Home, sweet home. This photo by Rob Yasinac (who's got a great Web site at www.hudsonvalleyruins.org, shows one of the apartment buildings at Mulford Gardens in Yonkers, New York. I lived at Mulford Gardens when I was a boy. Now the public-housing complex is being razed.
Home, sweet home. This photo by Rob Yasinac (who's got a great Web site at http://www.hudsonvalleyruins.org, shows one of the apartment buildings at Mulford Gardens in Yonkers, New York. I lived at Mulford Gardens when I was a boy. Now the public-housing complex is being razed.

Why does it make me just a bit melancholy to read that the old Mulford Gardens public-housing projects in Yonkers, N.Y, is finally being demolished? Because I grew up in Yonkers. And because I lived in the Mulford Gardens complex with my parents and my sister — we moved there when I was four years old and left when I was eight, apparently because my young father’s income had passed some maximum threshhold that made him no longer eligible to live in public housing.

You would think that was a good thing, and I suppose it was. We moved to an apartment in Nodine Hill section of the city, in the shadow of the city’s landmark water tower, to a neighborhood that was then largely Ukrainian, Russian, Czech and Polish with a considerable number of Italians who had spilled over from the adjacent Park Hill neighborhood.

We lived on Nodine Hill until I was about thirteen years old, when my parents bought their own house in solidly middle-class/working class neighborhood called Bryn Mawr about midway between the Saw Mill River Parkway — which serves as Yonkers’ “tracks” to live on the other side of, which became a focus of much sorrow and strife about ten years later, when the city was torn apart by battles over housing and school desegregation).

So what is it about the demolition of Mulford Gardens that makes me melancholy? It’s nostalgia, I suppose. The place as actually kind of nice when we lived there.  The units were three-story brick buildings (with a ground-floor basement) with four, five or six units to a building — for instance, the block we lived in began with 10 Mulford Gardens and ended with 13 Mulford Gardens; we lived on the third floor of unit 12; there were seven apartments per unit (two on each floor, and one on the basement level). Mind you, it wasn’t luxurious. The walls — the interior walls — were painted cinderblock. The stairways in the halls were made of steel. Our apartment was small — four small rooms (kitchen, living room, two bedrooms, bathroom). But outside each unit people had flower gardens. There was a park, Grant Park, nearby. It was a 10-minute walk away from Getty Square, the old downtown commercial district.

And, best of all, and I can remember this so clearly even though I was so young — the apartment building we lived in was high atop Seminary Hill, at the very highest section of Mulford Gardens, which had hundreds of apartments spread over the hillside, and from our kitchen window I could see the vast sweep of the crowded city of Yonkers spread out before me. I could see the cupola of St. Joseph’s Seminary to the east. I could see straight ahead the water tower at the peak of Nodine Hill, I could see church spires all over the city, and apartment buildings and small houses crowded together on the hills and in the ravines of the city. To my right, looking west, I could see the distant Palisades cliffs along the Hudson, and (as my mother remembered last night when we spoke about the old days at Mulford Gardens), I was a precocious, observant little boy, and I would sit at the window, looking out at the lights all over the city, and I’d point out that in the distance, to the south, there was the Empire State Building, and there, those flickering, glittering lights strung out in a row, that was the George Washington Bridge!

Mulford Gardens became a different place in the years after we left. It was about 25 years old when we lived there and it’s now more than 60 years since the place was built, replacing a poor neighborhood that I believe was mainly occupied by poor blacks and Irish immigrants who had jobs at the nearby Alexander Smith carpet mills.

The buildings at Mulford Gardens deteriorated and crumbled. The place became fertile ground for crime, drugs, gangs, poverty, you name it, and probably the only good things that came out of the Yonkers projects in the last twenty years were a couple of folks named Mary J. Blige and DMX.

You know, even when we lived there, people were relatively poor — you had to be kind of poor to live there, after all. And I do remember things — like constantly burning my leg accidentally on the exposed radiators in those spartan apartments.

But I also remember one winter day, and there was huge snowstorm, must have been a blizzard because my father stayed home from work, and we had no food in the house, and my young mother and father left me with an elderly neighbor who came upstairs to our apartment to babysit me while they were gone, and my young parents bundled up and trudged out into the storm, and I watched as they made their way down the hill toward the Ashburton Market about four blocks away, and I watched and I watched and stared into the swirling snow and finally, finally, I spotted my father and mother, both carrying bags of groceries, leaning into the wind and slowly returning up the hill, and I remember clearly that I moved forward a little and, sure enough, burned my leg on that damned steam radiator, but that was alright because it was warm in that little apartment at Mulford Gardens and that made the windows steam up, but I wiped the window pane with my hand and there were my young parents looking up at the window, and they were waving to me, and they were just in the mid-twenties and still so much in love, but that was long ago, and my father died six years ago, and so now it’s time to wave goodbye to Mulford Gardens and the steam radiators and the steel stairways and the cinderblock walls and the cold and impersonal brick buildings.

But my parents will always be walking up that hill through the storm, and the Empire State will always loom on the horizon, and the lights of the George Washington Bridge will twinkle and sparkle forever, off there in the distance, glowing forever in my mind.

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14 thoughts on “Be it ever so humble…

  1. I enjoyed reading this post very much. I lived atop the hill of Vineyard Avenue above the grocery next one house up from the steps, where I still have the scar on my eyebrows when I fell trying to jump two steps at a time. I was only four or five years old then, but I remember watching from the hill as Mulford Gardens was being built. My late brother, Bob, hung out and sometimes helped out at Sal’s Pizza on Ashburton Avenue (where he once sliced his finger on the slicing machine trying to make a sandwich while apparently under the weather. My father, who was a weaver at Alexander Smith’s, had friends at Moquette Row, which housed workers at the factory. Later we moved to Fairfield St., Woodworth Avenue,Ravine Avenue, Warburton Avenue, and finally to Norwalk, Connecticut.

  2. Okay, here’s the deal Nick I’m hooked. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article and I plan on reading more of them. Talk about a trip down “Memory Lane”. I also qualify as a Mulford Gardens alumni No. 47 to be exact. I was born in 1946 in (more than likely) Yonkers’ General Hospital. Most likely because it was stone’s throw from Mulford Gardens (No 70 I believe) where my Mom and Pop lived at the time when my Pop returned from the Pacific and the Marines in that order. I made a few more visits to Yonkers’ General with my Pop but they were usually at night on their front lawn after a good rain when we’d “stalk and snatch” night crawlers by flashlight (now there’s a lost art) for bait to go fishing down at Glenwood the next day. I also went to St. Joe’s and hung around in Alexander’s (across the street) when I’d skip Sunday mass with the rest of my Ashburton Ave. “hoodlum”  buddies. Life was indeed simpler in those days. I ate my pizza at Sal’s and even won a few bucks on Nick’s pinball machines up the block from Sal’s. I sometimes still suffer from cravings for a wax paper bag of Greasy George’s french fries to boot! My Pop also worked at the Alexander Smith carpet shop (didn’t everybody?). Then again, my Dad was a “work ethic” kind of guy. When that panned out, he worked at Otis for more years that I can remember. He was a maintenance guy who went from union steward to VP. That was my Pop  I worked at Otis for a summer and have nothing but admiration for the guys who did that for a living. In his “spare time”, my Dad worked the swing shift as a “Burns Guard” (5 nights a week) and on weekends he’d work for Johnny Frucco ,the Pro at Sprain Lake GC and open up on weekends. I know, because I was there with him at “0 dark thirty”. I can still remember the really nasty coffee and greasy hamburgers that I’d have for breakfast on those days, part of the whole male-bonding “Gee I miss my Dad” sort of thing, I guess. We lived in Mulford Gardens in different buildings until I was about 12. We then moved to 29 Riverview Place off of Elm St and from there back up to an apartment in a house at 57 Morningside (where my parents had actually rented before) Ave next to PS 9 and then eventually back to the 67 Van Cortlandt Park Ave off of Elm across from another PS. I left Yonkers to enlist in the USAF in 67’ and spent about 24 years doing different things in different places and ended up here in VA as an Assistant Prof. at a CC teaching IT stuff to students who aren’t as old as the sweater I received from that really nice lady in Paris in 79’. Go figure! . William, I seem to remember a John Torpey from my nights at Sal’s, any relation?

  3. My Uncle Johnny may have frequented Sal’s Pizza as well as my brother Bob and perhaps my cousin John Torpey. I occasionally dug up night crawlers at a church on Warburton Avenue, and after a rain, we only needed to pick them up off the grass. We did quite a bit of fishing in the Hudson River when I lived on Woodworth Avenue. In the summer of 1953 I worked at Otis Elevator taking inventory when they were making bombsights. My Uncle Bill Hogan of Yonkers is enshrined at the Veterans Memorial Monument on South Broadway in front of City Hall. You may be interested in the story I wrote about him at this site: http://hubpages.com/_wft/hub/History-Often-Depends-On-Who-Writes-It
    The site also contains a photo of “Hitler’s Face” that appeared on the Palisades throughout WW II. Does anyone remember it? I saw it virtually every day, especially when I went swimming on the rocks along the Hudson near the Glenwood Railroad Station.

    1. Chuck and William:
      Thanks very much for reading my blog entries about Yonkers. Sounds like we’re not quite of the same generation, but we share many of the same landmarks — actual and emotional ties to place which no longer exists except in memory. So many changes…I got seven stitches to close a cut on my hand when I was 7 years old and still living at Mulford Gardens — and it was in the emergency room at Yonkers General. As for Sal’s Pizza on Ashburton, I’m wondering if that’s the pizzeria where I went to pay my Herald Statesman bill when I was a paperboy for a few years in the mid- to late-1960s. As for Hitler’s Face, I heard about that from my parents, and I’ve posted on this blog the first three chapters of a fictional work, a novel, titled HALF MOON. The novel’s set in Yonkers. One of the early chapters is based on what I remember hearing about that amazing rock formation on the Palisades. Anyway, if you haven’t stumbled upon it, here’s the link to HALF MOON’s opening chapters: https://nicholasdigiovanni.com/category/fiction/

  4. William,
    I’m pretty sure that it was John Torpey at Sal’s. You were a bit ahead of me at Otis. My Pop got me a summer job there in the 64′ -65′ timeframe. I can’t remember exactly which one. I do remember “Hitler’s Face” and swimming off of the “Rocks” at Glenwood also. This was before they built the landfill in that area.
    Chuck

    1. Chuck and William:
      Thanks very much for reading my blog entries about Yonkers. Sounds like we’re not quite of the same generation, but we share many of the same landmarks — actual and emotional ties to place which no longer exists except in memory. So many changes…I got seven stitches to close a cut on my hand when I was 7 years old and still living at Mulford Gardens — and it was in the emergency room at Yonkers General. As for Sal’s Pizza on Ashburton, I’m wondering if that’s the pizzeria where I went to pay my Herald Statesman bill when I was a paperboy for a few years in the mid- to late-1960s. As for Hitler’s Face, I heard about that from my parents, and I’ve posted on this blog the first three chapters of a fictional work, a novel, titled HALF MOON. The novel’s set in Yonkers. One of the early chapters is based on what I remember hearing about that amazing rock formation on the Palisades. Anyway, if you haven’t stumbled upon it, here’s the link to HALF MOON’s opening chapters: https://nicholasdigiovanni.com/category/fiction/

  5. Thanks a million for that link, Nicholas. It didn’t take much imagination to see Hitler’s Face on the Palisades. I don’t know if there’s a photo in “Half Moon,” but I have one on a “hub” I wrote on HubPages. Here’s the URL that shows Hitler’s Face:

  6. By the way, I see numerous blogs that say James Cagney was a Yonkers boy, but I don’t understand why his Wikipedia biography doesn’t mention it at all. Does anyone know what years he lived in Yonkers or further details about his association with the City of Gracious Living?

  7. Thank you, but it’s hard to take the filmbug site seriously because it says “Yonkers, New York City.” The author apparently thinks Yonkers is part of New York City. Wikipedia says Cagney was born in New York City. Several blogs say Cagney was born in Yonkers, but I see nothing that makes me believe they are accurate.

  8. EDWARD WILLIAM STEIGELMAN:
    I LIVED IN MULFORD GARDENS BUILDING # 7 IN BASEMENT APT. WITH MY MOTHER AND FATHER, AND BROTHERS & SISTERS , MARTHA, BETTY JEAN, THOMAS, RICHARD. LOOKING OUT THE REAR LIVING ROOM WINDOW , YOU SEE THE CIRCLE THAT WOULD GO IN HORSE SHOE BETWEEN 1 & 2 , 3 & 4TH.. WE MOVED THEIR WHEN I WAS ABOUT 6 YEARS OLD, TILL AROUND 12 YEARS OF AGE, I REMEMBER A MILK MACHINE NOT FAR FROM CIRCLE . A QUART OF MILK WAS JUST 25 CENTS. THEIR WAS DELAINEYS STORE ON ST. JOSEPHES AVENUE, THAT WE WENT TO BUY CANDY AND SODAS, I REMEMBER MY OLDEST SISTER MARTHA & I WOULD WALK TO SCHOOL P.S. 9. I EVEN HAD A PAPER ROUT FROM BUILD #1 TO BUILDING # 9 AT 11 YEARS OF AGE, WE WERE A POOR FAMILY MY MOTHER OLLIE MAE STEIGELMAN HAD A TOTAL OF 9 CHILDREN. AT AGE OF 12 UE MOVED TO ST. JOSEPH AVE , ON 4TH. FLOOR OF COLD WATER FLAT RAILROAD ROOMS. I ALWASY WISHED WE WERE STILL IN MULFORD GARDENS, SOME OF YOU REMEMBER SALS PIZZA , BUT IT WAS FRANK & JOES PRIOR TO BECOMING SALS, FROM ST. JOSEPH AVENUE WE MOVED TO VICTOR STREET ELM STREET TO EAST , AND WALNUT STREET TO NORTH. FROM THEIR I WAS DRAFTED INTO ARMY IN 1968 – 1970, WHEN I E.T.S. AT FOT DIX N.J. I BOUGHT A HOSE IN OSSINING NEW YORK EVERETT AVE EXACT. I MOVED TO FLORIDA IN 1977, I STILL LIVE IN FLORIDA TILL THIS DAY I AM 65 YEARS OF AGE AND HAVE BEEN A AUTO MECHANIC ALL OF MYLIFE AS WELL AS MECHANIC IN THE ARMY MY PHONE NUMBER IS 407-312-2459,

    1. Ed,
      I too remember the milk machines in Mulford’s. If you stepped off of the stoop and grabbed hold of edge of one and hung from it you could strategically “dropkick” it with both feet (in the right spot) and provide enough milk for the entire neighborhood. Of course, being a 66 year old college professor nowadays, I’d had never done that sort of thing back then. I also remember the horse drawn “junk wagon” and Freddie the hot dog man and his cart drawn by a brown and white pinto pony. A quarter got you a hot dog, and a Nedick’s orange drink. That would be about $2.17 today. 🙂
      Chuck Lupico

  9. OH BY THE WAY WHILE LIVING IN BUILDING # 7 ,THEIR WAS A OLD MAN THAT WOULD BUY RAGS OF ANY KIND, BY WEIGHT, THIS OLD MAN PICKED THEM UP IN HORSE AND WAGON.

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