By Pat Hartnett Stone
It has been said that you can never go home again. Seven hundred plus baby boomers who grew up in Stuyvesant Town in the late 40s, 50s and 60s have proven that, indeed, you can go home again.
In 2010, Trina Bartimer Bruno, with the help of Susan Margulies Kalish and seven other friends, began a Facebook group (Stuyvesant Town & Peter Cooper Village: 1950s-1960s) and have been sharing stories of growing up in Stuyvesant Town ever since. I joined in September, 2013.
To quote Trina, “I realized that our experience was so unique. We grew up in a sort of village — sort of like suburbia in terms of the families and the schools and playgrounds with familiar faces — but all we had to do what step outside of Stuyvesant Town and there was the whole crazy quilt of Manhattan after the war. “This was a time of abundance in the U.S. and loads of new families starting up. Also, it was one of the only times of the strength of the large middle class. It was a time of Camelot and we were lucky to have lived this experience. I thought it was maybe worth it to mine this experience since none I knew outside of our neighborhood was experiencing this.” If someone wants to join, all they have to do is send a Facebook message to Trina Bartimer Bruno and she will take it from there.
One aspect of this group which attracted me was its diversity of membership. Growing up in Stuyvesant Town, you rarely explored friendships outside the circle or your grammar school of place of worship. I regret restricting myself in this way, but hindsight is 20/20. What is important now is that we have formed a “family,” if you will. We reminisce, laugh and sometimes argue. But isn’t that what families do?
Some of the group members still reside in Stuyvesant Town, some have moved as far as California and a few of us live nearby, which affords us the occasional visit “home.” One thing that struck many of us was how liberal the rules have become. When we were growing up, walking on the grass or riding an unlicensed bicycle warranted having your name taken by security. Your family received a warning if your name was taken several times, thus resulting in an official threat of eviction.
We share a common thread in the pictures of the décor of the times including starburst clocks, rabbit ears on our console TVs and the dreaded plastic slipcovers. Sharing pictures of the fashions of the 40s, 50s and 60s proved to be an interesting topic as well. Reminiscing about the simple games we played gave us all a good laugh. Skully was a popular game, similar to hopscotch. We would melt crayons in bottle caps and use them to play skully which was painted on the ground. There was always a good game of hide and seek taking place in the stairwells and some more adventurous activities, with mostly the boys, were riding the tops of the elevators or hanging on to the back of the area buses while on roller skates.
Recreational activities in the summer were plentiful. Several of the playgrounds turned on the showers so we could cool off. In those days, Stuyvesant Town did not allow air conditioning. Some took advantage of the 23rd Street pool while others took several trains to get to Rockaway Beach for the day. I would also like to add that a few of our members were recreational directors assigned to the various playgrounds.
Sam the ice cream man and Tony the policeman who assisted many of us crossing on Avenue A and 14th Street were just a few of those who were among our favorites. The structural change of the Oval fountains provoked many opinions, I can safely say that while the current fountain is lovely, the former design remains more popular among our group.
Many of us have read Eleven Stories High and it was excellent. However, that was one girl’s perspective. The wealth of information in our dialogues is a real treasure. Seven hundred-plus members represents 700-plus stories. I will end this by saying that, yes, change is good. Yet, in the minds of the baby boomers of Stuyvesant Town, the magic of our experience will never fade, nor will our memories. I only hope that the children who are growing up in Stuyvesant Town today will come to appreciate their “village in the Big Apple.”
Pat Hartnett Stone is a human resources manager at Manhattan College.