Saturday, September 29, 2018

Stickball in Queens

I started this at a Facebook post and am expanding


My wife put in a DVD of the movie "Field of Dreams" which includes director's comments, etc. from which I learned the film's pull for fathers-and-sons relationships. So, here goes my father-son baseball story.
My swing was not that good at a certain period. While I did play some Little League (my best was a triple), most of our game was actually stickball with a Spaulding on 204th Street in Queens.  Our building at Holliswood's Hilltop Village Co-ops was the Hampshire, the one on the left of 204th:


Our apartment overlooked the street (outlined in blue; l-r: living room, kitchen, bathroom, my and my sister's room, parents' room)


Hitting and running was done with an eye on the traffic that incessantly kept turning of Francis Lewis Boulevard. We played in front of my building in the Holliswood Co-op and I'm posting one snap of where home base was (a manhole), 


another stree scene with, again, our 2nd floor apartment (outlined in blue) overlooking the "field", 


and you can see Francis Lewis in the background and there's another, showing the length of the street (and a black arrow pointing to "second base") where my longest shot fell, marked by a white arrow. 


before it really curved to the left and continued all the way down (and where we ice-sledded)



It was at the entrance of the "B" side of the next building and luckily did not strike any of the women at the Laundry Room. 

My father was a "three manhole" hitter in the South Bronx and actually once took me to where he played on one of my trips back from Israel (his older brother was in charge of a miniature golf set-up there). I can't remember where that was now but when we were there, the landscape sort of reminded me of Berlin after the war as there were a lot of boarded-up places and empty lots. I myself lived on Faile Street until 1954 when we moved to Queens.
To get to the point, we were spending most of the summer at my Aunt & Uncle's summer place which was my uncle's father's house on Beach 65th Street in Arverne at the Rockaways maybe 200 meters from the beach. I asked him to help me and coach my swing to improve it. We both walked out towards the beach where there was quite a large parking lot (the area drew thousands on weekends). It was mostly empty and my father positioned me with the broom handle (the "stick") and walked back, turned and said, "so, let's see what's wrong."
He pitched and I connected. The ball flew high out of the parking lot and across the street. Now, you may think I was ecstatically excited at my success but I wasn't. I was extremely shamed that I had brought my father out in the heat with, he perhaps thought, was a false story. Not to mention I now had to run out and hopefully find it.
To his credit, my father sort of smiled and asked, "are you sure you need the practice?'

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After posting this, I did some research and the results:

a contemporary map location


one from 1898 way before serious housing development:



and a 1923 map which displays what we called "the back", the private home located between Francis Lewis and 188th Street where we road our bikes and didn't become a real Jewish neighborhood until the 1980s:


My primary school was P.S. 135, now the Belaire School.

Junior High was J.H.S. 109



In 1960, after having skipped 8th grade, I entered Yeshivat Chofetz Chaim (Yeshiva Preparatory High School) then on Kessel Street, Forest Hills to where it moved in 1955


and from where I graduated in 1964, after participating in the beginnings of the Rabbis' Sons as I was in the class with Dovid Nulman with Burry Chait a year above together with Barry Septimus and others.

On my old neighborhood and environs:

The Grand Central Parkway on top and the Hillside Avenue below mark the length of Holliswood, which lies between the Francis Lewis Boulevard on its right and 188th Street as the Western limit. The area started out as farmland, and is just north of the site of a famous Revolutionary War incident in which an American general Nathaniel Woodhull was wounded and imprisoned in an Inn by the British for refusing to say “God Save the King.”  

(In October 1775 Woodhull was made brigadier general of the Suffolk and Queen's County militia. In August 1776, on the eve of the Battle of Long Island, Woodhull's militia was detailed to drive livestock east to prevent its falling into British hands. Woodhull's troops had driven 1,400 cattle out onto the Hempstead Plains and with 300 more ready to go. A severe thunderstorm drove the general to take refuge in a tavern run by Increase Carpenter, about two miles east of Jamaica in what is now Hollis. Relief was not forthcoming, and his situation deteriorated.

Woodhull was captured near Jamaica, at an inn at 197th Street and Jamaica Avenue, by a detachment of Fraser's Highlanders led by captain Sir James Baird. He was struck with a sword multiple times, injuring his arm and head by a British officer purportedly for not saying, "God save the King", as ordered, saying instead "God save us all". He was taken to a cattle transport, serving as a prison ship in Gravesend Bay.)

In 1884 Frederick W. Dunton, the nephew of the first president of the Long Island Railroad, was traveling East and he admired from his railroad car window the green and rolling hills of what is now Hollis and Holliswood. He purchased 136 acres of farmland and divided it into lots for sale. He laid out the curving streets of Holliswood and gave them Latin or Spanish names, such as Rio, Como, Marengo, etc.  Epsom Course, oval shaped, was built by Mr. Dunton as a trotting race course. Many famous trotters were seen on its turf. The nearby development of Hollis Park Gardens, built in 1906, stretched between 192nd and 195th streets between Jamaica and Hillside avenues.

For himself he reserved a big lot at the southern edge of Holliswood on Dunton Avenue and built a big and beautiful mansion called Hollis Hall with views all the way to the ocean.

The area developed slowly into a comfortable middle-class neighborhood. Because of its location, Hollis attracted a large number of people who commuted to Manhattan to work.  Carpenter’s Tavern, the place where General Woodhull was captured, was replaced by housing in 1921. The neighborhood continued to grow as stately Victorian houses were built along Woodhull Avenue between 188th and 198th streets. Starting in 1922, many new streets were laid out between Hillside and Jamaica Avenues and tract houses were built by the hundreds. Hollis had become a fully built up community by World War II. It even experienced a bit of scandal now and then, as when Hollis Hall, Dunton’s old home in Holliswood, allegedly became a speakeasy during Prohibition. (An apartment complex stands in that spot today.) Hollis grew slowly and steadily, from 4,000 people in the 1920s to 31,000 people today. Some of the first homes ever built by mega-developer Fred Trump, the father of Donald, were in this neighborhood and still stand today. 

After Mr. Dunton’s death, Hollis Hall was sold and became a restaurant named Brown’s Chop House. It was reported to have been a speakeasy during prohibition.


When prohibition ended, Brown’s Chop House was torn down. The hill on which it stood was leveled, and our garden apartment complex, the modern day Holliswood Garden Apartments, were erected in 1949.  

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