Columbus Homes Projects of 7th Ave.
Our family lived there from about 1958 until 1969. Those were the
days (at least the earlier years)! What went on in the projects
was more entertaining than HBO. Who knew we were poor? We didn't
– everyone around us was in the same boat.
Those were the days of Mantle and Maris - Tom Tresh and Joe Pepitone.
Sports, watching and playing, kept us happy.
The sights and sounds of 7th Ave, and what was left of Little Italy
due to the projects, still linger in the recesses of the mind. No
place on earth could you find better Italian bread, Italian bakeries,
and penny candy. You had Pop’s, Mario’s, and so many
places I can't remember, but I can visualize and see it like it
was yesterday. And nothing compared to the smells and tastes and
sights of the St. Gerard's Feasts at St. Lucy's…especially
for kids (that we were). The excitement was akin to the movie Godfather
II with DeNiro.
Yeah, the projects started out all right but deteriorated as time
went on. We played softball and “baseball” with “pimple
balls” on the asphalt between 7th Ave and Sheffield Drive.
The projects were 12 stories high. A feat for a kid was to throw
a pimple ball as high as you could. The best could put it on the
roof! I remember coming very close.
Men played softball on the bigger “black-top” field
(that ran East towards Broadway). Sometimes they would let us 10-12
year olds chase the fly balls. These guys hit pop ups about 12 stories!
I remember once when I misjudged a fly ball, and when it hit me
in the nose, blood spouted everywhere. Ah, those were the days.
I went to McKinley Elementary. My friends were Bobby Koval and
Ritchie Minachelli. In 1966, in 6th grade, I won the MVP at McKinley
for all sports. Victor Mesce, a dear friend, was the meanest competitor
for that honor. I believe he won the 2nd highest honor. I wish I
had that trophy now – I never knew what happened to it.
I remember most of my teachers at McKinley. I do remember the fall
of 1963. JFK was killed. Everyone (adults) cried. As a 3rd grader,
I wasn't sure what it all meant. I believe they let us out of school
early. When I got home (Apt 3C at 74 7th Ave) my mom was ironing
We had 9 in our family. The Projects' lobby apartments were for
the largest families. Therefore, we moved into the lobby apartments
– 62 building on 7th Avenue. But we were a small family compared
to most. Some had 13 kids! And these families produced some of the
toughest S.O.B.s in the neighborhood.
I learned to swim at Rotunda pool located at the peak of 7th Ave
at Clifton Avenue, near Branch Brook Park. We ice skated across
the street in the winter (if we had the money). The old Italian
guys played Bocchi Ball near by…never really figured that
game out. The 25 – 45 year old guys played some game where
they'd shoot out their fingers while screaming something in Italian
– I understand it was gambling of sorts.
We fought (boxed), pitched pennies, played marbles, and found ways
to entertain ourselves….if we were lucky and had the money,
we might fly a kite or fly a wooden glider airplane.
Football was big. I once shook Y.A. Tittle’s (of NY Giants
fame) hand at Bamberger’s downtown. I think I played hookie
to do it. We played football around the projects, but later we played
on grass at Sacred Heart Cathedral or the Park Police grounds across
the way. Playing football inside the projects was tough because
they had these huge flower boxes made of concrete in the way. I
remember going long once, running full speed for an over the shoulder
catch, when I was dropped dead in my tracks by one of these cement
monstrosities. How I walked away from it, and wasn’t paralyzed,
I'll never know. The Lord was with me, even then!
In '67 I went to Webster Jr. High. I got in a mean fight with a
mean black dude there: Howard Graham. He was built like Joe Frazier.
Up to that point, Howard and I were actually friends. In any case,
the racial divide was very distinct that year. After school we fought.
All the white kids ran home one by one. There I was, inside a circle
of black guys fighting Howard. We punched; we wrestled. On the ground
I took a lot of shots from the audience. I survived, but bloodied.
Howard had some knots on his head. In the end, I was respected by
those black kids.
Ironically, the summer of '67 marked the Newark riots. I have the
Life magazine from that time focusing on the Newark riots. I remember
segments of the riots vividly. Springfield Avenue wasn't too far
– that was the focal site. It soon moved into the projects
on 7th Avenue. It was like Beirut. Once the shooting started, my
dad packed up the family car to head out of Newark. Cops and State
Troopers were everywhere. Apparently there were snipers on the roof.
As the oldest of 7 kids, I remember my dad sending me back into
the apartment because he forgot something important…Paperwork,
wallet? I can’t remember. All I remember is that I ran with
everything in me. I ran zigzag because of the shooting. We ended
up in Mt. Carmel, PA, at an Aunt’s house. The people there
were oblivious to the riots of Newark! Some even said they had never
seen a black person! When we eventually returned to the projects,
some of our windows had bullet holes. Not long after, we moved to
Lake Street in Newark – between Heller Parkway and Grafton
Avenue….and a whole new episode for the Rosko family in Newark
unfolded – stay tuned!