In Newark, a front porch was a vital part
of your neighborhood. It was where you sat on humid summer evenings.
Some houses had two-one atop the other, for the upstairs tenants
in two family houses. These classic homes made up many a tree-lined
neighborhood in every ward of the city. Often landlords and tenants
shared a porch for the evening, reminiscing and getting to know
each other, building bonds.
It was a time when many families stayed in their apartments for
decades, considering their landlord part of extended family. It
was not unusual for newlyweds to stop by and visit their old landlords,
even after their own families had moved out to the suburbs, fulfilling
a life-long dream to own their own home. That’s just the way
You grow up sharing a porch with folks, talking into the night,
you get to know and love them. You concentrate more on your similarities,
rather than your differences. It was more social back then, lots
more hugging and caring.
Porches were gathering places for neighborhood gossip, the events
of the day, sports talk and often an impromptu musical happening.
Accordion, guitar, and mandolin strains kept families and friends
singing, and grandparents wiping tears from their eyes.
If you played ball in the streets like we did, those porches were
the cheering sections and the second floor ones were the upper decks
at imagined Yankee Stadium. In cases of close calls, the front porches
officiated the play. Their judging was final. And if you got thirsty,
you asked permission to have a drink from the nearest ever-present
garden hose. That is how you slaked your thirst on a hot summer
night of stickball or boxball. Simple rules, simple times.
If it was really one of those oppressive summer nights, everyone
got a quick sprinkle shower after the game, courtesy of one the
fans in the stands.
When it rained, you played on a neighbor’s front porch with
their kids. It was the proverbial safe port in a storm, always a
haven in sudden summer squalls.
If you had a clear view of Newark Schools Stadium like I did,
on the 4th of July, you could watch fireworks from the comfort of
your front porch-- even smell the explosion smoke as it eventually
wafted down your street.
Some folks closed their porches in so they could have a bit more
privacy, but this only seemed to happen on the upper ones. The first
floor porch was always the main gathering point for the house, the
pressroom and communications center.
In my old neighborhood on North 4th Street, the two family houses
were close enough together that you could have conversations quite
easily between adjacent porches. That was fairly standard practice.
No one had driveways. We all parked on the street. Just an alleyway
divided homes. It was easy to talk to neighbors.
At dusk a candle or maybe a mosquito punk would be lit, giving
the houses a warm glow. Maybe a radio was tuned to a Yankee or Dodger
game, or some music. The houses seemed to live and breathe, like
As the seasons changed, so did the décor, Christmas always
being the best with lots of lights and maybe a few Disney or other
seasonal characters aglow. I remember straw men at Halloween as
well as some other scary goblins and ghosts; and a witch or two.
The 4th of July brought flags, banners, and pennants; and often
fireworks sprouting from both lower and upper porches.
The front porch was also a place to sit and talk with your best
girl or guy, being on display at it came to be called, showing off
your beau. Sneaking kisses as dusk came calling. Of course mom would
be peeking from the living room window! Or as one of my girlfriend’s
mom’s used to say to us….
”Let’s hear some whistling and clapping out there!!!”
How can you build homes today without usable front porches? How
can folks who own the older homes not use theirs like we did? It
don’t seem right. We need more front porches….. and
time to sit out on them…..with the kids….. and our neighbors.
We need to care again about each other.