November 29, 2017

A Trip Back In Time

by Steve W

I was born in New York City and moved to Los Angeles when I was six years old. Before they were married, my parents both lived in the Bronx with their respective parents, my grandparents. Based on those early years, as well as several trips back to visit family, I have some memories of the homes of both sets of grandparents.

We had an extra day in our travels between Boston and Philadelphia, so we used it to visit the Bronx and see if we could find my grandparents' homes. Both sets of grandparents emigrated form Russia and lived in these apartments for many years. I remembered the cross streets of my mother's parents, Dora and Ben, and remembered the street name of my father's parents, Yussel (Joseph) and Punia (Pauline). With that info, we set out to find the old neighborhoods.

First, we went to Dora and Ben's apartment building on Barnes Avenue, at the corner of Allerton Avenue.

My grandparents lived on the third floor in a corner apartment. On the ground level in those days were retail stores, including what at the time was called a "candy store", a small store with a soda fountain and other miscellaneous items for sale. I recall sitting at the counter having chocolate malts with my mother. Down the street was a movie theater that cost five cents for admission. It was few blocks from the "L", the elevated train line.

As we drove up to the corner, I immediately recognized the building, although the neighborhood had changed quite a bit. When my grandparents lived there, it was mostly Jewish and Italian families, so the word "deli" had a specific meaning. But like many older parts of cities, this was now a very mixed neighborhood, with Latinos, Asians, and Middle Easterners, and a deli was any place that sold pre-packaged sandwiches. The candy store on the corner was now a pharmacy. We got out and walked around a bit, taking some photos to show my sister, but other than the building and the basic street layout, none of the stores were familiar. Not too surprising, given it had been 50 years since I was last there.

We then set out for to the other end of the Bronx, on the west side of Bronx Park. As we were driving, I seemed to recall the sights and the route driving through the park. We located 3150 Rochambeau Avenue and parked illegally (like everyone else in NY).

My grandparents lived on the eighth floor, with their living room window facing the back of the building overlooking Bainbridge Avenue. Once, when I was there on a visit in the mid 1960s, my father and I stood out on Bainbridge Avenue and he told me that, when he would come home from work, he would stand on the street, whistle loudly, and my grandmother would come to the window. He also did this when he returned from the Army in the late 1940s. I didn't believe him, so he proceeded to whistle and I'll be damned if my grandmother didn't come to the window!

At the front of the building was a decorative gate with the street address. On the facade of the building itself, there was what seemed to be Indian decor surrounding the front door and windows. These embellishments weren't there during my grandparents' time.

From the outside peeking through the front door, I could see into the foyer with the same elaborate tile floors that I remembered.

It was not surprising that the makeup of the neighborhood had changed, as neither of these neighborhoods was what you would call middle class in the 1940s and 50s, but, like so many areas of our inner cities, time had taken its toll.

I'm glad I went back to the Bronx, just to remember some good times I had as a child and to think back fondly on the times I spent with my grandparents.

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  1. So my birthday is on November 29th and my grandma was your grandfathers sister - Lilly Winogradsky married as Wallman - I just spoke to my (and must be your....) cousin Roni - Punias granddaughter. Very small world - great memories - Caryn


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