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