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Fighting men from Connellsville and vicinity have had a large share in promoting the war against the Axis powers. They have been in all major engagements — land, sea and air. Yet it has been through the manufacture of ammunition by another Connellsville boy — by marriage, at least — that those soldiers and their millions of fellows have been able to maintain continued fire power against the enemy.
Here a week ago while enroute to Washington, D.C., for conferences with Navy officials regarding contracts, Patrick Lizza, president and general manager of the Bermite Powder Company of Saugus, Cal., not far from Los Angeles, told how his firm has already manufactured more than 60 million 20 millimeter and high explosive incendiary shells.
Lizza came to Connellsville in 1909 as a boy. He resided here until 1927, being in business with a brother, Body Lizza of Dunbar, until that time. In California he established the Golden State Fireworks Company and when the war broke out he organized the Bermite Powder Company, the only ammunition plant west of the Mississippi River.
It has been Bermite shells that have knocked down many enemy planes in addition to other types of ammunition which Mr. Lizza is not permitted to identify. The firm holds the highest honors within the power of the Army and Navy to award — the Army and Navy "E" award, a second recognition which added a star to the award and a third recognition which added a second star.
(Original caption): A former Connellsville resident, Patrick Lizza, president and general manager of the Bermite Powder Company of Saugus, Cal., is known along the Pacific coast as "king of the 20mm's."
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"We are doing all that can be done," Mr. Lizza said, referring to the people whose loyal adherence to production efforts have kept the output near capacity at all times. He added that in the Fifth War Loan campaign the Bermite Company was able to assist by the investment of $250,000.
In California Mr. Lizza is recognized as the "200mm [sic] powder king."
There is a closer tie to Connellsville in the Lizza family, however, than the memory of a business connection with the Dunbar firm. Pat Lizza married a Connellsville girl — Lenora Noschese, and with both sides of the family having roots here, it makes a firm connection between California and Fayette county, Pennsylvania.
There are three children in the Lizza family, two of whom — Hugo and Gloria — are married. Both of them were born in Connellsville and have had coke smoke in their lungs. Today Hugo is superintendent of the Bermite plant and general office manager. Gloria is assistant secretary and head of the office force. Mrs. Lizza is secretary for the firm. The third child, Tiberio, seven years old, is a native Californian.
Mr. Lizza says that "as good as California has been to me, I cannot forget that I am a part of Connellsville." He says he enjoys nothing more than coming back "to the old home town to see friends and hear names that remind me of my days here."
News story courtesy of Stan Walker.
About Bermite Powder Co.
The Bermite Powder Co., and Halafax Explosives Co. before it, manufactured explosives, flares and small munitions in Saugus, on a roughly 1,000-acre parcel just southeast of Bouquet Junction, from
1935 to 1987.
Apparently the first on the scene was Jim "The Boilermaker" Jeffries, undefeated heavyweight champion of the world from 1899-1905. Jeffries took the helm of the L.A. Powder Co.,
which incorporated in 1915, and in 1917 set up a Saugus plant on the future Bermite property to manfacture gunpowder, in hopes of supplying the allied forces in World War I.
By 1920 Jeffries was also drilling oil wells on the property; the success of either venture is unclear.
The week of April 22, 1935, Halafax opened a $250,000 plant financed by E.P. Halliburton, an Oklahoma oil tycoon whose eponymous company would grow into one of the biggest multinational
oilfield service providers.
According to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (2004), in 1939,
Patrick Lizza established Golden State Fireworks on adjacent property, while Halafax manufactured
fireworks at its site from 1936 to
Halafax eventually defaulted on its property taxes, and Lizza's company, as Bermite Powder, acquired the ex-Halafax land from the county, apparently for the price of the unpaid taxes.
Per DTSC, "The Bermite Powder Company
produced detonators, fuzes, boosters,
coated magnesium, and stabilized red
phosphorus from 1942 to 1967. In
addition, between 1942 and 1953 they
produced flares, photoflash bombs for
battlefield illumination, and other
Bermite and the Saugus property played an important role in the needs of the U.S. military during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam conflict.
For example, the most widely used air-to-air missile in the West, Raytheon's AIM-9 Sidewinder, started production in 1953 at China Lake and used a Hercules/Bermite MK-36 solid-fuel rocket engine
that would have been tested and manufactured at the Saugus plant.
Bermite was a major employer and contributed to the development of Newhall in 1939 with a row of 50 2-bedroom bungalows along Walnut Street for factory workers.
During and after World War II it was also a major employer of women.
In the postwar period, Bermite's subsidiary, Golden State Fireworks, was manufacturing fireworks on the property.
Whittaker Corp. purchased Bermite Powder Co. and took over the property in
1967, operating it through 1987 as a munitions
manufacturing, testing and storage
facility. Among Whittaker-Bermite's products were
ammunition rounds; detonators, fuzes and boosters;
flares and signal cartridges; glow plugs, tracers and pyrophoric
igniters, ignition compositions and
rocket motors and gas generators; and
missile main charges.
The munitions and fireworks operations left more than 275 known contaminants behind, some of which percolated into the groundwater below the property.
Starting in about 1986, the operations would be exposed to steadly harsher environmental scrutiny over the next several years.
"In 1987, the facility ceased all of its
manufacturing, testing and storage of
ordnance and explosive items," according to DTSC.
Within another two years, plans were made for the area to be developed into a 2,911-unit residential community to be called Porta Bella, which was approved by the City Council but didn't
come to fruition.
Whittaker sold the Saugus property to an Arizona investor group in 1999, just before Whittaker was acquired in a hostile takeover. The property spent the first decade
of the 21st Century tied up in litigation, one result of which is a long-term toxic chemical cleanup project managed by the Castaic Lake Water Agency.