What is the Reputation of Yonkers?

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A few months ago I read an article that was titled “10 Yonkers Stereotypes That Are Completely Accurate”, by Maria Scinto, a writer on a real estate website OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMovoto.com.

I’m certainly not about to go through all 10 as many of them are fairly ridiculous to say the least, but I thought a few of these so-called stereotypes would make for some interesting debate as to their validity.

Here are a few that I thought were the most interesting observations about the city of Yonkers and her people.

  • Residents never miss a chance at name-dropping whether it’s a Yonkers celebrity or mutual friend

Ok so I changed this one up a bit because I believe it should have been worded as such.  I don’t know about you but I am sure my name has been tossed around like a midget at a bachelorette party as it seems as though everyone in the city is a mere one degree of separation away from everyone else.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Oh you went to Gorton HS…class of 86’….did you know so and so?”  “Oh you used to hang out on Carol Ave.?…Were you friends with such and such?” “Oh you used to use the bathroom at Macy’s before catching the 20 bus to go up to Central Ave…did you ever see blah blah blah?”

It’s actually an endearing quality and one that I longed for when I would live outside of NY and the chances of running into someone who used to know my elementary teacher Mrs. Aglione because she’s their cousin and their daughter went to Gorton HS, the same school I graduated from, only she was a year ahead of me….yea that’s not gonna happen out in Phoenix AZ.

  • Yonkers is full of cops and teachers

Now I’m sure we can debate this one for a while here but when I think of Yonkers, I don’t think to myself, “my gosh…this city has nothing but Law Enforcement and Educators!”  Sure within the 4 Precincts there are hundreds of Law Enforcement personnel and the school district has tens of thousands of students, resulting in over 1500 full-time teachers in the district. But still come on…cops and teachers?

Obviously the city boasts many many other professional opportunities, from Firemen and EMS to local businesses and so on.  As with others on the list, I thought this one was a stretch.

  • People of Yonkers cling to their culinary past

This one I felt was fairly spot on as we do reminisce about places like Landi’s Deli, El Torito, Horn and Hardart, hell even the lunch counter at Woolworth’s was a gem of a place to get a grilled cheese and fries.

You all saw how torn up I got about the loss of Nathan’s on Central Ave. and at least that place does still exist 8195670144_de0a39c3e4_zin one form or another.

Most places around the world take their food very seriously so I don’t necessarily look at it as a point of distinction, rather an endearing quality that makes any city great.

  • The city is super-diverse, but by neighborhoods

IMG_0405Again, a valid point and one that I think the city is finally doing a good job in excepting and embracing.

The St. Patrick’s Day parade Should take place on McLean Ave., South Broadway just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

South Broadway should be lined with Caribbean, Hispanic and South American cuisine because in large measure, that is the population that now inhabits that neighborhood.

When they built the Starbucks on Bronx River Rd. a number of years back, my initial response was “finally!”.  It’s an area of young professionals, college students and um…we’ll call them, seasoned residents; all of whom utilize the place daily and needed a reliable coffee shop to meet their needs.

To read all 10 of the Yonkers stereotypes, click here and lemme know what you think about the one’s I mentioned in the comment section below.

–Josh

Happy Birthday to MyYonkers!

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IMG00986-20120210-1616Back in 2011, I began finding more and more bloggers out there whose passion for people and places and things, stirred something within me to bite the bullet, acknowledge the creativity of others and then go create something of my own.

At the time I had also met about four other Yonkers bloggers out there, the best of which in my opinion far and away were these guys…SoYoSunset. 

This is an amazing “resource” for lack of a better term as these gentlemen have left no stone unturned in their endeavor to not only cover the city from top to bottom, but also to create a forum with millions of postings from people who currently reside in Yonkers, or who used to reside in Yonkers, or those who have never left Yonkers in their minds,  where the city of the 1960’s is still vividly trapped inside their heads each and every day.IMG_0189 copy

Being honest though, the blogger who really inspired the creation of MyYonkers was a guy named Nick Carr, someone I have become friends with and a very talented Film Scout and Writer who after working in NYC for a number of years scouting film locations, decided to write about the places he gets to see day in and day out on ScoutingNY.com.

So I did the best I could to model my site after his and find my own Ins and Outs of Yonkers, the city where I was raised.

I made a great many discoveries about myself and about the people who read this blog in the last three years.  I always knew I could be a writer but there’s being a writer with seven screenplays tucked away in a bottom draw somewhere and then there’s actually putting your work out there and consistently doing so, whether it is your job or simply your passion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFunny though how perspective in life is everything.

In 3 years time I have published 75 articles on here.  Some may look at that number in admiration while others…myself included, look at it and wish it were much higher.

Many people ask me how I go about choosing the things I write about and the short answer is that I want to always look for a creative and original way to showcase people and places in Yonkers that many residents most likely already know about, but have not perhaps considered the perspective that I’m offering.

My audience when I write each article are always the residents of Yonkers.  If outsiders enjoy the articles, all the better.

We’ve all been to Artuso’s, but I wondered how many residents realized the history behind the bakery and the hard work, the love and the unity it brings to McLean Ave?

The tradition of Yonkers Raceway and the litany of events, thrills and heartaches that have been endured on that exact parcel of land for over a century…

The fact that Bronx River Rd. has Sign Eating Trees and Doorways to No Where….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Or even simply, using MyYonkers as a platform to share my feelings regarding the ever-changing city and mourn the loss of places like Burger King and Nathan’s, two Alma Maters of my youth and relics that I hope will never be forgotten by a few of us punk kids who haunted those locations day and night.

I know I don’t churn out content as often as other bloggers.  I know I’m not god’s gift to writing nor do I write with the charm and charisma of a seasoned writer and one who has strengthened their writing muscles to a degree where Congress would investigate them for performance enhancing drug use. ( Is that joke still even relevant?)

IMG_0946I suppose just as any writer/blogger/creator of content, we simply do what we do, just cause.  I’ll take quality over quantity any day of the week and I believe New Yorkers, specifically Yonkersites are the same.

I truly appreciate the engagement that has developed on the site.  If you look back, many articles now have dozens of comments left in them, where people have connected with others to share similar memories or sentiments regarding the given topic of discussion.

So as always, thank you so much for reading this blog, those that do regularly or the first timers who stumbled upon it and know that my efforts will continue for the forseeable future in bringing high quality content to the blog.

Happy 3rd Birthday MyYonkers…here’s what I looked like when I was your age…living in Yonkers :)

–Josh

Josh Summertime-1983

The Pioneers of Snowflake Arizona

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If you go back far enough into any city’s history, it usually all begins with just one or two people or families, hell bent on making it on their own, leaving all the IMG_1001familiarity of people and places behind for greener pastures and a fresh start.

Case and point, Snowflake, Arizona, a tiny community that sits about an hour’s drive south of the famed corner in Winslow Arizona.

I’ve often come up here in my 10 years plus of living in Arizona, mainly because the temperature is usually a solid 20 – 30 degrees cooler than the hot desert floor in Phoenix but as the years past by, I stopped merely “passing through” and began exploring around the sleepy town to see what daily life was like and to learn how the hell any place in Arizona got the name “snowflake”?

Turns out, the name of the town is a combination of two family names, Snow and Flake.  Back in 1878, Mormons were on the move all across the western U.S., settling in communities up in Utah, Idaho and even Arizona.

IMG_1002William J. Flake led his and five other families into the area and settled there, describing the place as, “a thing of beauty with clear water and hills covered in green grass”.

At an altitude near 5,000 ft, Snowflake, AZ experiences all four seasons and it certainly would have been a vision to see the untouched landscape 150 years ago.

Meanwhile, Erastus Snow, a Mormon missionary and pioneer, sent out west to grow the church even larger and establish settlements along the Little Colorado River, crossed paths with Flake during this time and together they created “Snowflake” a permanent settlement in the high desert of Arizona.

These men, along with hundreds more had to do everything to ensure the town’s future, from laying out roadways and irrigation systems to establishing churches, schools, law enforcement, fire and so on.

In the end, tens of thousands of descendents of the first 50 or so pioneer families who inhabited the area have these two men to thank, plus the sacrifices of dozens more.

This story of sacrifice, of settlement, and of having a vision for future generations is no different really than any other western town or city, settled by visionaries who sought out a new beginning, serving a greater calling larger than themselves.

The sculpture you saw earlier and below was designed by Justin Fairbanks and depicts in stunning detail, the two men meeting in Winslow, forming a bond and partnership that would forever bear their family name on an Arizona state map.

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Again the detail is just beautiful!

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IMG_1001Having the level of respect and admiration that I do for pioneers, those who choose to be first, to be the leaders and to go forward into uncharted territory, men like Snow and Flake remind me of the courage and sacrifice that we all must endure I suppose to step out of the familiar and into the new.

Snowflake Arizona may have happened either way,  but who knows, in this area of the state, communities are few and far between.

I guess the important message I would like to leave here with is to never take your surroundings for granted, be it in Arizona, Yonkers or wherever.

Instead, ask yourself, what did it take to build that?

How did Central Ave. in Yonkers go from just a dirt road that led north to White Plains to the major commercial district of today?

What did it take to cover up and then uncover the Saw Mill River?

How did areas such as Homefield, Bryn Mawr, Getty Square, Crestwood, Nepera Park, Runyon Heights, Dunwoodie and so on develop into residential and commercial centers?

Our city has just as many tales of pioneering spirit as Snowflake Arizona does and my hope is that those who read this will be a pioneer in their own right and seek out the answers to not only the questions I laid out before, but to their own questions and frontiers in life.

Here’s to Erastus Snow and William Flake and to all the pioneers, past, present and future.

—-Josh

The Crazy Dreams of Samuel Untermyer in Yonkers

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One of my favorite fairy tale quotes comes from the timeless story of Alice in Wonderland, a tale chock-full of wickedly inspiring and clever lines and one in particular that has always given me great strength and pride reads:

Alice: One can’t believe impossible things.

The Queen: …you haven’t had much practice…why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

UntermyerI’d like to think that for Samuel Untermyer, a lawyer from Virginia who acquired his now famous Yonkers property in 1899, he read those words at some point in his life and was inspired to dream big and to allow his own dreams to manifest themselves in more ways than one.

Most people who are lifelong Yonkers residents know of his contribution to the city and the 43 acre park he left for public use in 1948. What he left behind was a masterpiece of civic artistry, with dreams and ambitions to share his acquired wealth, along with his love of horticulture with visitors from around the country as they passed through his gardens on a weekly basis.

30,000 people visited his gardens in one single day back in September of 1939 as the country braced for World War IMG_1415and Untermyer himself of German Jewish decent, advocated for the Zionist Liberation Movement and then became President of the Karen Hayesod Agency.

To me, Untermyer was a born pioneer, a man who advocated for Women’s rights before most men did.  A man who spoke out against Hitler before most men did.  An activist against civil rights, again long before the movement truly gained national attention in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Mr. Untermyer certainly had a vision that was never fully realized even in his day, but should also never be forgotten.

A vision that one day, the rest of his 150 acre property would become a state park to be maintained and preserved for the enjoyment of the public, a vision that in the end, proved very costly and never seemed to materialize.

Presently, the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy as well as the city of Yonkers is hard at work, attempting to fulfill the lofty ambitions of Untermyer years ago and while much work still needs to be done, I thought I would point out some of my favorite spots on the property.

Before Untermyer acquired the acreage, the land belonged to Samuel J. Tilden, a failed presidential hopeful who had previously been Governor of New York State.  He was a man with a strong passion for horticulture as well and built a greenhouse on the property to cultivate rare and exotic plants, laying the foundation for the property’s ultimate future.

One of the finest features of the property has to be “The Vista” or as some might call it, the “Don’t Attempt to Climb These Stairs Without Approval from your Cardiologist Stairway…” or something close to that because there are over 200 stairs that go from the Vista Overlook of the Hudson River to the top where the North Loggia of the Walled Garden’s lower terrace resides.

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And the view up…

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It’s a long way down or up depending on where you begin but both are worth it.  Not only will you work up a sweat and just take in the beauty of the property, but if you are traveling down the stairs, you will make your way to what I believe to be the oldest man-made objects in the entire city of Yonkers.

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Two giant ancient Roman Columns, made from Cipolino Marble, flank the Hudson Overlook and from what I have read, these things go back at least to the year 200 BC.

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They really are a thing of beauty as if you didn’t have enough of it already on the property.

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Even better in some respects are the ghostly outlines of what was once a beautiful fountain area, with its own stairway which led to an area known as the Color Garden, which contained an array of plants each different in color as well as a vegetable garden and rose garden, long since overgrown and laying sadly in ruin.

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Also, the bottom of the property as most Yonkers residents know, is flanked by the OCA Trail and at the entrance there lay in ruins, some of the more beautiful Lion and Horse sculptures I have ever seen.

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The Lion is in better condition of the two by far, with its gorgeous detail and almost sorrowful look, it still stands guard proudly after all these years as joggers and bikers pass by along the Old-Croton Aqueduct Trail.

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Sadly the Horse lay in ruin, decapitated but still just as nice in many ways.

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The structure above the two animals was a former gatehouse and what I suspect was also servants quarters as the property did employ dozens of people at one time. It required 60 individuals alone to care for the main garden area.  Nowadays, the building has succumb to time and is a hollowed out shell of its former self.

Also, this is one of main areas that the so-called “Satanic Cults” used to roam around in and perform god knows what, earning the nickname, the “Devil’s Hole”.  My advice is to peak in and make it brief…

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Of course, there are many many more areas of the park I could point out, but I think it is best to leave them to you to discover, as Untermyer Park is and always will be, the grandest park in Yonkers.

Take an afternoon, perhaps this weekend, make the trip down North Broadway just past St. John’s Hospital, leave all electronics behind, grab the kiddos and pack a lunch.

That’s how Mr. Untermyer would have liked it and no matter how much time passes after his death, the sun still shines just as brightly on his beautiful gardens and an afternoon on his hillside in Yonkers can be just as grand and magnificent as it was for him and his family over 100 years ago.

For more information about tours and park hours, click here.

–Josh

 

MyYonkers Conversations with Mr. Fazio

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Ok, first things first, Mr. Fazio does have a first name.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut having met him in the Fall of 1996 at Gorton High School, he was only ever really introduced to me as Mr. Fazio, your Biology teacher and no, you may not go to the bathroom Josh, now sit down and have something to write with.

Much like the famed Mr. Brown of PS 30 legend, Mr. Fazio also meant business and from the moment that bell rang to the moment those sweet chimes could be heard echoing through the P.A. system 58 minutes later, class was in session in a major way, pushing us to our intellectual limits as he unleashed Biology fury in the form of notes, videos, charts, graphs, photos, and more.

Certainly though, I don’t want to paint him as some tyrant of a teacher, far from it.

Mr. Fazio’s passion for teaching, coupled with his compassion for each and every student that walked through his doorway in the 22 years he taught at Gorton High School should be something of a template for how future teachers can be empowered to vibrantly present their curriculum while servicing all the needs of their students.

I’ve kept in contact with him over the years as he watched me live my crazy life and recently, I felt compelled to step back in time with him once more, to get a IMG_1226kind of “behind the scenes” look at my former Biology teacher and if nothing else ask the most simplistic of life’s questions, why?

Why all the notes on the board?  And by board I mean chalkboards plural, all four walls had chalk boards and all four of them would be filled to the brim with notes by the 58th minute of class.  I guess he wasn’t kidding when he told me on the first day to have something to write with.

Still though, despite the rigor of being a student in his class, he churned out bright, capable, engaged and successful students.

I passed, and that’s saying a lot since I failed many many classes in High School, spending three summers down at Museum School on Warburton Ave, looking out onto the sunny Hudson River, feeling the warm breeze, oh and being in school during summer vacation.

It was his intellect, his discipline, his passion for Science and a prayer that got us through those nine months and whether it was Chemistry, Biology, Earth Science or boyfriend issues, Mr. Fazio always and I mean always was present, fun, enthusiastic and in the end, a teacher that you wished you could have again and again.

So let’s find out the why’s and how’s of Rocco Fazio’s teaching career in this edition of MyYonkers Conversations!

MyYonkers:  What did you teach at Gorton HS?

Mr. Fazio: Predominantly Biology, Lab and AP Biology but when I started teaching back in the late 1960’s I was teaching everything you can think of as a Seminarian brother with the Salesian School. Religion, English Grammar, Biology and General Science, five different sections in all and a great deal of lesson planning.

MyYonkers: Where else did you teach before Gorton HS?

Mr. Fazio: I taught my first few years out in the corn fields of Indiana, when I had all those various sections of curriculum, then moved around from New York and Boston but finally settled in at Maria Regina in Hartsdale for seven years which for me was just heaven there.  I taught Chemistry which I loved and the girls I taught were very receptive to my instruction.  I keep in touch with many of them and a few have gone on to become medical doctors, one is even a judge and have all been very successful.  Despite having had such a positive experience there, I felt compelled due to my family situation to go into the Public Education system and that’s when I ended up at Gorton HS.

MyYonkers: What was it like going from Catholic School to Public School?

Mr. Fazio: It was different but not difficult.  I still loved the teaching but I found I also loved the diversity of the student population.  I had a strong foundation for lesson planning and I knew I just had to remain systematic and single-minded regarding my classroom.

MyYonkers: It is well-known that Gorton High School, along with many Schools in Yonkers have experienced increased incidents of violence in the last 5-10 years, why do you think this is so?

Mr. Fazio: From about 2006 on until I retired in 2010, there were fights every day at Gorton and I think one of the biggest reasons were due to the increased presence of gangs in the area, having come up from the city and now in Yonkers.  The Police certainly did what they could but due to budget problems, they were pulled from the schools too.  There were problems but we managed.  These students unfortunately had very little support from their homes too, which added to the issues, parents being incarcerated and a number of students were emancipated minors who had jobs after school and were very responsible.

MyYonkers: What were some of the differences in teaching regular Biology versus AP Biology?

Mr. Fazio: Well we definitely got some of the top students in those AP classes and I think one thing that set them apart was that they approached learning differently, they had a system for learning whether it was their study habits or how they absorbed the material. 

MyYonkers: What were some of the highlights of teaching at Gorton HS?

Mr. Fazio: You know there really aren’t “highlights” per say but it’s really a continuous day-to-day regiment of getting students to understand concepts and thought processes and to appreciate the history of science and to demonstrate their knowledge of Science.  In many ways the highlight was me learning how to teach and evolve as an educator. 

MyYonkers: Did you like having to be “observed” as a tenured teacher during formal observations?

Mr. Fazio: I never minded, especially when it was an announced observation versus the unannounced ones.  I know the newer teachers would definitely feel more stress during these observations.  Personally though, while I didn’t mind them, I felt that there were things going on inside the classroom that are not imperative for the administrators know about.  I’m teaching Science and that’s what’s happening inside my classroom, period.  One highlight though did come toward the end of my career I received one of those unannounced observations where the principal walked in.  I was teaching an AP Bio course, I had the computer hooked up to the projector, teaching the lesson, talking to and showing the students what was already in their textbook.  In the end, the Principal said “you are actually teaching what I learned in college!” and I said thank you very much.

MyYonkers: What is one of the hardest parts about being a teacher?

Mr. Fazio: Seeing students underachieve.  Even more so than that, you have to continuously give students opportunities to learn and to achieve.  I saw many students fail out of AP courses and so on but being able to always give them a chance at learning the material and not giving up on them is the challenge.

MyYonkers: What is the best method for students to learn?

Mr. Fazio: I’ve always believed the best way is by multi-sensory, so with technology today especially, students can read it, see it, listen to audio and so on.  Years ago before computers in the classroom, I would always include many many videos in my curriculum, earning me the nickname, “Captain Video”!

MyYonkers: So I have to ask…what was with all the notes we had to take as students?

Mr. Fazio: Again, I think a teacher has to understand which ways work best with the given student population and with your particular class, you guys learned best by having lots of information available to you. In the last few years however I remember making an outline for the students instead and I would simply tell the students to fill it in as I did my lecture.  My students still achieved from Regents to AP students.

MyYonkers: What was your favorite Science?

Mr. Fazio: Chemistry.  Chemistry was the toughest course I ever loved.  I really enjoyed teaching it to the young ladies at Maria Regina and once I got to Yonkers, the position they offered was for Biology so I switched exclusively to that. 

MyYonkers: Who was your favorite Yonkers Schools Superintendent?

Mr. Fazio: My first one, Dominick Batista, I liked him a great deal and he was a gentleman.  What made him great was that for the time, he was a fatherly figure that took care of both the students and the teachers.  He knew what the teachers needed and appreciated their service.

MyYonkers: How well do you feel you connected with your students?

Mr. Fazio: One of the things I learned as a Seminarian before I even got married is that there always has to be a rapport with the students if you are going to teach them.  I made it a point to know of them personally so I could then influence them to achieve academically and to understand their needs.  It was always challenging in the first month of the school year but then you get a feel for them, how they behave, what their attitudes are like, etc.  The Salesian methodology is simple: Reason, Religion and Kindness. I want the students to leave my classroom in a good mood, that was also important to me.

Looks like I’m not the only one who has the utmost respect and fondness for Mr. Fazio.  Recently he was profiled once again, this time by the Senior Gazette, a publication by the Elant Health Care System that services the Hudson Valley and where his wife, Alana Fazio, also a former Gorton High School teacher, resides.

Check out the article here to learn about how even in his retirement, Mr. Fazio gives countless hours of service to the facility as well as doing what he does best, teaching about Science!

I just hope he makes them take less notes than his former students.

—Josh

Remembering the Yonkers Leprechaun Jess Buzzutto

16bigcity_CA0-articleLargeWhat would a St. Patrick’s Day be in Yonkers without taking at least some time to fondly remember and eulogize a Yonkers legend. A man who always could be seen in his later years sporting that green cap and waving to passersby near his home off Roberts Ave.

I myself have never seen him believe it or not, never took the time or was graced by the good fortune of running into him, either by driving by his home or seeing him in Stew Leonards, Stop N Shop or where ever else sightings of him existed.

According to a 2010 NY Times profile on him, Jess Buzzutto, known forever as simply “The Yonkers Leprechaun”, worked as a computer programmer most of his life and once in retirement, embraced his green roots I suppose and could be seen daily in the green get-up.

I am sure that readers on here have many more memories than I do of Jess, whether they be in Yonkers or even Manhattan where apparently he would catch a train and head down to the big city, wool cap and all.

Marching in the St. Patty’s Day parade in 2010 and bringing smiles to so many residents over the years, I suppose his legacy as the Yonkers Leprechaun belongs in the Yonkers pantheon of other great and legendary men and women of this city.

Still though, Ella Fitzgerald, Steven Tyler, DMX, Jess Buzzutto “The Yonkers Leprechaun”…it’s a crack squad to say the least.

If you have any Yonkers Leprechaun memories, please be sure and share them in the comments below :) Thanks guys!

–Josh

MyYonkers Conversations with Bill Borelli

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IMG_0984IMG_0989When you look around the city of Yonkers for mainstays that never change, places that were there when we were kids and now we bring our kids to, generally speaking, it’s a restaurant, a building, an ice skating rink, a train station on the Hudson or any number of places we like to label as landmarks.

Life-long Yonkers resident Bill Borelli is a landmark in his own right, not even for the years he has lived near Sacred Heart and the love he has for the city but for the five decades of service he has provided at Edward J. Murray Memorial Skating Center, or “Murray’s” as locals call it.

If you have ever skated at Murray’s…as in ever…since the day it opened on January 16th 1960, and rented skates, chances are you’ve met Bill or his father who started the Varsity Skate Shop back on the day when the rink opened for business.  54 Years later, you can still find Bill in the same place, performing the same labor of love for kids and adults of all ages and at age 78, plans of retirement are as distant to him as the day he started.

Just like you, I have memories of years of going to Murray’s on a Friday or Saturday night to skate, meet girls, have food, meet girls, rent skates, meet girls and if I was lucky, meet girls.  And whether it’s the early to mid nineties or the early to mid sixties, Bill was there to see it all in one form or another and to ask you the all important question, “what size skate do you need?”

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IMG_1021 copyWhen I caught up with him on a Friday at Murray’s, he had just finished servicing two bus loads full of students from a school in Mt.Vernon, happily dealing with their impatience, the volume of their voices and eagerly wanting to make sure that each and every skater received the best pair of skates they could rent.

That in a nutshell is Bill Borelli.  He is simply, irreplaceable and a throw back to what many would agree is a bygone era, where quality trumps quantity, where work is valued upon the quality of service given and where little things matter just as much as big things.

Little things like making sure each pair of skates are wiped down clean and looking as good as new for the next renter.  That the skates are sharpened to the highest quality, using a machine that could be considered outdated to say the least, made not too far away by a Long Island man and you would probably have to drive to 100 other skating rinks before seeing it again.

IMG_1006 copyLittle things such as writing down the skate number for the 8 year-old girl who is learning to figure skate that way every time she comes back to rent her skates, she can learn and practice on the same exact pair each time.

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Sitting down to interview him, he told me about the litany of memories he has collected from behind the counter over the years and I was quick to remind him of the memories he has provided for all of us on the other side of the counter as well.

One of the things I miss the most from childhood is how it felt being 13,14,15 years-old and going to Murray’s on a Friday night, something that can never be re-created in adulthood and certainly something that was taken for granted at the time.

So if you’re like me and can still hear the music, feel the ice and want to take a trip down memory lane via Murray’s Skating Rink, here’s the MyYonkers Conversation with Varsity Skate Shop owner Bill Borelli.

MyYonkers: So I have to ask, did you ever meet Edward J. Murray?

Bill Borelli: No, he died before the rink was built but was a guy that did an awful lot for the city of Yonkers as a contractor and politician.

MyYonkers:  Have you lived in Yonkers all your life?

Bill Borelli: Born and raised, growing up down by Sullivan’s Oval.  I remember when they were selling lots on Central Ave. for homes and businesses and many other things people wouldn’t even believe.  Here’s one, there was a lake where Spruce St. meets Rumsey Rd. called “Devil’s Lake” and I learned to ice skate on it.  Now it’s all homes.

MyYonkers: So what was here before they built the rink?

Bill Borelli: St. Nick’s Oval, it was a ball field and a nice place to have a picnic or cook out on a Sunday and at the bottom of the hill was a florist, a driving range and a bakery from the Troznick Family that you can buy homemade pies for literally $1.25.

MyYonkers: Why did your Father decide to open the skate shop?

Bill Borelli: He got a job in the Mills working for a man named John Flynn who eventually became Mayor of the city of Yonkers.  After serving in WWII, Flynn was one of the guys who pushed to make the skating rink happen since the Oval wasn’t used as much due to the construction of the Thruway and such.  Once the Mill closed, Flynn asked my father if he would bid on the skate shop in the new rink and he got it and we’ve had it in the family ever since.

MyYonkers: What was opening day like back in January of 1960?

Bill Borelli: There were 7,000 people in attendance! Needless to say we were a bit unprepared.  It was an all-day session and we only had about 300 pairs of skates on hand for rentals.  The lines stretched around the rink and from then on, the rink always made money. Despite recessions or whatnot, every year Murray’s has been profitable and there’s a reason for that.   Back then the rental was $0.25 and even the Parks commissioner came down and said to us at the end of the day that “I never want to hear that you don’t have enough skates again.”  Now we have about 2,000 pairs of skates or so on hand. 

MyYonkers: How have the crowds changed over the years?

Bill Borelli: Well we had more public sessions in the 60’s and 70’s.  In the 80’s and so on, the rink began cutting back on the sessions and more and more just privately renting out the ice to groups and teams.  There are about 14 sessions per week now and double that years ago.

MyYonkers: What sets Murray’s apart and even more importantly, Varsity Skate Shop?

Bill Borelli: I’m always buying skates, always trying to find the kind of skates people seem to like but also that the skates are kept in as good a condition as possible.  Some places mix skates up, two rights, two lefts, and that’s something that doesn’t happen here.  Each pair we rent lasts about a year and a half on average.

MyYonkers: Has this always been a side job for you?

Bill Borelli: My Dad passed away in 1999 and my “day job” was working for NASA, working in aerospace but I always worked part-time here and when he passed, I decided to take the business over full-time.  My wife and family always just simply put up with me working the two jobs and you know I missed a good deal of things with my kids growing up.  But one thing I have noticed over the years is that there is a relationship between the customers and the staff here, a special kind of family style relationship.  Having been through 6 managers here, I’ve seen many many people come and go but the staff and even the customers create their own family atmosphere here.

MyYonkers: Do people remember you from their time as a kid skating at Murray’s?

Bill Borelli: Every week that happens, people can’t believe I’m still here but nothing has changed at Murray’s, nothing and people who now come here as adults with their own kids get a kick out of how everything is the same.

MyYonkers: Do you still get the same joy out of servicing the 8 year-old girl’s skates now as you did perhaps when you started over five decades ago?  Is it still enjoyable?

Bill Borelli: Still love doing this and always trying to improve each year.  I have a system for the new skaters in the lesson program where they get the same pair of skates each time to learn on.  I’ll even come out and measure a skater’s foot for a public session nowadays because you want people to have a good session and have skates that fit well.

MyYonkers: Any future plans on retirement or another endeavor?

Bill Borelli: No plans…no plans.  You know as long as I can keep my health I love doing this and I’ll simply keep doing it.

For more information on public skating sessions at Murray’s, click here and remember to say “hi” to Bill next time you rent your skates from Varsity Skate Shop!

—-Josh

Nathan’s Comeback in Yonkers

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Last week saw the re-establishment of the Yonkers emblem of meat in tube-form as Nathan’s Hot Dogs on Central Ave. reopened their new doors, thisIMG_0050 time on the north facing side of a complex of stores consisting of a CVS and 2 stores to be named later.

What can I say?

The scars and memories of the original Nathan’s are still fresh inside all of our heads who lost one of our go-to spots for a quick lunch on a Saturday.

The new Nathan’s as expected, leaves much to be desired, no arcade games and no history of any kind, I don’t care how often they post signage of the year “1916” around the inside and outside of the place.

No stained glass mirrors, no fun chicken, nothing really of the Nathan’s of my youth.

Here’s a quick tour:

The drive thru is still around and I’ll give them points for improving things in this regard although it’s really six of one, half a dozen of the other.

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The same green and red neon lights still greet customers as they enter but obviously nothing close to the original signage.

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The inside is well…what can you say.  If you traded a few hot dogs and crinkle cut fries for some golden arches and the Cheeseburglar, you’d pretty much have a mickey D’s.

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One of the nicer or cooler parts though are the giant murals of Nathan’s Coney Island past and kuddos to the details of food, rides and people.

IMG_0062Nathan’s Seafood?

IMG_0061More Nathan’s happy customers…

IMG_0060Very dated bathing suits…

IMG_0058I like this kid…

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They also have framed pictures of the good times at the Coney Island landmark…

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IMG_0066With the centennial anniversary approaching, I am sure Nathan’s will be going all out nationwide let alone here in the NY area to commemorate their place in Hot Dog history and rightfully so.

Still though, despite Nathan’s being a universe unto itself, I think the place should have paid some homage to the old Nathan’s of Central Ave., even if it was just a mural or portrait of the bright lights guiding the way for the cars that passed by along Central Ave.

While I rarely advocate things of this nature, my suggestion is to extend the extra effort and time and catch a D Train, make your way out to Coney Island, and fulfill your craving with the real thing.  The remodel and renovation of the original Nathan’s has been complete for some time now and it’s just as good and packed as always out on Coney Island.

I hate to not patronize a Yonkers business and give into my nostalgic obstinance but it may take another 100 years before Nathan’s on Central Ave. gives me the satisfaction that its predecessor gave me time and time again.  Your Thoughts?

—Josh

The Legend of Two Guns Arizona

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As with many locations around the country, Two Guns Arizona, a place that once occupied a spot on the map, has seen better days, IMG_1010abandoned and forgotten, it sits in isolation, just off Interstate 40 or more accurately, the old Route 66 in Arizona.

If you go there however, be sure to bring a your own supplies and don’t expect services of any kind.  Simply put, the town is completely abandoned, its buildings lay in ruin and it’s roadways are quickly being swallowed up by the Arizona high desert floor.

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Two Guns was home to many Native American tribes over the years and was even the site of contentious battles between the Navajos and the Apaches.

But in more modern times, it served as a bustling pit stop and tourist trap for the millions of Americans who sought refuge on the mother road of America, Route 66 between the 1940’s to the 1960’s.

The name itself stems from the proprietor who set up businesses in the area when the highway was built, Henry Miller.  Originally called Canyon Lodge, Miller renamed the town after himself, “Two Guns”, which from what I read was apparently his nickname as people came to call him “Two Guns Miller”.

This is about the dumbest “legendary” account of history I have ever heard of but since multiple sources cited this account, I guess it’s all we have to go on.

In any event, the town became a hit, with restaurants, lodgings and even a Zoo, which you can see here.

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Sadly, this is mostly all that is left…

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The place is eerie to say the least and I was there at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Once Interstate-40 came in, as with many towns, even Radiator Springs in the Pixar movie Cars, the town went under rather quickly.

Despite numerous grass-roots campaigns to revive the town and even a vivacious caretaker who legend has it in the 1980’s and 1990’s, would chase people away with a shotgun in his attempt to protect the abandoned town from vandals, Two Guns is now completely abandoned.

This stone wall is all that’s left of a restaurant that used to serve Route 66’s hungry motorists.

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The sad remains of one of the many lodgings where people could shut down for the night.

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Haven’t figured out what this was but the Route 66 signage is beautiful.

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More views of the remains of Two Guns…

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This gas station supposedly was in use as recently as 2003 but other reports bring it back to the 1990’s.  Regardless, it’s long gone now.

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The roadway itself, while intact, is beginning to be overtaken by the desert in some spots and if enough time passes and a few powerful Summer monsoon storms blow through, all of Two Guns AZ will disappear.

Here’s to another forgotten place in America.  A once thriving town teeming with life and currently a location that has permanently lost its place on the map.

IMG_1010—Josh

New! “MyYonkers Conversations”

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Hey guys, this post is an inquiry that I am throwing out to the community of Yonkers and beyond.  IMG_1646

In 2014 or sooner, I will begin a series of Posts titled “MyYonkers Conversations”, where I will be spotlighting members of the Yonkers community either through video or transcription and showcasing some of the more amazing and inspiring life stories that exist in our great city.

I have a few conversations lined up later this fall and will be running them by the end of the year but was curious if you knew someone in Yonkers who you would like to see spotlighted on here?  Some examples may include but are not limited to:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are obviously many many more examples I could give but I think you get the jist.

My goal is to utilize the following that we have garnered on MyYonkers.org to give light and deserving recognition to those individuals that help do their part to make Yonkers a place that not only is still a vibrant city but also those who forever live in our minds as staples and familiar faces of our childhood growing up in the city.

One can only imagine the litany of individuals who could have been spotlighted on here but sadly have passed away so this may be an excellent way to recognize some amazing Yonkers residents in the living years.

If you have someone in mind, please feel free to email me at MyYonkers@gmail.com and let me know the details.  Thanks guys!

–Josh

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