Warm mem­o­ries of the Oak Street neigh­bor­hood

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Pam McLough­lin

NEW HAVEN — When Lily Liber­man, 93, saw an old friend Sun­day from the Oak Street neigh­bor­hood where she spent a lot of time dur­ing child­hood, the women hugged as if 60 years hadn’t passed.

“That hug was so gen­uine,” Liber­man said. “We’re lit­tle old ladies now, but I went right back 60 years.”

For­mer res­i­dents of the Oak Street neigh­bor­hood — and peo­ple like Liber­man, who grew up in the Hill neigh­bor­hood but reg­u­larly spent time with close fam­ily in the Oak Street area vis­it­ing or shop­ping — gath­ered at Tower One/ Tower East Sun­day for a luncheon. Also at the luncheon were res­i­dents of the tow­ers not con­nected with the Oak Street neigh­bor­hood, where the fa­cil­ity sits.

The pro­gram was part of the fa­cil­ity’s year­long cel­e­bra­tion of the adult liv­ing com­mu­nity’s 50th an­niver­sary. For­mer res­i­dents of the Oak Street neigh­bor­hood have been hold­ing their own reunions for years.

Jac­que­line Ko­ral, chair­woman of the Tow­ers’ Board of Di­rec­tors, said the year­long cel­e­bra­tion is about the past, present and fu­ture — and Sun­day was about the past. About 150 at­tended.

The dense Oak Street neigh­bor­hood, where there was a lot of poverty, was de­mol­ished decades ago by a 1960s ur­ban re­newal project ini­ti­ated by long­time mayor the late Richard C. Lee. The de­mo­li­tion and dis­place­ment of hun­dreds of fam­i­lies were part of Lee’s ef­fort to elim­i­nate blight and build the model city through ur­ban re­newal.

Like many city neigh­bor­hoods of that time, the streets were densely lined with houses, apart­ments, shared back yards, mar­kets, butch­ers, phar­ma­cies, bak­eries and clean­ers, and no one was afraid of their neigh­bors.

Busi­ness­man Barry Vine, now of Wood­bridge, grew up in the neigh­bor­hood and lived there for more than 25 years.

“I told my kids there was noth­ing like it in the world — it was my fa­vorite place ever,” Vine said.

He said these days one gets in the car and drives ev­ery­where, but back then you could walk three blocks each way and find ev­ery­thing you needed, in­clud­ing a movie theater, Jewish Com­mu­nity Cen­ter, school, synagogue, butcher and all kinds of stores.

Vine also ad­dressed the crowd Sun­day, giv­ing a brief his­tory of his per­cep­tions of the neigh­bor­hood. He told them Le­gion Av­enue was “alive,” “ex­cit­ing,” “ex­hil­a­rat­ing” and “It be­longed to us.”

He said Satur­day nights and Sun­day morn­ings had the “hus­tle and bus­tle” of hun­dreds from all over the city. He said the best lox in the city could be bought at M& T Ap­pe­tiz­ers, owned by Meyer and Thelma Sarnov. Across the street was Fox’s Del­i­catessen, run by Mur­ray Rosen­berg.

“I’m sure that my love of busi­ness was in­flu­enced by my many ex­pe­ri­ences on Le­gion Av­enue,” Vine said, not­ing his mother worked in bak­eries on the av­enue for more than 40 years.

“Ev­ery child re­ceived a cookie. Ev­ery cus­tomer got a smile, and every­one was her friend,” he said.

Liber­man, who had fam­ily there and vis­ited weekly, said, “It was a par­adise.”

“Everybody was friendly, hon­est. Peo­ple re­ally cared for each other,” she said.

Liber­man said doors were left un­locked and you could com­fort­ably go from busi­ness to busi­ness with­out wor­ry­ing about items from the store be­ing taken from your un­locked car.

“Noth­ing was stolen — win­dows weren’t bro­ken — it was a whole dif­fer­ent world,’’ she said.

Peter Hviz­dak / Hearst Connecticut Me­dia

The Connecticut Coastal Chords­man of­fer en­ter­tain­ment dur­ing the luncheon cel­e­brat­ing the area from Howe Av­enue to the Boule­vard dur­ing a “Neigh­bor­hood Re­union” on Sun­day at Tower One/Tower East in New Haven.

Peter Hviz­dak / Hearst Connecticut Me­dia

Barry Vine, of Wood­bridge, shares nos­tal­gic rec­ol­lec­tions about the Oak Street neigh­bor­hood from Howe Av­enue to the Boule­vard dur­ing a “Neigh­bor­hood Re­union” luncheon Sun­day.

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