Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘stamford’

It is Saturday, April 30, 1949. The Yanks are already in first; the Giants and Dodgers are not far back.

It’s a slow news day. There’s not much in regional papers except wire-service dispatches related to Communism and post-World War II Europe, and not particularly meaty dispatches at that. In one piquant news item, the wife of a G.I. shaves the head of her husband’s 18-year-old German girlfriend and douses her with acid.

The NATO defense alliance is roughly one month old. So is Gil Scott-Heron. The revolution is not being televised, but other things are: Arturo Toscanini has recently conducted Aida on NBC live from Rockefeller Center, while Milton Berle is three weeks away from landing on the cover of Time magazine. (Eugene Dennis, general secretary of the Communist Party of the U.S., is on this week’s cover.)

In New Canaan, Conn., a 38-year-old family man from nearby Stamford is registering himself as a firm supporter of capitalism. He’s signing papers, handing over checks, and achieving a core piece of the American dream.

His own wheels.

101_1843.JPG

As shown on the receipt below, this is the payment for license plates (“markers”), not for the full car.

101_1847

This was definitely my grandpa’s first new car; it may have been his first car of any kind. (You’ll note no mention of a used car on the receipt.)

Either way, I’m sure he was thrilled to take delivery.

For one thing, he had two young children, and he certainly wanted to move his family in safety and style.

For another, he’d been waiting for this car for a while. A handwritten sheet of his notes — yeah, that got saved too — suggests he’d put down a $100 deposit on his car two months before. I bet he spent plenty of time between February 5 and April 30 daydreaming about his new ride.

101_1841

Some time ago, I wrote a post wondering if any examples of my grandparents’ stationery still existed. The answer: Yes.

So what did he spend, and what did he drive away in?

$1,757 in 1949 money equals roughly $17,580 in today’s money, according to online inflation calculators. That’s more or less the MSRP for a brand-new Ford Focus sedan today. So, it’s good to know that the cost of a relatively low-frills family hauler bought straight off the lot maybe hasn’t gone up that much.

But, while today’s Ford Focus makes at least an attempt to be sporty, efficient and maneuverable, its 1949 equivalent proudly advertised itself as “a living room on wheels!”

Seriously, see for yourself:

101_1855

Ah, for the days when a car could be advertised as “as deep and comfortable as your sofa.”

It’s easy to jab at the styles of the past, but the Ford Fordor sedan (the coupe, inevitably, was called the Tudor) was actually a fairly exciting item in ’49. According to Wikipedia, the ’49 Ford line was the first all-new design introduced by the Big Three automakers after World War II.

Wiki goes so far as to say that the popular and attractive ’49 design saved the struggling company, and that 100,000 orders were taken on the cars’ first day of availability. I wonder if my grandpa’s order was among them.

Judging from his notes, he was torn between black, Midland Maroon and Sea Mist Green. He chose black. Based on a review of the paint chips, I would have picked the maroon, myself. But, it’s easy to jab at the styles of the past.

I also note that he sprung for a heater, but not for a radio. This is consistent with his later behavior: The car he drove 40 years later when I was in high school didn’t have a radio either. He liked music fine, but not while he was driving, apparently.

Unfortunately, he did not leave behind any notes on why he chose Ford over a number of other American automakers.

I’ve written many times about his loyalty to Fords, which continued until the early 1980s. That loyalty would have started here, in the spring of 1949, but I don’t know the reasons behind it. Maybe the brand-new style got him started as a customer and build quality kept him there.

Finally, I always enjoy Googling the landmarks of my grandpa’s time and seeing what’s going on there now.

You can’t buy a Ford at the intersection of Forest Street and Locust Avenue in New Canaan any more; but you can, if the New York Times is to be believed, dine quite nicely on brick-oven pizza and Italian nosh-plates.

An online search finds New Canaan Motor Sales carrying on into the early ’60s. I’m guessing the dealership changed its name at some point, but I don’t know what it became or how long it lasted.

(Back in the ’50s, New Canaan Motor Sales used to advertise at the Talmadge Hill commuter rail station in New Canaan — the next station up the line from Springdale, and a location my grandpa photographed some years later. Perhaps the auto ad along the platform in my grandpa’s photo is for some dealership descended from New Canaan Motor Sales. Alas, the photo gets no larger.)

Talmadge Hill station, February 1970.

Talmadge Hill station, February 1970. This seems like a good place to stop.

Read Full Post »

A great person, and also a link to the Blumenaus of Hope Street, has passed.

So this week, we return to a time of loss and grief.

And, hopefully, solace.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

March 23-24 and 30-31, 1969.

My great-aunt Eleanor Kidd died April 1 in western Massachusetts. She was just about three months shy of 104 years old, and represented the last living relative of my grandparents’ generation.

She was a smart, funny, resilient lady who overcame adversity more than once and enjoyed the pleasures of long life and close family. (I won’t rewrite her obit, linked above, but suggest you check it out. It’s better reading than anything I’ve written in a long while.)

To explain her relationship to me in Hope Street terms, her sister Corine married my grandfather, the keeper of the calendars. And Great-Aunt El showed up on them from time to time over the years, while visiting or otherwise interacting with the Blumenaus of Hope Street.

She was also one-third of my family’s tightest birthday cluster: Hers was July 4, mine is July 5, and my cousin Brandon (the son of my Aunt Elaine) is July 6. This was not the sort of cluster you piece together by searching distant generations on a family tree: The three of us were all in the same room at least once or twice. This somehow escaped my grandfather’s notice, and he never took a photo with just the three of us; it was rather the sort of thing he would have thought of.

As an independent adult, I only spent a few days in her company. Not long after I was married, my wife and I (then living in Norfolk County, Mass.) went out to West Springfield one autumn weekend to visit Great-Aunt El and her family. I had a lovely time; the hospitality was warm and genuine; and it remains a regret that I did not stay in touch.

If you’ve been here a while, you might remember my post about Great-Aunt El on her 100th birthday … or the post I wrote about her husband, Bob Kidd, who died before I was born but whom I would have liked to meet.

kidds67

Reprinted from my earlier post just ’cause it’s such a great picture. Eleanor and Bob Kidd looking wicked happy at my parents’ wedding, July 1967.

Bob Kidd, El’s husband, died unexpectedly in early March 1969. The calendar entries posted above show a phone call to Springfield on March 23, and what appears to be a “long phone call to Springfield on March 30 or 31. (I wonder what “long” meant by Hope Street standards. Very few phone calls in the 15 surviving years of Hope Street calendars got that treatment.)

It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what was going on. My Great-Aunt El was probably opening up to her sister in the aftermath of her loss, maybe talking about what she was going to do going forward to support her children … and my grandma was doing her best to comfort, reassure and support her as she started on a new path.

Or perhaps Great-Aunt El was talking about the mundanities of daily life — the kids’ grades, the spring thaw, the brakes on the car — as a way to think about anything other than her loss, and my grandma was providing an ear.

(Maybe my grandpa, too. The Blumenaus of Stamford and the Kidds of Springfield were close, and I know my grandpa felt the loss. He was perhaps not an enlightened/sensitive man as we define them in the 21st century, but he would have helped in any way he could recognize.)

I am not close enough to Great-Aunt El’s family to fill a similar role in their time of grief, decades later.

And, given the length and quality of her life, perhaps their grief is somewhat different in nature. Those who knew her best can treasure a life well-lived, instead of mourning a life cut short.

Still, my heart is with them, as my grandparents’ were with Great-Aunt El when she needed it. The loss of a remarkable person is the loss of a remarkable person, no matter how long you get to spend with them.

To her kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, in all the places they’ve settled, I offer my condolences.

And to the memory of Great-Aunt El, I offer the preceding 740 words, and a tip of the hat.

Rest well.

Read Full Post »

The basketball I care most about tends to take place outside of NCAA brackets.

Like the summer afternoon, back when I was maybe 10 or 12, when my group of friends decided to play hoops long-distance — with one team aiming for the basket at our house, and the other team aiming for the basket at a friend’s house around the corner.

(I’d love to say we went at it for hours; but the truth was that dribbling down the street wore us out fairly quickly, and we soon went back to talking about whatever we talked about when I was 10 or 12.)

The approximate route of our basketball game.

The approximate route of our basketball game.

The sport of the streets hasn’t much worked its way into the Hope Street narrative before. My grandpa, I think, was more into baseball.

But, I’m piqued by a certain calendar entry of my grandfather’s.

While the world’s basketball attention is drawn to the top college players, come back 54 years with me, to a drafty and probably empty middle-school gym. The rest of the world this week is watching Storrs, in the northeast “quiet corner” of Connecticut, but we’re going to the opposite corner of the state:

March 1, 1962.

March 1, 1962.

What we have here is a girls’ basketball game, pitting a team from Dolan Middle School — including my Aunt Elaine — against a team from a private school called Cherry Lawn. (Pitting? Cherry Lawn? I knock myself out.)

Aunt Elaine wasn’t an athletic pioneer in any real sense when she suited up in Dolan’s bloomer-inspired basketball uniforms. Girls and women had been playing sports in defined settings for many decades by 1962.

But, my perception is that girls’ sports didn’t get much in the way of support and acceptance before federal Title IX took effect, which happened roughly a decade after Aunt Elaine took the court against Cherry Lawn.

If anything, an interest in sports was a social black mark for girls, as my aunt confirms:

I can’t say I was particularly athletic but I liked playing basketball and made the team somehow. Being tall for my age probably helped. I had one friend on the team who was in the same boat, and the rest of the team members were what was known as ” jocks” or worse, which were not¬† favorable terms for girls at that time.

I also played in the annual badminton competitions in high school. I became quite good at that sport from playing nightly in the Blumenau backyard in the summers. However, people didn’t pay much attention to that competition either. Boys football and basketball were the attention-grabbers.

Aunt Elaine playing badminton in the back yard at Hope Street, circa 1960.

Aunt Elaine playing badminton in the back yard at Hope Street, circa 1960.

The Cherry Lawn School yearbooks from that period of time are posted online, and I looked through them, hoping to find a shot of the Dolan-Cherry Lawn girls’ hoop game. But the only sports pictures in those yearbooks are football and boys’ basketball, confirming Aunt Elaine’s perceptions of the athletic pecking order.

(The Cherry Lawn School story, by the way, is an interesting trip. Cherry Lawn was an independent school that unfortunately fell by the wayside in the early ’70s — just when you’d think alternative-minded parents would be geared up to send their kids there. Check out the website linked above if that sounds interesting to you.)

Anyway, Aunt Elaine went on to say that no one turned out for her games, or for any girls’ games:

There were other girls’ teams in sports but I don’t remember much about them, because none of the girls teams were a big deal. I don’t remember your grandparents coming to any of the games, because the girls games were in the afternoon after school. I don’t know if anybody came to the games, except the teams!

With that in mind, I respect those girls who went out for sports — including basketball — back in the day.

Sports for girls and women are an everyday thing now, their benefits taken for granted, from gym workouts to marathons to the lowest starter-level soccer teams.

(Among the millions of women participating in sports: Aunt Elaine’s daughter Kara, a former high-school swimmer who runs, spins, lifts weights and plays ultimate frisbee to stay in shape and work off stress. Also making a name for themselves: The women’s hoop team at Aunt Elaine’s undergrad alma mater, who won the NCAA Division II national championship in 2007. And let’s not ignore the 14 girls on this year’s Dolan Middle School hoops team.)

I steal from Wiki here:

In 1971, fewer than 295,000 girls participated in high school varsity athletics, accounting for just 7 percent of all varsity athletes; in 2001, that number leaped to 2.8 million, or 41.5 percent of all varsity athletes, according to the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.

We know that girls and women gain from their athletic experiences. But what we encourage and accept now, somebody had to stand up for in empty gyms and stake the first claims to.

So, three cheers to them. (The cheers they might have liked to have heard while they were actually playing.)

Read Full Post »

It’s always fun to look back at the things we took for granted, the things we thought were omnipresent and would never change.

It’s also fun to apply hindsight to hubris … to burst the bubbles of people or organizations that blew their own horns a little too loudly.

So this week we’ll do a little of both.

Specifically, we’ll sit down in the family room of 1107 Hope Street, where the TV was, and watch as a well-known American institution pats itself on the back for a quarter-century of success.

Probably no one involved — from the stars, to the producers, to the viewers in family rooms like my grandpa’s — had any inkling that the institution being celebrated had fewer than a dozen years of Life left.

No, that’s not a typo:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

March 2, 1961.

Strictly speaking, Life magazine wasn’t 25 years old in the spring of 1961; it was 78.

The original Life (I steal liberally over the next few paragraphs from Wiki) was founded in 1883 as a humor and general interest magazine. Apparently it influenced The New Yorker, which promptly ate its lunch.

Life had been struggling for years when Henry Luce bought the name in 1936, relaunching it as a weekly newsmagazine with a focus on photography. Sparing no expense on capital letters, Luce described the revamped magazine as “THE SHOW-BOOK OF THE WORLD” in the prospectus he prepared before its launch.

As we all know, Luce’s vision paid off. The magazine was selling a million copies a week just four months after launch. Its coverage of World War II, as well as copy contributions from well-known authors, further established Life as near-required American weekly reading.

As TV caught on in the 1950s, Life’s circulation began to drop. Americans could now see the kinds of images in which Life specialized every day in the comfort of their living rooms.

I cannot imagine, then, that Henry Luce was entirely happy about handing cash to a TV network — NBC, as it happened — to host a celebration of Life’s quarter-century as a photo magazine. (News articles from the time describe the 90-minute show as being “sponsored” by Life; NBC didn’t independently¬† decide that the subject was worth covering.)

But, TV is a visual medium; and Life was a predominantly visual magazine; plus there was a story the company wanted to tell. So in the end, Luce’s desire to celebrate his success won out over his reluctance to pay a competitor for America’s eyeballs.

Did they hire Bob Hope? Of course they hired Bob Hope. Heck, they even got President John F. Kennedy to record remarks for the occasion. Since I can’t find a video of the show online, Kennedy’s remarks appear to be the only scrap of “25 Years of Life” that is available on the Internet 55 years later.

I take that back: Another remnant of the show is available on eBay if you care to pay for it. Life commemorated the event by pressing a vinyl record with musical and comedic highlights of the show. I’d love to know how many they pressed, how many they sold, and how many were ever spun more than once. Something tells me handsome copies can still be found at your local flea market.

A flea market — rather than a newsstand — is also your best bet for copies of Life. The magazine ceased weekly publication at the end of 1972. Life changed, and left Life behind.

I can’t say whether my grandpa watched “25 Years of Life” because he was genuinely interested, or because Time Inc. company men were expected to. Some of both, most likely.

Either way, I wonder whether he questioned at any point in those 90 minutes why people would put up with still photographs when they could watch them move.

Read Full Post »

I’ve written about all kinds of community anchors that come and go.

Last week it was banks. In previous installments we’ve hit stores (like Gimbels and E.J. Korvette), movie theaters, churches, and too many restaurants to list.

I’m pretty sure we’ve never hit schools. Indeed, the schools attended by the Blumenau family of Hope Street, Stamford, have shown admirable staying power.

Springdale Elementary School — just up the street from 1107 Hope Street, and a place where I used to walk with my dad and brother for some open-field exercise — is still in business. So is my dad’s alma mater, Stamford High School, on the wonderfully named Strawberry Hill Avenue.

(Now that I think of it, I did once write about my dad’s old junior high, Dolan. That’s still around too.)

While those schools have lasted, other schools come and go — sometimes much quicker than anyone imagined they would.

This week finds my grandpa dropping off his recycling at a school that went from community institution to closed within a quarter-century’s time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

February 6, 1971. The expansion Buffalo Sabres, in their first season, are outperforming the established Detroit Red Wings.

My dad, a member of Stamford High’s Class of 1961, attended double sessions at the school all three years he was there because of overcrowding. My mom spent her first year of high school in double sessions at Stamford High as well.

As it happened, the city of Stamford had a plan in place to respond to its teenage population boom. In the fall of 1961, the city opened its second public high school, Rippowam High School, on High Ridge Road.

The Hope Street Blumenaus’ younger child, my Aunt Elaine, graduated from Rip. So did the young woman who would later become my mother. And so did her younger brother, my Uncle T.J.

3686354276_05b943e1c9_b

 

3686355972_688244212a_b

These pix of Rippowam High’s football team (I think they’re in dark) were taken by my other (maternal) grandpa. My Uncle T.J. is almost certainly on the field somewhere. Rippowam’s most famous football player is not pictured, as he was 12 at the time; he did not take the field for Rip until later in the Sixties.

Rippowam High — named for a Native American tribe, which also lent its name to a local river — primarily drew students from the more affluent northern half of Stamford, while Stamford High drew from the city’s middle-to-working-class lower half.

(This seems to have been a common social pattern. When I lived in Framingham, Mass., 20 years ago, there was a Framingham North High School serving the leafy suburban parts, and a Framingham South serving the grittier southern parts where the freight trains ran through.)

In 1971, when my grandpa took his empty bottles there, Rip would have been settled in as a regular part of the city’s daily fabric.

But that didn’t last.

This New York Times article, despite its melodramatic lede, tells the story: As birth rates declined, the city of Stamford didn’t need Rippowam as much as it did in the early Sixties. Rippowam was closed following the 1982-83 school year. According to the Grey Lady, that was part of a larger trend: Stamford’s public school district declined from 24 schools in fall 1971 to 16 in fall 1983.

A third public high school in the northern part of town, Westhill High School, opened in 1972. Since Westhill was newer, Rip might have lost out to it when city officials were deciding what to close.

(A few of my cousins are Westhill grads and grew up in a house that backs up to the school’s property. Once in the late ’80s, when my brother and I were on our high school track team, we were visiting my cousins in Stamford and decided to sneak over to Westhill for a track workout. I jogged some laps while my brother — who won a New York State championship in indoor track around this same time — lit up a bunch of 400-meter intervals. The Westhill team was watching from the sidelines by the time we were done, wondering if the speedy stranger was a friend or a foe. They never found out for sure, because we never talked to them; when we were done, we just left. My brother had a flair for the dramatic during his competitive years, and leaving a bunch of kids asking each other, “Who the hell was that?,” was one of his great moments in that regard. This has nothing to do with Rippowam High or the patterns of Stamford’s teenage population. It was just a fun moment, and a favorite story of mine. And you get to hear it too.)

Anyway, the Rippowam building was used for alternative education programs, adult education, and for a science and technology magnet school.

Then, with enrollment on the rise again around the year 2000, it was pressed back into service as Rippowam Middle School, and remains in that use today.

Perhaps, fifty-plus years after its opening, Rippowam has finally found its permanent educational niche.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »