Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This is my first post.

Hello All,
I am new at this and so please be patient with me. I suspect those who I want to reach are also fairly new to blogging.
Who are the people I want to reach? Any body from my old neighborhood, Vinegar Hill. Where is Vinegar Hill. Well if you Googled it, it would show up as what is now known as Dumbo, down under the Manhattan bridge. That is not my Vinegar Hill. Nor is the Vinegar Hill in County Wexford, Ireland. My Vinegar Hill is at the top of Amsterdam Ave. and 136Th Street in Manhattan. It comes for the name of what was once a very popular Irish bar of that name. What put Vinegar Hill on the map was the terrific basketball teams of the early 40's. They were invincible teams and created a great reputation for our neighborhood. The Hill also fielded some great football teams and soft ball teams.
My generation started in the middle forties when we started going to Annunciation Grammar School on 131st Street, between Amsterdam Ave. and Convent Ave. I guess I should say my male generation went to that school because the girls of my age went to what I want to call Annunciation Girls School. We were segregated from the girls and the only time we did anything together was First Communion, Confirmation and Graduation. We also went to Mass every Sunday as a group. The girls were on one side of the church and the boys were on the other. Boys on the right and girls on the left.
The story that I remember about how the girls came to be separated from the boys was that the Madams of the Sacred Heart, the order that taught in the Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, wanted to do something charitable. Their solution was to build a school for the young girls of the neighborhood.
Before I go any further, let me explain a few things about this blog. What I write is from my memory. All that I have written so far is , as I recall it. What I would like is that if I write something that is not accurate, please correct me.
I grew up on 135Th Street. Our building was 500, on the south west corner of Amsterdam and 135Th Street. My dad had the camera store which was diagonally across from us. The address of the store was 1519 Amsterdam Ave. and as I recall his phone number was Edgecomb 6-7373. We didn't have a phone in the house until about 1950 so every time Mom wanted to call some one, she had to go to the store. If the store was closed, no phone. In our building, 500, we had a candy store. During my era it was owned by Tom Tighe and Mary Devlin but for years we called it Tony's Candy Store since it was originally owned by Tony DeGracia. He had a son named Boppo and also a daughter but I don't recall her name. Anyway, when we were little, almost no one had a home phone and so if you wanted someone to call you, you gave them the number of the candy store. We always hung out at the candy store and when the phone rang there was always a mad dash to answer the phone. You knew that you had to go fetch the person who was being called and there was always a tip involved. I remember that there was a girl in our building, Mae Wenz, who was always getting phone calls. I must have cost her a fortune. She was a great dancer and one year she and her partner, probably the guy who was calling her up, won the Daily News Harvest Moon Ball dance contest for the Tango or the Rumba. She was beautiful.
On the 135Th Street side of the building we also had a Chinese laundry, a shoe repair guy and one store that was always changing owners. The only two that I remember were a guy that set up some kind of ham processing shop. He sold hams but he cooked them some way that created a terrible odor. The landlord was forced to throw him out, the smell was so bad. The only other tenant was a beauty salon.
On the Amsterdam Ave. side of the building there origninally was a dry cleaner and when he went out of business Mr. Miller moved his liquor store from 1512 to the corner. Next door to him was Mr. Coynes grocery store. He was the nicest man. When you bought your groceries he would always write down the price of what you bought and then add them up. I was determined to catch him in a mistake but it never happened. When Mr. Coyne passed away they laid him out in his apartment which was just below ours. We were on the third floor and he was laid out in the corner of the living room. After that I would never sit in that corner of our living room because Mr. Coyne was right below me. I think I was six or seven at the time.
Mr. O'Rourke took over the grocery store after Mr. Coyne passed away. I think he came from Peter Reeves and he wanted to go out on his own. All of this before Safeway moved in on us and changed the neighborhood. Next to O'Rourke's was Jimmy the Barber. But Ma, I don't like Jimmy the Barber, I wanted to go to Anton's up the block. I went to Jimmy because I think he was cheaper. 500 was a great building and the people who lived there were the best.


  1. Dad! This is great! Keep the stories coming! So many things I've never heard before! I'm going to scan some neighborhood pictures at work and I'll send them to you tomorrow.

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  3. Hello! I am not from Vinegar Hill but I do research genealogy and my parents grew up pretty much the same era, but in Brooklyn. This is a fantastic blog - I've read a few entries - and really explains things about living in NY at the time that the historians will never get any other way! I wish more people would do this!!!


  4. My grandfather owned Vinegar Hill bar!

    1. Artie Guy was my godfather. His wife Mickey was my mom's sister.

  5. I have some questions:
    What was the local accent like in the 1970s? Were there any European immigrants as well as an Irish population? How patriotic was the area to Ireland?
    I am researching this period and area for a part in a play and am trying to work out how Irish-sounding I should make my character - who is a lawyer, who grew up in Vinegar Hill to an Irish Father and Romanian gypsy mother...complicated family history...plus, I am British and haven't to this area of NYC!
    Thanks for your help - really interesting blog.

  6. I was chatting with my Nana who mentioned Vinegar Hill in a conversation earlier this morning. I googled this old Irish bar and came across this post. I started to read it and she would comment on the places you mentioned (especially Tony's Candy Bar) and had even more to say about that! Apparently, there was a woman who would throw water on the guys standing outside from time to time.

    She graduated from the Annunciation Grammar School in 1952 and lived just by you! It was great hearing her rehash a bunch of fun memories that I would have never known if I didn't read this post out loud to her.

    Thank you for making both of our afternoons!

  7. Sounds pretty much like a typical NY neighborhood from that era. I certainly can relate. Even being brought up in the Bronx.

  8. Thank you for this blog. My Dad was adopted and I think I may have traced his Mom's family to Vinegar Hill in the 1930's. It is lovely to have some idea of what their life may have been like.

  9. My Mom grew up in this area. They lived at 516 w. 134th street. She attended Annunciation school. Her last name was Newell and she had 2 brothers and 3 sisters. I remember going there as a little kid because my Grandma still lived there.