My Life on Fifteenth Avenue

by Diane (Pavel) Stewart


I was born Diane Pavel in 1944 at Columbus Hospital. I had only one sibling. My brother Billy who was four years older. It amazes me the things that remain embedded in my mind so vividly. As far back as I can remember we lived at 591 Fifteenth Ave. two doors in from Sixteenth St on the second floor of a two family house in a quite neighborhood. I remember the cobblestone street, the smell of the trees and our backyard that boasted an apple tree. I attended Fifteenth Ave. School, only one block away. There were mom and pop stores dotted about. And down the street on the corner of Fifteenth Ave. and Seventeenth St. was Obie’s Tavern, where my dad would, on occasion, take me along to have a Hoffman’s lemon soda as he would chat with friends and later take home a pail of beer. My dad had to help me up on the bar stool as I was quite small, and I would look at everything and every one with wide eyed wonder. The brick stoop was where I sat with friends over the years playing jacks, coloring, and as looked to the left I could see the brown strip in the distance beyond Grove Street that would become the Garden State Parkway.

My dad would take me to West Side Park on Sundays dressed in my best after church. It was to me, the most beautiful place, with blooming gardens and a stone bridge that overlooked a lake with fish swimming about. Kids would be at the waters edge trying to catch cray fish. All this was viewed from the wall of the bridge where my dad had to lift and seat me to see. I learned to ride my two wheeler bike there too. No training wheels, just a patient dad running along side supporting the bike. Those were the days. In winter, Billy and I would sleigh ride down the steep hill along with so many other kids. Yep, West Side Park was my wonderland. Even as a toddler, I can recall playing in the sand box there to the left of the playground and later, much later, I would stand on the swings as a passenger sat between my feet and pump to see how high we could go. It was a race with other kids, we were oblivious to the danger of crashing onto the pavement.

At the age of four, I became a student at the Lillian Daniels School of Dance, which at that time was located on Springfield Ave. where my mom and I walked from home. Later the school relocated to Broad St. on the second floor over a men’s shoe store that sold shoes with lifts; now that amazed me. We were across from the Newark Paramount theater. The manager of the shoe store complained frequently of the noise overhead from the tap classes. Miss Daniels taught me for ten years, all year round. We all annually performed our recitals at the Mosque Theater on Market St. that accommodated one thousand with SRO. How about that! The costumes and back drops were all quite professional, along with the orchestra. I took classes in tap, toe and Hawaiian with private lessons in Hawaiian, which meant an extra costume for my solo performance.

My mom worked in Haines Department Store downtown and later for Tung Sol Electric on Orange Ave. to support my dancing, bus fare and the costumes. My dad was a supervisor in the foundry at Cooper Alloy Stainless Steel in Hillside. He supplied my brother and me with educational material about the manufacture of steel and even took us to the foundry to see how steel was made. Then came the annual outings at Mc Guire’s Grove, a large picnic ground somewhere in North Jersey

After grammar school my brainiack brother attended Arch Bishop Walsh High School in Irvington taking Freshman and sophomore majors in his first year. In his second year, he studied junior and senior majors and would have completed high school in two years and then off to college. A photographic memory will do that for you, you see. Then there was me. Oh, I could dance like a champ, but hated school. So….upon graduation from grammar school I decided to become a hair dresser because I was just brimming with talent. It was Girls Vo for me. And guess what!? I found I loved school for the first time ever and really applied myself. I enjoyed taking the 6 Crosstown on Eighteenth St. traveling to school and making new friends. Well that lasted four months. We moved down the shore.

In 1958 we left Newark under the pronounced protest of Billy and myself, and moved to Hazlet in Monmouth County; the edge of the Universe, so quiet off exit 117 of the Garden State Parkway, where deer were spotted from our bedroom windows….sigh. Our development was still under construction. The model home with construction trailer was to the left and a vacant home to the right. Our house was located at the T of the street. Looking up the street from the front door, some ground had been broken on one side of the street and foundations were on the other side as well as beyond the house to our right. Yep, it truly was THE END OF THE UNIVERSE!!! Of course I attended Keyport High School and learned to hate this curriculum deficient school all over again. As for Billy, he expected to begin in his senior year but was told he was credit deficient and would have to enroll as a freshman. As you can imagine, sadly he dropped out. Christian Brothers Academy in Holmdel would have accepted his credits from Arch Bishop Walsh, but this was financially probative as now the parents were commuting via the parkway and making mortgage payments.

Life goes on. A failed marriage and two kids later I decided to return to school earning a GED and then on to Nursing School at Brookdale Community College. Yep, I graduated in 1974 and you’ll never guess where I ended up working. Newark Beth Israel Medical Center as an RN in the pediatrics department. While in that area I decided to visit the old neighborhood, and was saddened to see my cobblestone street was paved over and not as wide as I remembered, and the house looked much smaller too. But, there was my now old landlord still in residence on the first floor toddling about. Obie’s Tavern had survived the dark times. Looking about, I remembered the sights, sounds, and the smell of the trees as I sat on my stoop. Remembered the horse drawn wagons of the green grocer and the rag man, I remembered the man who sold bleach shouting,” Biangolina” ( phonically attempting Italian) and delivering to our back door on the second floor, as did the milk man. I remembered the Dugan man, mail delivered twice daily, the Good Humor Ice Cream man clad in white, hat and all, as he pedaled up our hill on his treat filled front ended cycle, his jingle bells calling to us, the truck with the merry go round and the truck with the whip on the back to the delight of city kids. I remembered roller skating on Sixteenth Street wearing clamp on skates tightened to my shoes with a key, and then later on roller skating at Olympic Park. I remembered Boylan St. Pool in Vailsburg.

I remembered my dad parking the car by the reservoir and walking to mass at St. Antoninus' on Sunday mornings. I remembered Jimmy Buff’s Italian hot dogs, bike riding through Fairmount Cemetery past the huge and beautiful Krueger mausoleum, and City Hospital, later changing the name to Martland Medical Center which is now New Jersey University School of Medicine and Dentistry. Back when I was a child, My grand parents lived adjacent to the Emergency Room. I am told that street no longer exists but the extended campus does. They later moved to Livingston. I remember the drive there via South Orange Ave. past Seton Hall University on the left and the observatory on the right. Then cutting through Short Hills, passing a game preserve where bags of popcorn could be purchased to feed to the deer, and past the construction site for St. Barnabas Hospital on the left and a spout jutting out from rock where FREE spring water was accessible, and the apple orchard where a bushel of apples were purchased and soon to be apple pies and turnovers; not to mention the fabulous cider sold there. All these memories and so much more came instantly flooding back as I drove on Fifteenth Ave.

At 74, I vividly recall The West Side Movie Theater where Tuesday night was dish night. The Newark water was always cold and refreshing as chemicals were yet to be added. My grandmother made wonderful orangeade and ice coffee. For us the coffee was diluted and sugar added. Mmmmmmm. The walk to my grand parent’s home was a pleasant one for a small child as city gardens were closer to my short stature affording me a close view of pansies of every description. My grandmother’s gardens to me were mesmerizing with fragrant Lilies of the Valley and more pansies. There were vegetable gardens where parsnips, tomatoes. potatoes and green beans grew. There was an herb garden also. A grape arbor shaded the back door where we sat as grandma shelled peas or did stitchery. In spring there were large frames with pins protruding that were erected in the yard. After the shear curtains were laundered, they were stretched onto the pinned frames to dry omitting the need to iron.

I retired after forty years of nursing, having lived in Florida and Canada only to return to New Jersey. Now living in the shore area, I still think of Newark as it once was, in it’s glory days. Tempted to visit? Yes. But, the Newark I remember does no longer physically exist, but in my mind, trees in summer, autumn leaves burning at the curb in fall, all reside fragrant and in full color in my mind.


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