Thursday, September 29, 2016

Those Places Thursday: The Bronx of my Burk family

On this day 107 years ago, my father (Harold Burk) was born at home, 77 E. 109th Street in Manhattan, the second of four children of Isaac Burk and Henrietta Mahler Burk.

Until the mid-1920s, the Burk family lived in a series of tenements in upper Manhattan. Dad used to tell stories of how, on a summer's day, the family would pack a big picnic lunch and take a street car to the top edge of Manhattan. There, they would pick up a horse-drawn conveyance for crossing into the Bronx.

It was a full-day outing, between the slow transportation and then enjoying lunch and a stroll or nap in the park. A welcome change from the heat, noise, and bustle of Manhattan, he remembered fondly decades later.

By 1930, the Burk family had managed to move uptown, with three of the four children working and contributing to the household coffers. They lived at 1580 Crotona Park East in the Bronx, a leafy, "suburban" part of the city.

Today, a single family home sits on the site. But 80 years ago, 20 families lived in a tenement at that address. Looking at the 1930 Census, every family in the building was either headed by an immigrant or included an immigrant (sometimes as a boarder). Most were from Russia, Poland, Romania, or thereabouts.

The Burk family's next-door neighbor in the apartment building became a character reference for Dad in 1931. He was applying for a "fidelity bond" as the first step toward his dream of becoming a travel agent.

Two other character references shown on the bond were, in reality, family members: Louis Volk was married to his aunt, Ida Mahler; Joseph Markell was married to another aunt, Mary Mahler. Both lived on Rochambeau Avenue in the Bronx, 3 miles uptown from the Burk family.

Except for the years he served in World War II, Dad lived the rest of his life in the Bronx, where I was born and spent my early years.

11 comments:

Wendy said...

What an alert expression on your dad's face. And look at those freshly polished shoes. Judging by the diploma, this was a special day.

Marian B. Wood said...

Wendy, it was his graduation from grammar school, and he obviously got all dressed up for this photo!

Dara said...

In Dublin too, even in the 20th century, whole families lived in a single room of a shared tenement home. It sometimes amazes me just how recent the experience was for many. I wouldn’t like to know my neighbors quite as well as my ancestors obviously did!

Marian B. Wood said...

Dara, I certainly agree with you about how "neighborly" everyone had to be when so many folks were crowded into a few small rooms. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Colleen G. Brown Pasquale said...

In 1930 my mother was a toddler in the Bronx. Nice coincidence.

Marian B. Wood said...

Colleen, where in the Bronx did your mother live? Thanks for leaving me a note.

Dana Leeds said...

What a neat story! I grew up in a small, mid-Western town and hearing about life in the Bronx sounds foreign. :) Thanks for sharing the stories1

Marian B. Wood said...

Dana, I feel the same way when I read stories about growing up in small towns. Such a different experience than my city life! Thank you for reading and posting a comment.

Colleen G. Brown Pasquale said...

1527 Plymouth Avenue, Bronx; an apartment

Marian B. Wood said...

A nice brick apartment house still stands there, I see from the Google image. Nice area, further east than my relatives lived.

Anna Matthews said...

I can picture the outing; savoring the day in the more quite and green surroundings. Certainly different from the outer boroughs today.