One of Josie’s smaller photo albums was a souvenir from the 1939 New York World’s Fair. We do not know if the Serrapede family went to the Fair or if this album was a gift from a relative or friend. Our research for this posting provides a time frame for the photos as being taken sometime between the Spring and Summer seasons of 1939 and 1940 since the Fair ran both of those years.
For this posting we feature photos of Emily and Gerry that provide good examples of a well known feature of Brooklyn life that is still alive today. There are many ways of describing it. Two of the simplest phrases are stoop life or stoop culture. Stoops are not only a part of the houses in many neighborhoods, they also are places where children play and neighbors socialize.
Please note that stoop life and stoop culture were first noted by English tourists to Old New York as far back as when the Dutch first established their communities in Manhattan and the boroughs. Travel journals from the early 19th century describe how residents of Brooklyn enjoyed a very lively and informal social life from the comfort of the stoops in front of their own homes. Stoop life and stoop culture continue today in many communities throughout New York City and the boroughs. The differences are in the expression it takes within each community’s cultural make-up.
We’ve narrowed our
focus in this posting to the stoop life and stoop culture of the
Italian-American community during the 1930s and 1940s. The discussion Uncle Sammy and I had includes
our memories of the stoop culture in the 1940s and 1950s. If you are interested in delving deeper into
the topic please see the links under Additional
Reading which follows the Resources section at the end of
this posting. There are also two blog
postings about stoop life listed in the Resources
Josie Muro came to Brooklyn, New York around 1928-1929. She lived with her Aunt Elisa and Uncle Vincenzo Scotti until her marriage to Sam Serrapede in 1930. Their daughter Emily Leatrice was born in 1931. Their second child, Gerry, was born in 1938.
Josie and Sam were:
–Sammy’s Mom and Dad
–EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandparents
World’s Fair 1939
The symbols of the 1939 New York World’s Fair appear on the cover of this photo album. The sphere was called the Perisphere and the tall, three sided obelisk was the Trylon. Their clean, simple lines were meant to convey a futuristic feeling to the zone in the Fair where they were located. The theme for this zone was “The World of Tomorrow”. Inside the Perisphere was an exhibit of how the ideal city would look 100 years into the future. In 2039 the urban centers would resemble the Demacracity of the exhibit. The cities would be places of parkland, industry and residence all in harmony with each other. This exhibit was very uplifting and popular with a public weary of the poverty of The Great Depression.
The 1939 New York World’s Fair was located on the site of the modern day Flushing Meadows Park. Today the Unisphere from the 1964 World’s Fair remains on the site. The Trylon and Perisphere of the 1939 World’s Fair were made of a total of 40 million tons of steel. They were torn down and the metal used as part of America’s effort when we entered WWII.
Brooklyn Living: The Stoop
Suburban houses have their green lawns and small town homes have porches. The urban dwellers of New York whether they are low income or middle class often have a stoop in front of their house. It consists of a series of wide steps leading to an elevated front entrance. At the foot of the steps is an area of concrete marked off from the street by a gate for some houses or just a fence around the small garden at the side. If there is extra space near the garden or the stoop, there might be a small bench where the residents of the house can sit when the weather is good.
Many multi-family dwellings of the early to mid-20th century consisted of railroad rooms with little light and air circulation when the rooms were situated away from the front and back of the building. These types of tenements and flats were constructed before the building code required a certain number of windows in each apartment build after the early 1900s. Tenants of such buildings enjoyed sitting on their stoops or bringing out their kitchen chairs to enjoy the good weather on a fine morning or evening. Sitting on the stoop gave them the chance to:
- Watch their children.
- Keep an eye on what the neighbors were doing.
- Take note of anything unusual.
- See if new people were coming around the area.
- Ask after each other.
- Discuss topical events in the news or in their personal lives.
Children created games such as “stoop ball” that could be played in front of the house or apartment building. This game was very popular in Brooklyn as it did not require any equipment other than a rubber ball thrown against the steps of the stoop. It was not necessary for the players to go to a schoolyard.
Above all “stoop life” and “stoop culture” kept the neighbors in touch with each other and fostered a sense of closeness. It also provided an approved way to get out of the confines of the multi-family dwellings and enjoy some socializing in a manner that did not cause any hardship in terms of spending money or going a long distance from home. Stoop culture was also a part of life in working class neighborhoods where brownstones and smaller multi-family dwellings existed. Even owners of one family homes enjoyed sitting out on their stoops and socializing with their neighbors.
The Serrapede family lived at 1166 65th Street from around 1935 to 1941. This multi-family building does not have a stoop but other houses on the block do. When a house or building did not have an actual stoop with steps to sit on, the residents put a bench outside or brought chairs out when they wanted to partake of stoop culture and stoop life. The entire focus was to get out and get in with what was going on in the neighborhood. So while 1166 65th Street was minus the steps, it did have a bench from which the residents could be part of the bigger stoop culture and stoop life on the block.Continue reading “72-Serrapede Family in Brooklyn-On the stoop 1939-1940”