Hi! My name is Rosemarie Kohout Gray and since I enjoy company I was wondering if you would take a walk with me as we use our imaginations and memories of the 1950’s and 60’s and remember how it was on Grand Avenue in Maspeth.
If you don’t mind for a moment we’ll stop and I’ll tell you a little bit about my family and me.
I’m living in rural Florida for 5 years now and it reminds me so much of the Maspeth I was raised in.
I get a yearning for the Maspeth of my youth when I come back and visit. How soon we forget the days gone by.
Now let’s become time travelers.
My mom was the baby of the McGowan girls. First was Dorothy then Rose Marie and my mom Muriel but most people called her by her nick name of Pal. I was Pal’s first of three girls. My birth took place at Wyckoff Heights Hospital on July 29th, 1947. My sister Theresa came into the world on July 10, 1952. Then along came Susan on September 9, 1958.
My dad, Edward Kohout, was raised in Laurel Hill right under where the Koscuiszko Bridge now sits. His parents came from Czechoslovakia through Ellis Island. They met and married in America. My father’s mother’s maiden name was Ruzena Slivanska and his dad’s name was Ludvik Kohout.
My mom and her sisters were born over my great- grandmother’s grocery store across from Mt. Olivet Cemetery (it’s now a Chinese restaurant) on Grand Avenue. My great- grandmother, Fackelmann, use to churn her own butter. Next door was an entrance for the horses to get into the back where the barn was. Even as I was growing up my grandmother Rose McGowan always had chickens behind the family’s stores on Grand Avenue and I used to help her gather the eggs and feed the chickens. My grandmother use to gross me out and take a safety pin off of her full apron and jab a hole in a raw egg and with gusto suck the raw egg out. Yuck!
At this point in time the horses were long gone.
Now we have to go back in time again. My grandmother Rose Fackelmann married George McGowan and they opened up McGowan’s Bar & Grill, in the store front under what use to be called “the tenement house” that my great-grandfather built in 1898. If you look up today at the top of the apartment house you will see the date. It’s still in the family- my first cousin Al Kaufmann now owns it, he’s Rose Marie McGowan-Kaufmann’s son.
When I was in the bar one day…I think…I overheard the grown-ups talking about buying certain liquor from certain people or there might not be any windows left in the saloon…for starters, these men said. So too, there were special people my grandparents needed to use, to rent the jukebox box from and the shuffle board game. I wonder who these men were? Hummm???
The iceman use to come with that huge piece of ice sitting on his leather covered shoulder. The beer on tap was not refrigerated and the kegs were stored in the basement. On the top of the counter of the bar was a metal covered area where the metal coils were filled with beer that was pumped up from the basement and were covered with ice to make the beer good and cold. That’s where I use to help my grandmother with an ice pick and break the ice into chunks to put into the space in the top of the bar to chill the beer. At the end of the counter was always a huge bowl of hard boiled eggs, free for the customers.
I remember, what I considered nasty, spittoons on the floor by the bar stools.
Where my great-grandmothers grocery store was turned into a family run store. It was called Grand Card and Novelty Shoppe. The store carried not only greeting cards but games and toys and knicknacks along with school supplies. At Easter they would have jelly beans and marshmallow chicks.
Sometimes I would be standing outside the Grand Card Store and here would come Tom the Cop pounding his Grand Avenue beat, swinging and catching his billy club. He was such a doll. My middle sister, Theresa, was in love with him. It’s 40 years later and she still has such fond memories of Tom the Cop.
We better get back to where we started our walk. Let’s cross the street from Carvel and start walking up the avenue.
Oh, remember here on the corner was a grocery store and a man named Herman owned it. Then here where Dr. Sikora’s office is…remember it was a butcher shop…oh yeah and here use to be Violet’s Beauty Salon. I remember looking in and seeing women with their hair up in the air attached to these crazy looking wires getting their hair permed. The sight could keep you up nights!
As we pass Mt. Olivet Cemetery I think of how often it was used as a short cut to get up to the block before 69th St. near Caldwell Ave. There use to be an American Oil gas station there (today they’re called Amoco). I remember Carmine and George use to own the business. Anyway, now that gate to the cemetery is fenced off and new graves are where the road inside was.
Then there were people who use to go to Mt. Olivet for a picnic! Or as a little kid you would just go for a walk in the cemetery and look for the graves of Nickels who is buried next to Dimes. They haven’t gone anywhere they’re still in Mt. Olivet. I remember a worker telling me that
the cemetery had the highest spot in the area and during the Civil War a cannon was placed on that spot. A fairy tale…I don’t know.
Now we come to Stokes…so sad it’s an empty building now. I can hear the commotion of people and dishes rattling as we sat in a booth to eat. You could have a hot chocolate and 2 plain cookies for 10 cents. When my mom and I would leave sometimes we would get ice cream to go. You would buy it by the pint or quart. You couldn’t buy ice cream anywhere but at an ice cream parlor and it was scooped by hand and put into a thick paper container with a wire handle, and it was always overstuffed. I remember as they were getting the ice cream ready I would be looking at all that candy they sold, especially at Easter. They had big chocolate bunnies and even Easter baskets made out of chocolate. Wow!
If we stand in the doorway of Stokes and look across the street way up to the left of the next block was Jimmy’s Pizzeria. I had my graduation party there. Time has made my mind fuzzy as to exactly the right order of stores but there was Vogel’s funeral parlor, Kruch’s photo studio, a barber shop, a candy store that had the best hand dipped ice cream cones. I always made sure I got a sugar cone, they tasted better to me. On the corner was Ned DiCola’s Maspeth Florist with his hot houses out back, now it’s a restaurant called Grand & Remsen. Right across the street was Eddie Casper’s Florist. Then another store and then my families’ stores. There use to be anold house just before what’s now a locksmith shop, the people that lived there were named Rey. I remember people talking about hay being lifted way up to the hay loft at Rey’s, right on Grand Ave. By the way that locksmith shop was acandy store in the 1950’s and before.
Well, back to Stokes side of the street. Remember Leberfeld’s Department Store on the corner. The floor was always weird. When you walked in you went up hill and then there were places in the wooden floor that were mushy. We always went to Leberfeld’s for our Easter outfits. In those days most of whatever you needed you would “go to the Ave.” for. And you walked to “the Ave.” you didn’t drive. After the war most people were lucky to own one car, if any.
Up the block from Leberfeld’s was an Army & Navy store.
As we continue our stroll, across the street was a Times Square Store now it’s a fabric store. Then next door was a barber shop. My next memory takes us further up Grand Ave. where Rockbottom is. Well, it use to be a Ben Franklin 5 & 10 and an A & P Grocery Store and next to it was Karl’s truck stop & family style restaurant.
It was somewhere in the early 50’s that Maspeth was in a state of chaos. Houses were being torn down, people were actually crying that they were losing their homes. I remember being scared that we could loose our home. The grown-ups said that Maspeth was never going to be the same. This was the time when the Long Island Expressway was built right through the heart of Maspeth. I feel the elders that spoke back then were right. Maspeth was literally cut in half. The old carbarns where Mike the barber would cut hair for 25 cents, was demolished. Mike moved his barber shop up to Caldwell Ave. and 69th St and his hair cut prices rose to 50 cents for men or women!
Then there was a diner near the corner of 69th St. that was torn down. Across the street from the carbarns, which is now the overpass to the L.I.E., was a row of stores one of which I recall was Charlotte’s Restaurant. Her husband was a florist supplier known as “Jimmy Long Island” and his place of business was up 69th St., were Rosa’s pizza is now. My dad worked for Jimmy Tedesco for many years, even after Jimmy moved his business down to Flushing Ave., in Maspeth.
There was Rose’s Beauty Parlor on the corner where Maspeth Federal expanded to and around the corner was a liquor store. Across the street where Caruana Pizzeria is was a grocery store. And on the other side of Grand was Weber’s Drug Store which is now Ivaronne’s.
Then on the same side of the street as Caruana’s was Newman’s Hardware now it’s Nathan’s and then a fancy store called Merkels. They carried ornate lamps and other upscale merchandise to the best of my memory and somewhere in between was Maspeth Melody. They sold TV’s when they first came out. I remember our first TV. The outside was huge but the picture was the size of a post card and there were very few programs on the air. Most of the day nothing was on TV. Maspeth Melody sold records too I recall. I guess they must have also sold record players. I remember the owners were so nice and so was their daughter. My mother’s (Muriel McGowan Kohout) first paying job was there.
Remember the fresh rye bread and all those delicious smells coming out of the Peter Pan Bakery and all those goodies behind the glass showcase. Remember those charlotte russe’s, sponge cakes wrapped in a cardboard cup piled high with real whipped cream. They just don’t make them like that anymore. The store is still a bakery, now it’s called Glendale Bakery.
Look back across the street and there was the Maspeth Movies. If you went to the kiddie matinee there was always a grouchy lady matron with a flash light checking each row of seats during the movie. I remember one time when my entire class marched from St. Stanislaus School to see the movie “The Song of Bernadette” with Jennifer Jones. It was like a national event of sorts.
I don’t remember much about the next block except Lithuanian Hall where us kids from St. Stan's would go for dances. Across the street was Ralph’s vegetable stand and a butcher shop. Steve the butcher would always give us kids a huge slice of bologna. Then my mom would pay a woman sitting in a glass both for the meat. Back then I could never figure out why they kept her in that booth? I hope she finally got out!
Catty-corner from Lithuanian Hall was Stanislaus Pharmacy. It was so old fashioned to me, even back then. They use to have these big glass containers in each of the store front windows with different colors of what I guess was colored water. There was always a certain smell to that store. There was extremely old merchandise behind the glass door cabinets on the wall to left when you walked in the front door. I remember them typing the labels for the prescriptions on a really old fashion typewriter. Stan was the pharmacist and his wife, who was a retired school teacher, worked with him. Her name was Ann or Anna and their employee’s name was Mickey, he was Ann’s brother.
From there I remember there was Lamston's 5 & 10 and down the block was Ochiogrosso’s Bakery where you could get the best Italian ices. Then across the street was Bohack’s grocery store.
My memory of any other stores are gone, they have faded with time and even perhaps some of the stores I mentioned are not where they were, if so forgive me.
The last generation of my family still lives on Grand Avenue. It’s my baby sister Susan Yanez, her husband Louis and their 4 children, Jeffrey, Amy, Eric and Mary.
It was so nice of you to walk up Grand Ave. with me to reminisce about yesterday and how Grand Avenue use to be.