patty’s husband Burt Sokol that would be on hand to meet and greet the guests and see to it, they had a comfortable stay. The host of the shows Hugo Iacovetti was well known locally and had celebrity connections. Josie Palmer, the Director of sales, banquets, and reservations had a very tedious job balancing the influx of all the desired bookings. Everyone had an important role to play. John made sure his staff valued every guest and entertainer and that their experience was more than outstanding.
An article in the local paper depicted some of the work life of the Holiday House. Clairton resident, Julia Barbers was there at the beginning and worked there till the end. As a waitress, “It was like one big family” she says of her managers and co-workers. “If something happened to one of us, we all felt it.”
Barber’s daughter, Kathy McCormick, worked at the distinguished supper club for five years. “It was crazy but we loved it.” McCormick recalls it was a very demanding work environment. The main showroom seated 1,000. That meant twice a night, the waitresses had to reset that many place settings and bring in the first course in the scant minutes they had between the 8 and 10 pm shows. She remembers the fun times… one entertainer brought all the waitresses up on stage to dance. Waving their white linens in the air during applause became an audience tradition.
Locals remembered: “They had the newest and best disco.” And “I used to go there Friday nights to dance.” And “They had a great Sunday Brunch.”
John Bertera was a local businessman and well known as the popular proprietor of the Vogue Terrace restaurant in Wilkinsburg. He would draw on his experience in booking live acts and performers in making the Holiday House, a much sought-after venue for performers all across the country.
The first headliner for the first floorshow was vocalist Eileen Barton who would in time, be joined by an array of star-studded entertainers: Benny Goodman, Andy Williams, Tony Martin, Cyd Charisse, Milton Berle, Al Martino, Connie Francis, Tony Bennett, Carmen Cavallaro, Ben Vereen, and Phyllis Diller.
The twilight of the supper club came on the heels of the increased local crime in the Monroeville area. The eventual closure of the Holiday House was more about the sign of the times though. As time went on, it became more difficult to attract celebrities to smaller venues like nightclubs. Top-tier acts could easily fill larger concert halls and stadiums, increasing the gates for the performers. For many years though, the Holiday House was one of the rare suburban venues for live entertainment since almost all the other local nightclubs were located in downtown Pittsburgh. Sadly, by the late 80’s, the era of the supper club known far and wide came to an end.
Our values and beliefs are often taught and reinforced through family traditions and fostered closeness between family members. John having his family live with him at the Holiday House afforded him the quality time to affirm values, faith, and life experiences while celebrating the happenings of the supper club’s successes. Having 3 generations of Bertera men together from 1955 through 1988, was how the greatness began and now where it rests; the heart and shoulders of RJ Bertera. How does one not boast of his lineage? These men were successful and first-class. His grandfather John and father Bobby simply knew “It is not what he has, or even what he does which expresses the worth of a man, but what he is.” As they watch over RJ from above, they smile knowing what he is. Their personal legacies, the exceptional men that they were carries on. Any time spent in the presence of or in conversation with RJ, you know he is cut from the same extraordinary cloth.
Written by Eileen Marie
Contributions by Louis Chandler