Two doors down: Remembering my childhood home in 1950s Brooklyn
I wonder if everyone loves the house they grew up in as much as I do. Number 12 Waldorf Court was like growing up in Brigadoon. It was safe as can be, a dead-end street two doors down from the through street Rugby Road & E 14th St.
There were three age groups of children on this 14-house street. There were those several years younger than me, those my age, and those my brother’s age, about five years my senior. There was always something to do.
Short of inclement weather, staying inside was something you did if you were sick, had homework to do, practiced music (as was my case), were having a meal, or needed to sleep. The lives today’s youngsters live is a bewilderment to me.
For all the Waldorf Court stories, check out my book, “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales From Brooklyn,” available here. Until then, come back with me to the days of yesteryear.
I won’t regale you with the house’s history except to tell you it was built in 1910, is still going strong, and was recently on the market for as much as $1.6 million, a far cry from the 15 or 20 grand my folks paid for it. Maybe add 10 or 15 grand to get what we sold it for ten years later.
What I want to do is play Jackie Kennedy and give you a tour because it is remarkable to me that a house built that long ago, pushing 50 when we moved in, could have fit the needs of someone from 8 to 18 and apparently still does.
First, take a look at the house. The picture looks no different than if I had taken it with my Kodak Brownie. Of course, I don’t know what has been done inside, but a friend and former neighbor who went back to visit said that very little had been done to any of the houses on the street. Same house, 1910 or 2020. Let’s start at the walkway up to the front door.
Now look at those steps. The stoop. The most perfect place for stoop ball. In the fall and winter, the red door was shielded by a storm door. More than one gave its all to a wrong-way Corrigan spauldeen that hit it just right, or wrong, cracking it. Before I invite you in, let’s look to the left, in front of the white car, and to the right of the tree at the driveway.
Halfway down the driveway, a piece of the house jutted out. When my brother got his first car, I relentlessly begged him to let me wash it, because then, I knew, I’d need to move it. He relented. You know what happened.
Further down the driveway was the chute for coal and later the hatch for diesel. The driveway ended in a large backyard, big enough to hold a two-car garage, which it never did, and a nice-sized lawn. The lawn had flowers, squirrels, hedges, and a clothesline, which had a bag of wooden clothespins clipped to it. There is nothing that smells quite as good as fresh, air-dried clothing.
To the right, in the driveway, Mr. Edelman would tee up wiffle golf balls and we’d be in the street playing fielders.
Follow me up the steps. To the left is the bay window of the TV room. It had a half bath. To the right you see a nice-sized porch. I spent many a spring and summer day serenading the neighborhood with my accordion. At the end of the hallway (twenty feet) was a big, heavy door that opened into the house. It is here the house began its work.
A quick left and a step down was the entrance to the TV room. At an angle from the hallway door was the staircase that did a right-angle on its way upstairs and had movable creaks so you could never be sure where a safe place was to make a hopefully unheard step.
To the right opened the living room. It had a mirrored wall so you were facing yourself as you entered. To the right were “jalousies,” shutters that had slats that open and closed. On the outside of them was the aforementioned porch.
The living room ran ¾ the length of the house. But we’re not there yet. Under the right angle of the stairs was a wet bar. Now keep walking down the hallway, past the bar, and you have a formal dining room made wider by a piece of it sticking out of the house (the one into which I drove my brother’s car). A few steps past the dining room came the kitchenette, which was for breakfast and lunch. To its right was the kitchen and the door to the back porch.
Back past the bar we go, and up the stairs. At the top you faced my parents’ room, the only one with an air-conditioner. A few steps to its left was where my brother and I bunked. Past that was a little reading room until my brother decided he was too old to sleep in the same room with his brother and it was repurposed into his room.
There were two full baths on the floor. One in my parents’ room and one at the end of the hall for us. Back down the hall a few feet past the master bedroom was yet another staircase. It ended in a two-room, furnished attic. This is where the fun began.
The attic had two furnished rooms and a full bath separated by a small hallway. In one room, I made an elaborate half-floor-sized WWII scene. I was into models (the kind you put together, though I did hide a Playboy or two up there as well). I had fighters and bombers hung on guy wires in various forms of action. Below, on grass paper, was a battlefield with plastic soldiers. No telling how many times I refought World War II.
The other room had a ping-pong table which was the platform for my very elaborate Lionel Train set which, had my mother not given it away, would now be part of my retirement account.
The room also held an attic fan. This thing was about the size of an airplane propeller. Downstairs was a switch. My dad would open the windows, flip the switch and, like magic, breezes swept through the house.
I can’t say in honesty I always loved living with the other people in the house; I had a bumpy childhood and bumpier adolescence. But the house, which included a furnished basement, offered sanctuary for me. The bottom line: 12 Waldorf Court got me through.
Bill Gralnick is the author of “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales from Brooklyn.” His writings can be found at https://www.williamgralnickauthor.com/.
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