My Roots Going Back To The South Bronx

Post by columnist Lewis H. Goldstein

I am proud that I have lived in The Bronx ALL my life. My roots go back to the South Bronx. I spent most of the first year of my life at 680 Beck Street. The building is still in great shape. I recently visited the area. I had a moment to speak to one of the current tenants. The building is in good shape. The area is different in many ways from the 1930s and 1940s. Just as in the days when I was born there is a vibrant working class. A community of people working to keep the community and its many residents secure with connections to their culture. The language and places of worship are different but not the attributes and the goals of those who live there.

My parents and brother and I moved to the apartment at 680 Beck Street after living in the home my grandmother and grandfather owned at 731 Kelly Street, a few blocks from Beck Street. It was between Avenue St. John and Longwood Avenue. My grandparents Bessie and Louis Finger and my Aunt Ida lived on the first floor. I knew my grandmother and my Aunt Ida. I am named after my grandfather. On the second floor were my Aunt Nettie Deckler (my mom’s sister), her husband my Uncle Harry and their daughter Janet. There was part of a room set off for my Uncle Phil who was in High School. On the third floor were my mom & dad and my brother Alvin and my Aunt Sally Presner and her husband Jack and their sons Marty and Bobby. Below street level lived the superintendent who took care of coal for the boiler and hot water. He and his wife were immigrants from Cuba. I have been told about the pushcarts, the small mom & pop stores and the many synagogues in the area. Most shopping was done on Avenue St. John.Today there are still many stores in the community and many churches. Across from my grandparents home was Prospect Hospital, My brother and my cousins Janet, Marty and Bobby went to PS. 52. PS 52 is the same school Former Secretary of State and former Chief of Staff Colin Powell attended. Also, Congressman Eliot Engel taught at PS 52.

From Beck Street we moved to the west Bronx. My family and I moved to 1430 University Avenue. The rest of the family also moved to that area. I attended PS 11 on Ogden Avenue. The school still functions as a school. I believe it is the oldest school building in the Bronx still in use. The northern section was built in 1889.Two other sections were added in 1905 and 1930. The auditorium has a mural painted in 1927 as part of the WPA. I recall the interior very well. My first teacher was Mrs. Durocher. The Principal was Samuel Olchin who passed away at his desk. Across the street was the Noonan Plaza. Swans swam in a pond in the courtyard. I remember very well walking from University Avenue to school down a steep hill. There were no urinals as we know them today in PS 11. There was a wall and a trough running the length of the wall. I recall that one entrance was marked BOYS and one GIRLS. As far as I can recall we all entered the same entrance once I began in 1949. PS 11 is in the district of Councilmember Vanessa Gibson. It is my hope that the school will receive landmark status. I recall the Ogden Theatre as I walked to school. On weekends I would attend double features at the Ogden. I believe it later became the Crest Theatre. My grandmother lived on Plimpton Avenue. I recall very well visiting her. I believe that my first year or two of Hebrew School was at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol on Plimton Avenue. The name sticks out in my mind. I could be wrong. That might have been my grandmother’s “shul”. In 1954 we moved to the Grand Concourse. I will leave off at this point as the Hugh Holy days are about to begin. I will continue my life in The Bronx at another time. Would love remembrances from others who have lived in our mainland borough most of their lives.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email