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Bronx Apartment, circa 1935-50

Updated on April 6, 2012


Rochambeau Avenue stretched several blocks from Montefiore Hospital to the north to 204th Street to the south. It was lined with large apartment houses, such as my own, occupied mostly by middle and upper middle class families. Most of the men waked to the subway on 205th Street to ride the D train to businesses in Mahattan. Our building, 3280, was six stories of apartments, an elevator and stair case, an incinrator on each floor, with storage bins and a laundry room in the basement. Visitors pushed a button in the building vestibule for the desired apartment to gain entrance. to the lobby. We signaled back, unlocking the door. A fenced in roof garden allowed mothers to sit on benches or camp chairs. rocking baby carriages. or allowing toddlers to run free. Two blocks away a former reservoir , Reservoir Oval, had been converted into a recreational area by the City Parks Department, with a running track,,football field, tennis courts, playground, and wading pool. When we were old enough we boys pedaled our bicycles to the "Oval" and rode the circular track..Most of our free time after school and during the summer and weekends was spent in the school yard plaing basketball, "curb ball," handball, and even softball on concrete pavement. The Bronx Botanical gardens and Bromx Zoo were also easily accessible. As adolescents we could ride the bus or subways to amywhere in New York City for a nickel. The subways were safe and our mothers didn't worry about us. Girls weren't allowed such freedom. There were half a dozen boys my age living in the building and we rode the elevator going from apartment to apartment until the parents, tired of the noise threw us out. My children as well as those of my sister, growing up in what were then considered desirable suburbs, had far fewer advantages and fewer friends.


Our fifth floor apartment was numbered 5I. Five rooms was large even for 3280. We needed at least three bedrooms for our extended family. The apartment was L-shaped. The entrance hallway led past adjoining kitchen and living room and ended at my parents' bedroom. A steel door ensured our safety and privacy. We looked through a 'peephole" to see who was ringing the bell before opening the door. A sharp left turn led to a bedroom shared by me and my sister until it was no longer appropriate and a rear bedroom for my grandmother and aunt. In the early years my uncle slept on a cot in the liiving room.. The L ended in the bathroom.

My bedroom overlooked the elementary school and behind it lay Mosholu Park. There was no air condioning in those days and I recall throwing open the windows in hopes fot a cool breeze on torrid summer nights. Rusted window guards hung outside each window. There were no screens. A blue linoleum lay on the floor with pictures of sailboats. Model airplanes hung from strings.

The hallway was the improvised "field" for games I invented with my sister. We aimed pink "spaldine" balls at a string to a bare bulb and scored points by hitting the string. Turn the light on or off with a hit and score two points. The hall was also a miniature golf course, using tennis rackets for clubs. We didn't need TV, i-phones, or videogames for entertainment.

My granmother's room overlooked an alley leading to the basement. Delivory men sent groceries by a dumb waiter on ropes to the upstairs apartments. We could watch for my father coming home from work each evening, walking from the subway exit and acarrying the Daily Telegram tucked under his arm. I remember an organ grinder with a monkey coming to the alley. We threw pennies to him fromthe window. A milkman driving horse drawn wagons delivored bottles to our door. We order "plain" milk rather than homogenized, which was two cents more expensive, and skimmed the cream off the top to be thrown away.

The living room had a thick red carpet. The carpet sweeper left tracks when we used it. I rode my tricycle endlessly around its circumference. In the far corder stood a large floor sized RCA radio. My grandmother sat in an easy chair llistening to H. V. Kaltenborn deliver the war news while she crocheted doilies and table clothes.

Mr. Rock, the "super" provided maintenance and repairs when needed. He came to each apartment in late fall to "bleed" the silver painted radiators in each room and turn on the heat. When tenancts on the sixth floor above us were making too much noise my grandmother banged on the radiator with a spoon. They got the meassage. My father delivored the rent money to Mr. Rock each month and gave him a bottle of :schnops" for Christmas.

Times gone by

The apartment provided a sense of community difficult to achieve by suburban living. There was a sense of secuirty with neighbors so closely housed. We never lacked friends. There was no need for "play dates." Three generations were co--mingled. Grandparents played an important role, sharing in the cooking, cleaning, and parenting. 3280 was ny home through years of Depresion, War and prosperity.. Roosevelt was inaugurated right after my birth and declared a bank holiday. My father had to borrow money to pay the hospital bill. He threatened to name me "Moritorium." I still retain the touch of the door bell and buzzer buttons. I have a muscle memory of dialing our number on the rotary phone that stood on a table in the foyer, OL 2-2547. (Telephone exchanges had names, not numbers such as Olinville, Jerome, Tremont.)

I walk the L-shaped hallway in memory. Woody Allen points out in his movie "Midnight in Paris" that in every era people long for a previous time seen as idyllic. Perhaps so, but if some neuroscientist were to electrically stimullate areas of my hypothalmus and touch some hidden nucleus in a deep sulcus, he would unleash an avalanch of sounds and sights, and smells and feels of a happy bygone time.


Psychmarv: Accentuate the positive; War


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