Memory Lane: Historic Thirteenth Avenue
BY: Yehuda Alter
In our chronicling of the early years in Boro Park, we have been telling the stories of some of the ba’alei mesirus nefesh of those times. While on 14th Avenue, in the Sfardishe Shul, one may have been able to sense the presence and the aura of Shabbos, around the corner, on Thirteenth Avenue… it was another story.
One old timer recalls walking with his father on Shabbos mornings from the fifties, where they lived, to Anshei Lubavitch, on 12th Avenue and 41st Street…usually taking 13th Avenue to get there. “To this very day, half a century later, I can ‘smell’ the roasting meat from the delicatessens…and recall vividly the many men who came to idle their ‘day off’ in these shops. It infuriated me then… even as a child.”
This thoroughfare was designated as a retail center a very long time ago, and remains so to this day (something that sometimes made it an unsavory place for people to frequent in the evenings).
This history goes back to the times when pushcarts and peddlers clogged the barely paved Thirteenth Avenue at the lower streets, for which the city found a fascinating solution… as we will explore, be’ezras Hashem, in the future. But our focus today is on the establishments that opened shop here in an attempt to provide an expanding community with their daily needs, while eking out a living.
Looking through some of the old photographs from the 1940’s era, it seems that, at least to an extent, these establishments opened up in ‘districts. We see that on 13th Avenue on the lower forties streets an inordinate number of garment related stores.
Of course, today, there are too many banks lining 13th Avenue to count. But even back then, a few grand banks were built, such as Manufacturers Trust Company (one of the most prominent institutions in American banking at the time), which was erected at 49th Street (today Chase Bank).
Eli Mackta opened his branch of Florsheim Shoes at 45th and 13th in the early 1930’s, and between the blocks of 40th and 42nd, we find a number of home decorating and clothing stores. A lot has changed in the ensuing 90 years, most importantly the skyrocketing real estate prices, which has priced so many merchants out of their stores. Surely, the We present to you a journey into Thirteenth Avenue of Yesteryear: