November 20, 2008
If you were born and raised in Hoboken, you know what B & R means. If not, here’s what it means: Born and Raised in Hoboken. Jim B., who sent me this picture of Hudson Street in the 1950’s, was B & R, as were Slezak, Dennis (The Rabbi), and probably most of my readers.
I was neither born nor raised here, but I’ve had numerous communications from those who were. They talk of growing up with the smell of coffee from the Maxwell House factory, bread baking at the Wonder factory, Oreos baking and Tootsie Rolls free for the asking. (Little kids would stand beneath the windows of the Tootsie Roll factory and scream for freebies until a soft-hearted worker would toss a handful out the window.)
I’m sure there was the smell of longshoremen down by the waterfront, of steel engines near the train station, the cleaning fluids in all the halls of the tenements every Saturday morning. All in all it was a fragrant place to live. It remains so today, but the smells are emanating from restaurants and kitchens, as the factories are no more. In the hall of my old apartment building, the scents of Indian cooking wafted from the apartment below mine; walking down Washington Street, you can still smell coffee (from Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbuck’s, or Panera Bread) or garlic and tomatoes from any one of a number of Italian restaurants.
There were always great places to eat, like the Blue Point or Biggie's or any one of the pizza parlors all over town. Some are still there but aren't the same, at least not the way they are remembered. The Blue Point was at 10th and Willow Avenue, and Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé would go there after working on the Steve Allen Show. There were lots of theaters, including the fabulous Fabian, at the lower end of Washington Street.
Boys were employed to hang the clotheslines when one broke. I doubt if they were paid for this treacherous work, but their mothers volunteered them. They carried the lines around their neck, a hammer to secure the loose spikes, and they had to climb outside the building to hang the lines, while watched by the housewives of the neighborhood from their fire escapes. Up on Hudson Street, the clotheslines were out back in an alley, also a great place for playing ball. Each pole had about 20 clothes lines coming from several directions on it so climbing up on it was a hazard. There were spikes on the pole to climb up.
Kids played most kinds of ball in the alley between Washington and Hudson Street. On what is called the yellow flats, all the basements were connected which were great places to play. On Hudson Street there was a basketball net on the Gate at 12th street. Stickball and football were at Bethlehem Stadium (the yard side of Hudson Street).
Teenagers hung out at Umland's or Abel's and listened to the music from the juke box. They danced, fell in love, ate ice cream and had the kind of good time we can only remember. Around in some neighborhoods they were able to get beer from time to time, usually to regret it, and, although marijuana was available, it was not particularly sought. Ice cream was the universal choice.
Almost everybody was Catholic, and the many churches and clubs attest to this fact. There were more bars per capita than in any nearby center of population, and some of them you didn't want to go to. But everybody went to one at least once in a while.
Hoboken's been cleaned up a lot, but a newcomer like me can't help but be a little envious of the earthy, gritty upbringing of anyone who brags about being Hoboken--B and R!