I pride myself on being a native New Yorker, born and raised. I’ve never lived anywhere else and, what’s more, I don’t even have an accent. Ask anyone 😉
But my Aunt Betty, now she outdoes me as a real native New Yorker by a mile. I was reminded of that after talking to her the other day. She’s 90 years old and lives on the top floor of a three-story walk-up in Manhattan, three flights that she climbs every day once a day. I can’t reveal the exact address of course but it’s down on the Bowery. And I can also tell you she is rent controlled (not stabilized) because she moved into that building on November 14, 1939. Yeah, you read that right!! 1939! She has lived in the same building for 64 years. I don’t know if this is a record but the floor is open to challengers.
Suffice it to say that Aunt Betty has seen a lot of things come and go over the years, lost pieces of New York like the old Third Avenue Elevated Train line. You young-uns probably don’t even know this but there once was something called the Third Avenue El — an elevated subway line — that rattled through Manhattan from the Battery along Third Avenue and up to the Bronx. It used to run right by Aunt Betty’s building but the Manhattan portion of the line was torn down in 1955 as real estate became more and more valuable.
I actually rode the Bronx section of that El on E. 149th Street. I have vague memories of the straw seats and overhead fans that you can only see now at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn.
Aunt Betty has a much better memory than me. She remembers the day she moved in, the day the El came down in 1955 and the day in 1929 — July 4th — when a relative was killed by a horse and buggy.
The Bowery used to be the place where all the flop-houses existed in New York and even I remember having to step over the alcoholics — we routinely called them ‘bums’ — who were all over the place in the 1960s. Then came the beginning of the modern era when CBGB’s reigned supreme and drew large crowds every Saturday night. Now of course, the Bowery is hip with coffee shops and restaurants, hotels and million dollar co-ops.
I find it interesting that one of my favorite books about old and future New York — “Winter’s Tale” — is now being turned into a movie this very moment. The filmmakers are shooting all over New York but I think maybe they should just talk to Aunt Betty for their historical research.