Tag Archives: Great Depression

A Twenty-first Century Yorkville

0208-rea-web-LIVINGmap-300The February 4th New York Times issue states that Manhattan’s Upper East Side Yorkville  neighborhood is on the rebound. A recent visit to my old haunts at the Heidelberg Restaurant at 86th and Second Avenue was hampered by a hole in the ground, the new Second Avenue subway.   Eighty years ago, when I was ten, the Second Avenue Elevated Line provided the means of transportation for the neighborhood. That line along with the Third Avenue El bit the dust in the late 1930s.

The Times article is filled with pictures of high rise rental and co-op towers which now dominate the Yorkville scene.  The five story First Avenue old law tenement into which both my mother and I were born passed out of existence in the 1960s.  When I returned to First Avenue with members of my family in the 1990s, on the city block on First Avenue between 80th and 81st, now towered a twenty-seven story high rise.  The line of five and three story tenements were gone.  Rents for the newly constructed high rise co-ops sell for $ 350,000 to $ 500,000 for a studio apartment to $ 600,000 to $1 million for a one bedroom.  The remaining rehabilitated  tenement  two bedroom apartments rent for  $ 2,500 to  $ 2,800.  These are usually shared by the young aspiring urban dwellers.  As I reminded my grandson Luke who not lives in such an apartment in Brooklyn, the monthly rent the up and coming millennials now pay would have covered the rents for all the tenement families on my First Avenue block back in the Depression years.

The New York Times lead-off picture showed residents casually strolling along the East River promenade in Carl Schurz Park.  The East 84th Street scene in Carl Schurz Park in the 1930s were rocks off  which Yorkville boys took their diving and swimming lessons.  At 86th Street a large drain pipe poured the affluence of the neighborhood into the East River.  In the center of the Carl Schurz Park was the attractive Gracie Mansion.  For those of us who played ball in the Park, the Gracie Mansion provided the public toilets from our game breaks.

The Yorkville map which accompanied the article sparked memories of the role that the neighborhood provided for growing up on the East Side.  The neighborhood as I characterized it represented the remnants of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Among my friends there were those of Czech, Slovak, Austrian, Hungarian and German background, and others of  Russian, Irish, Scots-Irish and Italian heritage.  The languages of the various ethnic groups were still heard on the streets and in the shops.  As the New York Times reminds us this ethnic blend is missing from Twenty-first Century Yorkville.  But one thing does remain: The public school which provided a lively mix of all these children.  I noted on the map on 82nd Street between First and Second Avenues the notation of Public School 290.  Back in the 1930s this was P.S. 190.  Except for the numerical change the public education of the children of the neighborhood continues on.  There were many happy memories of P.S. 190.  As the article  tells us that even today that families moving into Yorkville are attracted by the quality of the public education in the area.  Life in Yorkville says the New York Times “is relatively quiet and family oriented compared with other other Manhattan neighborhoods.”

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Getting Labor Day Straight

Ernie_Henny_Zuccoti

Doll Images of Henny and Ernie 1930s working class parents at Zuccotti Park and the Occupy Movement

 

Labor Day comes upon us as the end of our summer vacation and the beginning of the school season.  There is very little in the celebration of Labor Day that tells the story of the history of the struggles that working people have gone through or the ones they are still battling.  Everywhere else in the world the struggles of working people are celebrated on May 1st..

May 1st actually began in the United States with the fight for the eight-hour day in Chicago and the Haymarket affair of 1886.  Already in the making was corporate power in alliance with the press and civic authorities, which sidetracked and suppressed the issues of the workers represented by the Haymarket event.   Labor Day in the United States, instead of memorializing the continuing struggles of working people, has come to represent the end of summer and the beginning of the school year.

As we approach Labor Day in 2014, it doesn’t take much common sense to recognize the gross inequities in the U.S. economic system.  The Occupy movement came into being as a 21st century witness to the loss of the economic equalization process that happened in the post-Reagan era.  The voices of the 99% were pointing to the tremendous imbalance in the sharing of the rewards of the productivity of the U.S. work force.  In the 1947 through 1979 period the family income of the lower 80% of the economy grew by 108% and the family income of the top 1% grew by 63%.  In the period of 1979 through 2007 the family income of the lower 80% of the economy grew by 16% while the family income of those in the 1% grew by 224%.  This great imbalance can be attributed, in part, to the loss of the bargaining power of the labor union movement.  It was the ability of organized labor during the mid-century period to increase middle-class incomes.

As we approach the 2014 mid-term elections, the power of the oligarchy in the United States to shape Congressional elections and legislation favoring their interests is unparalleled.  The celebration of Labor Day becomes a farce in speaking for working people’s justice in our economy.  This is especially true as we recognize the loss of the voices of the marginalized in our society. Conservative forces continue to eviscerate social programs related to the well-being of low income and middle income families, i.e., children’s education and health, child care programs for working mothers, affordable medical programs for low income people, and preserving the hard earned social security benefits for retirees.

In the political arena, legislative actions are already underway in some states to target vulnerable people’s right to cast their vote.  In other states and regions, the program and policies of the Tea Party and similar conservative groups are ardent in turning back the social justice gains of the last century.  The very people who are part of these conservative movements have gained their own status by the sweat and the perseverance of their own forbearers, who fought the very entrenched economic interests to win their fair and just rights from them. Thomas Frank illuminated this story in his 2004 book “What’s the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.”

In the 1930s, the farmers and the workers of Kansas faced the depressed economy and fought those forces that would keep them in poverty.  This was the story for many Kansas families.  Jump ahead a half century: the offspring of these folk having forgotten their family’s struggles are now listening to voices that direct them to the moral issues of the times, i.e., abortion and gay marriage.  Lost to their attention are the new economic power players who would keep them from seeing the real social and economic issues of the day.  Working people are often blindsided by those voices calling for so-called moral values and vote against their own best interests.

New attention must be paid to Labor Day as it tells the story of the inequities which still exist within the U.S. scene, and it calls for a new reckoning with these inequities through the political process.  Let us get the meaning of Labor Day straight in 2014.

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Welcome to “On the Sidewalks of New York”

This is a note of appreciation for all those folks who have found themselves reading or listening to “On the Sidewalks of New York.”  This website was the good work of my daughter Margaret.  The autobiography was originally written for the family, especially the offspring, who wanted me to put down my stories on paper two decades ago. Under gentle pressure, the stories have now been elevated to public listening via podcasts.

After some hesitancy, and lively conversation with Margaret, a theme for this blog was decided upon. Thinking back over time, it became apparent that the Depression years, which left a deep impact upon my consciousness, is in replay in this last decade. I came through my young adult years, after having chosen a religious course, realizing the close relationship between a prophetic religion and the equality and justice called for in our society. Today, most organized religion is seen as retrogressive in the cause of justice to bring balance to the inequalities evident today. So I decided that this website would engage the conversation about how the prophetic religion we have inherited from our Biblical heritage needs to come into play within this political season. So let the discussion begin.

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Chapter 1 – The Making of a Political Consciousness

Album artwork for podcastBorn in 1925 in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan’s East Side, Richard grows up in a working class German-American family surrounded by immigrants from the now defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire. Scenes of the Great Depression, the rise of Hitler in Germany, and anti-Semitic sentiment become etched in his memory. Richard receives an early political education from his Socialist cigar maker grandfather who emigrated from 1880s Germany, by hearing over-the-counter conversations about European politics at the butcher shop where Richard worked on Saturdays, from the Franciscan priest at the Hungarian parish where Richard made meat deliveries, and through his aunt Augusta Wagner, who in 1937 returned to Yorkville while on furlough from occupied China, where she was a professor of economics at Yenching College for Women in Peking.

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