Tag Archives: Linda Sabo Stufflebean

Everything You Could Ever Want – Downtown Passaic, Part 4

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.

Dotty Locker 1


Dotty Locker 2

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.

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Location of Dotty Locker School of Dance

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!

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Miss Dotty

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.

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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.

Growing Up in Passaic, Part 3

Sunday morning in Passaic was quiet time, spent with family and/or attending church.

My dad, George, had a definite Sunday morning routine. My mother would make breakfast while he drove from our house down to Hope Avenue, a block or so from Holy Trinity Church. The Garfield Baking Company was a 181 Hope Avenue and Dad went there, rain or shine, every Sunday morning to buy hard rolls to have with his breakfast. He also bought all the New York City and local Passaic and Newark Sunday papers from either a street vendor or a shop next to the bakery. I don’t remember which it was, but here is the site of the old Garfield Baking Company today. You can see the brown brick of Holy Trinity on the far right.

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Bakery that is now a laundromat

My parents weren’t particularly religious, unlike my Greek Rite Catholic Nana who walked all over Passaic to visit churches, but they did send me to both Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, but at two different churches. Sunday School was at St. John’s Lutheran Church on Lexington Avenue. It is a majestic church with historic stained glass windows. Although this postcard photo was taken in the early 1900’s, the church still looks the same today.

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St. John’s Church
Postcard in my collection

I started in the Nursery Department and continued with Sunday School into 6th grade, when we moved to Wayne.

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1956 Promotion!

When I was about nine or ten, I decided that I wanted to join the children’s choir at St. John’s. I was welcomed into the group even though I think my range is about 3 notes and I can barely carry a tune. My mother dutiful took me to choir practice, but I didn’t last long – less than a year, as I remember.

The (Dutch) Summer Street Christian Reformed Church, across the street and next to the apartments, eliminated the need for transportation and kept me busy for one week each summer. Today, this church is a Hispanic denomination.

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Former Summer Street Christian Reformed Church
GoogleEarth streetview

I attended Vacation Bible School there for several years and when I was about 7 years old, I even joined their chapter of Pioneer Girls.

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Vacation Bible School, 1958
“We will make you fishers of men, fishers of men. . .”

On Saturdays and holidays, Nana, who lived upstairs from us, often took me walking around town with her. Saturday walks usually meant visiting churches. I think I’ve been in every Catholic church in Passaic, and there were a number of them back then – Holy Trinity, St. Michael’s, St. Nicholas, St. Anthony, St. Mary’s, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Stephen’s and probably a couple of others whose names I’ve forgotten.  I guess I can say I had a steady dose of Lutheran, Dutch Reformed and Catholic teachings in my young life.

Being a melting pot, Passaic had some unique events. One was the blending of all the various Catholic ethnic parishes as they came together every year on Columbus Day for the Holy Name Parade, sponsored by the Italian men’s society. We always watched the parade, which marched down Lexington Avenue with parishioners joining the marching bands and students. Remember, my block of Summer Street was bordered on one side by Lexington Avenue so we only had a half block to go to see it. Flags flew, bands played, people sang and clapped and cheered as their parish representatives went by.

Birthday parties were always a neighborhood celebration, although with apartment rentals and also house rentals on my block, children moved in and then they moved away. Here’s my birthday party in 1957.

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Birthday 1957

From left to right, there is Nancy, Greg in front, Bruce behind Lenore with the X straps on her dress, Adrienne, Howard in back and me on the right. By the early 1960’s, Nancy moved away, brothers Bruce and Greg moved to Connecticut and Adrienne moved to Queens, New York. Howard and Lenore moved to Wayne after we did. Such was the turnover of families.

Christmas was always an exciting time for us kids. One of the first ways I was able to earn a little spending money was by addressing my Nana’s Christmas cards for her. I made the tidy sum of $1.00, which sounds like a lot of money considering my age and the time period. Nana had a lot, and I mean a lot, of friends.

ChristmasCard1950s

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One of Nana’s cards that never got mailed

She also carefully chose each card for the saying inside to fit the recipients. There were piles and piles of cards, both secular and religious.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that she likely mailed 150-200 Christmas cards each year and 98% of those people lived locally. That means I earned about a half cent per addressed card. Even by standards of those times, she had the better end of that deal.

By about 1960, so many Americans were mailing Christmas cards that our mailman delivered the mail twice a day for the week before Christmas. I remember one evening when it was snowing lightly. It was about 6:00 and I heard the mailman come onto our front porch. He stuffed the box with cards and then went on to the next house. Those were the days before mail trucks. In Passaic, the mailmen walked their routes. I can only imagine starting his day early so he could finish by noon, rush back to the post office and load the next round of mail into his push cart.

Gifts weren’t nearly as extravagant back then as today. Even if the technologically advanced gadgets had been available, few would have been bought by Passaic parents because they couldn’t have afforded them. I remember Christmas 1959 quite vividly for two reasons. First, I had outgrown my little blue two-wheeler bike and Santa brought me this beautiful pink and white Schwinn. As young as I was, I knew it was not an inexpensive gift and I very much appreciated that it appeared by our Christmas tree and it had my name on it.

The other reason I remember this so well is that I had not only desperately wanted a new bike, I wanted it to NOT snow on Christmas so I could go out riding me new bicycle that afternoon. Well, I got my wish and it didn’t snow. However, I didn’t get to ride my new bike outside that day or the next or the next or any day of Christmas vacation. That’s because I received a totally unwanted gift that Christmas morning. I woke up and had spots all over me – I had chicken pox!!

All of these happenings took place right on Summer Street. Tomorrow, I will finish up my memories with a walk through downtown Passaic.

Life in Passaic, Circa 1960, Part 1

My son was about 20 years old when we visited family back east and I took him to see my old Passaic neighborhood. He was interested to see the place where I had lived until I was eleven, and where his grandfather was born and raised, but I realize now that, due to time constraints, I hadn’t ever shared many stories with him.

Most family historians focus on the stories of our ancestors, but overlook the fact that, one day, we will be the ancestors and our stories need to also be told.

I’ve written multiple posts about my great grandparents and grandparents who settled in Passaic. I also devoted some posts to my student days at Roosevelt #10 School. However, there was definitely a life outside of school, so today I’d like to share what life was like outside of school.

If you are new to this blog, Passaic, New Jersey, about 15 miles west of New York City, is very much a melting pot and a microcosm reflecting the immigrant history of the United States as a whole. Passaic was already a gritty, old, industrial city was I was growing up there, but waves of immigrants continued to arrive, settle into their new lives and become Americans. The surnames of friends and neighbors on Summer Street, where I lived, paints the picture – Sabo, Feld, Scheaffel, Kuhl, Matson, Tell, DeBell, Oostenink, Rudolph, Buckley, Troast, Bruno, Oostdyk, Winkler, Crystal, Polizzi, Castrilli, Grodzicki, Guilbeault and Conroy.

My family was at least the fourth to live at 49 Summer Street, as the Ashmeads were there in 1900, the Woodruffs in 1910 and the Nitto family from Italy lived there in 1920. My grandmother said my dad was born in the house in 1926 and they are living there in the 1930 census.

Summer Street was really a beautiful, tree-lined street as I was growing up. We had a big maple and an oak tree in front of our house. Although this is winter time, you can see the trees lining the street in the background. This is me with Dad, in winter 1953.

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Sidewalk in front of our house

I imagine the trees got too big and roots were causing damage, so at some point they were taken out. New ones have been planted, but they haven’t yet filled in to match the trees in my memory.

To understand the neighborhood kids’ play areas, you need to know a bit about the neighborhood. Here is an aerial view of Summer Street, with Central Avenue at the left corner and Lexington Avenue on the right corner. GoogleEarth has pinpointed my house and the two U-shaped buildings are the apartment complex across the street from my house.

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Summer Street, Passaic, NJ

My front yard looked directly across into the u-shape of the building on the left. This is a very blurry photo of my brother in our yard, but you can see the grassy area of the apartment across the street.

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Apartments Across the Street

Here is a current GoogleEarth street view of the area in between the two apartment buildings:

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Play Area

Do you see the metal railings near the ground attached to the left building? That is where the steps are to go into the basement. Here is another view, taken about 1954:

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Linda, at the apartments

I was probably there because my mom’s best friend, Rita, lived in that building with her family.

The last area was on the right side of the right building. We called it Shady Lane because there were big old trees along the property line between the apartments and a beautiful, huge old house – with a swimming pool in the ground! There were metal bars in the ground along there with clotheslines running between them. The first bar, though, had no lines on it and we used to play on it.

Today, the beautiful old house is long gone. It was set way back from the street and the property was quite big. You can see the size of it in this picture, as condos and a parking lot have taken its place.

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Shady Lane, 2015

This is the best view I could bring up on GoogleEarth. Shady Lane isn’t too shady anymore, aside from the tree on the sidewalk blocking the view. If you look at the aerial view in the beginning of this post, you can see the length of these condo buildings and the size of the parking lot. That used to be the yard for the old house. I never knew who lived there, as there were no children.

The last view I’d like to share with you is of what used to be the Dutch Reformed Church and the rectory, located to the left of the apartment complex in the above aerial view. Today, the church is Hispanic.

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Previously, the Dutch Reformed Church
GoogleEarth street view

The rectory next door (to the right) can be seen better here:

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Church Rectory

Back around 1960, there was no parking lot area around this church except by accessing the driveway on the other side of the building. On this side, there was all grass with just a sidewalk along the side of the church. The rectory, which also served as the pastor’s family’s home, had a beautiful big grassy backyard with some gorgeous old trees in it. In the early 1960’s, the rectory lost its backyard to expanded church parking and it appears since then, it has also lost all of its side yard.

Here is one more aerial view that covers much of my young life, from Summer Street to school to the way downtown.

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Passaic Neighborhood

If you click to enlarge the neighborhood view, you will see “Linda’s house” pinned on the left and 155 Harrison Street pinned on the very far right. If you follow Summer Street to the left, the busy road cutting the bottom left corner is Central Avenue. Follow Summer Street to the right corner and Lexington Avenue is the other busy street. If you followed either of these streets to the south, they eventually intersect as a V in downtown Passaic, which was about a 25 minute walk from my house.

That is pretty much the Summer Street neighborhood where I grew up. Please come back tomorrow to hear about growing up in Passaic.