Argylian Days of Yore: West Midwood in the 1950s

The View From Argyle Heights: West Midwood in the 1950s By Homeowner Harry (Another in a series of observations about life in West Midwood as it is lived today…or maybe not)

In August, I got an email from California asking for a subscription to the West Midwood Newsletter. My initial reaction was to think: “Yes! The Newsletter has gone viral!”  America was finally discovering my deep insights into why the neighborhood should start calling itself Argyle Heights, thereby upping property values 15-20% thanks to the desirability of embedding altitude into our name. I was considering creating a shielded Pay Pal account with deposits funneled into an offshore brokerage in the Caymans so as to speed up my retirement. To assist future marketing plans, in my return email containing the Pay Pal instructions, I added a PS: “BTW, how did you hear about the Newsletter? Did somebody put it on You Tube?”

The answer dashed all my hopes: “No, I was staying at a West Midwood Bed & Breakfast when I saw it lying around and since I grew up there in the 1950s I just wanted to keep in touch with what goes on in the neighborhood.”

In subsequent exchanges over the course of the next month as we haggled about NYC sales taxes, I couldn’t help but ask our first subscriber about what is was like around here 60 years ago, before feral cats and garbage became so popular. So, in her own words, with extensive editing to remove all the stuff about why there’s no listed price on the Newsletter, here are the memories of Dottie Wahl:

“I was 5 years old in 1945 when my parents, Michael & Ethel Morris, bought the house at 20 Waldorf Court for $5,000 in an estate sale. The original owners from 1905 were John and Mary Bartlett. John was a fishmonger and Mary was an emigrant from Ireland.  By 1945 Mary Bartlett was widowed and elderly. Unable to climb the stairs, she was living in the first floor dining room when she passed. The original gaslights were still in the house and I remember the third floor was dark and scary.  In fact, my mother said the house was so ‘forbidding’ when she first saw it, she was reluctant to venture past the front door. Luckily my Aunt Betty persuaded my mother to take a look.

“My parents hired a general contractor named E. J. Pond, a Norwegian who lived in Bay Ridge, and he restored the house to its beautiful original state (the windows on the stairway had become so filthy, you couldn’t tell they were stained glass). Our home on Waldorf Court had a ‘twin’ at 783 Rugby Road.  To my knowledge they are the only two houses with that specific architecture.

“I was an only child born of a mixed marriage because my father was Catholic but my mother was Presbyterian. Dad would go to Our Lady of Refuge on Ocean Avenue. To get there, he’d walk over the footbridge that spanned the BMT cut at the end of Glenwood Road. When I went to Midwood High School (living south of Foster Avenue meant you couldn’t go to Erasmus), I also walked back and forth over that bridge. It was a Lover’s Lane after dark except none of us had cars so some would just walk there and pretend to look at the trains.

“My mom worshiped at Wells Memorial Presbyterian Church on the corner of Argyle and Glenwood. According to press accounts I found, it was first located in a tent on Foster & Argyle as they tried to raise money. But they didn’t break ground until 1906 and it wasn’t until 1913 that the church was actually finished. On the first Thursday of every June, all the public schools had a holiday so we could parade to celebrate Sunday School – I remember marching down Ditmas Avenue when I was 7. By the way, you call it Brooklyn Day now and I hear there’s only one small parade left.

“I used to ride the Coney Island Avenue trolley from Avenue H to Church Avenue to go to the dentist. The Kent was one of two movie theaters we went to. My grandmother loved the Kent because every Wednesday was a Lady’s Day Matinee when they gave a free dish to all the women who attended – very pretty dishes too. The other theater was the Leader on the east side of Coney, just past Newkirk. There was a terrific Cantonese restaurant called the New Toysun just before the Leader. I attended so many Bar Mitzvah luncheons there.
“Speaking of food, we were fortunate to have two Ebinger’s bakeries: one on Avenue H, right before the station, and one at the end of Newkirk Plaza near where Almac is now. Also, Linderman Bakery on Foster, between Rugby and Marlborough, had a seven layer cake that was to die for. And, Dugan Bakery also had a truck that visited Waldorf Court every week. Grillo’s was one of the best fish stores in Brooklyn and that was right past the entrance to Newkirk Plaza, off Foster, on the right side. Lindeman Florist was a few doors past that, and they were original tenants of the Plaza. I was sad to see they recently moved to Bay Ridge.

“The music for the song ‘Teddy Bears Picnic’ was written by a musician who owned the house on the southeast corner of Glenwood & Rugby, John Bratton. He died in 1947 but my mom was very friendly with his wife, Marjorie, and I remember me and my mom visiting her often. The exterior still has the same color scheme and I believe that house could be the only one in the neighborhood that has remained with the same family and their heirs since 1903.

“With the exception of two or three houses, on Waldorf Court all the neighbors were original owners until about 1948. The early fifties was a time when many of the West Midwood homeowners began to move to suburbia, especially Long Island. There was no celebration of the fifty year mark for West Midwood in 1953, but Wells Memorial did celebrate its 50th year in 1956 – there’s a book they published that can be found on Amazon.

“My Dad loved the Brooklyn Dodgers, as did the Marks family who lived next door. I had a friend, Patricia, at Midwood High and she lived next door to Gil Hodges on Bedford Avenue near Avenue L. When I visited Patricia I often saw Gil Hodges in his yard and he was so friendly and hospitable.

“Then I met my husband Nick Wahl at Wagner College and we were married in 1962, living first in Staten Island, then River Edge, New Jersey, Michigan and eventually to Agoura Hills, California. My mother died in New Jersey in 2000 and after the funeral, I returned to West Midwood for the first time in almost 40 years so Nick and I could show my three children where we grew up. I returned with Nick again in 2003 and 2006 and as we walked around the neighborhood, I felt like I was in a time warp!  It was nice to see that the neighborhood remained so unique.

 “My former neighbors George, Adrienne and Steve Marks, who were at 16 Waldorf Court, now live in San Diego and we got together with them this month for a West Midwood reunion. Hey, how about a volume discount on the Newsletter?”

Well played, Dotti Wahl, but dream on.


David Demarest said...

Whatever happened to Wells Memorial Presbyterian Church? My dad was the pastor there around 1960.

Joe Enright said...

Wells Memorial Presbyterian was passed on to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints more than 35 years ago. They also bought the neighboring house which serves as the Church's Brooklyn New York Family History Center (1212 Glenwood Road, 718-434-8245). Speaking as a neighbor myself, the Church and its pastors and congregation have been wonderful folks. They let us continue to use the Church for neighborhood meetings and participate in our community events. On a side note, an FBI Special Agent with whom I worked in the NY office was a Bishop of the Church and would sometimes visit there until he relocated with his family out to Montana to be closer to his relatives.

Thanks for stopping by Argyle Heights!

Joe Enright

Anonymous said...

My mother and I attended Wells Memorial from 1945 to about 1954. The Minister from 1938 to 1948 was Rev. Stanley Evans. I was confirmed at Wells Memorial. I would love to hear from you with any memories of Wells Memorial. Dottie Wahl - Agoura Hills, CA - Whose email to Joe Enright set this article in motion.