Bronx Memories – Keep it Personal

August 28th, 2015 § 2 comments

HG has many fond memories of boyhood in The Bronx (a boyhood that took place more than seven decades ago). It was a very Jewish borough. Yes, there were substantial Italian, Irish and African-American enclaves but Jews were in the majority and the borough culture had a very Jewish tone. Affluent Jews lived on the stately avenue, The Grand Concourse (official name was Grand Concourse and Promenade). GC was the dividing line defining class and economic status. Working class to the east. Lower middle class to the west. HG always loved to walk GC from Kingsbridge Road to W. 161 st. Much to see. The little cottage on Kingsbridge where Edgar Allan Poe lived and wrote for a short period of time. Alexander’s Department Store on the corner of Fordham Road. Loew’s Paradise movie theater with its ornate interior and ceiling of sparkling stars. (It was near W.183rd and across the street were two culinary destinations—Sutter’s Bakery and J. S. Krum soda fountain and confectionary). Also on GC was the Ascot movie theater. It was an intimate movie house with a demure facade. It was here that young HG sat in the upper balcony, puffed cigarettes and watched great foreign films like “Grand Illusion” and “Blue Angel.” There was a lingerie shop nearby with window mannequins bedecked in fashionable bras and girdles (As can be imagined, young HG gave this enraptured attention). Further south were beautiful white brick art deco apartment houses (many with entry facades decorated with fanciful mosaics). There was also the dignified Andrew Freedman home for impoverished gentlefolk (fronted by a meticulous green lawn). Other landmarks were the lofty Lewis Morris Apartments where many doctors had their offices and the Concourse Plaza Hotel where teams playing the Yankees often lounged in the lobby before and after games. West 16lst Street concluded HG’s stroll. The striking art deco Bronx County Court House on GC and off to the west, Yankee Stadium on River Avenue. Nearby was the Earl movie theater (striking facade), the Jerome Cafeteria, the great Addie Vallins soda fountain and Nedick’s hot dogs. Excellent nourishment was always close at hand in The Bronx of yesteryear. The broad east-west shopping streets (Kingsbridge, Fordham, Mt. Eden, Burnside, W. 167th, W. 170th, W. 16lst ) contained splendid Jewish delicatessens, bakeries, “appetizing” stores (stores that specialized in smoked fish, pickles, olives, etc.). There were some good cafeterias (but few restaurants). And, of course, plenty of butchers, fish mongers and green grocers for the industrious home cooks. The Bronx was a borough of apartment dwellers. In the low rent areas, tenants treated the sidewalks as extensions of their living rooms. In warm weather, men in their undershirts played cards. Women chatted and overlooked the play of lively children. Little HG and his pals played relentlessly. Punchball. stickball, “association” football, “stoop” ball, ring-o-leevio, hide and seek, johnny-on-the-pony, kick the can. Later, there was softball, basketball and sandlot football. (HG was a sandlot backfield star and played in tough games throughout the borough. There was ethnic rivalry plus the teams bet on themselves, winner take all. The ref held the money. Many fist fights. A good preparation for the often rocky game of life that lay ahead). The Bronx was a Democratic Party fiefdom James J. Lyons was Borough President and Ed Flynn was “The Boss.” A smooth functioning machine that paid close personal attention to its constituents. An example: HG was a bright, obedient elementary school student, always receiving A’s for academic excellence and conduct. After the final term report card, HG’s parents would receive a letter from Borough President Lyons. It read in part: “Your son Gerald’s excellent school performance has come to my attention. You must be very proud. Congratulations. I am sure the fine home you provide has aided Gerald in achieving success.” HG’s mother treasured these letters and preserved them in a special folder (alas, destroyed in a fire years later). She would have walked over hot coals in order to get to a polling place and vote the straight Democratic ticket. During BSK’s years as a Colorado political strategist, BSK mentioned these letters to Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter. “Make it personal, Ed. Make it personal.” Ed followed her advice. He has never lost an election.

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§ 2 Responses to Bronx Memories – Keep it Personal"

  • Hi Gerald,

    Enjoyed your article.
    I’m a writer and poet from Brooklyn. However, I’m writing stories connected to the Bronx. Curious to know the name of that Jewish bakery near Yankee Stadium and the Earl Theater. Hard to research this info. Thank you.

    Cheers,

    Patricia Carragon of Bensonhurst

    • Gerry says:

      Don’t know. Every shopping east-west avenue in the Bronx (Kingsbridge, Fordham,183rd, Burnside, Mt.Eden,170th, 167th, 161st, Etc.) had a splendid Jewish delicatessen and an exemplary Jewish bakery. Plus an “appetizing” store. The hell with Paris. The yesteryear Bronx was world capital of good eating.

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