So far, I’ve talked about local Passaic life on Summer Street. Passaic was a compact place, with good bus service, and it was very easy to go downtown.
First, on Saturday mornings, kids flocked to the theaters to see the matinee performance at the Capitol, Central or Montauk Theaters. The Capitol Theater was originally a vaudeville theater, built in 1926 on the corner of Monroe Street and Central Avenue. Long after I had moved away, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, it became a popular stop for rock groups. The Central Theater, n Central Avenue, opened in 1940 as a live stage venue, but in my young life, it showed movies. This theater was the site of band leader Glenn Miller’s last U.S. performance before he traveled to Europe and died in a plane crash there. The Montauk on Main Avenue was actually the oldest of the three, built in 1924. I occasionally went to movies there, but the children’s features tended to play at the Capitol and Central Theaters. Sadly, none of these buildings exist anymore. One is the site of a McDonald’s and the other two are dirty old lots.
Sometimes, a theater had a live performance along with a movie and/or newsreel. The Three Stooges, at the end of their careers in the 1950’s, gave a few stage shows – I think they were at the Capitol Theater. I also remember when I was ten, the lady in the ticket booth challenged me when I said I was under 12. I was tall for my age and, although she sold me the child’s ticket that time, she told me to bring my birth certificate to future shows. I don’t think I ever did, but I did go to many more Saturday matinees.
Sometime around 1960, I decided that I wanted to take an acrobatic class. When I was little, I was very quiet and shy. My first grade teacher commented that while I was an excellent student, I had to be prodded to talk. When I was four, my mother signed me up for tap dancing lessons. The brand new tap shoes were still sitting in the box when I was 8 because my mother said I refused to move in the dancing class. I don’t know where my mother enrolled me for tap lessons, but I suspect it might have been at the same place that I took acrobatics – at Dotty Locker Dancing Studio.
I found these ads in the 1959 and 1961 Passaic phone books in my collection. Miss Dotty’s studio was at 38 Broadway and I remember walking up the staircase to the open dance area.
Much to my surprise, I googled Dotty Locker and a couple of hits came up. Miss Dotty passed away in December 2008 in Los Angles, California – about 45 miles from where I lived at the time. I was even more surprised to find the Locker School of Dance of today, located next to Passaic in Garfield, and it is run by Miss Dotty’s daughter, Susan.
Susan shared a photo of her mother for this post. It is how she looked at the time when I was one of her students. It brought back many happy memories. Susan, thank you!
I had many fun hours there. I was always too tall to have a chance of more advanced tumbling, but I learned to do rolling forward and backward somersaults, a cartwheel, the splits and a back bend. Right about then, we moved to Wayne and there were no more classes with Miss Dotty.
My parents tried to provide as many childhood experiences as they could, even with very limited funds. From a very early time, I belonged to the YWCA.
Each member of the Y had to bring these cards to each activity we attended, whether it was swim lessons or summer day camp. The numbers 65 and 61 and the erasures on the yellow membership card reflect locker numbers assigned on each visit. Upon entering the pool locker room, this card was produced and the person working there who handed out the towels penciled in the locker I was to use that day. The key was on a heavy elastic rope-type band and we were to wear them around an ankle in the pool.
The blue card was my medical clearance signed by my pediatrician, Dr. Baum. The blue card at the bottom (front and back) showed anyone who asked the highest level of swimming ability I had attained. Once we had this blue card, we were allowed into the deep end of the pool.
I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Y summer day camp for a week, or possibly two, each summer. On most days, the campers stayed in the Y all day, rotating through songs, craft activities, games and swim time. Once during the week, we took a bus trip up to Garrett Mountain. Riding the bus was great fun – remember Passaic didn’t have school buses so to travel in a bus with lots of other kids was a fun opportunity.
At Garrett Mountain, our first task was to make our sit-upons and, yes, they were exactly what they sound like. First, we were given two pieces of wallpaper samples and a section of an old newspaper that was folded in half. Next, we needed to hold the two pieces together with the edges matched up to punch holes about an inch apart all the way around. Lastly, we collected a large needle and yarn and, using an overhand stitch, stitched the two wallpaper samples with the decorative sides facing out, with the folded newspaper section in between them. We then had a finished sit-upon and sat on them on the ground when the activity required us to sit. On the way home, we often sang “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” and this one song got us most of the way back to the Y at the end of the day.
Thinking about the Y reminds me of the day when I was seven and the Y bus got back about 15 minutes later than usual. The YWCA sat up on a hill from this building, which was on Main Avenue.
Each day, I walked down the hill, crossed Main Avenue to Lexington Avenue, which ran parallel to Main in the downtown area. I was very worried because I was afraid that I missed my bus home. My mother taught me to take the #3 gray bus down Lexington Avenue and get off at the end of my street. Well, the bus had already gone by, but I was a resourceful seven year old because my parents had also taught me that the police were there to help. I walked up to a policeman walking his Lexington Avenue beat, gave him my name and told him my age and address and that my bus had gone without me because the Y bus was late. He told me not to worry, called for a police car on his walkie talkie and I had an exciting ride home. You see, my mother had forgotten to tell me one important detail – after the 3:30 bus, another bus would soon pull up and travel the same route! Today, my parents probably would be arrested for abandoning a child, but back then, it was commonplace for young children to ride the public buses around town.
I thought I could cover downtown in one post, but I can’t. There are just too many fun memories so tomorrow will actually be the last post about Passaic for a while.