Saturday, July 30, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy: Grandparents' Apartment in the Bronx

Farkas sisters & Hermina's grandson
After years of living in apartments in what is now termed the "South Bronx" but was not then dangerous, just crowded, my maternal grandparents (Hermina Farkas Schwartz and Theodore Schwartz) moved to a more spacious two-bedroom, one bathroom apartment at 600 East 178 Street, just off East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx, NY. Hermina is at left in this photo with three of her sisters and her grandson. Sadly, Hermina died in 1964 and Teddy died in 1965.

When I first became genealogy-crazy (more than a decade ago), I wrote this description of the apartment before the memories faded even more, getting input from my sisters:
The living room furniture was dark, forest green, pale grey, and beige colors. The sofa was horsehair. There was one standing lamp next to the Morris chair that matched the sofa, and at the other end of the room, a "china" cabinet with fine cut crystal pieces that were dispersed among family and friends after Minnie [Grandma] died and the household was broken up because Teddy [Grandpa] was coming to live with Daisy [Mom]. My younger sister remembered an ashtray with a cover that slid closed over it, which Uncle Julius [Farkas] would use for his cigars. The living room also had a 3-foot diameter mirror with etched leaf design along the top edge, and below it was a folding-leaf table that opened to card-table size with curved legs.
My twin sister remembered that in the winter, every radiator in the apartment had a pot of water on it to increase the humidity. The master bedroom had snake plants on the window sill and there was a faint smell of mothballs. The second bedroom had twin beds with a night table between them. In the night table drawer were a few toys Minnie kept for we grandkids.
The kitchen had a white enamel old-fashioned stove, with a wooden match holder nearby and a root "cooler" embedded under the kitchen window. There was a double sink and an ice box, later a fridge. The family usually ate in the kitchen but for company, Minnie opened up the large table from the living room (and we ate in the foyer). We clearly remember a portrait of FDR (Teddy's favorite politician, photo cut from a newspaper article) hanging over the dining table in the foyer.
Also in the foyer was Minnie's treadle sewing machine in a lovely wooden cabinet. We grandkids would play with metal/whalebone stays from corsets, and with thread bobbins, that we found in the machine's drawers.
To get to our grandparents' apartment from our apartment in the northeast Bronx, we had to take two buses or a subway and a bus, then walk a block or two from East Tremont (the business/shopping district) to the apartment building. Early on, the building had nice furniture in the lobby but by the 1960s, the furniture was shabby and then missing altogether.

Although the apartment was a block from what is now the fabled Arthur Avenue district, known for Italian restaurants and food stores, we didn't know about it at the time. We would go to movies on East Tremont sometimes, or window-shop the stores. My mother later tried to write a children's book about children going to their grandparents' apartment and vying to punch the elevator buttons. It was, of course, based on what we kids liked to do, but publishers didn't bite. Wish I had that manuscript today!

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