Exploring in the shadow of the Cross-Bronx Expressway—
Tremont Ave., 175th St., Washington Ave., Park Ave., Bathgate Ave., and 176th St.
Not too many two- and three-story houses survive in the around around the Cross-Bronx Expressway (visible behind these homes).
Italian-Americans live in these houses on 175th St. They could be the families of the Italians who lived here when Irv grew up. Irv remembers their grape vines and stomping grapes to make wine. This was during Prohibition.
Buildings that were banks and synagogues in Irv's day are now churches.
Down the block from where Irv grew up is the Tremont branch of the public library (Washington Avenue at 176th St.) The cornerstone is from 1909, so the building was relatively new when Irv was there. This was also the library used by author E.L. Doctorow (born 1931) when he was a child.
It's still a lovely building inside and out. Irv wanted to go upstairs. “That’s the children’s room,” a staff member told us dubiously. We said we just wanted to look around. Irv remembered fighting with another kid on the second floor and pushing him against a glass panel in the stairway. The glass broke, and the kid went flying. Irv loves that memory.
Businesses around the neighborhood. Lower left, part of a mural for a medical clinic on Tremont, painted by the famed graffiti artists Tats Cru.
A man stopped to talk with us and told us how he was evicted from his building across the street, a nice-looking (from the outside) five-story tenement with a landlord who didn’t fix up the place and who just got rid of people. The man said he is homeless now.
Frank's Sport Shop was here on Tremont and Park Ave. when Irv grew up here. Frank's son, Moe Stein, 83, (right), still runs the place. At left, Irv examines a stickball bat made from maple, not the traditional broomstick handle that was the mainstay of street ball.
Moe Stein made sure we saw the building next door to Frank's because it belonged to gangster Dutch Schultz, one of the neighborhood mobsters in the 1920s and '30s. Schultz appears as a character in E.L. Doctorow's 1989 novel, Billy Bathgate. The narrator's name comes from the street name that defines the neighborhood.
Our guide Irv Fishman, put on a new Frank's Sport Shop N.Y. Giants hat in a Bronx-worthy hip-hop style. Irv moved to Bathgate when he was four after his mother died in 1922. His father brought him here to be raised by an aunt and an older cousin. Later, Irv moved near Van Cortlandt Park also in the Bronx. “When I was 16, 17, I was so wild, I had to live with my father.” It wasn't his preference because he hated his stepmother.
He attended DeWitt Clinton High School near Van Cortlandt Park and graduated from the University of Wisconsin. During World War II he served in the Army. After the war, he became a businessman with enterprises such as delivering brewed coffee to concessions in skyscrapers. He settled on the Lower East Side down the hall from his cousin Henrietta who had helped raise him in the Bronx. Aside from a short marriage, he lived on his own and maintained affectionate relationships with relatives and friends.