‘THE MARBLE SEASON’ AND OTHER UPPER WEST SIDE MEMORIES FROM THE 1930’S

archives12
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).

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 10.59.24 PMMy 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: lylaward@sbcglobal.net

COLUMNS, HISTORY | 26 comments | permalink
    1. Howard Freeman says:

      What wonderful memories. We live now on 84th off Riverside, and the old PS9 is now PS811M, the Mickey Mantle School, and is also where I vote.

      The new PS9 is on 84th and Columbus, where all three of our sons attended. I never knew Citarella was so old, and apparently the times have been good to them, with prices inflating accordingly.

      I wish we had tub butter and more bakeries around. For that matter, I lament the loss of store owners who actually worked at the store, showing the young visitors how to do something or how to make a smart purchase.

    2. webot says:

      HI Lyla – great memories , thank you for sharing.

      Can you tell us about Ellman’s Tea Room on Broadway near New Yorker Theater.

      My cousins owned it back in the day and would love to hear your stories or others.

      Thank you

    3. LEE APT says:

      I GREW UP ON WEST 79TH ST, BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND WEST END AVE, FROM 1943 TO 1957.

      I WENT TO PS 9 AND TO THE HIGHT SHOLL OF MUSIC AND ART.

      I PLAYED HANDBALL ON THE STREETS AGAINST ANY BUILDING WITH A WALL, ROLLER-SKATED ON BALL BEARING SKATES TO RIVERSIDE PARK, AND TOOK THE M5 BUS THROUGH MOST OF MY CHILDHOOD.

      I WENT TO THE MOVIES AT THE RKO 81ST ST. AND THE LOEW’S 83RD, AND SOMETIMES THE BEACON THEATRE OR THE 77TH ST. MOVIE THEATRE.

      WE SHOPPED AT ZABAR’S – THE LOCAL DELI, CITARELLA FOR FISH, AND RICE’S GROCERY STORE. THE BAKERY OF CHOICE WAS BABKA!

      I HAVE LIVED FOR THE LAST 39 YEARS AT 900 WEST END AVE – THE BUILDING NEXT TO THE ARMSTEAD.

      I HAVE MANY MEMORIES OF GROWING UP ON THE UPPER WEST SIDE 🙂

      • Lee, How are you! Imagine finding you here.

        I was searching for the name of the Jewish bakery on the corner of 86th and Amsterdam, when my grandparents lived above Barney Greengrass. If only I had taken that nine room apartment when it was offered to me. What did I know?
        Alice

        • DawdlinMama says:

          Are you thinking of Lichtman’s? (Which Gayle Brewer incorrectly referred to as Grossinger’s in Anya Schiffrin’s interesting recent WSRag article.) When I was a kid in the 1960s we bought our rye bread at Lichtman’s, and I could always count on a cookie from the nice lady behind the counter.

    4. Anthony Campbell says:

      Wow! It sounds like this will be a very interesting, enjoyable first hand account …especially for us UWSer’s.

    5. Terry says:

      Thank you Lyla and other commenters for sharing these recollections, especially siting all the movie theaters, restaurants and stores. I had a revelation the other day after reading about the Steinbergs’ sign in WSRag–that the building that Fairway is in was once a Schraffts also, and that the building where Essentials is on 81st and Bway , was once a Bartons! It would be cool to reconstruct the UWS of yore, block by block to show what was in the current buildings or locations–or is there one comprehensive website for this?

    6. dcortex says:

      Wouldn’t it be cool to have a google street view for each historical year! Pieced together from photos and so you could walk though a 2d view of the past. Sort of like a Tip-Toe into the past (the TipToe Inn at 86-87th and broadway was just like a Schraftts without the fancy dessert)

      • M from the UWS says:

        There is a man/vendor at the sunday flea market at Columbus and 77th who sells very old maps of the various NYC neighborhoods. they are quite interesting!

    7. john pressman says:

      Love this! I lived at 219 W 81st from 1962 to 1967, went to P.S. 9, J.H.S. 44 and the High School of Art and Design. My Boy Scout Troop, 583, used to meet in the indoor yard of P.S.9 on Friday evenings.

      My Grandmother used to hang out at Steinberg’s which was downstairs from our apt building. There was a bar “Serooties?” Irving’s Candy Store and a Pizza parlor next to Steinberg’s. Anybody remember Levy Bros’ Stationers and the Golden Pan Restaurant?

    8. Bob, PS 9, "55 says:

      Not much changed on the diversity front from your time to mine except the start of the mass migration from Puerto Rico north brought some Hispanic students to “9” albeit interaction was not on any agenda. Retail survivors from that era are rare: Zabar’s, of course, Fred Marcus, the photography studio on 72nd Street (now operated by his grandson); and Town Shop (also operated by off-sping.
      If asked to mention the major demographic difference today from yesteryear, that is easy. It is the presence of something on the UWS never believed possible: Republicans, That said, it would take a plague for them to win any election.
      One last thought: PS 199 is the new 9.

    9. Helene says:

      My husband lived at 915 West End Avenue and went to the public school on 105th and Amsterdam around the late 1930’s.I thought it was PS 105 then. Later it became PS 145. He then went to Robert E. Simon JHS 165.

      I went to PS 93 on Amsterdam Avenue and 93rd Street. It was also known as Joan of Arc Elementary School. Later on to Joan of Arc Junior High School better known as JHS 118.

      The Trianon Restaurant was on 94th St and Broadway and was owned by my grandfather. He later had a restaurant at 74th and Broadway called the Traymore. In between the
      Traymore and the C&L Restaurant there was a small grocery store/fruit stand that went on to become Fairway. Schraffts was on the west side of Broadway and 82nd Street. It later became a Red Apple Supermarket and then Barnes and Noble.

      • Jeffrey Cymbler says:

        Was your grandfather Samuel Rosenberg? If so, we are cousins and I would love to contact you.

    10. I lived at 105th and Broadway from 1935 to 1940, attended P.S. 54, then went on to Joan of Arc Jr. H.S. on 93rd, being in the first graduating class, with Fiorello LaGuardia present at both the building’s ground-breaking and our graduation ceremonies. A $1-a-month bus pass gave us unlimited rides back and forth to school, and we even used it to get to the public library, no further than 100th St.
      Sure, we played marbles, storing our winnings in cigar boxes cajoled from the cigar store proprietors. Jump rope was a favorite occupation for girls, and roller skating was easy and safe on the side streets with a minimum of traffic. On the sidewalk we chalked out boxes for “potsy,” which is the uniquely Manhattan name for hopscotch. Of course, boys and girls all played ball games, of one kind or another.
      We moved to 771 West End Ave. at 97th St. about 1940, and there sure were a lot of movie houses up and down Broadway, in addition to the Thalia on 95th St., known for playing vintage films.
      I could go on and on down memory lane, but I think it’s a sign of old age. You sure can’t go home again, but reminiscing with kindred souls can be fun!

      • lyla ward says:

        If looking back is a sign of age, I’m all for it, because I am really enjoying sharing memories with all those who grew up with me on the West Side..

        Thanks for your comments and if you think of anything else,please pass it along.

    11. Hal says:

      Does anyone remember that there was a deli on just about every block? My favorite was the Hole in the Wall between 90th and 91st Streets on the west side of Broadway, run by Sid and Nat.

      And as long as we are talking about eateries, what about Stark’s on the corner of 90th and Broadway? In the late 40s, I would go there once a week from Joan of Arc for lunch. A dollar bought me a hamburger, fries, and a coke, with a dime left over for a tip.

    12. Joyce Hunt says:

      I am beyond thrilled and excited about your colunmn and proposed book. Don’t know whereto even begin Iam a year older , must have been at PS9 at the same time – must have rolled back the doors for Friday Assembly at the same time, had the same teachers, maybe the same friends . AND my first granddaughter’s name is LYLA. I have a notebook full of memories.
      Met my husband at the 89St. monument when I was 15. We are approaching our 64th Anniversary. Obviously I could go on and on. We still live in the UPWS so do my two sons and their families. One of them just sent me this newsletter. Am cautious about sending my phone number but will do so if you email me. WE MUST TALK!!! One of my best friends was Benita Novick w;ho lived in 470.

      Joyce

    13. Fred Rosenberg says:

      Nice to hear that you are writing about old times. I attended PS 54 starting in 1940 and yes, my mother would buy fish nowhere else than Citarella. Stickball on 104th Street, marble season, punch ball at the Riverside Drive playground, all are fond memories.
      My first job was at the Armstead drugstore, delivering prescriptions. Did you know Mortimer Lazarus, who lived in the same house as you? Remember the florist at the corner of 103rd Street and Broadway? I went to school with his daughter, who was the only one that could beat me at the spelling tests. And our Daitch Dairy was at the corner of 106th St and Broadway. So much to remember!

      • manhattan mark says:

        Fred, I just went back to Lyla Wards earlier request for contributions to her Marble Season story and found your comments about 104th & WEA . I just want to send regards
        from Jack, Ivan, Mike, Mark (me) and posthumously, the late
        Gerard. We all shared the same memories of the neighborhood.

    14. Joanne says:

      Dear Lyla,
      I have a painting by my grandfather showing
      boys in knickers playing marbles at 106th St
      and West End Ave near the house I grew up in at105th and West End circa late 1930s or early 1940s. I would be happy to send you a photograph of the painting.

      Best Regards,
      Joanne

      • lyla ward says:

        I would love to see it!

      • manhattan mark says:

        Joanne, I grew up at 915 WEA in the late 30’s and early 40’s.
        is that the building you lived in? I’m Mark and I had an older brother, Elliott. Does anything sound familiar? If so, please respond. Thanks.

    15. elaine wallach sclar says:

      My family moved to 41 W 96 St. in 1929. Central Park was my playground. Joan of Arc aka PS 93 was my k-9 school after which I went to Julia Richman High then Hunter College and finally Columbia for a Library Degree. Columbia dismantled the school ….Librarians don’t become wealthy alumni.
      I thought B’way with all its theatre marquees was fabulous too.
      I’m in the process of writing my memoirs for the family which is how I came across your entry. All kinds of things pop up when one is searching, in my case it was the grammar school and some ancillary thing led me here.

    16. Irene Blum Packer-Halsey says:

      Hi stumbled on your page hoq wonderful! Lived in Pomander Walk from birth-age 5 then we moved to 670 West End Avenue…we loved Cords and Bickford…I went to P.S. 93…then to Calhoun in the old building on W 92nd Street….I remember Sunday walks on Broadway with my father to get free perfume from the perfume fountain around 80 something street as we headed toward the Blue Whale at the Museum for our weekly father-daughter chats…Riverside Park was where I met my Puerto Rican friends watching them play softball and learning how to salsa dance…lifelong friendships which influenced my social justice path in life…and led to intense family scrutiny which as a Jewish girl I abhorred…Temple Israel Sunday School and Rabbi Weinburg…Berman Brothers for Nancy Drew books…Zabars…Riviera and Riverside double features,swimming in the Paris Hotel….sitting on the big glacial rock at Riverside Drive and 91st Street at sunset wondering where the planes above went and imagining and praying for my journey…it has been more than I ever dreamed but rooted in my Upper West Side childhood….does anyone remember the seafood restaurant Captain something at Broadway around 100th street? My parent’s favorite but can’t remember the name…my family was included in a book called The Airtight Cage by Joseph Lyford and although our name in the book is Baum you can see me rebelling and trying very akwardly to articulate my feelings about inequity… I love you all!!!!!