Photos taken 09 April, 2001
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The 138th Street A&P
Sister Josephine, O.P. would be in shock if she had foreseen a Spanish Protestant church where the A&P used to be - and with St. Luke's less than a block away! ("Really - what is wrong with you people!!!") <G>
The photo at left also shows the Cypress Ave. subway station, which used to be where plenty of kids would stand with an umbrella in the 5:00 P.M. rain, waiting for Dad to come home from work.
St. Luke's hasn't changed a bit - though it looks like it has had a century of grime steam-cleaned from its brickwork. Today, there is a vacant lot to the east - instead of a small apartment building. On another pass by the place (to get a pic of the Fire House directly across the street,) I noticed that the schoolgirls no longer wear those navy-blue jumpers. Today, the uniform is a blue plaid vest and pleated skirt - very much like the material used when Cat attended St. Helena's.
The schoolyard at St.Luke's is in at least its third iteration of fence; I remember the tall brick wall (with a single entrance next to the Brothers' Department) up to about 1956/57, when it was torn down and replaced with a low "see-through" fence made from strong, smoothly-welded 8-inch-diameter tubes. Today, it's simple chain link fencing, much like that which encircled P.S. 65's yard. However, the schoolyard is now the FIRST non-vacant land on that side of 139th Street; the corner apartment building which housed McMahon's candy store (among others) is long gone.
The REAL shocker, though, isn't that the "McMahon's" building on the corner of 139th and Cypress is gone - so is the big building across the street. The Gunnings and Denticos who used to live there would be speechless to see the private homes which replaced their apartments - as shown at right. (Looking west, down the 139th St. hill from Cypress)
I don't recall if we had a sign over the "main" entrance like this, but there is one now. Yes, those large windows at left belong to Mitty Hall. (Funny name for a wierdly-shaped gym, isn't it?) Trivia Time: Mitty Hall's only claim to fame was when it appeared (as some oddball "settlement house" holding dance and sewing classes on the gym floor) in a brief B/W scene of the Emmy-winning lawyer TV show, The Defenders. E.G. Marshall chased a woman up those goofy stairs (you remember: the stairs which took up one corner of the basketball court!) - and exited NOT on 139th Street - but on City Island!
I promise: next time, I'll get OUT of the car to take the pictures, and avoid reflections like this one that obscures part of the fire house across 138th street from St. Luke's Church. Eng. Co. 83 is still probably the cleanest building on 138th Street (and it isn't as if those guys had a lot of time on their hands; for decades, it was the busiest fire house in the entire city... if not the nation).
The treck down the hill to Brook Avenue and beyond looks about the way I remember it - superficially, anyway.
The signs above the shops are all in Spanish today, there's a lot of brighter colors used, and it seems that even more of the shops' wares spill out onto sidewalk displays - if that is possible. There are occasional vacant lots where apartment buildings used to be... but almost all of my "landmarks" are gone: the five-and-ten, Kresge's, the record store (A note for youngsters: "records" were something like CDs - but LOTS cheaper!), and even the little movie theater marquee which I knew only as the "Puerto Rico". (Evidently, it had been named thus since the early 1950's.)
I finally regained my 138th Street "bearings" upon seeing St. Jerome's - though I don't recall it being so visible from Brook Ave. I guess St. Jerome's addresses a different clientele than St. Luke's these days: a lengthy legend over the main entrance is completely in Spanish. (I was hoping to capture it in readable form on film - but I'm obviously not a photographer!)
Another "anchor" for me was the 40th precinct: the only thing that had changed were the colors of the police cars which ring the building on Alexander Ave. (Something REALLY curious: those police cars at the station were the ONLY ones we saw during our entire time in the old neighborhoods. In our day, a patrol car drove slowly up 140th street about every ten minutes - or came screaming past, siren blaring, every couple of hours. Are things really that different, now that the South Bronx is re-emerging from its terrifying dark nights?)
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Photographs and content © 1998,1999, 2001 John P. Tomany