Jacob Riis Houses

On December 23, 1958, my parents, sister and two brothers moved into 178 Ave. D, Apt. 5H, where about a year later I was born. Six years later another sibling was born (a sister) and about two years after that, yet another sibling (another sister). Our very small three bedroom apartment was the pit-stop and gathering place for most of our newly arrived relatives from Puerto Rico. They stayed with us in that very cramped apartment anywhere from a day to as long as a couple of years. I don’t know how we managed, but we did.
I have so many wonderful memories and some not so wonderful ones, but there is no need to talk about the latter. I remember the days when the apartment doors on my floor were propped open so that we, the kids, could play in the hallway under the watchful eyes of our mothers. I remember the street games we played that kept us engaged for hours and sometimes for days. We played games like Scully, Manhunt, Handball, Hit Off The Barrel, Stickball, etc….. I remember how close we were with our next door neighbors. We were so close that we considered ourselves family. We were like siblings. Our parents baptized each other’s kids and became each other’s comai and compai. That made our being family, official.
I have very fond memories of the old Jewish man who came around with his knish and pretzel cart just in time for school to let out. How about the coquito man who came around in the summer or Mike the hotdog man? Weren’t his onions the best? And, what about Don Julio the piragua man? Oh yeah, and what about Mr. Hood Ice Cream with the blasting music? .
I remember Maria Medina and her late daughter, may she rest in peace, Vicky Medina. They were always creating and encouraging fun activities for the community like organizing building Christmas decorating and summer gardening contests and fashion shows and so on. I remember the numerous times a section of Con Ed would blow-up and scare the bejeebies out of everyone. I remember my brothers and their friends playing congas on 10th Street by the bus stop till all hours of the night. I remember when we would break into the 10th Street pool late at night. Oh yes, those were the good old days
I moved away from the neighborhood about 20 years ago and have only been back to visit about three times. When I think about my childhood in the Jacob Riis Projects which are located in the East Village, Lower East Side, Alphabet City or Loisaida (Call it what you wish), I am filled with mixed emotions; emotions of gratitude, pleasure, sadness, and anger. My feelings of gratitude come from the safety I felt most of the time as a result of all the mothers who made sure that we were well protected. If they saw you doing something you should not have been doing, you could rest assured that they would stop you, tell your mother, or both. My pleasure comes from having had some really wonderful summers in my formative years. For instance, we used to spend hours on end in the 23rd Street pool where we played all sorts of water games. Then we would go to the local deli in Sty. Town on 21st Street and raid the store cause we were so hungry. My feelings of sadness and anger come from the loss of so many young lives due to dysfunction, drugs and aids.
I am sure that I left a great deal out and I would very much like to invite you to join this group if you grew up in the Jacob Riis Houses and to share your stories about your childhood in our neighborhood. Please feel free to invite other Jacob Riis former or present residents.