This is the continuation of the initial “Off Broadway” article – the memories of Alex Ramsey, who grew up on the city’s East Side. It is interesting to note that he has been living in Texas since 1977, but that his fondest memories are from his youth.
“The cohesiveness of the neighborhood itself made it a truly special time and place to grow up in.”
Life as I clearly recall, way back when, took form in 1965, when we moved to the Club Romway building – 1334 Broadway. I was 9 years old. I remember glimpses from when I lived at 294 Johnson Street, and went to PS#39 on High Street. One vivid recall was being able to hear roars from War Memorial Stadium, mainly during Bills games, from my backyard. That was how close we were!
In 1964 when I was 8, we moved to 384 Wilson Street for 1 year, where I attended PS#90. My highlight of living there was a parade – the annual recognition of Pulaski days and Kosciusko. This one particular time, Robert Kennedy was standing in the backseat of a convertible, campaigning to be a U.S. Senator, which he eventually won. I was standing at Broadway and Wilson Street when his car passed as he was reaching down to shake hands, and he grabbed mine! I remember being in awe, just staring at my hand that RFK just shook.
In 1965 we moved to the top of Club Romway. I attended PS#44 4th-8th grade, graduating in 1970. My parents were post WWII immigrants from the Soviet Union, and in time I discovered we were the only Russian family in the neighborhood. At the time, I’d say that the neighborhood was occupied by 99% Polish families. My immediate world was Broadway of course, Rommel Street (Romway was at the corner of Broadway & Rommel), Schmarback Street, and Person Street. The three side streets dead-ended to the north into Schlenker Street,beyond was what we called “The Fields.” The Fields was essentially several acres of NY Central property, edged on the north by hills – absolutely ideal for sledding in the winters. There was a relatively large pond that froze for several months making for nearly a regulation sized ice rink, providing us with 100’s of hours of pond hockey.
In Buffalo, at least back then, most kids learned to ice skate around the time we started to walk. Several neighborhood dads, one weekend, generously got together and brought their lawnmowers into the fields and cut the 2′-3′ stalks of wheat and grass to lawn size – about 40 yards wide, and 75-80 yards in length, granting for an ideal “sandlot” for tackle football, baseball, softball etc. Football was year-round, baseball was seasonal, and the Schmarback Field got so much use from us, the grass never had to be cut again. There’s nothing like playing tackle football in pouring rain and mud, or even in the snow.
School 44 playground especially in the summers was literally a beehive of activity. It was the heart of the “baby boomer years.” Several dozen kids would flock there after school till dark. The City had spray-painted bases at the southeast corner of the playground adjoining Krupp Street. Adjacent to “The Diamond” were swingsets, teeter-totters, slides, etc. Our usual “Crew” of “older guys”(15-17) Bob and Paul Sakalowski, David Golebiewski (Gobi), Mike Curzey, Jimmy Bogdan, Gary Noreck, and Kenny Ruczhinski, would “allow” us younger guys (11-14) to join in on the fun (the ones that could play at or near their level), including myself, Theo Hahin, Sidney Panfil, Jay, David Sikorski, Richard Gostomski, Dave Lacki, Dave Silakowski. See what I mean about the Polish inhabitants? Back in the day, they referred to themselves as ‘Polacks,’ all in lighthearted good fun. Of course that would be considered politically incorrect these days, even if they did use the term themselves. Times were certainly different.
Another game of choice was slow pitch baseball using a “corkball” (actually hardball-size rubber ball). I cut my teeth and honed my skills on that playground for hardball, which came a few years later at Emerson, Sycamore, and Lincoln hardball leagues, sponsored by Hank Nowak Post 45 Amvets. If there was a shortage of guys for baseball, we’d play 2 on 2, or 3 on 3 corkball. We would draw (with chalk) a box depicting a strike zone on 44’s wall, and that was full speed fastpitch, crossways on the playground. Rules were standardized, as to hits, outs, etc., since there were no bases in that version of baseball. Next to the 44 building was a basketball court… 3 on 3, or 2 on 2, was 1/2 court, and 5 on 5, full court.
Lincoln Gym on Peck and Quincy Street was a very nice facility. Saturday mornings was team dodgeball. The indoor basketball court had a fenced-in balcony for viewers. There was an outside regulation basketball court, a softball-sized baseball diamond, and even an outdoor wading pool with a fountain spray for hot days. We would cool off there, before we began venturing out of the neighborhood as we got older, on our bicycles (in my next letter).
The playgrounds went into hibernation during the winters, but we had the fields for football, pond hockey, and sledding. Also a daily street hockey game on Person and Schlenker Streets, Monday through Fridays at 6:00 PM, after supper. Packed down snow and a bright street light at the corner illuminated the street as if it were daytime!
In-between, snowball wars, throwing snowballs at the #4 NFT broadway bus…. always hoping to throw one into an open window.
Thanks for letting me share these thoughts. I opened up my own Pandora’s box of memories. I was a lucky guy growing up in that neighborhood. I’m still in regular contact with three of the guys from the old neighborhood. One of them – Theo – rounds up three or four more of us whenever I come to Buffalo for a visit. I will be back in June). We traditionally meet for a Friday evening fish fry at Wiechec’s Lounge on Clinton Street. Friends for 56 years now!
Lead image: Photo by Austin Ban