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By Bernie Halligan

The Neighborhood in the Fifties


St. Joe's Alter, 2002

Local landmarks gave the neighborhood a distinct character. The huge Methodist church, that for some reason we all called "Protestant," occupied the southwest corner of 178th street and Washington Avenue. Two long towers stretched skyward. A large, wooden entranceway accommodating a crowd and an adjoining lot where you could set up a baseball field, as if playing in Yankee Stadium.

Not to be outdone by the Protestants or Methodists, there was St. Joseph's Catholic Church in the middle of the block between 177th street, Tremont Avenue, and 178th Street. The church side entrance was on Bathgate Avenue and the church hall entrance on Washington Avenue. A castle-like structure, actually higher to the sky than the Protestant church because it rested on a hill, stretching from Washington to Bathgate avenues. Adorned by a simple cross on the roof, it was the highest point in the neighborhood. Both churches had beautiful stained glass windows surrounding most of the structures. The Protestant church was covered from roof to sidewalk with ivy, in danger of catching on fire every Fourth of July when someone threw a sparkler or firecracker into it. It would usually flame up but somehow never catch fire, making for great anticipation every Fourth.

There were other landmarks too, like the Chinese laundry sign. If you hit it, on a fly, playing stickball, it was an automatic homerun. There was Yaskill's candy store on 178th and Washington. Teret's on 178th and Bathgate had a jukebox. The Chinese restaurant on Tremont and Washington had a tempting metal sign, within reach, if you jumped high enough. It was next to the 5 and 10 cents store, "Woolworth's," where they sold everything you ever needed.


If you wanted a snack or ice cream, visit Viebrock's or the Candy Pantry, "CP" and listen to the latest music on the juke box. If you smoked or drank, and almost everybody did, you visited the cigar store on Third Avenue under the "EL", Cronin and Breen's bar on Tremont and Bathgate, or John's bar on 180th, also under the EL. There were few one family homes in the neighborhood. It consisted of mostly four or five story apartment houses, fire escapes, jutting out from front or back. Most were "walk-ups," and if you lived on the top floor you knew why. Few had elevators. All had great, dark, cool cellars, housing baby carriages and bikes. Coal was delivered through one of the basement windows into a coal bin where it was stored. Once used to heat the house, the ashen residue was deposited in garbage cans for pick up by the sanitation department or "garbage men", as they were called in the neighborhood. Thus, came the name "ashcans" or the cans that contained the ash. I lived at 1958 Washington Avenue next to Tony's tailor shop where you brought clothes to be cleaned or mended. Washington was a major avenue in those days. Many of the parades held during and after the war came up Washington. I remember, as a kid, President Roosevelt was driven up the avenue in a motorcade, waving to the entire neighborhood as they hung from the windows and fire escapes to get a glimpse of the famous man.


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All photography copyright Dave Beckerman.