Lofaso’s Complete Foreword

Foreword

Anthony C. Lofaso,[1] author of Origins and History of the
Village of Yorkville in the City of New York: Second Edition (Xlibris, 2014)
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In this story, Joe and John Gindele shine a light on two threads in
the fabric of New York City in the 1940s and 1950s, specifically
that part of the fabric which covered Yorkville, a neighborhood on
the east side of Manhattan north of midtown.

Yorkville was, at best, an area of working class people. The people
worked in jobs that kept the city running. There were no executives.
No bosses, except perhaps for a few foremen who worked in some
blue-collar industry and had not moved away because of the easy
traveling to and from their jobs.

Most people lived in a four- or five-story, walk-up tenement
building. Often their apartments had no toilet. Families would share
a common toilet in the hallway. There were no showers. The only
bathtub in many cases was a washtub located in the kitchen, a tub
so small the best a full-grown person could do was sit on the edge
and put his or her feet in the water.

The rooms were railroad style. That meant they were lined up one
after the other like a train. There was little or no privacy. One could
see any part of the apartment from any part of the apartment. When
you stood in the living room by the window—which faced the street
or the back yard, depending on whether you lived in the front or the
back—you could look straight through the apartment to the kitchen
at the other end. It was a distance of perhaps 40 feet. You could see
everyone in the apartment and they could see you.

If the building was built before 1879 the rooms between the
kitchen and the front room had no windows.[2] In buildings built after
1879 when the “New Tenement Law” took effect, the middle
rooms had windows facing an air shaft.

The time Joe and John Gindele reminisce about is post-war
America in a large city. It was a time when news reports, politicians,
and leaders were believable in the public’s mind. It was a time when
teachers, priests, and the police were never challenged. It was a time
before TV. Some people had telephones. Most didn’t. Radio programs
which sparked the imagination of children and adults alike were the
daily fare.

America was in a post-war leadership role. We as a people believed
we had saved the world and no one could beat us. Radio shows like
Jack Armstrong, Dick Tracy, Gangbusters, and Superman reinforced
those ideals every day. Soap operas, programs, that described the daily
yearnings and dreams of ordinary people, played all day long until
almost suppertime. Then the game shows would come on: Queen for
a Day, Beat the Clock, with Bud Collier, who also played Superman on
the radio, and the Heart Line, where someone would come on and
tell their tale of misery and woe.

Children played in the streets. They invented a multitude of games,
which kept everyone busy and happy. Kids couldn’t wait to “go down.”
The term meant you were leaving the apartment for the street. After
school, on the way home with your friend, you would say, “Are you
coming down later?” If they said yes, you ran home, did your homework
and all of your chores as quickly as you could, so that you could “go
down” too.

When you got downstairs an entire world opened up to you filled
with possibilities, unimaginable anywhere else in the world: parks,
playgrounds, museums, elevated trains, candy stores, Broadway,
Times Square, and more important and fascinating than all of that,
the street itself.

This is where the story of the Gindele family in Yorkville comes into
play. Joe and John make vivid the characters, personalities, and
ordinary pursuits of the common people of Yorkville. Their perspective
is all the more unique because they are not only brothers, they are twin
brothers.

Only a few blocks away from Joe and John, on the other side of
Third Avenue, lived the richest people in the world. But Joe and
John’s world and the world of the people who shared it with them
ranged from poor to working class at best. Yet the joy and happiness
in their recollections is apparent in every story, indeed in every
character they describe and in almost every word.

Games such as ring-a-levio, hide and seek, kick the can, box ball,
hit the stick, king-queen, and the monster of them all, stickball, were
a small sample of the possibilities available when you went “down.”
Joe and John experienced those games almost every day. Stickball
was one of the things the police had to deal with when it came to kids
like Joe and John, who were representative of most of the kids in
Yorkville. The police would take your best “cat stick” and break it in
two. Or they would put it in a hole in the manhole cover and drop it,
never to be seen again.

In the summer the apartments were all but unbearable because
of the heat. Joe and John would run downstairs to the street where
it was a little better. Some of the older kids would turn on a city fire
hydrant; it would run for hours shooting out thousands of gallons of
water each hour and creating a cool breeze. Or rather, it would run
until the police came and shut it off. Some kids went in the water
with their swimsuits. Some kids went in with all of their clothes on.
Some kids (and grownups too) went in whether they liked it or not.
The things the average kid did then were minor and insignificant
compared to what the police deal with today.

For someone like me who grew up in Yorkville a couple of years
before Joe and John and experienced the same things and the same
kinds of characters each and every day, their book is exhilarating.
Nostalgia and recollection are inspired with each story.

Joe and John’s stories evoked some of my own memories, such
as the summer when my friend Mike and I went to the Museum of
Natural History every day for a week, for free! After going through
the museum all day, we would go to the Hayden Planetarium, where
we would see the sky show for a quarter.

We never realized people were flying or traveling by sea thousands
of miles to come and do, one time, what we did whenever we felt like it.

When Joe and John describe the trip to Cushman’s Bakery in Long
Island City, I can close my eyes and smell the free jelly donuts. When
they talk about swimming in John Jay Pool, I can taste the chlorinated
water in my mouth. And when they talk about the Guggenheim Dental
Clinic, my body grows cold with fear. I can still hear the screams of joy
and feel the elation when we were “completed” on the second floor and
would not have to go there for at least six months.

When Joe and John talk about getting their throats blessed at St.
Monica’s Catholic Church on East 79th Street, I can see the church
in my mind’s eye immediately. Why not? My parents were married
in that church in 1932. Both my brother Joe and I were baptized
there. We remember the feelings of anguish which flew through the
neighborhood when on August 18, 1953, St. Monica’s caught fire
and was almost entirely destroyed. Hearing and seeing all of the fire
engines, including fire companies not usually in our neighborhood,
coming from every direction, we ran the three blocks from 76th
Street where we lived. We were shocked to see the entire roof of the
church on fire with flames and thick black smoke going hundreds
of feet into the sky. It was the most terrible and amazing thing I had
ever seen up to that point in my 11-year-old life. The fire eventually
went to four alarms. Fire companies from the Bronx and the West
Side had to be called in before the fire was finally brought under
control. It did not matter if you were a Catholic or not; the neighborhood
had suffered a catastrophe.

Joe, John, and I attended the same school, Robert F. Wagner Junior
High, though at different times. I had witnessed the demolition of P.S.
70, which was torn down along with many tenements on 76th Street
to make room for the new and much larger Wagner school. I remember
the day when our teacher, Mrs. Schoenberg, proudly walked our class
from the old J.H.S. 30 on 88th Street to the new school. We were part
of the first eighth grade class the school ever had. When we arrived at
the new school, the new principal, Dr. Charles Schapp, was outside to
greet all of the children as classes were arriving from their old schools.
Also outside were others waiting to greet us, girls from J.H.S. 96 on
York Avenue and 81st Street. Both J.H.S. 30 and 96 were going to be
torn down. With them an old era was ushered out and a new era ushered
in. The new school would be coed.

I have never met Joe or John Gindele, but I feel as though I have
known them all of my life. We shared common experiences in our
daily lives growing up in Yorkville. We walked the same streets,
played the same games, and shared the same values, which we all
derived from immigrant and first-generation American parents.

We all had part time jobs as soon as we were old enough to work.
Before we were old enough to work legally, we hustled to get money
for the movies, candy, or baseball cards. We went around looking for
deposit bottles that workers would leave about in the small shops,
construction sites, and factories in the neighborhood. Each small bottle
was worth 2¢ and each large bottle was worth 5¢. Often, we would take
them without permission and run like crazy as if we had knocked over
Fort Knox. It was a simple life and being led in the greatest city in the world.

In 1955 the Third Avenue elevated railway was torn down. In a
way it had acted as a barrier between rich and working class in Yorkville.
Its demise signaled a building boom in Yorkville. Property along Third
Avenue, which had been adjacent to expensive property for many years,
increased in value once it no longer had the blight of the railroad to obstruct
the view.

New buildings began to spring up everywhere. The old tenements
one by one began to fall to the wrecking ball and to progress. With them
disappeared the people. With the people disappeared the street games,
the characters, and even the personality of the working class neighborhood
as professionals and white-collar workers came into the area with the
ability to pay the much higher rents in the new buildings.

Joe and John Gindele have preserved their particular recollections
of that wonderful time and place in their book. Its value for those of us
who shared that time, and also for those of us who would like to know
what it was like, is all there in their wonderful and special story.


[1] Lofaso hosts the “A.C. Lowe Show,” broadcasted worldwide (live
from New York City) over City World Radio (www.cityworldradio.com).

[2] Lofaso’s building was built in 1876. They had four rooms: a kitchen
facing the back yard, two middle rooms with no windows, and a front
room facing the street.