1136 Fifth Avenue

I was bored so I Googled my old address. I was quite taken by the flurry of emotions I felt. I was expecting to see a familiar building and green awning. I was not expecting to have the same building and awning evoke so many memories and emotions.


This is the building where I grew up. My formidable childhood and teen years took place here. I climbed those brass poles when I was little. I jump-roped, pogo-sticked and hopscotched in front of those doors. My parents left the building 20 years ago. They left the hustle and bustle of Manhattan for the relative peace and quiet of Newport, Rhode Island. I was in college and was shocked by their immediate and, what I thought to be a rash decision. How could they do this to me? They had foiled my grand master plan which was to move back home, get a job and not have to pay rent. Well, my grand master plan never came to fruition and so my life took a vastly different turn. This City Girl would end up living, most likely for the rest of her life, in the country. Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid would end up moving in (until their separation).

And this girl would soon learn, however, that you can take the girl out of the city, but you cannot take the city out of the girl!

Most kids cannot wait for their 16th Birthdays. Drivers licenses and cars follow suit. But not for me. I was never going to learn how to drive. Whatever for? I had buses and taxis and my feet at my disposal. (Loathe the Subway and to this day can count on my fingers and toes how many times I've used the Subway system.) But driver's licenses and cars would have no part in my future. Or so I thought then!

I hung out in front of my building a lot. Like many kids play in front of their houses and meet up with neighbors on their street. I roller skated (anyone remember sneaker skates?!) and skateboarded up and down Fifth Avenue. I lived in an area referred to as Museum Mile. Many of Manhattans most famous museums were located within that one mile. I loved to skateboard to the Guggenheim which was less than a half mile away. The Good Humor Man was always parked on the corner standing proudly in his white uniform, next to his white truck. I had two favorites. Both were chocolate.One was the chocolate eclair and the other had an actual chocolate candy bar inside it. Sometimes we'd skate a few blocks further to The Metropolitan Museum of Art where the man selling Italian ices had his cart. He sold lemon, cherry and chocolate. There might have been a blue one as well. I most often got chocolate. Lemon was my second choice. I never much cared for the cherry. Sometimes my friends and I would just hang out on the steps of the "Met" and people watch. 

The Stanhope Hotel was just across on the other side of Fifth. My grandparents always stayed there when they crossed the pond to come and visit us. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis lived directly across the street from the hotel and the museum and it was not at all unusual to see her or walk by her. Other celebrities I saw in my "hood" were Dustin Hoffman, Bill Murray, Ralph Lauren and Robert Redford. Movies were also frequently shot in this area. Kramer vs. Kramer was filmed on location in a restaurant just up the block from the met (on Madison Avenue) and at the school, PS8 located on the other side of Madison. Trading Places was shot a block away from where I lived. 

My neighborhood was always hustling and bustling and there was no better place to watch people than the steps of the Met. In the summertime, on the weekends Central Park is closed to all vehicular traffic. The streets are filled with bicycles, rollerblades, skateboards and runners. The road behind the Met was a great place to skate board. There's a large open grassy area behind the museum and on any warm weekend day it's filled with people reading, relaxing, picnicking and sunbathing. This was all my back yard and I was indeed the luckiest child in the world. There were also two wonderful playgrounds within that half mile that we could go to by ourselves once we got a bit older, 10?

Sometimes I just hung out in front of our buildings. I had a dozen friends that lived within a couple of blocks. My two very best friends lived right across the street at 1125 Fifth Avenue. They were sisters just 13 months apart in age. I was smack dab in the middle and did everything with them. Robert Redford lived in their building with his wife and children. His children were older than I. One day I was outside chatting with one of the doormen waiting for my friend Catherine to come downstairs. A really good looking, strawberry blond with tousled hair exited the building. He had his skateboard under his arm. I was holding on to the awning pole with both feet on my board. He taught me how to do a 360 on my board. He was nice. And handsome. And I had no idea who he was until he walked away and the doorman told me!

Robert Redford was as good looking in person. There is no way I can ever compare him to the other blond, younger actor, that resembles him slightly. Robert would never give up someone as classy and elegant as Gwynneth (who while younger went to the same school as Redford's daughter) for someone like Jennifer and  certainly would never end up with anyone like Angelina. Robert Redford was preppy. Old school. I remember this because I remember seeing him (as he came out of his limo -- or went into his limo) in lovely colored Shetland (cashmere?) sweaters and dark sunglasses. Always dark sunglasses. I knew preppy. The Preppy Handbook was my life. My music school was mentioned. As was my dance school. As was my school. As were many other pl aces I frequented. I had my blucher moccasins (LL Bean), penny loafers and my polos. (Ralph Lauren was one of  my father's clients for many, many years and he had drawers and drawers filled with Polo shirts -- in every color under the sun. Many still in their plastic packaging. His drawers became my drawers. My collars were always up. Mr. Lauren lived just a couple of blocks away. I didn't see him often at all.

We had lemonade stands in front of our building. I remember we always made a lot of money. The doormen liked to hang out with us as well. Dressed in their dark coats with big gold buttons, Chauffeur-like caps and white gloves, they stood tall and ready to open a door, or help a resident at any moment, but they liked the distraction we offered them. We had two doormen and two elevator men, if my memory serves me correctly. 

Our building had the old fashioned kind of elevators. There were no numbers to push, just a brass gate (not even a door!) to close and a lever that went to the right or left, depending on whether you wanted the elevator to go up or down. Some of the elevator men were nice and would let you drive the elevator to your floor! During the elevator strikes the building's residents would have to take turns driving the elevators. I used to love it when one of my parents signed up and I would happily join them

Our elevator men were either Hispanic or Irish. Russel was a loud, white haired Irish man. I always found him obnoxious. I hated when he worked in the mornings on the weekends. You could hear his voice in the courtyard by the basement and he always woke me up. There were Jesse and Jose and they were nice enough. And then there was another nice older (50s) doorman named Ronald. He too was Irish. And he loved to have the children play outside his building. He would play games with us (as much as he was able to) and one day my friend Zoe and I were playing with him when he had to go and take someone upstairs.

It took forever for him to come down. When he did the ambulance had been called. He had slumped down to the elevator floor and had a heart attack. He later died. For the longest time I wondered if I had somehow contributed to his death. I was very saddened by his loss.

My children like to drive by the old house. Sometimes we do on our way to school. Now I understand the appeal. It's fun to go back and revisit those special moments.


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