Number Fifty

Fifty years ago I was 19.  On fiftieth street there was a penny arcade with a pool hall downstairs.  Fifty dollars was a lot of money when I was growing up.  Yes, this is my 50th blog post to Leaving West 83rd Street.  Whether you read at www.leavingwest83rdstreet.com or on the facebook page by the same name or when I post them on my facebook page, twitter or linkedin, THANK YOU for coming this far on my journey back in time. 

This post was something of a struggle to get started.  I’ve decided on metamorphosis and time which happened to be the theme of the 1970 CCNY senior yearbook for which I took many photographs of timepieces around the city.  I wanted to be part of the work that year because 1970 was supposed to be my graduation year but like so many others I was late getting out.

The theme applies to this blog post by being word pictures of the change of places near West 83rd Street over time.

You may recall that dad was a fire buff and that we spent many, many hours at the firehouse, built in 1888, which still stands between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues.  When we hung out there it was the home of Engine Company 56.  As the FDNY changed, so did “56”.  It changed into Squad 6.  No longer a pumper it was extra firefighters who arrived with different and less equipment.  Today it houses Engine Company 74.

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While “56” was still active there was a delicatessen with a counter in the corner of 222 West 83rd Street.  One night it had a fire and went out of business.  The fire was labeled suspicious.  The fire site was never a deli again although many years later there stood a new delicatessen several doors south of the corner, where the Radio Clinic had offered radios, TVs, Stereos, and all sorts of things for the home.  Among the friends we had there were Charlie and Ray.

East of 222 on the south side of west 83rd street stood the Holy Trinity School which  is now the Manhattan Children’s Museum.  No more will local children play on the street to be tortured by the big kids coming out of that building.  And no more will we look into the rear of the school to watch the Sisters rap the knuckles of miscreants in their classes.

On the west side of Broadway from 82nd to 83rd were a number of stores.  Plymouth, for ladies lingerie, occupied the corner and Schrafft’s restaurant (2285 Broadway) at street level nearby and lest we forget the ballet school upstairs (opened in 1956) and Florsheim shoes on the southwest corner of 83rd.  

Schrafft's, Broadway and 82nd St., New York City. Exterior from right

Plymouth is gone.  Schrafft’s first became the Red Apple Supermarket and later Barnes and Noble.  The ballet school which occupied the second floor is now also Barnes and Noble;  it was fun to watch the girls dance in the big windows that overlooked the avenue.  Florsheim grew into Harry’s and is still there.

On the northwest corner of 83rd and Broadway stood Bostonian Shoes, that’s where we shopped. I remember that Shoe stores had the great smell of leather in those days.

Bostonia 2

I’m 2nd from the left and Jon Katz and his mom are on the left.  Thanks for the photo with Bostonian behind us, Jon.

On the east side of Broadway stood a three story building, the Loew’s 83rd Street and several small storefronts were found while moving north from the corner.  That’s all gone now replaced by a high rise apartment building. In my day that corner building housed unknown businesses.  It was also the building you had to hit with the spaldine to get a triple or homer in stoop ball.

The small office building was also the site of a sad revelation about neighbors.  A troubled young man once stood on the roof threatening to jump.  Below, people were shouting “jump, jump”.  The fire department set up a net and eventually wrestled him from the edge.  (I witnessed all this from my 9th floor window.)  When they brought him downstairs, to my horror, people were screaming at him “why didn’t you jump?”

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Thanks Cinema Treasures for this photo

The first storefront north of the theater entrance was the driving school and tax preparation business. When I learned to drive it was Paul’s business and a woman named Helen did the tax preparation.

The theater, in my childhood, had a matron in a white dress with a flashlight who monitored the children’s section.  It was 25 cents and then fifty for us to see double features.  There was also the annual sojourn to see The Ten Commandments; the first movie I saw with an intermission.  There is now a Loew’s 84th.

Some of these changes occurred more than 50 years ago, others more recently.  222 is more expensive to live in but it is still filled with homes.  The metamorphosis of West 83rd Street and its environs no doubt continues.  

6 thoughts on “Number Fifty

  1. I enjoyed this one, bro, thanks! Helen, though perhaps a bit of a character, was a very nice person, with her office (more of a work closet) at the back of the store. She always did an excellent job on the tax preparation; thank you for having connected me with her back in those days. I think you did talk about the nut shop and also the Hungarian Rendezvous in some long-ago posts, right? Sidebar to Bart G.: this post, with Ken’s effort at metamorphosis, has the “look & feel” of that publication “Back in The Bronx”. Do you know it or subscribe to it? The Fall 2018 issue had the lead story about Raymond the Bagel Man, who we knew not only from his post near the South Campus gate, but also from the Grand Concourse (a block below Fordham, as I recall, near Krums, yes?) — a story we’ve seen before but updated to cover his death in Florida in 1980, including that he’s buried in Fort Lauderdale, not far from where I am. More to the point, it also had an article on “3200 Rochambeau Avenue”. I never knew your exact address, but thought of you when I saw this.

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  2. I always feel like I’m walking w you through time and space when I read your blog. I love the taste of what NYC used to be. Thank you!

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  3. Thank you for the memories and pictures. I grew up at 490 West End Ave at 83rd from 1951 to 1980 and went to that ballet school, School of American Ballet, now at Lincoln Center. I often went to Schraffts. Do you remember Levy Brothers, the stationary and toy store on Broadway between 83rd and 84th, and Whelan’s Drug store on the corner of 84th. Did you go to PS 9?

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  4. We are the same age. I lived on 84th between West End and Riverside until I was 12 (then moved to 92nd and Broadway).. Your memories give me the chills. I have to go bak to your earlier posts to see if you cover Indian Walk Shoes.

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