Wednesday, June 4, 2008

When Hoboken Rocked

June 4, 2008

Slezak at the Wheel, 1950's

I seem to have stirred up a hornet's nest among those across the country who remember the Hoboken of their youth. Emails from California, Florida, and all over have followed my back-and-forth with Slezak, who has chimed in with some hilarious Hobokeniana of his own. Just mention Frank Sinatra or On the Waterfront, and you'll get a lot of stories about the good old days in Hoboken.

Today I'll share some excerpts with with you.

From Dennis (“Rabbi”) Maloney:

“These are not fiction stories. This is the way I remember Hoboken.

“The city Seal says most of it.” Here I went searching for a full shot of the city seal. All I could find is one partially hidden behind Mayor Dave Roberts’ head on the official Hoboken website. Seems it shows a view of the river with lots of factories in the foreground. As Dennis says,

“Factories and more factories, the docks and who can ever forget the multitude of bars or what is call taverns today.” (Hmmm…I call them bars.)

“The smell of Maxwell House Coffee, I think all of us older Hobokenites remember that and who can forget the big trucks coming from Maxwell House with the hot residue in them, carrying the smell even stronger into apartments.

“I was born on Clinton Street, right across from the old #5 School, which turned into a factory later on in my life. Around the corner on Second Street was a chicken store. I still have my baby picture of me in front of that apartment house. I think I was about two or three at the time. Later on in life, much later, my wife and I stopped there while on vacation, to take another picture. There were some people sitting on the stoop – don't call that a stoop out here in California – and they scattered when she took out the camera to take the picture. Guess they thought we some kind of government people.

“Hoboken was a city of buses and working people during the forties and fifties. The Public Service ran buses every ten minutes till about 10:PM. The Public Service buses served Hoboken very well. In the winter they would salt down the streets if any snow fell. This was along the routes that the buses took.

“We used to play in the Public Service Garage during the summer because they had these handy water hoses that we could squirt each other with. If it got to hot we used to sneak on the Ferry to go to New York and it was like air conditioning on the ferry to Barkley Street in the city.

“On Saturday mornings you could smell the different cleaning stuff that the janitors used to clean the hallways and stoops in Hoboken. I think C.N. was the biggest cleaner then. I wonder if it is still around? People took pride in the cleaning of the hallways and stoops.

“Saturday was also a day for the peddlers to come around either selling fruit or fish, sharpening knives, or selling something else. I would be remiss if I left out Mr. Sobel who sold everything. Curtains, sheets, you name it, he sold it, and on credit!!!

“Sunday was a day for the Catholics at O.L.G. There would always be a cop outside the Church with white gloves to direct traffic. YOU DID NOT HONK YOUR HORN IN THAT AREA DUE TO IT BEING A HOSPITAL AREA. You don't see those signs around anymore. Some cops would even give you a ticket if you did honk your horn. I could never figure that out because the church bells would be ringing from the church on 6th and Willow and all the Catholic churches nearby. I wonder if they ever got any tickets!! I think we know better then that, don't we.”

From Connie Vecchione, now living in Florida:

“I grew up in Hoboken, on 5th & Monroe St. Went to St. Francis Grammar School on 3rd St. and then to Demarest HS - graduated in June of 1952.

“Frank Sinatra was raised on 4th & Monroe St. and then his family moved to Garden St., then to Fort Lee and finally to California. Our parents were very good friends. I met them many years later at an anniversary party and Dolly was so surprised to hear who my parents were. My grandparents, then my aunt, and finally my brother owned Scarpulla's Bakery on 5th St. between Monroe & Madison. Everyone from 'downtown' knows that name and the Sicilian bread they made.

“When On the Waterfront was being filmed in 4th St. Park, I would stop by on my lunch hour to watch what was going on. My father was one of the extras in the movie (he worked on the docks and then was in the courtroom scene).

“When I was a senior in high school, I joined the CYO at St. Francis Church and made many friends - some of us still keep in touch - even after 50+ years have passed. We used to have the Saturday nite dances, one-act play competitions and annual musical shows. A lot of memories!!!”

There will be more stories like these the longer this blog stays up. I love 'em, and it looks as if there are lots more to come.


Anonymous said...

In Hoboken we had BARS, TAVERNS and BAR AND GRILLS to choose from ...sounds confusing...but in them days women could not drink at the bars. It was against the law. They could drink but only at a table (and in Jersey City too). They had swinging doors like you see in the old cowboy movies -- NO AC either, and SPITOONS for the men who chewed tobacco. They were great places to make a buck as kids, shining shoes.

Anonymous said...

You are definitely an "uptown" guy, Bob. In my neighborhood "downtown", they were ALL saloons!

A note to new Hobokenites. Uptown was and is Washington St. to Clinton St. 1st. to 14th.

Downtown is Grand to Harrison 1st. to 14th. For some reason, newbies have changed uptown to 7th to 14th and downtown from the Path to 6th.

B & R (born & raised) will never get used to the new geography.

Mary Lois said...

Damn, I thought "uptown" and "downtown" had to do with the map -- high numbers, low numbers, etc.

With "anonymous" explaining, I'm getting confused. The longer I stay here, the better chance I have of understanding the system.

Maybe. Or maybe I can just accept that I'm a newbie.

Anonymous said...

The mystery writer is right on the money. UP TOWN, AND THERE WAS DOWN TOWN, it has nothing to do with numbers...from Clinton Street to Washington Street was uptown. We called it the upper crust. NOW HUDSON STREET and Castle Point Terrace was the Beverly Hills of Hoboken. Feel honored that you live there. It meant you had money...and lions on your stoop to protect you.

Mary Lois said...

I'm beginning to get it. "Up" and "Down" were really west and east. And the rich people lived on Hudson. Now the yuppies, all richer than I, live all over town, and I live in a walkup on Hudson. I'll get this in time, with a map and a little determination.

Primitive Sound System said...

Downtown Hoboken has always been toward the Palisades. The current crop of Newbies really seem clueless to what Hoboken was like nor do they seem to care. Unfortunately they need to research a little more because the ones that are horrified that their condos are flooding along the Palisades should have known that, that used to be swamps. Goats roamed free back there not suits running to catch the Light Rail. The Newbies also seem to complain about the Light Rail. I won't call them Yuppies. That generation has moved on. Also, the original Yuppies seemed to actually enjoy and take part in the culture of Hoboken regardless of the fact that we all laughed at the ridiculous rents they were paying. Great Blog.

Mike said...

As a Hoboken Newbie I'm very interested in the History of the city. I have a question that maybe someone here can answer. Did the large self storage place on 8th and Adams used to be a school? It sure looks like it did.

Primitive Sound System said...

One person and one person alone is the best source for your question Michal and that is Bob Foster of the Hoboken Historical Museum. Bob has an incredible collection of photos and stories. he is usually at the museum after 12 / 1PM. Here is a link to his site -

Anonymous said...

Well, I was born in Hoboken in 1967 and had a lot of Italian friends around tenth street in the 70s. "Frutta Vendole" was the phrase that sticks out in my mind, which is the fruit truck passing by every day.
I love walking around my old neighborhood once in a while...Bob Mazzo

Anonymous said...

When hoboken rocked in the 50s can't leave out the music of the times. The romantic music played a big part in our young lives, whether it be meeting that special person, dancing to that special song at the St. Michael's dance, sipping a Coke at JACK-O- DINES by Demarest H.S., or a hug and a kiss at ABLES. That chance glance that sparked a romance, sometimes breaking your heart...or if you got lucky, having it last a lifetime. Values were different back then...the songs played had warmth and meaning. It made you feel good. TAKING a date to see an ALLEN FREED rock and roll show at the Fabian, 1956, an event I'll never forget. The birth of rock and roll music. Even to this day those old tunes bring back A TIME AND PLACE IN YOUR LIFE worth remembering. Good memories of Hoboken, THE HAPPY DAYS. See ya later alligator.

Anonymous said...

thanks for that website It looks like a great resource !
Bobby Mazzo