A bright young newsman on our pages, Dan Bush, phoned me recently determined to do some scouting around Coney Island and check some of its history, which of course jogged my memory.
I had come home from WWII like so many war veterans and I went back to college, majoring in my true love — journalism. Writing came naturally to me. Since boyhood, when our small family lived above dad’s mens shop on Mermaid Avenue, just opposite the big brick Catholic Church, Our Lady of Solace.
When I was old enough to cross the busy West 17th street crossing, I rushed daily to my secret love in mid-block; the candy-store with its large sidewalk news stand. Loving sports, I’d scan and sniff the variety of papers, like the morning Daily Mirror, the Daily News, the Journal, the World, The NY Times, New York Herald, The American and the Tribune.
In the afternoon I read the Journal, the New York Post (then, a long-fold, daily, owned by a lady in the Bronx).
Very oddly, the paper I liked best was the New York Graphic. It was a short-fold afternoon paper and I could sniff it proudly as I scanned the baseball news and scores.
In the 1920s, the Brooklyn baseball team was called the Robins, in honor of their manager Wilbert Robinson, lovingly cheered as Robby.
Through the years as new tube-boxes called radios became a competition in popularity, many papers merged before some folded. Interestingly, it was usually a morning paper that merged with an afternoon paper, becoming the World Telegraph, and the Journal American. When I came home from fighting the war, like many of my fellow vets, I went back to school. I studied journalism at Long Island University, hoping to land a job on a newspaper.
One afternoon after college classes, I went up an elevator in a building half a block from City Hall. The afternoon New York Sun had a giant clock hanging over Broadway. Its electric sign reflected upon City Hall a half block away.
I timidly asked for the sport’s editor. For that occasion I wore my Ruptured Duck pinned to my lapel, to add my veteran record to my appeal.
The sports editor listened to my war record, how I took on added duties in our Pacific air-base. He nodded proudly, but clarified, “If only I could encourage all our war vets, but I’m not sure how long we can survive — confidentially.” After my graduation from LIU’s School of Journalism, I married the girl I had left behind, when I went into 45 months of war.
In an era when labor became over abundant it was difficult for a married man to feed the wife and self. So after working in two other men’s shops we came home to roost in dad’s Coney Island Men’s Shop (The big sign over the door said “Lou Powsner’s Men Shop: Manhattan Shirts and Stetson Hats.”
Dad’s health took a downturn and a retirement, leaving me alone to serve his trade, his community, and find a few hours for wife, son and daughter, always combatting crime; actively fighting for help from our city, that sent us the very newcomers who needed help, camping into new apartments, far from a job, a source of income. Twenty-story buildings loaded with so many people, who were unfamiliar with finding work, or aid, or double fares, to seek jobs.
The design of Coney Island was more like a plot — Stillwell Terminal divided the new urban renewal developments like Luna, Trump and Warbasse, from the war-torn overcrowded homes in western Coney.
One of the major pioneers in that urban renewal went from Coney bungalow to the older wood and stucco two-families. He brought the evictees from the shacks in his building area and the city picked up the tab — finder fees for the rich builders and subsidized rents for the dispossessed from the east.
They came in with their crime and grime of over-crowding, poor heating, and no nearby jobs — just locked into strange surroundings where the major industries were crime and grime.
Two major laundries closed down, a bakery moved out and so did a large oil company leaving the people with the only two major industries that Coney had left, crime and grime. Whether young or old, they were all locked into a double fare zone with no jobs, no hope and welfare became inherent
Not all survived the crime that infested the area of a people falsely relocated by city agencies determined to plant the helpless with the hopeless. “Last stop Stillwell Avenue,” sang the BMT train conductors.
This is Lou Powsner.
The prose of American's Columnist, 92-year-old Lou Powsner, appears every two weeks on BrooklynDaily.com. He has no e-mail adrdress and sends us his typed columns via snail-mail.