For displaced, misplaced, and nostalgic ex-Brooklynites

Growing up in East New York - A Walking Tour


by Alan Katz

E

ast New York, 1942, 520 Georgia Avenue, between Riverdale and LivoniaAvenues. I even remember our first telephone number, DIckens 6-0798. We were right around the corner from Fortunoff's first store. They sold only silver then, all kinds.

Going the other way on Georgia Avenue, you crossed Riverdale and got to P.S. 190, my elementary school. On a Saturday or Sunday morning, if you got there past seven in the morning, you had a long wait for next before you got a game.

If you continued on Georgia to New Lots Avenue and turned left to Pennsylvania Avenue, then turned right and kept walking, past Linden Boulevard, you got to the batting range and the miniature golf course. The batting range had a "Bob Feller" cage, purportedly hurling balls at 110 miles an hour, but the pitches were always so low that the best you could do was put the ball on the ground. If you got a hole-in-one at miniature golf you got a card for a free game.

The local movie theater was the Supreme, past Fortunoff's on Livonia Avenue, toward Brownsville, but on the other side of the street. Admission cost fourteen cents then. We'd go for a Saturday matinée, lunch bag in hand, with money for a ticket and a candy bar, a nickel. There'd be two full-length films, a newsreel, the next episode of Dick Tracy or Superman, and there would be ten cartoons. We'd be in the theater for hours. When I think back, I pity the matrons who walked up and down the aisles, trying in vain to keep us under control, and throwing us out when all else failed. There was another movie theater on New Lots Avenue, the Biltmore, but we didn't go to that one much.

Also on Livonia Avenue, along which ran the New Lots line of the IRT (which was elevated there) was a pool room, Curley's. There was a lot of gambling there on games of pool. There were three games that were played then, billiards, of course, straight pool, and a game called Chicago, a game of rotation played with all fifteen balls. The object was to strike the balls in numerical order, until all the balls were off the table. As long as the next-numbered ball was struck first, any balls made were counted in your score, regardless of whether the numerically-next ball were pocketed too. The numbers on the balls you pocketed were added to your score, and there were also "money" balls, balls which counted for extra money.

You walked up a long flight of stairs to enter the pool room. Once, two girls came in. Everyone in the pool room stopped, turned to look at them, and stood silent and motionless. The girls turned and left as sheepishly as they had entered. Then everyone resumed his playing, no one so much as saying a word about what had just transpired.

When we got a little older, we went to the Thomas Jefferson High School field, bordered by Pennsylvania and New Jersey Avenues, and Livonia and Riverdale Avenues. We played hardball there and rough-tackle football.

Linden Boulevard was vacant land then, until after World War II, when the army built housing for returning servicemen - quonset huts - with curved, corrugated roofs, a potbellied stove in each living room for heat, and a common ground between the rows of houses.

If you continued down New Lots Avenue towards Queens you ran into vacant land past Van Siclen Avenue. There were milk farms there, and a notable one was Brookdale, the company whose donation to Beth El Hospital at Linden Boulevard and East 98th Street (where I was born) prompted its name to be changed to Brookdale Hospital.

It was a good and wonderful place to live then. As a kid, and just starting to date, I traveled all over the city on buses and trains and never had a need to even look over my shoulder. But in those days, when you went with a date into the city on Friday or Saturday night, every guy wore a jacket and tie. It's how people dressed then to go into Manhattan. And when you are wearing your good clothes, you are not looking for trouble.




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