MY BAY RIDGE, 1963-1971

Indulge me for a few minutes.

I was walking from 77th Street to Gravesend the other day (I used to bicycle these kind of distances but I don’t think my reflexes are up to that these days.) Just for kicks I did what I have done relatively infrequently: I traced the path that I most often walked in the years 1963 to 1971 when I attended St. Anselm church and school as a kid. In the years 1963-71 virtually my entire world, much of the time, was contained between 83rd and 86th Streets and between 3rd and 6th Avenues in Bay Ridge and I walked up and down 83rd Street for what seemed like thousands of times. I decided to describe what’s on that path today and show much of what remains the same since I left.

I did stray outside the boundary. There were occasional walks with my grandmother, who looked after me much of the time since both parents worked, to Shore Road, and bus rides with one parent or the other on the B16 (Fort Hamilton Parkway), B63 (5th Avenue), B37 (3rd Avenue), B64 (86th Street to Coney Island) and more rarely on other lines. When the Bridge opened there were rides on the R7 (now S53) to Clove Lakes Park. And that’s where Forgottening began.

In 1965 on one of our Clove Lakes trips, I must have gotten bored and decided to wander off on my own. I was just eight. I remember wandering around the north end of the park where the bridle paths are, or were (I’m not sure if they are there now). An hour or two must have passed. Finally I was intercepted by the park patrol on a go-cart, and one of the guys in the cart was the old man, who gave me a reaming and, he said later, that was one of the few times he ever gave me a whack. I had lost a shoe. I remember the ride home, dreading what my mother would do (she was formidable when she got her Irish up — both my parents were yellers, which is why I’m not). When we got home, all she said was that I had been punished enough. Phew!

But that foray set the template. Within 3 years I was bicycling to Coney Island and then all over Brooklyn and into Nassau and Queens by the time I was a teenager. The pattern of exploration had begun and it continues today.

 

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For five years I was an altar boy at St. Anselm Church at 4th Avenue between 82nd and 83rd. Most of the time, though, I didn’t enter through the front door. I went in through the back, where there was a room behind the altar that was connected to the rectory. Each weekend, a list was posted as to which Mass each altar boy was assigned to. If you were lucky, you didn’t have to serve the 6 or 7 AM Mass — if you did, that meant you got up at 5AM — in whatever weather — and trudged down to the church. Altar boys are assigned a number of tasks to be performed during Mass — my favorite being ringing the bells, although the altar at St. Anselm had push button bells! Altar boys wore a uniform of a black robe with a white overshirt, called a cassock and surplice. These were carried in plastic zip up bags to and from church.

This is the relatively “new” church building, dedicated in 1953. It was only ten years old when I began attending Mass regularly with my parents and grandmother.

 

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As a parish, St. Anselm was founded in 1922 and this combination church and school building went up in 1926 at 4th Avenue and 83rd Street (many older parishes around town still have this combo arrangement). Besides the altar boys, I was involved in Scouting; I was never athletic, so never got on any of the sports teams. My grades were good at first, but began flattening out as I reached my level of expertise, or incompetency, around the 7th or 8th grade. As I became more self-aware in those grades, I came to a greater recognition that I wasn’t getting treated with the human respect I thought I deserved by some of the nuns, though I’m sure they’d disagree with that assessment were they still alive.

I wasn’t paying attention as a kid, but 4th Avenue and to a lesser degree Fort Hamilton Parkway are lined with grand old Art Deco and Moderne apartment buildings, like Grately Hall across the street from the school.

 

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I spent a great deal of time in this building as a kid. The ground floor was where my dentist, Dr. Tempkin, had his office. As a matter of fact I still go to the same office because I continued with Dr. Tempkin’s successor, Dr. Mark De Bock, whose office is now at 4th Avenue and Bay Ridge Parkway or, as all Bay Ridgers call it, 75th Street. My dentist is my only continued connection with Bay Ridge.

 

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83rd Street between 4th and 5th Avenues. This stretch is mostly made up of attached houses with enclosed front porches, some bigger than the other. Of course, I also noticed that 83rd and a couple of parallel streets featured double-masted street lights that were usually used on wider boulevards. The Department of Traffic must have had a surplus.

 

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I’ll show this particular example because unlike its brothers, it’s relatively unaltered. It still seems to have its original windows and even some wide Venetian blinds which are fairly rare these days.

 

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Southeast corner of 5th Avenue and 83rd. The combo residences and storefronts, in place since the 1920s at least, are still in place on both sides of 5th Avenue — only the businesses change. Waldinger’s Pharmacy occupied the corner when I was a kid. It moved to the other side of 5th Avenue in the 1970s and remains there today. A couple of doors down was a Scandinavian deli that made a terrific piece of fried, breaded fish on Fridays which we always indulged in.

 

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This is the northwest corner of 83rd and 5th. A dry cleaner occupied the corner for many years.

One of the most famous Bay Ridge highlights over the years was Hinsch’s ice cream parlor and luncheonette, on 5th near 86th. However, they had competition where the sporting goods joint is — Pohl’s, which I chiefly remember for being pitch dark within. It was later replaced by a Met Foods store.

 

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For me the southwest corner was dominated by Triangle Sporting Goods, where my parents and I bought all my Scouting stuff,  where the radiology office is now. It was two floors of clothing, tennis rackets, baseball bats, basketballs, you name it. This was also one of two places in the Bay Ridge of the 1960s where I regularly dealt with an African American man: one of the friendly salesmen. The other was our building super for a few years, who was from the Caribbean.

 

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Just south of 5th Avenue. The locksmith was a very important place for me: this was a candy store where I nabbed my comic books for the week. It was run by a wizened old gaffer named Mr. Rogers, who  showed up long before the affable raconteur on PBS.

 

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Between 5th and 6th, 83rd was more dominated by apartment buildings than between 4th and 5th, but there were also some attached houses and a surprise…

 

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… one single, small private house with a porch jammed between the attached homes and apartment buildings. This was occupied by a family named Jerro, whose kids attended St. Anselm. In later years I always wondered if 83rd Street had been at one time lined with similar buildings.

 

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For my first quarter century, this building, 8302 6th Avenue, Tilden Court, was my home, in apartment B4, a 2 bedroom. My parents moved in in 1957, the year of my birth, and my father lived here until his death in 2003, surviving my mother, who died in 1974. The building itself was constructed in 1925-ish and is built like square around a central courtyard. I moved out in 1982 but then briefly back in, in a one-room apartment, from 1991-1993, and I’ve been in Queens since then.

 

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During my days at 8302 I spent a lot of time in Tom McDonald Triangle, which looked nothing like this… it was a blacktopped triangle with exterior sidewalks and square patches of dirt where the trees were.

I spent hours digging in that dirt. Across the street, hundreds of buildings had been razed for the approach roads for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and using toy trucks and other implements of my own making, I was imitating in those patches of dirt the work going on across the street.

The women of the immediate area would gather on the benches and chit chat, including my mother and grandmother. But they would go in, however, at 8:30. That was the time Merv Griffin went on TV.

 

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Do kids play roller hockey in the street anymore? They sure did in the 1960s, on this dead end stub of 84th Street spared by the construction.

 

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Evelyn Hall, Fort Hamilton Parkway and 85th Street. This was also an important building since my grandmother resided here, and I’d be shuffled off within when my parents had guests. After my mother passed away, I was a nearly daily guest as my grandmother was alone; it’s a cruel thing to lose a daughter at a still relatively young age. My mother’s sister Mary’s family lived in Van Nuys, CA, and thus my grandmother was nearly abandoned except for me; she and my father did not get along.

For some extra money, my father kept up a building on 85th Street at the other end near 5th Avenue. Since a Mrs. Reilly lived in the building, it was always known to us as Reilly’s. As a teenager and into my 20s I helped out by hauling garbage and emptying dumbwaiters most nights of the week before or after spending time with my grandmother. This instilled humility. After awhile, though, I seriously irked the old man by asking for a cut. Soon after, I moved out and our relationship improved.

Anyone have additional remembrances? kevinjudewalsh@gmail.com

7/5/16

 

 


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