Exhibit taking residents back in time

Hours of the exhibition, taking place at Oval Studio, have been extended. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Saturday, StuyTown Property Services turned Oval Studio into a gallery space celebrating the community’s 70th anniversary.

The exhibition features various mementos from the property’s past, mostly on loan from residents. Items run from artwork showcasing the complex’s landscaping to photos of local businesses from days gone by to letters showing interaction between tenants and management. In one stern, type-written letter, a resident is informed that his child’s use of water gun on the grounds is a no-no.

The exhibition mostly steered clear of the property’s past major controversies, though, focusing on nostalgia, with a few exceptions. One could be the first year’s issues of this newspaper, which was displayed in a bound volume. (In the early years, an ongoing story involved Met Life’s policy of barring black residents.) There was also some other Stuy Town-focused reading material included.

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A quarter, plus two cents tax

The owner of Jo-Jo’s, Harry Dugatkin, also known as Heshie, also known as Star, behind the counter at his store

The owner of Jo-Jo’s, Harry Dugatkin, also known as Heshie, also known as Star, behind the counter at his store

By Lee Alan Dugatkin

The door into Jo-Jo Toys swung out toward the street, narrowly missing the adjacent gumball machine. Just feet beyond the door sat a cardboard box with its flaps cut off.  In it were brand new, hard-as-a rock Spaldeen rubber balls.  Hundreds of them, and they seemed somehow to smell the pink they were colored. Written in thick black magic marker, a hastily scribbled “25 cents” on the side of the box drew every prepubescent boy, and the occasional girl, towards them.  Though they all seemed identical to the adult eye, kids could detect subtle differences that required some serious sampling on their part. Picking out the ball of their choice, they would run it through a series of qualifiers and then proceed to give it a final “squeeze test” – the firmer, the better.

The quarter plus two cents tax price tag meant something different to each kid.  For some it was nothing, a small fraction of their allowance for the week.  For others it meant forsaking a Hershey’s bar or maybe a Slushie at the Baricinni Candy shop two doors down, never an easy decision when you are eight.  For still others, often the kids from the Alphabet soup area southeast of Jo-Jo, this was it, their major purchase for the month. A quarter meant everything to them, the tax might even preclude the purchase; and the man behind the counter remembered who they were, in case a teary-eyed kid returned a Spaldeen that had worn out before its time.

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The Soapbox: Baby Boomers come back to Stuy Town online

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.