I recall many warm and wonderful memories of Middle Village, and want to share them so you can also share some of yours, and help to fill in specifics, so we can better complete the history of the earliest days of growing up in our very special community.
My parents, Jeane and Nat Stockheim, left their Harlem apartment in the spring of 1937, walked across the Triborough Bridge, and saw a sign for a new housing development -Juniper Valley- Middle Village. There was a car next to the sign to drive them to see the property. There was nothing built yet, so all they could do is see a model and map of the planned subdivision. They selected a house on 79th Street in the middle of the block, and left a $5.00 deposit.
They moved in and started a new life in 1938. The house cost $3,600. There were no sidewalks, and the roads in some sections were still dirt. Much of it was grazing cows and farmland, but it was Juniper Valley Park that convinced them that this new community would be an ideal location to raise a family.
The house was an attached row house and had three bedrooms upstairs, a living room, dining room and kitchen on the main floor, a back porch over the garage accessible by the community driveway and a full basement with a hand cranked washing machine, washtubs, and space for a victory garden in the back, and also in the front of the house leading to the street. They later built a brick arch at the entrance to the front.
Ascension Church School opened in September 1939, and bus service was started to bring students to and from school. The name of the school was later changed to Resurrection-Ascension.
I was born, at the end of the Great New England hurricane, September 22, 1938, as reported in the community paper, the Juniper Berry, “the first baby born in the Juniper Park Homes.”
I can happily recall playing in the sun in the playpen on the back porch, and also playing in Juniper Valley Park about two blocks away. There were squeaky baby swings with a wooden seat and bar across that slid up and down that I loved to sit in to swing back and forth.
Juniper Valley Park always played a central role in my life where I could meet friends, and practice skills like swinging, hitting a handball or tennis ball, moving across the jungle gym, or riding down the slides. There were ball games to watch, bike rides, and walks through the park in all seasons. Days were spent sledding the hills in winter, cooling off in the sprinkler showers in the kiddie pool during the heat of summer or playing tennis. My father loved to play tennis and handball.
My first friend was Rhona Jill Cohen (Ronnie Hartman). She and I played together when we were two years old and we remain close friends despite all the years, distance, or miles. Our children and grandchildren have played together. Strong friendships were forged in Middle Village and endured a lifetime.
We attended PS 49 (now Dorothy Bonawit Kole School) from Kindergarten to Eighth Grade. We grew up there with many wonderful teachers including Mrs. Gang, Mrs. Pope, Mrs. Kaplan, Mrs. Schactman, Mrs. Gustafson, and Mr. Schubert.
Even though we were regularly tested with stringent Regents Exams, learning was much more than merely taking tests. We were also exposed to a wide variety of art, plus grounded in math and science, geography and history. We also engaged in many rigorous physical education activities that helped us to be better fit. Plays and musicals were also performed.
We, of course, enjoyed home economics where we gained useful skills in cooking and sewing, although we were not thrilled at the time that we had to make our own white graduation dresses. Some of us were not as skilled as others with noticeable results. The boys got off easy on that one, as they did not have to learn how to lay out a pattern, cut it, baste, create puffed sleeves, or learn to hem stiff white organdy by hand.
Our entire class awkwardly and proudly posed for a large group photo on the steps of PS 49 – the last 8th grade class. Looking at that black and white picture now it is fun to recall as many of our classmates and friends in the neighborhood as we could – Bernie Dworkin, Bob Hartman, Carol Goodman, Carolyn Marte, Charles Hammerschlag, Donny Dunn, Gary Mokotoff, Howie Goodman, John Nazar, John Rittenberg, Johnny Smith, Marion Bennett, Nancy Barnett, Norma Meyer, Pat Adell, Phyllis Riley, Richie Scalza, Robert (Bobby)Tucker, Robert Sherman, Rochelle Ackerman, Ronnie Cohen, Rosalind Getzoff, Sonja Buttenhoff, Suzanne Mokotoff, Warren Elkins, and many more.
When we were little we danced around a colorful May Pole in the schoolyard dressed in crepe paper costumes. Later, we learned to square dance, Lindy and Foxtrot to popular music. Along the way we grew up, and learned a lot about ourselves, and about respecting and getting along with our schoolmates and friends.
We walked to school each day along the park in all four seasons measured by the color of the leaves or the bare branches in the middle of winter. The sparkling white Good Humor truck greeted us after school in the warm weather with a tingle of his bell just outside the schoolyard.
A Greek family, the Tsotsos, lived next door with their seven sons. They moved after they had their first daughter, and (I think) started a Greek Restaurant. When they moved, the Goodman (Bernie and Eleanor) family moved in. We remained friends with their kids Howard and Carol over many years. The Getzoffs and Perez families also lived on the street.
On the other side were Mr. and Mrs. Reilly, who were devoted members of the Resurrection Ascension Church. The Barnetts lived next door to them and their daughter Nancy attended R-A school and was an accomplished pianist. Even though we all attended different schools and churches we played together, went to the movies or roller skating rink, and shared each other’s holidays.
Many in the community were members of the Jewish Center of Forest Hills West on Dry Harbor Rd., and attended services on Friday, and Saturday and special holidays.
It was the time of World War II, and there were victory gardens, food and fat rationing, and the presence of drills, air raid wardens and shortages. We had no toys, but made fun things ourselves to play with like clothespin dolls and sock puppets.
I recall when my father’s brother, Uncle Charlie came home at the end of the war in his Navy uniform and brought me my first Hershey bar. He went to work as a policeman. Uncle Dan, worked for the Post Office. Another Uncle Dave, and his wife and daughter came to visit and stayed with us for a year or so. Ruth looked after me so Mom could return to work as a nurse.
We drove in the old Plymouth to see another uncle, his wife and kids in the Bronx. The rest of our large extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived in Saratoga Springs, NY, or in Baltimore, Maryland. We traveled to see them by car and by train. I also remember driving to Rockaway Beach, Jones Beach, and to the gala opening of Idlewild airport in 1948.
My Dad was an air raid warden, and a fireman. He worked in Harlem, and then later at the firehouse on Horace Harding Blvd. and 108th St., long before there was a Long Island Expressway. He was an Eagle Scout Leader, enjoyed swimming and camping and after he retired, returned to teaching math and science.
Mom was a registered nurse in Morrisania Hospital in the Bronx; then she worked for the Public Health Department, American Red Cross and Horace Harding Hospital. She also set up the NYC School system’s first school for pregnant teenagers, and later she taught homebound children. She also earned her degrees from NYU and Yale and was a Captain in the Army Nurse Corps.
My sister Judy (Dr. Judith Schwartz) was born when I was four years old. She also attended PS 49. After completing her PhD she became a full professor of ceramics and sculpture at NYU and has been a teacher for the past several decades.
Our memories are shared and also separate due to our age and experiences, but we both recall our first dog, a black mixed collie and shepherd dog named “Prince” who never tired of playing with us and who wagged his tale fiercely when we returned from school to resume games and take him for a walk to the park.
I remember watching the delivery trucks moving in and out of Silver Crest Farm Dairy on Eliot Ave. We visited inside the dairy to learn more about milk processing on several class trips. Bottles were then glass, and the cream was on the top, and often just skimmed off and enjoyed before shaking the bottle.
Across the street from the dairy was the Artis Drugstore where there was a sit-down soda fountain back in the day. On the other corner was Jack and Bernie’s classic candy store with a marble counter where they made a terrific chocolate egg cream and sold Breyer’s ice cream. They offered many different yummy penny candies, and comic books of all kinds to choose from with our babysitting money. (Wish I still had the cherished Wonder Woman comic book collection today). The Peter Pan Bakery was across the street where they made an amazing seven-layer cake, and excellent rye bread, with or without seeds, that they sliced in their electric slicer if you asked.
The A&P was next door where they offered specials noted with large signs in the window. I can only guess at the prices then, but they were a fraction of those of today like 25 cents for bread, eggs and milk. There was also a five and ten cent store. The Tudor Tavern where they had excellent pizza was the bar and grill on the corner of 80th and Eliot Avenue where you could get the bus that went to Roosevelt Ave. and 74th St., to catch the E or F train to the City.
We played in the park after school. In the winter we met to sled down the hill to the large lots (houses fill that special space now) that were magical places to hide and seek and play games any time of the year, especially after the rain when they filled with water and gullies became rivers and streams to jump across. There were large rocks, which formed perfect hiding places while we made up games based on western, police, jungle, pirates and other themes.
We traveled by trolley, after taking the bus on 80th street to the bottom of the hill where there were two large gas tanks near the stop. We then went to the outdoor Aquacade to swim in what is now Flushing Meadow Corona Park. We sometimes went indoors at the remaining World’s Fair Building to roller skate or ice skate to organ music.
We went to Rockaway or Jones Beach during the summertime where I recall getting painfully sun burned with no sunscreen to protect us in the “olden” days.
We rushed through chores on Saturday morning to walk to the Drake Theater (now Abbracciamento’s Italian Restaurant) on Woodhaven Blvd. to catch 25 cartoons, a feature movie, and popcorn all for 25 cents.
Other times we roller skated or jumped rope, played sidewalk games like Hopscotch, and played handball on the concrete wall in the park, watched softball and baseball games, or eagerly listened on the radio to the Dodgers, Yankees or the Giants. We were glued to the set at home or at school during the pennant and World Series. There was no TV or electronics so we played real games, read real books, and made real things like clothespin dolls, sock puppets, and beanbags.
We eagerly listened to a wide range of afterschool radio shows including Captain Midnight, a favorite, the Lone Ranger, Gene Autry and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon.
On Saturday morning while doing chores I listened to the Hit Parade and sang along and can still recall a lot of lyrics from those days sung by Johnnie Ray, Rosemary Clooney, and Frank Sinatra. There were many others including Teresa Brewer, Doris Day, Patti Page, Della Reese, Dinah Shore, Jo Stafford, Kay Starr, and Sarah Vaughan. We also listened to Tony Bennett, Pat Boone, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Bobby Darin, Eddie Fisher, Dean Martin, Johnny Mathis, and groups like the Ames Brothers, the Everly Brothers, the Four Aces, and the Andrew Sisters.
The whole family listened to Fireside Chats from President Roosevelt, and laughed with Arthur Godfrey, Fred Burns, Gracie Allen, Great Gildersleeve, Abbott and Costello, Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Amos ‘n Andy, Baby Snooks Show, Father Knows Best, Fibber McGee and Molly, and Jack Benny. We thrilled to The Shadow, Dragnet, and the FBI in Peace and War. I can also recall Mayor LaGuardia reading the Sunday comics during a newspaper strike.
On Saturday morning I never missed “Let’s Pretend” and believed everything that was happening as the story in my imagination was fueled by books taken out from the wonderful public library in Elmhurst. But, when our girl scout troop made a visit to the radio station in the City to watch a broadcast, my illusions were shattered as I watched the cast read lines, and watched sound effects being made instead of the real horses that carried the beautiful princess to safety. Illusions ended, but not the imagination.
I remember the passing of seasons not only by the clothes and weather, but how we sang Christmas Carols, dressed up for trick or treat on Halloween, celebrated birthday parties, attended scout meetings, and always found lots of fun things to do. We were never bored.
I can still remember a rotary dial telephone, and my first phone number was Illinois 8-1345. I also remember the string and two empty cans as phones that we used for play and it worked.
From age twelve I safely traveled by bus and train to the City. I went to the City three times a week to swim in competitive swimming and often attended a play, or a concert, or the ballet at City Center with a friend.
I lived in Middle Village while attending Grover Cleveland High School, Queens College, and teaching in Ridgewood at a public school not too far from home. I moved first into the City for a short while, then to Washington, D.C., and later to San Francisco. But, I still returned to home base to visit Mom until she retired, and moved to Florida.
On August 1, 2013, as we happily celebrated Mom’s 100th birthday, I remember Middle Village, almost like yesterday, and my memories are still full, bright, and very strong.
*Stevanne Auerbach, PhD passed away in 2022. She was the author of 15 books. Smart Play/ Smart Toys has been published in 12 countries. She was known as Dr. Toy and wrote Dr. Toy’s Guide. She lived in Middle Village from 1938-1960. She moved to Washington DC until 1971 when she moved to San Francisco. She is survived by a daughter Amy and grandson.