In the September and December issues of The Juniper Berry, both Monica Sweeney and Rosemary Gray wrote excellent articles on their Maspeth memories. They mentioned most of the stores on Grand Avenue so I’m going to bypass that and write about the area where I grew up and played which was mostly on Caldwell Avenue between 74th and 75th Streets.
I’d like to start by remembering Mike the barber. Almost everyone went to Mike to get a haircut for the big price of thirty-five cents. His little shop was on Caldwell Avenue right off the corner of 69th Street. Before that he was located inside the old Maspeth car barns (trolley depot) on Grand Avenue and Brown Place. Mike was a fine old gentleman who worked right up until the good Lord called him. He had to be in his late 70’s.
In those days things were tough so whenever I needed a haircut my father gave me thirty-five cents and told me to go to Mike’s and get it all off and Mike made sure it. A real old-fashioned haircut which was called a crew cut in those days, one Yul Brenner would have been proud of.
In the 40’s the vegetable man used to come around a few times a week selling his produce in this little country-like town called Maspeth. His name was Frank. We also had a bread man (Libby) and a Javelle water man (bleach) and of course the milkman.
Every Sunday, Pop Lynch, the pretzel man would come around all the neighborhoods in Maspeth carrying his large wicker basket and a large white towel covering the pretzels. A penny for the small one and two cents for the large. He was the grandfather of Ed Nubel, currently an Executive Board member of the Juniper Park Civic Association.
I remember a time when the farmers were on strike and dumped their potatoes by the thousands in the lots where the dead-end street is now on 75th Street between Caldwell and Eliot Avenue. Many people in the neighborhood went with all kinds of bags and boxes and carried them home.
Chocolate was also dumped there a few years later followed by medical waste. You name, they dumped it.
As kids we used to build a big fire in the lots and roast potatoes (mickies) and put marshmellows on the end of a long tree branch and roast them until they were brown.
In those good old days it was customary for doctors to make house calls.
In the winter we ice skated on a small pond where Lutheran Avenue and Juniper Boulevard North is now located. We built fires inside of a large 55 gallon drum to keep warm. Not everyone had skates so many children would slide across the ice on their shoes but still had a great time. We also went sleigh riding on “Moricci Hill” (between 74th Street, Caldwell and Eliot Avenue). We called it that because the Moricci family lived on the bottom of the hill.
On Thanksgiving, the Maspeth Movie Theater let kids in for free and gave them a complementary comic book. Kids would get dressed up in home-made costumes and went around trick or treating, asking the neighbors “anything for Thanksgiving?” We carried a bag or a large stocking because a lot of people gave apples, oranges and nuts.
I remember picking blackberries and raspberries that grew wild right on Caldwell Avenue between 74th and 75th Streets.
Down by the railroad there were two streams of water that ran parallel to the tracks. You could find polywogs, frogs and gold fish in the water there which kept young boys busy.
There were lots of cherry, peach, pear, and apple trees, as well as grape vines in the area. This neighborhood was a real country town.
Growing up in the 40’s, stickball was the most popular game. There were baseball teams then but nothing organized except for P.A.L. Baseball, which was played once a week. However stickball was played everyday. We played in the street and it was very seldom that a car would pass – but if two cars would pass in a row we would be very upset. I remember one day while playing stickball we had to call time out because one of our neighbors, Mrs. Marmaletto was riding her horse up Caldwell Ave.
Softball was also very popular. We would play until the cover came off the ball, then tape it up and play until we knocked the cotton out of the ball. The game oddly enough was also referred to as “indoor.” Don’t ask me why.
Boxing was also one of our sports. We used to save old wood and garden hoses that our neighbors threw out and when we had enough, we built a boxing ring next to the railroad tracks between Caldwell and Eliot Avenue. We put old rugs, mats, canvas or anything soft to put on the ring floor, so if someone went down, they wouldn’t get hurt.
As we got older we played spin the bottle and post office with the girls.
Then there was the ice house owned by the Acouafedda family, five cents for a block of ice, ten cents for a larger one. I used to take the old baby carriage, put the ice in it, cover it with a burlap bag, and run all the way home from Grand Avenue to Caldwell before the ice melted.
On the corner of Caldwell Avenue and 75th Street, Fred and Virginia Breitinger lived in a 2 family home, Fred’s brother George lived upstairs. They kept horses, chickens, rabbits, pigeons and other animals. Until Fred’s death about 7 years ago, he still had the horses and barn.
Down the block on Caldwell, who could forget Al and Stephie’s Candy Store on the corner of 71st Street. Al was famous for his 5¢ malteds and he would fill your glass two and a half times. Just around the corner was the Jack-O-Lantern bar and grill.
Sixty ninth Lane, between Eliot and Caldwell Avenues, was a great hangout for sports lovers. Back then it was the widest paved street in the neighborhood. We also played baseball in the empty lot near there and basketball and roller hockey in the street. One popular game was playing a version of stickball where everyone had to bat lefty and use a small four foot stick. Some of the popular players were Angelo Zambratto, George Donaldson, whose brother Jake played for the Red Sox farm team, Danny Phelan and Red Goget, who still resides on 69th Lane between Caldwell and 60th Avenues. The game of marbles was very popular with the younger boys.
After school we played various sports in the school yard of P.S. 73. At 5P.M. we raced home for dinner, rushed through homework and ran out again to the school community center which was open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 7-10pm. Girls would save movie star photos for their scrap book and played school. They had their own games like jump rope–high water-low water, double dutch–box ball and “I declare war.” The boys would join in from time to time.
We built a club house where the dead end street is on 75th Street. We hung out there in the winter and played cards and monopoly. The heat came from a pot belly stove and light from an old kerosene lamp.
I thank God I grew up in that era to witness this kind of clean fun and recreation as well as respect for the older people in the neighborhood.
During World War II, there was a small Army base in Juniper Valley Park where the upper baseball fields and track are now located. Every night they would scan the skies with huge search lights, looking for enemy planes. After the war, to fill a drastic shortage in housing for veterans, prefabricated quonset huts were erected next to railroad tracks on 76th Street and Caldwell Avenue and they continued down behind where Our Lady of Hope Church is now all the way down to 69th Street.
We all looked up to the pro athletes, especially Joe DiMaggio. Most of today’s couldn’t shine his shoes.
Much of the old gang loved the neighborhood so much they they decided to stay and raise their families here. That is what makes Maspeth and Middle Village so unique. We are a close-knit community made up of hard working middle class citizens. If anyone got into a jam or needed help, they would only have to look next door or around the corner.
I could not live anywhere else.