Me, Space Time and Architecture
No. 4 April 2023
The changes from Willow Ave. (Posts 1 and 2) were subtle relative to living in an apartment. However, the density and the mixed-use component on 1st street were impactful. Now at 8 or 9 years old apartment living was all I knew. But that was also about to change. The next cerebral environmental impact on the awareness of space would be an overnight stay with my grandparents. They had a single-family house with three bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and their own bathroom with a tub all under one roof.
But for now, let's focus on 1st street. The employment situation had not changed. My mother was working in the garment industry as a sewing machine operator. My father was still looking for any type of employment a person with a sixth-grade education could find. With the Tootsie Roll factory and garment industry focusing on Puerto Rican and Black labor he found work as a clerk in a hardware store. As the economy in the 50s flourished except in Hoboken a move from the Willow Ave tenements did not prove to be a "moving on up" moment for us as it was for the Jeffersons.
|Typical sewing factory in the 50s|
I continued to attend public school. I was not a very good student. That became clear to me on 1st street when I was left back in the fourth grade. I had been identified as a slow learner. Many years later, my assistant told me I was dyslexic. It wasn't until then that I began to put the educational system in perspective.
The seats in the back of the classroom were filled with slow learners. Basically, they were all from low-income families with parents that had very little education themselves. That has changed dramatically today. There are many programs to identify early learning challenges and programs to assist students on all levels. I think perhaps the pendulum has swung too far. Certainly, these programs are important but not to the detriment of those who have been blessed with the ability to learn quickly. We need gifted individuals to be challenged not to have the learning experience be brought down to a mediocre level. The educational system in the 50s created many challenges but the streets the architecture society and economics were as impactful as the school system.
|Public Schools in Hoboken |
In the 50s many low-income families found a way to supplement their household income. Women found themselves working during World War II and even though the social norm was for women to be a homemaker in the 50s many stayed in the workforce after the war. In the 50s women were expected to identify primarily as wives and mothers. However, 29% of women 16 and over became part of the US workforce. That number increased to 36% in the 60s. One of the impacts on space, time, and architecture would be latch-key children.
With both parents working many children after school made their way home, with an apartment key safely pinned in their pocket, to an empty apartment. The options were to stay in the apartment or head to the streets, meet friends, and play until the street lights came on. This meant finding kids in the same social-economical situation as you and finding common interests that keep you busy until dinner time.
On 1st street that meant stickball, building, and riding scooters, or going around the corner to the slaughterhouse and riding the hooks that swung the animal carcasses in the slaughterhouse from the loading docks.
Stickball required a cut-off broom handle a rubber ball typically a spaldeen, pensy pinky. The pitcher's mound was a street cover and bases were either car doors or telephone pools. The only foul play came as cars drove through the playing field and we had to wait for the car to clear the field to resume play. The rules were the same as baseball but the innings stopped when the street lights came on. Parents' only instruction before going off to work is, "be home when the street lights come on."
|The 50s stickball game |
|Celebrating a home run|
Scooters are the for-runners of skateboards. Construction materials came from the streets and an old birthday gift, roller skates. One needed a 3-foot piece of 2x4, a vegetable box from the store on the corner, and an old pair of roller skates. The rest was up to the imagination of the builder. On 1st street, scooters were used to roll down the sidewalks and streets. The vegetable and fruit vendors were always on the lookout for the scooters rolling by grabbing Chinese apples (pomegranates,) bananas, or whatever could be reached from the scooter and thrown in the scooter box allowing a fast escape.
|Typical scooter squid in the 50s|
|Butting the last touches on a scooter|
|Sidewalk street vendors |
|Vendor on the lookout for scooters|
Slaughterhouse ride. On 1st street, only a block away was a slaughterhouse where full carcasses of beef were brought in processed and packaged for local grocery markets. On the loading dock was a circulating rack that extended out passed the dock. This allowed the trucks to back up to the racks and unload. It also allowed kids to use the racks as a ride when the plant was closed. One would hang from the rack as someone pushed you out past the dock like you were a side of beef. So we would roll up on scooters and kill some time on the slaughterhouse ride.
|The slaughterhouse ride|
One social event in the 50s was spending time with friends and going to the movies. Usually, someone would have enough for a ticket or if we pooled our funds there would be enough for one ticket. Whoever bought the ticket was charged with getting a seat and when the lights were turned down they would go to the exit and open the door for those of us waiting outside to snick in for a Saturday matinee. The screen brought magical places and amazing adventures, with very few special effects, to life. We watched the Rocket Man fly through the air with rocket packs on his back. Flash Gordon always beat the Emperor of Mongo, Ming, by the end of the show.
|It all started here at the Fabian theater |
|Flash Gordon and Ming|
|Commando Cody Rocket Man|
|Costumes were primitive|
|Costumes and sets were basic |
This was life on 1st street in Hoboken, NJ. The 50s was the beginning of the drug abuse generation that fueled the 60s. It was also a time when the suburbs became the place to live. Cars became available to almost all socio-economic groups. Parents wanted to flee the cities to give their children a better life. I learned about the suburbs when visiting my grandparents. They had moved out of Hoboken to Bergenfield a suburb in New Jersey. In Bergenfield, the concept of home changed from an apartment to a single-family house.
My next post will deal with the space and architectural change from apartment living to a single-family home and leaving the city.
This blog is written by a dyslexic writer with no editor. I think the inaccuracies are part of the story.