Tag Archives: Yorkville

Memories from the Past: Launching of the U.S.S. Missouri

Seventy-five years ago on December 7th the United States entered into a global conflict which shaped history for the 20th century. There are dates you remember which were events in  a major historical happening. In my memory such an event occurred in New York in the Winter of 1944 on January 29th. We were in the middle of war on two fronts – in Europe and in the South Pacific. My close friend Jerry Pospisil had been inducted into the 66th Infantry Division and was on his way to Europe. Before he was to leave, he wanted to see the launching of the U.S.S. Missouri at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The U.S.S. Missouri was to be one of our major naval additions to the war in the Pacific.

We headed downtown from our eastside Yorkville  neighborhood to a spot across the East River from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was close to the Brooklyn Bridge with a clear view of the U.S.S. Missouri from the Manhattan side of the East River. The January day was cold and cloud filled. The overcast skies set the tone for the day and the event. We could see the battleship U.S.S. Missouri waiting for its launching from the Brooklyn Navy Yard into the East River. We waited for a half hour until the Christening by Margaret Truman, the daughter of the President. As the Missouri slid down the long incline and hit the East River, there was a sudden break in the clouds. The Sun broke through for a brief moment on the battleship, as an omen.

Friend Jerry Pospisil sailed for England in the Fall. His 66th Infantry Division landed in England in early November 1944. The D Day invasion of France had taken place in June 1944. Following the invasion of Normandy, the battle for Europe was intense. The 66th Infantry Division would be in the struggle to overcome the Germans in France. Belgium and Germany. In England, the 66th Division boarded the Leopoldville, a Belgian troopship which was to land U.S. forces in France. On Christmas Eve, the Leopoldville was torpedoed in the English Channel on Christmas Eve just off the coast of France with major losses in the 66th Infantry Division.

Jerry was one of the survivors. He later told me  the story of that Christmas Eve night. “The ship sank slowly.  More lives would have been saved if the Captain had steered the ship closer to the coast of France. The Captain thought the ship had hit a mine and he was afraid there more mines around the ship. He dropped anchor miles from the French coast. A British destroyer had pulled alongside us. Someone threw me a rope and I swung myself onto the deck of the destroyer. Others in my platoon took a different route. They took off to the other side of the ship. I never saw them again.”

On August 29th, 1945, after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S.S. Missouri arrived in Tokyo Harbor. On the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri representatives of the Imperial Government of Japan signed the instrument of surrender of the Japanese forces in the Pacific to end hostilities. When I read of the signing of the surrender by the Imperial Government of Japan aboard the U.S.S. Missouri my mind flashed back to the launching of the Missouri on the 29th of January in 1944 and the Sun which broke through on her through a clouded sky.u-s-s-missouri

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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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The Metamorphosis of the Tavern on the Green

AFC 175047This past February 5th the New York Times carried a story on the reopening of the Tavern on the Green on the west side of Central Park.  The Tavern on the Green, which has lasted almost a century and a half,  has seen  many transformations.  Back in 1871 it began as a sheepfold when Central Park was one great green pasture.  Over the years the sheepfold had become a miniature zoo which had come to include camels, bisons, pumas, llamas,  and buffalo, besides the sheep.  By the 1930s the sheepfold had been transformed into a  small restaurant.  The  wildlife  had been auctioned off or moved to Prospect Park in 1934. The caretaker of this menagerie, Frank Hoey, the last shepherd on Manhattan island, was transitioned into caring for the sea lions and bears in the Central Park Zoo.  The Tavern of the Green, bereft of its animal life, went through many stages of life growing from a 8,000 square foot sheepfold to a 10,000 square foot restaurant and on to a series of expansions into the late 1970s reaching  a 30,000 square foot  elegant restaurant and dancing pavilion.

The story of the rehabilitation of the Tavern on the Green brings back memories of high school days in the late 1930s.  After graduation from Junior High School 30 in Yorkville on mid-town East Side, five of us went on to the High School of Commerce on west 66th St.  For three years  we made the  two mile daily trek  from Yorkville on the East Side to the High School of Commerce on the West Side.  Along the way coming and going we passed the Tavern on the Green in west Central Park.   Beginning in the Fall of 1939, Johnny Palazotto, Jack Saitta, Saul Mines, Hank Yost and myself, a miniature League of Nations, began our daily early morning two mile jog from the East Side beginning at 7:10,  Johnny Palazotto starting out at  85th and York Avenue, ringing my bell at 7:20 at 82nd and First Avenue,  picking Jack Saitta up at 81st St. and First Avenue, and then meeting Saul Mines and Jack Yost at 81st St. and Second Avenue. We headed west for the 79th St. entrance to Central Park, jogging diagonally through the park and aiming for the Tavern on the Green exit on the West Side.  When we reached the Tavern on the Green we made our mad dash for 66th Street and Amsterdam Avenue and into Commerce High  hoping to beat the 8:00 AM  late bell.  The journey was repeated in reverse each afternoon.  For three years we passed the Tavern on the Green as a major marker  on our daily circuit.  We regarded the Tavern as a special place.  We looked upon it as a symbol of success: frequented only by people of means.  On the morning of  Monday, December 8th of 1941, in our senior year, we were called to gather in the assembly hall  of the High School of Commerce.  Over the speakers that morning,  in the intense quiet of the hall, the voice of  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt broke the silence with the U.S.  declaration of war on Japan.  In June we graduated  into the War.  I never heard from my four high school mates again.  The Tavern on the Green closed in 2010.  The High School of Commerce is gone.   As well as Junior High School 30. The 2014 rehabilitation of the Tavern revives the good memories of my high school friends, our  jog through Central Park  to the Tavern and our race to the High School of Commerce to beat the 8:00 AM bell.  Hear the continuing story on: www.onthesidewalksofnewyork.com

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Chapter 26 – Leaving New York Behind

“We’re off on the trip of our lives!”

Richard introduces Eunice to the Poethig clan at a raucous feast at his aunt and uncle’s apartment in Yorkville. Eunice introduces Richard to her mother and brother at Christmastime in Dayton, Ohio. They begin plans for a June wedding. All the time Richard is writing his senior thesis on “A Christian Doctrine of Work for a Modern Technological Society” and trying to tie down a job. An intriguing prospect is a new church development in a working-class, industrial suburb of Buffalo. Richard travels Upstate to meet with the organizing committee. The folks in the Town of Tonawanda invite him to organize their congregation, and Richard and Eunice agree. They finish up their studies, graduate, and head for Dayton to be married. The wedding on June 7, 1952, is a joyous assembly of people from Eunice’s and Richard’s lives. The couple returns to New York from a honeymoon camping trip in New England in time for Richard’s ordination at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church on June 27th. After saying goodbye to his father and sister, Richard and Eunice drive north out of New York City. As Richard watches the skyline change, he has a strong feeling that a new book is opening in his life.

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Chapter 25 – Starting A New Chapter

As seniors at Union, Richard and his roommate, Jim MacNaughton, are responsible for welcoming the incoming students through “round robins” hosted in the homes of faculty. Richard takes notice of an attractive newcomer in Jim’s group. He conspires with Jim (who owns a car) to drive Eunice Blanchard back to her residence at the James Foundation, with a stop on the way at the Gay Vienna, a German restaurant in Richard’s old neighborhood. Over apple strudel, coffee, and dark beer (for the men), a romance begins that in less than a month, on Columbus Day in October, 1951, becomes an engagement.

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Chapter 9 – Facing a World at War

Photo of Fred Waring signed by Fred Waring

“With benevolent good wishes to the Reverend Dick” – Fred Waring

The late 1930s was a period of mounting tension in the world. People in Yorkville were on tenterhooks waiting for the next explosion in Europe. Richard rapidly advances through junior high and into the High School of Commerce in 1939. One Monday in December, 1941, the students are called into the auditorium to listen to President Roosevelt on the radio over the speaker system declare war on Japan. Too young for induction into the army, Richard works at Best & Co. and buys his first Harris Tweed suit. Next he gets a job with Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians in the shipping department. Here Richard learns how business gets done and how to be entertained along the way. Upon turning 18, Richard submits himself for the draft but is rejected because of his poor eyesight. Richard resolves to go to college.

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Chapter 8 – Moving on Over

Good Will Sunday School prepares working class children in the Yorkville neighborhood for future membership in Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church.  When the time comes for Good Will students to make the transition from their home neighborhood to the church on Madison Avenue and 73rd Street one mile away, many do not make it. The psychological distance is even greater than the walking distance. In Richard’s case, Horace Hollister, the devoted choirmaster and youth leader, helps Richard break through the wall of established social cliques at Madison Avenue. Richard makes friends and eventually takes on a leadership role among the young people.

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Chapter 7 – Getting Religion on the East Side

podcast artworkRichard’s grandfather, Richard Poethig, emigrated from Saxony, Germany, during the anti-Socialist campaign of Otto von Bismarck.  He sees organized religion as antagonistic to the cause of working people. For Richard’s mother, a religious upbringing was essential to life. Her tenement neighbor, Emily Masek, encourages Henny to enroll Richard in Good Will Sunday School, an East Side mission of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church.  At Good Will, Richard learns about more than the Bible. He discovers the wider world on field trips to the countryside and the lower East Side casbah, and through participation in a model League of Nations, where the invasion of Abyssinia by Italy is up for discussion. In loyalty to his street friend Tulio, Richard plays the part of Italy.

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Chapter 4 – The Games We Played

Friendships on New York City streets are made and solidified by the games young Richard plays after school and on Saturdays. Games are played on the numbered side streets where traffic is less intense. The games are mostly street versions of baseball and are played with a “spaldeen”–the street name for Spalding, whose trademark is on a hollow rubber ball. Which game is played depends on how many people show up on the block. The games begin when two are on the street to play handball. When four are present the game is point ball off a tenement stoop or a low building ledge. If eight, the game becomes box ball with a rectangular “diamond” chalked in the street. If ten or more show up, stickball becomes the game of choice. Stickball is not appreciated by the tenants in the apartments along the street nor by the local police officers who are ever on patrol.

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