Looking East on Amsterdam Avenue and 100th Street in 1934. From the Municipal Archives.
Editor’s Note: Author Lyla Blake Ward is writing a book about growing up on the Upper West Side in the 1930’s and 40’s, and wants to know if any of our readers would be willing to share their recollections of the time period. In particular, she’s wondering if anyone remembers “The Marble Season” that she describes below.
By Lyla Blake Ward
A tiny scar still visible on my knee reminds me of the time I fell on an unpaved walk in the ragged Riverside Park of the early 1930’s. Robert Moses’ plan for the paths and playgrounds and hidden railroad tracks were not even on the drawing board when I was born on February 12, 1928 at 375 Riverside Drive (110th street).
My recollections of the neighborhood begin in the early 1930’s when my family moved to the Armstead, an apartment building at 104th street between Broadway and West End Avenue, where I entered first grade at P.S. 54, one block East on Amsterdam Avenue. Even as six or seven year olds, we could walk safely to school alone, crossing Broadway and Amsterdam Avenues under the watchful eye of a New York City policeman.
Apart from school, the block around our apartment house was my neighborhood. Without crossing any streets, my friends and I could play hopscotch or jump rope on the sidewalk right outside the door. Daylight saving time marked the beginning of The Marble Season, when girls and boys poured out of their houses clutching bags of marbles, saved or won the previous Spring. Traffic on West End Avenue was so sparse; we were able to shoot marbles from one side to the other aiming for a cigar box or a single marble set up by some young entrepreneur. If we won, we could add a few more prize immies to our collection. If we missed—the “businessman” added to his.
As we were allowed, each year, to cross a few more streets, our horizons expanded. On the way to the movies, the Riverside or the Riviera, on Broadway between 95th and 96th Streets we stopped at Raymond’s Bakery to buy a Charlotte Russe or a freshly baked Linzer tart. Or we lingered at the stationery store, purveyor of comic books and penny candy—licorice sticks, tootsie rolls, sugar dots on long strips of paper. Or we sought out the knitting store, where the patient owner/instructor taught us to wrap our small fingers around fat needles and knit and purl our way to an almost wearable bulky sweater.
When I was going into 6th grade, my family moved to 470 West End Avenue at 83rd street, right next door to P.S. 9, a fact I’m sure was duly noted by my mother. The school included grades K-8, eliminating junior high school. Because it was on West End Avenue, I think the school had an even less diversified population than P.S. 54. I don’t remember there being any black, Asian or Hispanic children in any public school I ever attended. Almost everyone I knew was Jewish—some more so than others. Only the pigeons ate white bread, and on Yom Kippur, the restaurants were empty.
Having moved 20 blocks south, we developed new retail alliances: Florence at 82nd St. became our bakery of choice; we bought tub butter at Daitch on 86th Street, and crossed over to eat at The Tiptoe Inn. My mother still commuted to Citerella for fish, but found a new kosher butcher for fresh killed chickens. Happily, Schrafft’s was now right around the corner from us.
Life was sweet.
Lyla Blake Ward
To contact the author, please email: email@example.com