Manhattan Memories – Part 1

Manhattan Memories – Part 1

Each time I think about my years as a student and worker in Manhattan, the images shift a little bit. The ones the furthest in the past have now assumed the aura of ancient history, viewed in black and white. My most recent memories of these places are sharp and clear, but also reflect less of the joy and wonder I found in those early days.

Nassau Street 1984-1987– a Bustling Old World Bazaar

In graduate school, my Manhattan neighborhood was Pace, hard by City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge. On breaks of between classes, the exotic environs of Nassau St beckoned.

I’ve visited Nassau St in recent years, but it does not match my impressions from the Pace years. To me, Nassau Street resembled a bazaar in an old European city, the dark old tenements providing constant shade for the crowds of shoppers pawing through merchandise displayed on the sidewalk and inside each tiny shop. Nassau Street was notably a place to buy a wild variety of fashionable shoes, though no vendor there ever seemed to carry my ladies size 11. I liked looking, though.

Financial District – 1989-1994 – a Perpetual Tourist

After my time at Pace, and a couple of years working uptown,  my work neighborhood shifted to the Financial District. My home base was 45 Broadway, near the New York Stock Exchange, where I worked as a Systems Engineer for Sun Microsystems. Lower Broadway, called by some the “Canyon of Heroes,” was, and still is, an architectural marvel. I felt like a tourist every time I walked to a client site or went on an errand. My bank, Citibank, was in the old Cunard building. I would gawk, on every visit, at the soaring, three story ceilings of the bank’s grand Belle Epoch design, preserved from the time of Cunard’s dominance in ocean-going luxury travel.

 Across the street was Bowling Green, a park first created by the Dutch in the 1600’s for, well, bowling. Bowling Green was flanked on the south by the Customs House, immortalized for the masses in the first Ghost Busters movie.

Just up Broadway, around 1991, another icon, the Bull, was plopped down in the middle of the night by an artist seeking instant fame. I saw it the morning it first appeared. We all did.

Behind our building, on Trinity, was a popular location of Syms, a discount  clothing store. While brokers and investment bankers would but their suits at up at Joseph A. Banks, or Barneys, lesser paid clerks and back office guys would buy at Syms, where they always had your size, and where they were famed for quick alterations.

For ladies, there was Forman’s on Broadway, I purchased several fashionable (or so I thought) suits and blouses there. I note here that Forman’s quality was quite good. For that reason, and even in the era of Marie Kondo, some of my Forman’s purchases still hang in my closet. Hey,  I wear them sometimes.

Lower Manhattan was a marvel of culinary variety. A few favorites of the Sun crowd: Rosarios was legendary for Baked Ziti, Wolf’s Kosher Deli on Trinity for Pastrami on Rye. I had my first sushi at Ise (Ee-say) on Thames street near the World Trade Center. Who would think that anyone would eat cold, raw, dead fish? I tried it. It was divine.

The streets behind 45 Broadway to the west toward the Hudson River seemed ancient; indeed, many buildings dated from the turn of the 20th century or from the 1800s. Each block was lined with three to five story tenements on both sides. Grubby, dimly lit except for midday.

Toward the end of my time at 45 Broadway, the neighborhood to the west began to change. In 1989, we could see the Colgate Clock across the river on the New Jersey Jersey side. By 1992, we saw only the newest section of Battery Park City.

I’m grateful for my memories of Nassau Street and the old streets near 45 Broadway. A country girl most of my life, I felt curiously at home in these neighborhoods. I didn’t know why then. It was only later that I realized the affinity that I felt for my ancestors who worked and lived in these neighborhoods. And that has provided a wellspring for my upcoming novel, The Lost Souls of Spring Street. Stay tuned.

3 Replies to “Manhattan Memories – Part 1”

  1. I worked mid-town (10 East 40th St.) briefly for IT&T at the end of the 70’s. It was gritty and crowded. I lived out in Port Washington with my cousin in little condo those days and took the LIRR into Penn. Sta. every morning. I bought the Times at the Bon Hauf deli in the morning on the way in and the NY Post from a street vendor on the way home. Your worst fear was finding the news vans parked outside Penn Station in evening. If they were there, you knew you weren’t getting home any time soon. My clothes had a permanent smear of news ink that never came out under my left arm . I’d shower at night to scour the city’s grime off of me but you never really felt clean. Mid-town had none of downtown’s charm…only tall imposing buildings and people wearing social blinders, scurrying about. The NY Public Library was nearby and lunchtime crowds and activities on its steps were sometime entertaining…but not enough to make me miss my time there. I got in, I worked, and I left. I wish I had gotten to know some of the charm you got to know…but then I might have stayed and become like one of the city’s human tetris pieces who, once they fit in, disappear.

  2. Love the reminiscing about our time at 45 Broadway. I feel like we’re back in our combined office, Nancy! What was the name of the Italian sandwich place that was southeast of 45 Broadway – they had giant, delicious subs. Imported meats like prosciutto, mortadella, capicola, fresh roasted red peppers, homemade mozzarella. I could only eat about 1/3 of the sandwich before putting me to sleep but they were amazing. Haven’t seen anything like that place since it closed!

    1. Those were the days, Katey. I think that you would get the sub (of that specificity!) at Rosario’s, but I think that’s not the place you were thinking of. Perhaps Rob or JP would remember.

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