Mendel Letters 34 — Cross-Bronx Expressway

Hebrew school at the Jewish Center of University Heights on Nelson and 174th Street

June 19, 2021

Dear Mendel,

After Mommy died, we didn’t have a car. Obviously you couldn’t drive. But that doesn’t mean the Cross-Bronx Expressway didn’t change our lives.

They started building the Cross-Bronx in 1948 in the East Bronx so the disruption to our lives didn’t hit until about 1960. We lived on Jesup south of what would be the Cross-Bronx cut. PS 104 was on our side, but Hebrew school at the Jewish Center of University Heights on Nelson and 174th Street and JHS 82 were on the other side of the neighborhood divide. That meant we walked back and forth to Hebrew school four nights a week through vacant lots and rubble. I used to sing aloud as I walked to scare away the ghosts. Before the Cross-Bronx I used to walk up the hill on Jesup, cut over to Shakespeare, walk past PS 104, and continue to Featherbed Lane where Shakespeare merged into Nelson. The Cross-Bronx permanently blocked Shakespeare Avenue so going we crossed the Cross-Bronx on Jesup. If we were going to Hebrew school we turned left on Featherbed Lane to Nelson. When we were going to JHS 82 we turned right and went up Macombs. One advantage of the new route was we passed an Olinsky’s Supermarket on Featherbed where they had a giant pickle barrel and you could buy a nickel pickle. A lot of buildings were torn down for the Cross-Bronx so families and school friends began to move away. Construction also meant we lived with a lot of dust in the air.

The big change for us came with changes in traffic flow once the Cross-Bronx was completed. Before the Cross-Bronx, traffic between Manhattan and the Bronx crossed the “Little Washington” Bridge and ran up and down E.L. Grant Highway. There were a lot of taxicab garages in the area, which meant business for your small luncheonette during shift changes. When the Cross-Bronx opened the cabs headed for the highway to get to Manhattan more quickly and your customers disappeared.

As an adult I have one “funny” Cross-Bronx story. The Bruckner Traffic Circle near where the Cross-Bronx met the Throgs Neck and Whitestone Bridges and the New England Thruway was always a hellish traffic jam. One summer in the early 1970s I was working for a summer sleep away camp locate in the Catskills. During session changeovers I drove our red stake-back truck into the city with returning camper luggage and then drove back to camp with luggage for the next session. On the Cross-Bronx at the start of the Bruckner Traffic Circle I blew a radiator hose and the engine stalled out. I’m listening on the radio as traffic reports detail the entire eastbound Cross-Bronx Expressway virtually shut down starting at the GW Bridge. Fortunately I had my Swiss Army Knife, duct tape, and a rubberized rain poncho. I cut strips off the poncho, climbed under the hood, wrapped the strips around the radiator hose, and taped the strips on securely. I found a towel in the luggage pile, wiped down all of the engine wiring, poured water into the radiator from some canteens, primed the carburetor, and drove to our store front in Brooklyn. The whole operation took about a half an hour to forty-five minutes. Parents were waiting for their kids clothing when I got there.

Your son

Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later




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Mendel Letters

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