The Early Years
end of 69th where it met the water at Shore Rd. This area became a great find for me (Butch the explorer) I could walk all the way from the 69th st ferry to 102 nd st st at Fort Hamilton along the water in this park like setting that surrounded it, or vice versa. It was always kind of like being part of the Lewis and Clark expedition, this area was so different than 5th ave it was like being in another world.
Greatest Place In The World
Thinking back I doubt there could of been a greater place in this whole world to to be introduced to life than 5th Ave and Ovington in Brooklyn. I was born a half a block from our home in Bay Ridge Hospital on Ovington Ave between 4th and 5th Ave, obviously my mother walked there to bring me into this world from the safe confines of her womb.
My earliest memory of being on the streets is not a very good one, my mom was a compulsive smoker and needed her daily fix, a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes, I would walk down the block to Sidney’s candy store to get them for her, I was about 5 years old at the time and this roughneck Peter Thomas lived in the house right before the candy store. This became a big problem because if he was outside he wouldn’t let me pass and would beat me up while I stood there and just took it, that is until the day I went home with a bloody nose and no cigarettes. When I told my mother what happened she made me go back to get her cigarretes and fight the kid, or else! Well not only did I fight him but I whooped him, that day started my love affair with street fighting, never lost a fight from then on. That was partially because I was smart enough not to mess with Bobby Burns, a bully from 72nd st near 4th ave. I also had an older guy Billy Wagner that had my back. You will soon see why I was hardly ever home and constantly late, I had so much to do and not enough time to do it in.
At about six years old or so I met and became very good close friends with Peter Keane from 72nd st. Peter was just a little older than I, a real tough guy with a lot of street smarts and presence, I really looked up to him, the real fun is about to begin.
We did so many different things together, such as playing stickball, johnny on the pony, filling bottle caps with wax and pitching them, pitching pennies to the line or wall, collecting, trading, flipping, and pitching baseball cards. Building carpet guns and push carts from the empty wooden boxes we would get from the fruit store. A carpet gun consisted of a heavy rubber band nailed to a piece of wood and stretched out to be connected to half a close pin that was also held by rubber bands, we would place a small square piece of linoleum that we cut from bigger pieces that were discarded by the carpet store, we placed them inside the stretched out rubber band right before the close pin which acted as the trigger, very effective, we would take target practice with it.
The push carts were made with a 2×4 piece of lumber, we nailed the front and back of a street skate to both ends of the 2×4 and a fruit box with handles on top, it was a great ride.
I also made and sold cool aid in front of our home on 5th ave, my very first business with many more to follow. I went to the cub scouts at 4th ave and 69th every friday night, on the way home I would have a lettuce and tomato sandwich on toast with mayo 25 cents in the ice cream parlor, a real treat.
Besides hanging with Peter I did many things on my own, as I’ve done all my life, went to school on 72nd and sixth ave, sunday school at 75th st and 4th ave, Good Shepherd Church, ate in the bowling alley almost everyday for lunch while going to school, had my hamburger, fremch fries, pickle and a coke 50 cents,
I was a real street kid in the true sense of the word. I was out everyday until it got dark or close to it, at which time if I wasn’t home it would be a big trouble and the cops would be out looking for me.
.Like all the times after I turned 8 years old, in the summer I would walk down to 69th st and Shore Road, get on the ferry and go to the St George swimming pool in Staten Island, which I found one day just walking around by myself after taking a ferry ride there
This was so great I can’t but it into words, at that age being on the ferry crossing the narrows with the wind in my face. Paying a quarter to get into the pool, actually it was 3 different pools with a locker room and shower. I loved the deep pool with the high board, it was so scary going up there and jumping off, I didn’t know how to dive yet. There were many times I was broke so I would just go down to the dock where the ferry was and jump in the water, great memories, but not for my mother when she couldn’t find me. You have no idea how many beatings I received from my father, and I mean beatings. Like the time I was stupid enough to set the litter basket on fire on the corner of 72nd st and 5th ave, unknown to me my father was sitting at bar watching me. He came out, picked me up by the neck and my feet never touched the ground until we were in our hall way where he bounced me off the wall, I deserved it. I always frustrated him because I would never cry or flinch, no matter how hard he hit me, I would just star him in the eye, never talked back or anything like that but wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of even trying to get out of the way of his open hand coming toward me. My father worked hard and drank hard, he had 3 different jobs, a full time job in the bank on 5th ave and 75th st, and part time jobs in Pohls ice cream parlor and he bar tended in various neighborhood saloons.
Many a day he would be out all night drinking beer after his last job of the night and come home just in time to bath, get dressed and go to work in the bank. He went on years later to be the head manager of all the Brooklyn Savings Bank branches and was known as Simon Legree, you figure it…
Tunnels And Driveways
On Ovington Ave between 5th and 6th ave there was a long row of attached multiple family apartments, the great thing about this was the community driveway behind the buildings which had an entry way on both ends of the multiple structures, the best part was each separate address also had a tunnel underneath the building with a front and back entrance of it’s own. This complex as a whole gave us endless hours of adventure that only a young kids mind and imagination could create.
Milton’s Grocery Store
Every morning I would go to Milton’s grocery store for bagels, I loved the bagels he had which must of had some kind of meaning because at about 14 years old I became good friends with Paul whose father was the only Italian in the bagel bakers union, he opened the first ground level bagel bakery on Flatbush Ave and Parkside, he went on to having the biggest wholesale route in the city, Paul was also an excellent baker at his tender age but hated it even though he made as much money as most 2 men combined working normal jobs.
The Haunted House
This large very old house on Ovington ave not far from 5th ave was truly haunted, just ask any kid that grew up there. It had a very wide frontage with bushes and trees that only a witch could grow, very eerie and scary to say the least. We would dare each other to set foot on the property and then run like our life depended on not getting caught by the witch. There came a time that the haunted house was sold to make room for a bowling alley, while it was vacant I remember Peter and myself built our own make shift hut from branch twigs that became our hide out that summer.
Up On The Roof
If you made your way up to the roof of the apartment we lived in on 5th ave, you would find a different world, all the buildings from Ovington ave to 72nd st were attached which meant all the roofs were attached usually with a small wall barrier separating them. I didn’t go up there to often because I always had this very strange feeling of being very exposed, to what? I don’t know?
I grew up with two sisters, Carol and Linda who were just slightly younger than myself. The strange thing is I have no real memories of them while living in Bay Ridge, just one. I was coming out of the restaurant in Ovington Lanes and saw my sister Carol across the street by the side of the florist shop being picked on by some kid. I went across the street and taught him a lesson, that’s it, my only real memory.
Besides my sisters I lived with my mother Edith, a lovable warm bright person. My grandmother Alice, a stern German who always tried to control my mother, I had a good relationship with her, my mothers brother, uncle Bob who like my mother was a nice warm person who didn’t get along with my father, then again who did? and my father Walter, till the day he died I never really got to know him, what made him tic or what his thought process was, his likes and dislikes, you couldn’t get inside his head, he wouldn’t allow it. The only thing we shared as a family besides meals was the radio, great shows like Amos n Andy, The life Of Reilly, The Green Hornet, you actually had to use your imagination instead of just starring at a TV screen which we do now.
When we moved to Bensonhurst two family members were added, my brother’s Walter and Eric. I never spent any real time with them either, I was always out doing something, working, bowling, playing sports, gambling, I was just about never home. We were a big family of five kids which is dwarfed by My current wife’s parents, her mother had 15 brothers and sisters, her father had 8 sisters.
Halloween On 5th Ave
I looked forward all year to Halloween, it was great fun, we would get a lot of chalk and put it inside of a sock with the end tied in a knot, then hit it to the ground until the chalk turned to dust and go around hitting all the kids with the chalk sock until everyones cloths were full of the stuff, by the end of the day you can imagine what we all looked like.
4th Of July On 5th Ave
The 4th of July was exciting beyond believe, I wasn’t allowed out but had a birds eye view of everything from my 5th ave window. It was like being in the middle of a war zone yet watching it from the safety of being above it all. That was really a great window to have, kind of like it was a big TV screen which we didn’t have yet, a radio but not television.
Riding The 5th Ave Bus
I had my own way of riding the 5th ave bus, on the back of it. This was fantastic sport, the bus drivers were always looking out for kids riding on the outside back of the bus. The trick was to hide between the parked cars and run out quickly once the bus started moving, jump on the back end and position yourself so the driver couldn’t see you. Some people along 5th ave would be spoiled sports and signal the driver that he had unwanted passengers.
Polo Matches At Fort Hamilton
The Alpine Theater is one of my fondest memories, I snuck in there many a day, I would casually stroll into the lobby looking at the posters of the coming movies, when the ticket taker wasn’t looking my way i would go through the door into the theater when someone opened it to exit, great fun, great movies, great memories.
Loews Bay Ridge
The Bay Ridge Theatre was opened on December 27, 1915 with 1,919 seats. It was closed in around 1963 and became a bingo club for many years. In a later conversion, the Bay Ridge Theatre’s 1,796-seat auditorium was gutted to make way for retail space.
RKO Dyker – There was also The Fortway Theater on Fort Hamilton Parkway and 71 st and The Electra for horror movies on 3rd ave and 74th st, I went to them all but mostly the Alpine, the best one of them all and only one block from house to boot.
The park was at 4th Ave and a 101 st, I would walk there or ride the back of a bus, this was a time before the Verazzano Bridge was built, it had this great big cannon that was there since the 1800s that I would climb onto and enjoy the view from atop of it.
During the Civil War, Fort Hamilton’s garrison expanded. A ship barrier across the Narrows assisted Fort Hamilton and its sister forts on Staten Island, now called Fort Wadsworth, in protecting the harbor against the possibility of Confederate raiders. The forts also provided troops to help put down the New York Draft Riots of 1863. Rifled cannon made vertical-walled masonry fortifications obsolete during the Civil War, and in the last decades of the nineteenth century great advances in military technology brought a whole new generation of long-range guns mounted in inconspicuous emplacements. In the two World Wars, Fort Hamilton served as a major embarkation and separation center.
Owls Head Park
If Shore Road wasn’t enough, on the other side of the 69th st ferry I went to Owls Head Park, This park was very large with many big tree’s and hiils, cars drove through a winding parkway right in the center of it. I spent many a day exploring the grounds.
Owl’s Head Park is now one of the premier parks in Brooklyn. Families picnic at the park in the summer, and children sled down its hill in the winter. The vista remains unmatched for watching ships enter and leave New York Harbor. Owl’s
Head Park also boasts an extensive collection of trees, including pines, locusts, oaks, maples, corks, beeches, and one S-shaped tulip poplar that defies gravity.
I mainly went to Sunset Park in the summer for the wading pool, it was on 5th ave around 37th st, I walked and rode the back of a bus whenever possible. The shallow pool also had the equivalent of johnny pumps around it that would spray water high in the air and come down on our heads.
This park sent me to the hospital. I had borrowed a friends english racer bicycle, never rode one before and wasn’t accustomed to the hand breaks, I came down the big hill going very fast and crashed into the picket fence, one of the pickets went straight through my left cheek,
I somehow wondered home in a daze and a bloody mess, was taken straight to the hospital down the block, to this day I still have a crooked tooth and small scare on my cheek from that day. If I had hit the fence head on instead of side swiping it I probably would of been dead.
The park was only a few blocks from my house and I also had many great days there. How was it possible to have so many historic fantastic parks within walking distance of my 5th ave home.
Leaf Ericson Park
This park was only a few blocks from my home and had baseball fields, roller skating hockey, tennis and much more, it ran a few blocks from 4th ave and 67th st to 7th ave
I also remember all the Friday nights that Rocky Graziano, the middle weight boxing champion of the world would stop by with his wife Norma who was my mothers best friend since childhood, they would always bring this delicious stringy loaded with cheese brick oven pizza from Lento’s3rd Ave and Ovington for us all to eat, I didn’t even know at the time how famous Rocky was, my mother didn’t like him at very much.
I remember one time, I’m not sure what year it was, being at his home on Ocean Parkway between Ave M and N, he had a beautiful finished basement with a bar, his daughter Audrey, about my age got spanked because she soaked me with the hose in their driveway, years later I lived just a block away on E 5th St between M and N with my first wife, he no longer lived there.
Many years later I was driving my own cab and picked up Rocky and his wife on the corner by their apartment on York Ave and 61 St Manhattan, about 1972, they were fighting all the way to the Warwick Hotel to attend a big event. It was the first time I saw them in many years even though my mother was constantly in touch, they didn’t notice my name on my hack license so I didn’t bother to say anything because they weren’t in the best of moods, he gave me a quarter tip, Rocky was never accused of being a big spender. My tribute video to Lento’s
Indoor Roller Skating Rink
The roller skating rink was on 62nd st and 7th ave, a short walk from my home. I remember going there to try and pick up girls at the very young age of about 9, I would ask them if they wanted to skate with me, we would hold hands and skate to the music being played.
I can’t tell you how exciting it was to enter that place, hear the music being played loud and sound of the skaters in the rink, then renting the skates, lacing up and hitting the rink to loosen up before asking any girl to skate, great times, unbelievable. I was a good roller skater but could never ice skate.
These are not fond memories, unfortunetley I never liked school from my first day at PS 170 to my last day at William E. Grady High School. No stories here, I blocked them all out, can’t recall one day in this school. It’s really strange, all I can remember from any of the 4 schools I attended were all the fights I was in and the sports I played
My Italian Connection
I obtained my early graving for Italian food by eating with the Meringolo family almost every Sunday, they lived in the middle of the block on 5th ave between ovington and 72nd st above a jewish deli.
My uncle Bob, my mothers brother who lived with us was going out with Angie Meringolo who he eventually married, at which point she became my aunt.
Angie’s father owned the shoe repair store on 5th ave. Angie had a brother Joey who also lived with them, he was a short heavyset guy, quiet and nice that hung out on the corner of 4th ave and 69th st, I found out many years later in the 80s that he had moved up the ladder in his chosen occupation, I never would have guessed it.
Angie’s sister Gloria, a beautiful girl died I think at around 18 years of age from pneumonia if I remember correctly, we all felt terrible for years. I also would go to the fish store on 5th between ovington and 69th st for a fish hero with fries, 50 cents and delicious. If your beginning to think I ate out more than at home your right.
My favorite meal of all time is something my mother made, baked macaroni Swedish style, made with ziti in a large full pan. it contained a cheddar cheese cream sauce topped with extra, extra sharp chedder cheese from a fantastic imported cheese store on 5th and 69th st, you can’t find extra sharp cheddar like they had. We would have brown gravy and meatballs over the baked macaroni, unbelievably delicious. And the next day when you cut square pieces from the left overs and heated it in a frying pan with butter it was even better.
One Of The Sadist Days Of My Life.
I was 10 years old when the moving truck pulled up to bring our furniture to our new home. A one family house on 57th st between 20th and 21st ave in Bensonhurst, the house was on a double lot with a front, side, and back yard. There was also a driveway and triple car garage.
57th st was the last block in Brooklyn to be unpaved with no sidewalk, pot holes galore and right near a cemetery. I loved 5th Ave in Bay Ridge and my friendship with Peter, I instantly hated my new home. The first thing I did when we arrived was meet my new neighbor from across the street who had come over to introduce himself, Alan (brother) Benson was half Irish and half Swedish and one year older than myself, one of the nicest people you would ever want to meet. The nights were so quiet that I couldn’t sleep, all I heard was crickets, drove me nuts. I really thought this was farm land, compared to 5th ave in Bay Ridge this was the boondocs.
My favorite place for breakfast, The New Royal 4th Ave & 69th St
I am a blessed man because most people throughout their life are lucky if they have just one real good friend, I have had 6, and I mean 6 truly great amazing friends, the first of which was Peter Keane, followed by Alan (brother) Benson), Richie Peltzer, Paul Leonardi, Douglas Najar, and last but not least Larry Hersh, The scales were balanced three and three as to their personalities and wildness. The Yin and the Yang friendships of my life. As I said, I am blessed for these amazing friendships I’ve had and continue to have, all except Richie who died in a auto crash in Texas in the late 80s.
Butch started his road to television in 1962 when he became an independent motion picture producer. He worked in a number of different careers until 1994.
Since the age of fourteen he’s been a high school student, mail carrier for the Post Office and manager of the margin dept. at Bache & Company followed by Prudential Reynolds.
Butch then purchased and drove his own N.Y.C. Taxi cab followed by ownership of a paper bag distribution company and party supplies warehouse while also booking bands into the casino lounges of Atlantic City.
He then went on to creating, hosting, and producing three cable TV shows, Life! What Is It All About?, Hole In The Wall, and Ring Fever, with his partner Robert Santa, which were aired on Time Warner and Cablevision in the N.Y. C. area.
The whole time since he graduated grammar school there’s only been one constant…
He always has been, and always will be, a professional gambler… AC Butch
My 1976 Action Bowling Comeback
One Of Butch’s Favorites