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.
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 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!