My Park in MyYonkers

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Bregano7I’m not sure if it’s a New York thing or an urban thing but it seems as though if you grew up in a city environment, you also grew up going to a neighborhood park, over and over, for hours on end of your youth.

For me it was many parks actually, but the one that was awarded most of my time was Bregano Park & Playground, sprawling with 4 acres of fields, playgrounds, basketball courts and more.

Situated on the corner of Rigby and Brandon St., it was like a second home for me, whether that meant playing on the swings, the slide, or as I got older, countless games on the basketball court, football games on the field, or as I got even more in adolescense, lighting off M-80’s in the woods and working on my Night Moves with the ladies.

One way or another, I think I spent more time there then at home during certain times of the year and that was fine by me as my firends and I would take the 5 minute stroll from my apartment down the road and arrive on foot with our basketball, our football, our water bottle and our dreams.Bregano6

If you were wondering, the place is named after Sebastiano P. Scelza or “Buster” as his memorial reads at the foot of the park, apparently a civic leader in youth and adult sports, the guy seemed to be one of those rare Yonkers City workers who actually clocked in and went right to work.

Based on his memorialized depiction, he seemed like a nice guy and obviously the city was much better off for his service; at least I know I was because of the park that bared his name.

Thankfully unlike other childhood haunts that have bit the dust with time, this place is still alive and well and even thriving, hosting various softball leagues, flag football and soccer games year round as well as a steady pace of a new generation of kids seeking the same pleasures we indulged in while young and reckless.

The playground has never looked better and honestly, I’m a bit jealous, as this sparkling new equipment would have made my formative years that much more fun!

Bregano9In terms of the famed basketball court, it’s still intact and still doing its thing and the hoops even have nets attached, a constant disappointment for us when we would arrive and sadly they had been pulled or cut down.  I swear I’ve never seen a city park go through so many basketball nets but either we were way too rough on them or apparently lurking in this predominately Italian neighborhood is a Paisan with a white netting fetish.

Bregano4We certainly ran the gamut though on that court, racing up and down for hours on end and then eventually moving on and making the games…ahem… more interesting you might say by placing wagers on the games.

Some days I would be out in the first game having spent my only $10 for the week while other days, I’d walk away with over $50 in hand.

As you can imagine, the Movie White Men Can’t Jump was like our bible for this kind of hijinx and it grew so large that kids from Mt. Vernon and even the Bronx would come out to Bregano to play and the wait to get into a game would sometimes take hours if not most of the afternoon.

One small but “could have been useful” addition to the park is the Porto Potty that can be found along the eastern edge of Bregano.  Even though in theory this would have be spectacular, I can just picture the older kids pushing the entire thing over or blowing it up with an M-80, especially while I was in it!

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But honestly, I love my Park in MyYonkers, I truly do.  How can you not love a place where so much of your childhood story was written?  I’m sure most of you reading this had a park that was your own and I’d love to hear about it so be sure and leave your park in your Yonkers in the comments below.

Thanks for all the memories Buster!

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—Josh

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Hyatt Place in Cross County’s Place

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FullSizeRenderImagine going to a mall and after a long day of Louis Vuitton and Hermes Handbag shopping sprees you suddenly stumble upon a 155 Room business traveler’s hotel, perfect right?

Well for the Kardashian in us all perhaps but for the actual residents of Yonkers, not sure I can say the same.

The Hyatt Place Hotel opened its doors this month and along with its swanky hotel lobby and indoor pool which is currently under construction, one would have to look far and wide as to how the City of Yonkers, the people themselves, actually benefit from the monstrosity.

I took a stroll over to the hotel yesterday and here’s what I found…

First off…it’s weird to look up past the store fronts and see the same exact steel beams that once housed the hospital building now holding up this…

FullSizeRender_3 copyVersus this…

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Look it is what it is.  They took an upscale hotel chain and plopped it right in the middle of the Country’s oldest outdoor mall.

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There’s an entrance for key card holding guests from the mall…

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And some other highlights of the Hotel include the lobby which is actually pretty nice and does have a ton of seating for an evening glass of wine or appetizers.

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And there’s a giant satellite photo of the Cross County area, in case you forgot where you were…

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Very nice swanky seats and lounge chairs…well worth the $165-$250 a night they charge per room and depending on room size and day of the month and a myriad of other factors.

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Like I said, the lobby is actually a nice place to sit and have a drink but other than that…not sure I’m impressed with much else of the Hyatt Place…

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I’m not trying to play the role of grumpy old man here but when the Cross County Shopping Center was built, it served the community it surrounded, as did the Hospital that bore its name, but this?  Not sure Yonkers will benefit at all other than a few more jobs and some tax revenue.

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By the time I came along in the early 80’s, the Cross County Hospital was a shell of its former-self and was more used as an office building for the mall than anything else and certainly in the last few years, hell even decade, it did become a bit of an eyesore…

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Far from its glory days of the 60’s and 70’s, so many Yonkers babies were born here within the same steel beams that now house the weary business traveler and the compulsive gambler…

165277_184743224883690_100000440417040_578033_1052409_n CC04bFullSizeRenderMy heart truly yearns to see the City not just survive but thrive.

Cross County has been in the midst of a decade long revitalization with costs estimated in the $150-200 Million dollar range that the owners have shelled out to make the area what it once was.

Hyatt Place…not the answer Cross County, sorry.

It serves a small consortium of people who have no vested interest in the city or the mall for that matter.

It will serve the businessman who wants to stay there so that the casino is a hop skip and a jump away.  It will serve upper Socio-Economic families who want to spoil themselves while visiting their roots in Yonkers and the surrounding area for a weekend.

And it will serve the young foolish yuppies who have more expendable income than they know what to do with and feel that paying $200 a night for a hotel in Cross County is a value too good to pass up.

Again though…what about the City itself?

Where does it leave the city of gracious living and the people who could have benefited from the services the building could have otherwise offered had it been designated for other purposes such as education, health care, business, etc.

I’m sure in 10 years, we will all forget what life was like without the Hotel sitting there but for now, old habits and sights and IMG_3963eyesores die-hard.

The best case for the city of course will be the raging success of the Hyatt, so that it too won’t become a former shell of itself and sit vacant for decades.

Perhaps the ghosts in the steel beams of the Hospital have other plans though and this property will become a black hole of sorts where any business that dares to take up shop will forever remain in the red, broke and penniless.

For more info on the Hyatt Place, click here and see if there’s any vacancies…and for those who haven’t been to Cross County in a while, they’ve since plopped a Red lobster, Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse in the vacant areas of the parking lot of the mall.

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So plenty of rooms and plenty of places to eat at Cross County…for now.

—Josh

My Younkers???

Back in May, I was working in Wisconsin for the month and since I’m just like any other American, I decided to hit the mall for some downtime.  Most of the time, you might see Sears or Macy’s at the mall, but as I turned a corner, I found this…

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Imagine this store in Cross County or Getty Square, I mean it would probably be guaranteed business if not for the ease in regard to its name and convenience.  Apparently it is a subsidiary of a larger chain of department stores in the Midwest and even Northeast.

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Inside of course you find all the goodies you would find in any other store, but I couldn’t resist walking up to a lonely employee to show her where Yonkers NY was on a map and emphatically illustrate the connection…but finding one was an issue.

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Much like some other abandoned structures and places in the real Yonkers, Younkers Department Store was also a ghost town, void of shoppers or employees, I think I see some old guy near the back…damn it, it’s too late he actually went into the back.

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Well abandoned or not, the store lives on.  I’m sure if I went on a five-minute looting spree, rent-a-cops galore would spring into action like flies on you know what, so I casually just walked out.

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Why doesn’t Yonkers have a cool looking NEON sign like this?  Perhaps by the pier? Central Ave?  Cross County? Hell even prop it up on top of the Seminary Communication Tower so travelers from afar can see that the City of Gracious Living, is just over those damn hills.

–Josh

Hello Again!

IMG_3464Being the curator of this website, I’ve found in the last 5 years that its taken on the characteristics of a relationship, with highs and lows and even falling outs.  Still though, like any good relationship, I’m still here and so are you!

Just as when I began MyYonkers, I still love this city as if it were a person.

And while I’ve moved around a bit, living in Arizona in 2013 and currently residing 5 blocks south of McLean Ave. in the Woodlawn section of the Bronx, Yonkers will always keep its magic and wonder in my eyes, despite gentrification, segregation, litigation, legislation and any other “tions” I may have missed there.

I look forward to expanding the “Outside of MyYonkers” section of this site in 2015, as well as profiling more individuals in the MyYonkers Conversations Section and as always, covering the ins and outs of the city through my own unique lens.

I missed writing on here in 2014 and also, despite the site being dark for a year, I received dozens of email inquiries about former articles, was asked about the site countless number of times and our social media presence even increased, meaning people were “liking” a facebook page for a website that no longer existed.

So to really fire things back up on here, I will be publishing 12 NEW articles in the month of April!

Please know that I look upon this site as an extension of a great community, past and present and the overwhelming number of memories and comments shared over the years have simply been a testament to how great a City Yonkers truly is.

Thank you for continuing to come back to MyYonkers to read the articles and I hope that my ideas and words can create a positive emotional response in your heart and that you can have continue enjoyment on MyYonkers!

—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

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