The 1st Ward in the 30's, 40's, and 50's

by Emilio "Duke" Yannacone


I'd like to start off by saying I grew up in the ward, having been born in 1936. The house we lived in was at 165 7th Ave., right next door to Clifton (later called Rotunda) Pool. Up on the corner of Clifton Ave. and 7 th Ave. was a bar run by Louis Papera. I guess he had a thriving business because he was able to put his son through Medical School. That was Dr. Johnny. He had a beautiful beer garden there, My grandfather, grandmother and three of my uncles lived on the second floor above the bar. They were the Mario Russo family. My Uncle Louie and Louise Catalano lived on the third floor. Before I went to school I spent all my daytime hours with my grandmother because my mother and father were at work. Across the street from Papera's near the entrance to Branch Brook Park was my favorite hotdog guy, "Tom". How could you ever forget "Tom" and his pushcart. (Many years later he moved to the corner of Crane St. and Broadway, and worked out of a truck there.) Now he was known as "Broadway Tom".  
Moving down 7th Ave. was "Nellies". Great lemon ice. The soft kind like Louis and Ting-a-Lings. Across from Nellies, on the corner of Mt. Prospect Ave., there was a young men's social club with a pool table. I used to hang out there when I was little, and the older guys kind of took me under their wings. They called me "Andy Boy Brocolli". I don't know why. 
As we move further down 7th Ave., we come to the coffee grinder's shop. It always smelled good around there. The owner, whose name I can't recall, was always sucking or chewing on coffee beans. Celento's was the grocery store in the neighborhood. Dan's Pool Room and Hot Dogs was there just below Garside St. McKinley School and Junior High School were there. Down on Factory St. was "Guy's Luncheonette". He had great hotdogs too, and potato sandwiches. I used to have a crush on his daughter Laura, but I don't think she knew I existed. 
My kid sister and I went to St. Lucy's School from kindergarten to the eighth grade. I graduated in June of 1949. Then I went to McKinley Jr. High for the ninth grade, then to Central High where I graduated from in June of 1953. ( I am submitting a an 8 x 10 of my 1949 St. Lucy's graduating class and a 50th class reunion 8 x 10 of my Central High School class). Not all who graduated with me in 1949 were present for the photo shoot. Father Ruggiero of course was in the photo.  
I joined the U.S. Navy in 1954. Was in for 4 years. Three years in Key West, FL, and one year in Bayonne, NJ. When I was stationed in Bayonne I moved back to the Ward and lived in a cold water flat at 22 Stone St. I belonged to the the 1st Ward Democratic Club. Some of my friends growing up with, hanging out with, and even when I was in my twenties were: Al Sessa aka Al Sasiche; Joe Hotdog; Johnny DeGrazio; John and Mike Geluso; Salvatore D'Alessio; Joe Racanelli; Louis Borreli; Thomas Salemi, who is now a Monsignor in the Catholic church. I remember Ralph Ferrara of Ferrara's Bakery, Boscia's Bakery, DeNoia's candy store where we used to buy loose cigarettes for a penny each during lunchtime from St. Lucy's. I loved to go to Don's Luncheonette at night. Great jukebox and plenty of girls there. Those were the good old days as they say. 
In the 90's, on one of my visits to Jersey, I went to the Ward, and I became so depressed from what I saw. Where were all my friends? What happened to the neighborhood? The only thing I recognized was Arre's Bakery. Theresa Arre graduated from St. Lucy's with me. Of course St. Lucy's Church and School were still there. I am told they still have the St. Gerard feasts there. I moved back to Jersey last October 2005. I will make it to the feast this year. The last one I went to was in 1953. I guess what happened to the Ward is what the powers to be call progress. I'm sorry, but I loved the way it used to be. I know I'm not alone on that thought. 
Emilio "Duke" Yannacone


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