Memories of the Weequahic Section Part 1

by Ray Miller


At the age of only three (in 1926) my parents moved into a one-family house on Vassar Avenue sited between Elizabeth Avenue and Bergen Street. This was among the most desirable neighborhoods in Newark. From Chancellor Ave to Lyons Avenue the houses in comparable locations were all one-family and generally well kept. Above Bergen Street, up to Parkview Terrace the houses were largely two-family and beyond that the single family houses again appeared.

As kids, we walked across Bergen Street to Lifson's candy store and bought our colorful sugar candy "buttons" that peeled off a strip of waxed paper. Also there were "Tastyeast" candy bars which were advertised with the jingle:

"Tastyeast is tempting
to your appetite,
Pep, Vim and Vigor
Try a bar tonight"

I went to Maple Avenue grammar school and in 1936 went on to Weequahic High School where rumors had it that a swimming pool was located under the floor of the lower (girls') gym. Athletically, our football teams were weak, but basketball was something else again and we even beat the "big" kids from Barringer and West Side H. S. The annual Thanksgiving Day football game with Hillside was almost always a loser.

Vassar Avenue had a landscaped center divider in the block from Bergen Street to Elizabeth Avenue. It was about 8 feet wide and when I last saw the street it had been narrowed to a strip of only about 3-4 feet in width.

On our block there was a one family large brick home at Bergen Street. Across Vassar Avenue lived the Joseph Reinfeld (Seagram) family in a similar large brick house and curiously, next to the reputed bootlegger in a frame house lived the City's Fire Chief who had an official Department sedan pick him up each morning and return him to Vassar Avenue each evening.

There was a plumber who had what I think may have been the very first underground lawn-watering system (with valves in his basement to turn off the water in the wintertime), a racketeer, a dentist and several independent businessmen. Virtually all had children and we had a happy group of about a dozen kids,

We kids used play games and just sit outside on our front "stoop" (the front steps) in the warm spring and fall evenings and enjoy studying the stars. They were like a big bright blanket over the area. No smog bothered us then.

By 1925 the Weequahic section had already begun to change. Formerly largely gentile, it became an, essentially all-Jewish community. When I attended Maple Avenue school, most of my classmates were Jewish and at Weequahic High in 1940 they graduated no blacks. Incidentally, the June 1940 graduation ceremonies were held in the infield of the Weequahic Park racetrack, and the grandstand seemed full with parents enjoying (?) the ceremony.

I have been reading Nat Bodian's wonderful Memories and trust that you all have also enjoyed. He spoke of the Trolley cars of Newark and it reminded me that there was one that ran up Lyons Avenue from Elizabeth Avenue, turned right on Bergen Street before continuing on. Fare was a small token (about the size of your little finger nail) and often lost in your father's pockets. The enclosed trolleys were replaced with "open-sided trolleys" in the hot summer months.

More later


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