Growing up in Playground 5

The following story was submitted by former Stuyvesant Town resident Brenden Crowe. The greatest place to grow up in the 60s and 70s was Stuy Town and the greatest playground there ever was, was playground 5.

UP ABOVE IT ALL–A view of Stuy Town’s Playground 5

UP ABOVE IT ALL–A view of Stuy Town’s Playground 5

To those who don’t know Stuy Town, it has 12 playgrounds. Each playground is different. Some playgrounds had swings and slides, some had basketball courts, and some had paddle tennis courts. Playground 5 was a rectangle playground about 75 yards long and 35 yards wide. It was a perfect playground to play football, hockey and punch ball. Those were the sports Playground 5 guys were good at. Playground 9 and Playground 11 had basketball courts and they were good in basketball.  The playground you lived on decided what sports you would play. There was great pride in the playground you lived at.

I remember my brother Brian and his friends Sid, Mike Lyden and Kevin Keane beating guys from playground 11 in football and taking great pride in Playground 5 winning. I remember playing football against John Dillon and the Playground 1 boys and Playground 5 coming up victorious. Those of us who are baby boomers know that there was scores of kids playing at each playground. I had three older brothers: John, Brian and Tim. John and his friends Roger McTiernan, Brian McDonnell and Danny Malewich ruled Playground 5. My brother Brian and his friends might get a little piece of the playground. There was a definite pecking order. If somebody didn’t follow the pecking order there would be a fistfight. Fistfights were common. If you had a disagreement, you had a fight and for the most part were friends the next day.

THE BOYS OF PLAYGROUND 5–(Front row) Ricky McDonnell, Brian Mastrocco, Timmy Crowe, with his face covered is Brendan Crowe, (Back row) Kevin Keane, Jimmy Mastrocco, Bobby Curran, Ken Sidlowski, Ray Stout, Brian Crowe and Mike Lyden

THE BOYS OF PLAYGROUND 5–(Front row) Ricky McDonnell, Brian Mastrocco, Timmy Crowe, with his face covered is Brendan Crowe, (Back row) Kevin Keane, Jimmy Mastrocco, Bobby Curran, Ken Sidlowski, Ray Stout, Brian Crowe and Mike Lyden

The boys on Playground 5 went to Saint Emeric School for the most part. It was located on 12th street and Avenue D; for those of you that are new to Stuy Town, the neighborhood below 14th Street was a very tough neighborhood. P.O. Foster and P.O. Laurie of the N.Y.PD. were executed on 11th Street and Avenue B. Gangs like the Black Spades and Young Spades would always wear their colors and were always in groups. Sometimes, gangs would come into Stuy Town and start trouble. A St. Emeric student once got shot by a stray bullet. Our friend Mark Smalley was stabbed on Playground 5. The lowlife that stabbed him in the back stated, “I got him good.”

I remember my brother John and his friends and my brother Brian and his friends waiting with baseball bats, for a gang that was supposed to come up to Playground 5. That gang would have been slaughtered. We had the toughest guys in the neighborhood: Roger McTiernan, Billy Bowles, Jimmy Anderson and Mike Delaney. In fact one time Jimmy Anderson and Mike Delaney had a fight. They were two of the toughest guys to hang out on Playground 5. Kids that missed that fight thought they had missed the Super Bowl.

I for the most part could handle myself, but if I couldn’t, my brother Timmy could. He was always there for me if I got in trouble. My brother Timmy and his friends Mike Cavanaugh, Ricky McDonnell and Robby McDonald would start fake fights to get a reaction out of the adults that went by. They perfected the art of seemingly getting hurt and even using vampire blood to get maximum reaction. Somebody saw Timmy in a fake fight with vampire blood on his face and called 911 and said someone was being murdered and 10 police officers from the NYPD came running up to Playground 5. Another time a lady felt sorry for Timmy and brought him upstairs for milk and cookies.

Even though Playground 5 was situated on 14th street between Avenue B and C, I always felt safe. My father along with Mr. Cavanaugh and Mr. Anderson were F.B.I. agents and Mr. Kurth, Mr. Sidowski and Mr. Messina were with the N.Y.P.D. Our parents were part of the greatest generation. They had the morals and the values to keep us on the right track, for the most part. Our parents would sit on the benches and talk among themselves. They took good care of us and we showed them respect. Parents were always called Mr. and Mrs. and for the most part no one gave any parent any lip. Kids were always outside playing and I thank God we didn’t have computers. We were always outside having great times with our friends. The friends that I had are like family now.

Sad to say, most time I see Playground 5 guys are at funerals. But when we do see each other we smile and we laugh because we know how lucky we were to grow up on Playground 5. We played every type of baseball games imaginable. We played punch ball, stick ball, whiffle ball, stoop ball, and single double. When we wanted to play real baseball, we just had to cross the street to 16th Street and Avenue C. My friend Matty Warshaw and I were teammates when we were eight years old. Matty in his very first game in little league hit a grand slam. One year he batted over 900. He was the best! Con Ed was always great at giving the baseball fields to the Stuy Town kids. They would even give us electric tape, which we used to keep our shin guards in place for hockey or just use it for a puck.

By the way, I never saw another group of kids play punch ball in Stuy Town after we got older. Then again I never saw kids play skullies after us either. That was a city game where you had a bottle top and had to get it in boxes from 1 to 13 and then back again. We could play that for hours. We were always playing sports and we had great athletes. We were good because we were playing sports all the time and we played hard. We even played tackle on the cement once. People must have thought we were crazy, but back then, crazy believe it or not was a good word. There were plenty of characters, not only on Playground 5 but everywhere (except for Playground 3 which was the saddest playground of all).  Kevin Keane once caught a light bulb off an 11-story building and Mike Lyden drove his car up the steps of Playground 5.

We seemed to know all the adults on Playground 5 except the men that would play paddle tennis. They would come into Playground 5 on Saturday morning and put the poles in the holes that had a cap on them and start setting up for paddle tennis without even asking or an “excuse me,” even though they were setting up right in the middle of our playing field whether it was football or hockey. My friend Neil Crawford and I had to teach these men some manners, so we went up to the roof and continually threw pebbles down on them. It was great to hear them yell and even better when they came up one building to get us and we went down another. Next week they couldn’t even put the poles in the holes because Danny O’Shea and Brian Mastrocco glued the caps shut.

We used to play a game called hot beans and butter where one kid would hide a belt somewhere in the bushes and the rest of us kids had to find it. When one of the kids found it, he would take the belt and hit any kid that hadn’t got to base. You would of course try to hit each kid with the buckle. Another time I was having a fistfight with Billy Anderson in the winter in front of my brother Brian’s friends. Instead of stopping the fight, which was rarely done, they suggested we should go into the lobby of 625 East 14th street so they could keep warm while watching the fight.

One of the people that epitomized Stuy Town was Ed Mackey. He worked for Met Life and was one of the supervisors in Stuy Town. Mr. Mackey took care of any reasonable request in hours. Your refrigerator broke down; he got you a new one. Your bathtub was clogged; he sent someone there immediately. Your cousin from Ireland was coming; he got them a job as a porter. Ed Mackey, our parents and the kids of Playground 5 made our neighborhood a great one.

Many are too young to remember that we had a bowling alley on 14th street between B and C. It also doubled as a place to play bingo for St. Emeric Church. My father was a caller for bingo but if he made the slightest mistake someone would yell out “Change the caller!” We had two delis between B and C on 14th Street — Lipschitz and Dalton’s. We had the best pizzeria at 14th and B, “Prince of Pizza,” where we could buy a slice for 15 cents. We also had a Knights of Columbus at 14 and B called Ave Maria. On Sunday everyone seemed to go to church and the men wore ties and the ladies wore dresses. Sneakers were unthinkable. After Mass, many people went to Friedel’s on Avenue B between 13th and 14th streets. It was your typical old-fashioned malt shop and I remember them making the very best shakes.

We were always looking for something fun to do. We would explore the salt mines at 17th street and Avenue C. It was dark and scary. We had flashlights and candles and there were always rumors of people being murdered and left there. On more than one occasion we heard some weird noise and then went running to the safety of Playground 5. There was an abandoned sanitation building across from the baseball field and we would hit rocks off a baseball bat and break the windows. I remember a whole group of guys going to St. George’s Church on 16th between 2nd and 3rd Avenues because they had tunnels underneath the church to explore. I remember an army of kids going to see “Planet of the Apes” at the Academy of Music on 14th Street. The lady at the ticket books didn’t believe Mike Delaney was 12, but he was. We would also go down to the East River to see what trouble we could find.

You weren’t a real Stuy Town kid unless you skitched. You skitched by hanging onto the back bumper of a car or bus and let it pull you. One time when we were skitching on a cab, he tried to get us off by going faster, but he hit a patch of ice and his cab did a 180 and crashed into the curb. Another time we grabbed a guy’s bumper, but the whole bumper came off.

When it snowed in Stuy Town it was fantastic. We chose up teams for snowball fights or played tackle football in the playground. We used to throw snowballs at buses, trucks and cabs and would love it if we got chased. My friend Larry Sweat could hit any object with a snowball from 50 yards away. Larry also taught me the art of controlling elevators in Stuy Town. You just needed a piece of tinfoil and put it on a stick and stick it into the hole by the elevator and have the elevator leave the floor with the elevator door still opened. One time we sent the elevator to T and waited for people to get in and then sent the elevator half way and then stopped it, opened the door and threw snowballs at them. Another time, my friend Franky Smolensky was on top of the elevator when we heard a door open and some lady yelling. We all ran down the staircase but not before we heard Franky say, “These guys are trying to kill me.”

The older guys always gave the younger guys “the business,” but they also always protected us and when it was my turn to be one of the older guys I did the same. We also took pride in protecting the girls of the neighborhood. Some of the girls, like Nancy Murphy, were great athletes themselves. Christmas time was always the best. Half the windows had decorations and I was always proud when my mother and father put ours up. The kids would love to show off their presents the day after Christmas. It was always the best time for family and friends and many of my friends were like family.

Those of us who grew up in Stuy Town know how lucky we were to grow up in the sixties and seventies. Many of us are still friends today. Those days will unfortunately never be duplicated. There were hundreds of kids and we grew up being taught by the greatest generation who weren’t afraid to say they love God, family and country! We were all taught to be tough, have fun and look after one another. I want to wish a happy New Year to all the people who grew up in Stuy Town, especially Playground 5, to the McTiernans, Mastroroccos, Crawfords, Cavanaughs, Murphys, Mackeys, Lydens, Keanes, Sidlowskis, Kurths and the rest of the Playground 5 gang. God bless you!

22 thoughts on “Growing up in Playground 5

  1. I was one of the girls, fond memories. Do you remember once part of 5 froze & you could ice skate in the playground?

  2. Thank you for this article. I was also one of the girls. I remember roller skating on “smooth island” an area at the end of Playground 5. I also remember taking a taxi to Central Park with my Dad – 3 kids with Flexible Flyers on our laps to go sledding, because God forbid you got caught on the grass anywhere in Stuy Town! I remember climbing the spiked fences to get into Plaground 4 when it was closed.

  3. Always felt like an outsider because before I moved to “5”, I started school while living at “12” so I went to Immaculate Conception grammar school.

    Great times. I remember at dinner-time, Smalley’s mother would stick her head out the window and scream, “Marrrrrk”!, to get him to come home.

      • That was me. My Dad used to work for Met-Life so we got one of those 5 room employee apartments.
        I remember once I near;y burned it down melting down crayons to weigh down Heinz ketchup caps.
        They made the best”scullies”.

    • Ditto Brenden! Tim emailed the article to me and the way you described it is exactly the way I remember it. Unfortunately I moved to LI when I was 11. Nothing but great times as a kid including the fights and I probably had a fight with each kid in the picture…all friends of course. I remember in the summer playing manhunt with an army of kids running around Playground 5 chasing each other for hours! And yes I remember Mark’s mom yelling out the window too!

  4. Brendan, you captured the essence of Stuytown in the 60’s and 70’s. It was a very unique place and we were all very lucky to have been a part of it. Well said! Happy New Year to all!

  5. Nicely done, Brenden. Some pretty good memories there! One more that I remember was the night that Dennis Murphy’s father and a few of the other dads got into a fight with the tennis players over tennis or puchball. Great times!

  6. Yeah Brenden, great documentary. Lots of good memories. And your brother, Timmy, what a great wide receiver!!! And my brother, Jimmy was a great defensive lineman. They both could have been New York Jets. And oh what a fight that lasted a good three hours. The boxer vs. the brawler, a draw, you were good.

  7. WOW! Great memories. Though I didn’t live in Stuy Town, I hung out there a lot in the 60’s. Went to St Emeric’s and recognize many names and places in the article. Can’t believe it’s been 50 years!

  8. As a Playground 8-er, this brings back many memories. Thank you. I’ll never forget the charm bracelet I got from Playground 5.

    • Hi everyone, Greetings from Arcadia California! I agree Stuyvesant Town was (The Best Place To Grow Up). So many good times. Love to all.Kathy and Robert Ryan and Matthew and David Love Kathy Fay Echauri x

      • we were from playground 7. we played bunchball, football, & hockey. there were so many kids that you only played with people your own age. we only “visited” the oval.
        we were the original tenents of our apartment.

  9. Brenden Crowe — It sounds like we were likely acquainted in the 50’s & 60’s, maybe on the Little League fields … but I don’t specifically remember you. Since I was usually a Catcher, my local battery mates were pitchers named Billy Martin (not that Billy Martin), Donnie Jackson, Donald Testa, and Steve Sanders.
    Your “Growing Up in Playground 5” blog really captured the essence of the StuyTown experience. You & your cronies were the kind of kids that me and “my gang” (of predominantly Jewish kids)…were usually afraid of. I spent most of my post adolescent time in Playgrounds 11, 10 & 9, playing basketball, punchball, Johnny on the Pony, and Ringolevio.
    When I was finally big enough/skilled enough, I finally made the quantum leap to compete against the best local high school & college players who frequented Playground 9; guys like Kenny Grant (St. Peter’s), Brian Mahoney (Manhattan College), John Murtha, & Larry-something (Miami Dade JC).
    It’s funny how similar-yet-different our experiences must have been, you & your crowd at Parochial Schools like Immaculate Conception, and us at PS 61, PS 40 and JHS 104. We attended different schools & hung out with different kids, but we all co-existed in an 18 square block red brick and green leafy oasis that was situated smack in the middle of the largest & baddest city in the world.
    I think the biggest risks that my friends & I took was incurring the wrath of the StuyTown Guards by occasionally leaping a silver link chain to chase a ball onto the precious grass; climbing the fence into, or out of one of the playgrounds, after hours; or playing “off the wall” by throwing & catching a “Spaldeen” (a Spalding pink rubber ball) after being warned, countless times, in front of my building, 4 Stuyvesant Oval.
    My fond memory of Freidel’s, on 14th & B, was that they sold the biggest, hand packed Bulk Pints of Ice Cream you could find anywhere (Vanilla Fudge & Cherry Vanilla were our favorite flavors). The little old lady, and the rest of her miserable family members who worked there were the grouchiest group of “soda jerks” known to mankind.
    My parents always laughed at my alliterative description of Freidel’s as, “Service with a sneer.”
    I spent many hours competing on terrible bowling teams at T & V Lanes, which sat right above the offices of The Town & Village Newspaper, where my brother, Bob eventually became Editor. It was a big deal to see your own name featured in the weekly Little League box scores. I purchased countless loaves of fresh baked Rye Bread for my Mom at Town Rose Bakery. And who knows how many packs of Tops Baseball Cards, Spaldeens, Pensy Pinky’s and water guns at JoJo’s Toy Store, whose owner Harry Dugatkin lived in our building. JoJo’s was right next to the fancy Barracini Candy Store, on the corner of 14th & A, where we usually went to buy Mother’s Day gifts.
    In the1950’s, it was a big treat going out for dinner with the entire family to Sorrento’s, a narrow little Italian place situated on Ave. A, between 13th & 14th Street. In fact, my first paying job was shoveling snow with my brother, following a big storm, for whichever 14th Street merchants would pay us.Those snow shovels sure took up a lot of space in our front closet, for the rest of the year.

    • Bravo to both posts; i think it is important to note how these unspoken, cold war religious tensions in Stuyvesant Town (based on nothing more than how our separate respective school contexts) defined our friends and playmates in the early 60’s. Parochial school uniforms and P.S. civvies identified and underlined this schism, It remains the one sad part of an otherwise charmed childhood. During this period, Little League offered the fleeting chance to mix and mingle but it was not until i moved away at age fifteen that i had friends of all denominations. What a revelation.

  10. Great article, Brenden! I, too, remember very well roller skating on “smooth island.” Thanks for bringing back the memories – remembering it like it was yesterday.

  11. Stuytown was a great place to grow up in. Lots of fond memories. My Dad was one of the first employees. Ed Grace, my brother Eddie still works there. Kelly Grace Corrigan

  12. I am a 13 year old living in stuy right now, it may be crazy but the things that you did in the 60’s and seventies is what we do today in stuy. We still peg buses, cars and cabs with snowballs. We still hop the fences, still go to con ed baseball fields. We used to throw rocks until they had to switch the fields to turf because of hurricane sandy now we hit balls over the fence. Now it is a turf field in playground 10. Like you said there are still many school split into playground the local catholic school epiphany plays at playground 3. I usually go to con ed playground 10 and playground 11. Apparently the traditions have been passed on throughout the decades. This was very interesting for me to read by the way and the parks look completely different. Only a couple parks were untouched.

  13. Great Article except for one thing sad playground 3 used to kick your Butts in Everything! Donny Jackson at Columbia, Chris Moore at Cortland, Nalllies Chapman at Joyn Jay all starred at their respectivev Colleges! The bottle cap game was called “ SCULLY”. Awesome Memories , Happy New Year to all!!

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