Remembering a white working class neighborhood of the mid twentieth century

A commenter at The Thinking Housewife tells of a reunion of people who grew up in a St. Louis working class neighborhood in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. He describes a way of life that is now vanished:

Grocery stores, bakeries, meat markets, confectionaries, drug stores, a farmer’s market, clothing stores, hat shops, jewelry stores, medical and dental offices, barber shops, beauty shops, hardware stores, corner taverns, city parks, a swimming pool, a library, churches, schools, movie theatres, and places of employment all stood within those neighborhoods. Virtually everything they needed could be found within walking distance from where they lived. Everyone walked everywhere.

It was an area of cold-water flats and breadboxes in front of corner markets; of railroad tracks and factories near the Mississippi River; where shop-owners lived above their shops; where saloon-keepers bounced customers who used vulgar language; and where families went window-shopping on Saturday nights along a street lined with stores. Many of them did not own an automobile or a telephone.

- end of initial entry -

May 28

A reader writes:

I was struck by this very same thing this weekend. I grew up for half of my childhood in Forest Hills, Queens, NY. I moved there with my family in 1977 when I was ten years old and left in 1987 when I was twenty. I hadn’t been back until this weekend for twenty-five years. While on its face the old neighborhood has not changed too much, the demographics and the “vibe” has changed considerably. When I was growing up, Forest Hills was predominantly Jewish with more working class Italians, Irish and German as you moved outwards away from the wealthier sections of Forest Hills Gardens. It is now heavily, heavily Asian. And when I say Asian I don’t just mean Chinese and such. But tons of Indians, Indonesians and a sprinkling of Hispanics. What white people are left is a few old Jewish holdouts whose homes will no doubt be bought by Asians and soon as they die off.

I was astounded. The first block I lived on in Forest Hills was almost all Jewish. I will never forget seeing all the tents go up during the Jewish observance of “Sukkot.” I had no idea at the time what they were for. I remember thinking as a child that it was odd yet fun that people would be camping out in their front yards? Now the front yards no longer have Sukkot tents but many have gardens of bamboo stalks that are as tall as small trees! I saw one Chinese man and his wife tending to them. The saying is true. You can’t go home again. Yes, all these new Asian residents are clean and upper middle class and they cause no problems in the neighborhood, as would be the case with a large black or Hispanic population. But it was still very, very disturbing. The culture I knew? The neighbors who all knew each other and would sit out in their front yards on a hot summer day with a glass of iced tea and talk to one another? The kids who would be playing stickball or hockey in the street? It is gone. Dead and buried. There is no longer any life or personality. I have come to the conclusion that it is over for whites in most of Queens, NY. There are a few pockets and holdouts but for the most part it is over.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 27, 2012 04:32 PM | Send

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