Monday, August 11, 2014

Who Needs Rodeo Drive

Rodeo Drive, the renowned shopping mecca in Beverly Hills has nothing on Brooklyn's Pitkin Avenue in the 1950s. Between Rockaway and Saratoga Avenues along Pitkin stood retail shops, restaurants and was the place to shop, eat and be entertained. I remember lots of shoe stores like Thom McCan, Florshiem, and A.S. Beck where my father worked part time. It was always a treat to visit dad at the shoe store. There was a salesgirl named Lilly who always made a big fuss over me. As the rednecks say, "she smelled as purty as the inside of my mamma's purse".

There were many men's clothing shops including Moe Ginsberg and Abe Stark. As a promotion, Abe put up a sign at Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Any batter who hit the sign won a free suit of clothes. Back in the day when baseball players earned less than the Gross National Product of Nicaragua, that was a significant perk. I also recall a men's shop, I think it was called Jack Diamond, next to the Pitkin Theater that was the place to shop for the very latest fashions.

A popular Pitkin Avenue destination was Woolworth's or the "five and ten" as we called it. The store had a unique smell, and sold everything from clothes, housewares, toys, beauty products...they even had a snack counter which, as I consider it, is probably where the unique smell came from.

Then there was the Chinese Restaurant, the Wuhan Tea Garden, at Pitkin and Saratoga Avenues, which is the only restaurant I can ever remember going to as a kid. We would get on the Rockaway Avenue trolley, get off at Pitkin Avenue, and meet my father for "Chow Mein". In retrospect, the place was a dump, but at the time, eating out anywhere was a treat.

For entertainment we had the Loew's Pitkin. This was a typical old movie house, not as opulent as the Paramount or the Fox theaters in downtown Brooklyn, but compared to the featureless, cinder-block multiplexes of today, it looked like the La Scala opera house. Big screen, carpeted staircase, crystal chandeliers, and plush velvet seats.

Pushcart food vendors were common along the avenue selling wonderful treats like candy apples, knishes, shaved ices flavored with sweet syrups and a concoction called a Charlotte Russe, the Brooklyn version of a classic French dessert. It consisted of a round piece of sponge cake topped with gobs of whipped cream and a cherry. It was served in a cardboard container that you ate it out of. To me, it always looked better than it tasted.

Thinking back, these seem like such simple things, but they were the stuff of my childhood. It never ceases to amaze me that the Internet contains so many images and recollections of this time and these places. (You didn't think I actually remembered the name of the Wuhan Tea Garden, did you?)

I'm glad others remembered for me.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Originally published 10/20/08


Steve Lackow said...

Wuhan's... My grandpa supplied them with kosher chickens and I grew up on their classic Canton food best was that chicken. fried but also shrinp and lobster C of course. Thx so much Jim for raising voices from tne past.

Jim Pantaleno said...

Thanks Steve, it's always nice to connect with someone who remembers any of this stuff.

Jerry550 said...

i remember chop suey at the Wuhan. There was a panoramic view of all the Pitkin Avenue action from above.