Lafayette Street was home to a number of places I visited often as a teenager. The most memorable hangouts were the movie theaters, the Olympic and the Avon.
I learned at lot at the movies. As a teenager, I discovered that when someone said something insulting, you hauled off and punched him with a quick left jab to the chest. Then you popped him in the forehead with a knuckle punch. But Hollywood and Utica were two different worlds in more ways than I could imagine. A 15 year old contemporary taught me that quickly when he caught my punch coming at him and threw me to the ground. He was bigger, stronger and I guess he didn’t think much of what I saw in the movies.
Life as a teenager was a difficult time for most of us. The following song expresses at least one of frustrations most of us experienced. It's probably overdone, but at this age so am I.
She Hates Me - Puddle of Mudd
Photos: Click on the following for “Lafayette Street I.”
Other than the movie houses, what was mostly of interest on Lafayette Street was the Hotel Utica. Except for a sojourn or two on the roof of the place as an “Official Observer” for the Ground ObserverCorps, I seldom visited the hotel.(The Russians Are Coming.) And frankly that’s a surprise to me since I would go anywhere as a kid and explain myself with a lame excuse when caught. (Selling newspapers in Faxton Hospital at age 13, I walked in on someone’s physical examination while taking what I thought was a shortcut to the Women’s Ward on the second floor. When the doctor, the nurse and the patient turned to the door to see me standing there with a newspaper bag over my shoulder, all I could think to say was, “I have the latest ball game scores and stock quotes here.”)
In high school I often walked by the Hotel Utica to the movies or to the Chocolate Shop. But I was in college at MVCC before I played at a dance in the hotel’s ballroom with our band, the Bel Airs.
Sometime during high school I narrowed my wandering into places I wasn’t wanted and re-focused on walking into bars to hear bands. At age 16 I began to play in them but most of our work came from high school and college dances.
“I had heard only John Philip Sousa and Elvis Presley amplified on the tiny speaker of the record player my parents had received as a wedding present. But music from Red Rovera and The Rockin’ Pneumonias at DiCastro’s in Sylvan Beach was like a call from another world.
Their sheer volume assaulted me. I could feel the bass notes pound against my chest. What absolutely amazed and excited me were three ordinary individuals getting up and playing passable music and becoming the center of attention for everyone in the room, even the Daiquiri drinkers. The sound had to be magic, I later realized, because I never smelled the stale beer and cigarette butts until the music stopped. And frankly, the music never did stop for me. I fell totally head over heels in love with the fantastic idea of becoming a rock and roll musician. There is not an iota of difference between believing you can do it and falling completely in love with yourself.”
From “Not So Famous: My Short Life As A Musician,” at:
To to me, the Hotel Utica was a kind of night spot. It’s too bad that all I could find were lobby photos and exteriors.
CLICK HERE for Layfayette Street II.
Utica’s Elizabeth Street begins in the east where it intersects with Nichols Street a long city block beyond Kossuth Avenue.. Here stands the Assemblea de Iglesias Christi Church, which probably had a different name in another language when I lived in Utica. From this point Elizabeth Street flows westward through neighborhoods of 2-family houses and grows more commercial as it crosses Mohawk Street, skirts the southern border of Chancellor Park and finally arrives at Genesee Street. There rises the Assemblea’s opposite number, in more ways than one, Grace Church. Religious differences aside, Grace Church is the clear winner with a spire that is simply inspirational. Someone knew how to pray with bricks and stone 150 years ago.
CLICK HERE for Elizabeth Street I
Here Comes The Sun - James Taylor
Elizabeth Street for me mostly calls to mind the Utica Fire Department’s old Central Station and fire house for Engine Company Number 2. The formidable structure was built in 1912 and thereby obliterated a neighborhood and partly a culture for the city’s Black population on Post Street. My father was a fireman assigned to No. 2 in the 1940s and later worked out of the building as a City Fire Inspector before returning to the Observer Dispatch, where he had begun his working career at age 16.
His favorite fire house story told how the drivers when responding to a fire call would if possible take the rigs through the Busy Corner. “We were young show-offs,” he’d say and laugh, “and the chiefs allowed it because it was good publicity for the department. We had every light and siren going. At night you’d think it was the Circus coming through town.”
For this segment,
CLICK HERE for Elizabeth Street II.
Put Your Lights On - Carlos Santana with Everlast
Elizabeth Street III
Standing at the tall rear window on the third floor of the old Utica Catholic Academy, one looked out on Burnett Street.* And raising one's eyes just a little brought into view the back of UFD's Central Fire Station and the first hundred feet of Post Street.
Post Street looked to me much the same back in 1960 as it does today, There is 360 feet of macadam street surface with the back of the old fire station and brick industrial buildings lining the curbs. But before urban renewal struck the neighborhood with the building of the Central Fire Station in 1912, Post Street (sometimes called Post Ave.) was the nexus of at least one aspect of Black culture in the City of Utica.
As I stood in the window stretching my minutes of freedom, before Sister Gertrude told me to please return to my seat, I was totally unaware that an entire neighborhood of people had lived vibrant if not often illegal lives right under my nose. But in the space of a year not half a century before, the properties on Post Street were sold, the old buildings torn down, and the new Central Fire Station erected. Soon the Post Street of legend no longer existed. In 1912 some said that was a good thing. Others kept their opinions to themselves.
Most of the material was scavenged from old newspaper archives on the Internet and concerns the daily comings and goings of uncelebrated Blacks in the community as well as folks like Mother Lavender nee Ellen Lavender, a former slave who settled in the city of Utica and was known for her kindness and generosity to the city's poor people. The MoreStories thread provides humorous and heart breaking tales, some unfortunately told in a derisive manner since reporters and the general population spoke openly of blacks in that manner in that era. (Even worse, some do today, although not in any reputable newspaper.)
Go to the following url and click on
CLICK HERE for Elizabeth Street III:
* The school was in fact on Burnett Street, not John Street, and what we called the back door had been the front when my father attended "St. John's school." He was there through 1924 before he graduated and began classes at Assumption Academy across the street.
The high school named Utica Catholic Academy didn't come into being until after Dad's stay. See the UCA thread here:
There is a much more detailed thread … some 42 pages of posts … about Post Street written by Fiona O’Downey, the late Jon Hynes and myself on the MoreStories Forum.
Spin You Around by Puddle of Mudd. I can’t think of a more improbably story better told than this.
The People of Utica
It has occurred to me we’ve been concentrating … at least visually … on buildings and street corners. What about The People of Utica? For one thing, a few of them were responsible for some of us being here. And in any case, the men and women helped build what at one time was a wonderful mid-sized city. We’ll should meet a few before we continue on our tour. And not the famous personages. They’ve had their run of public exposure.
Click on the following link and you’ll find a collection of real people who were Uticans (or Uticians, as my daughter calls them), plus a few real people from other places I’ve used to represent our aunts and uncles and grandparents where the photographer was unable to find them.
CLICK HERE for The People of Utica.
I was ten years old the summer before entering fifth grade and I convinced my mother one morning that I was capable of taking the bus downtown by myself. I ran around behind her as she tried to get her housework done, announcing every minor detail of the trip. How I would sit by myself on the bus and not bother anyone, pull the cord over the window a half block before my stop.
“And don’t walk any more than a block away from Daws when you’re dropped off,” she said. “And come right back after half an hour,” she added.
“And what would you do if you got on the wrong bus home and wound up in New York Mills?” she said.
“I’d miss lunch,” I said
“Not you,” she said. “For a meal you’d change your name to Griffinowski and offer yourself up for adoption.”.
“I never thought of that,” I said. “And all those times I rode my bike to New York Mills.” Whoops! I hadn't meant to tell her about that.
(Years later I did in fact join the Sons of Italy as Griffinelli, but that's another story.) I got her permission and, not wanting to push it, I waited fifteen minutes before asking her for the ten cent bus fare.
I took the Lincoln Avenue bus downtown, along Columbia Street to Grace Church and then back.
Go here and click on Columbia Street.
Here's some music to go with it:
Nothin' But Time - Jackson Browne