Friday, November 1, 2013

Growing Up in New York City the Lower East Side Way

The Tompkins Square Boys Club, 10th St and Avenue 
The Library at The Tompkins Square Boys Club

E.H. Harriman, founded the Boy's Club of New York in 1876

Growing up on the Lower East Side of New York City has been chronicled in many novels, studies, newspaper articles and memoirs.  My father, Peter Noznick, never wrote his story, but through many years of story telling, I have managed to put together the story of his childhood, from 1915 to 1930.

Peter Noznick was born in 1915 in Bellevue Hospital, on Second Ave in New York City, which unusual for that time, since most children were born at home.  His parents, Marya Klak and John Nyznyk were living on East 92nd Street, in the Yorkville area.  Their New York roots, however, were on the Lower East Side.  They were married in St George Ukrainian Catholic Church on East 7th Street in 1914,  and that is where their  son Peter was baptized.

Marya and John's marriage was on the rocks, and within two years it ended and she moved back to the Lower East Side neighborhood. Marya was now a single mother, illiterate, and not fluent in the English language.  Yet, she was able to find the best available situation for her son. She found the Children's Aid Society of New York, which had many services for women in Marya's situation.  She sent him to a Children's Aid Society day nursery, so she was able to work.  She worked at a cook at a summer camp, near Lake George, in Upstate New York, and found an area family to take my dad for the summer.  He had fond memories of that summer, especially of the family dog, a large collie.

Tenement Kitchen from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum NYC.

Marya married Peter Zackowski, and the two of them worked three jobs in order to save enough money to buy a farm. In  the passbooks from the Dry Dock Bank and the Emigrant Savings Bank,  most of the deposits were under ten cents.  At first the family lived on Avenue C, across the street from the Eagle Pencil Factory, between Twelfth and Thirteenth Street.  Later they moved around the corner to 624 East Eleventh St, a typical three room Lower East Side Tenement. They lived there until 1930, when they moved to Connecticut.

Children's Aid Society Dental Clinic
My father moved from the Children's Aid Society day nursery to the Sixth Avenue Industrial School, which served boys through the fourth grade.  The children studied school subjects in the morning and received job training in the afternoon.   He attended a public elementary school for fifth and sixth grade, and in seventh grade moved to the James P. O'Neal Junior High School 64 on Ninth Ave between Avenue B and C. He was in the Rapid Advance Program, which was the "gifted program" of that time.  My dad always liked school, and was a good student.

The Children's Aid Society's Sixth Street Industrial School
Peter joined the Tompkins Square Boys' Club, on Tenth Ave and Avenue A,  which became a very important part of his life.  He had a lot of time on his hands and very little supervision at home, since his parents were always at work.  The Boy's Club provided a quite place to study, sports and recreation facilities, and kept him out of trouble.  He learned to swim in the pool where the Olympic swimmer and star of Tarzan movies, Johnny Weismuller trained, and took advantage of the facilities that were endowed by the Harriman family in 1876.  He attended the Boy's Club summer camp, Camp Carey, on Long Island, in Johnsport, New York.  At Camp Carey, he was able to meet both both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, stars of the New York Yankees. The Boy's Club had a boxing ring, a large gym and just about everything a young boy would want to have.  The dues were fifty cents a year.  The staff members were young college educated men, who provided good examples for many boys who basically played in the street.

A Poster from the NY Public Library