Tag Archives: World War II

The Metamorphosis of the Tavern on the Green

AFC 175047This past February 5th the New York Times carried a story on the reopening of the Tavern on the Green on the west side of Central Park.  The Tavern on the Green, which has lasted almost a century and a half,  has seen  many transformations.  Back in 1871 it began as a sheepfold when Central Park was one great green pasture.  Over the years the sheepfold had become a miniature zoo which had come to include camels, bisons, pumas, llamas,  and buffalo, besides the sheep.  By the 1930s the sheepfold had been transformed into a  small restaurant.  The  wildlife  had been auctioned off or moved to Prospect Park in 1934. The caretaker of this menagerie, Frank Hoey, the last shepherd on Manhattan island, was transitioned into caring for the sea lions and bears in the Central Park Zoo.  The Tavern of the Green, bereft of its animal life, went through many stages of life growing from a 8,000 square foot sheepfold to a 10,000 square foot restaurant and on to a series of expansions into the late 1970s reaching  a 30,000 square foot  elegant restaurant and dancing pavilion.

The story of the rehabilitation of the Tavern on the Green brings back memories of high school days in the late 1930s.  After graduation from Junior High School 30 in Yorkville on mid-town East Side, five of us went on to the High School of Commerce on west 66th St.  For three years  we made the  two mile daily trek  from Yorkville on the East Side to the High School of Commerce on the West Side.  Along the way coming and going we passed the Tavern on the Green in west Central Park.   Beginning in the Fall of 1939, Johnny Palazotto, Jack Saitta, Saul Mines, Hank Yost and myself, a miniature League of Nations, began our daily early morning two mile jog from the East Side beginning at 7:10,  Johnny Palazotto starting out at  85th and York Avenue, ringing my bell at 7:20 at 82nd and First Avenue,  picking Jack Saitta up at 81st St. and First Avenue, and then meeting Saul Mines and Jack Yost at 81st St. and Second Avenue. We headed west for the 79th St. entrance to Central Park, jogging diagonally through the park and aiming for the Tavern on the Green exit on the West Side.  When we reached the Tavern on the Green we made our mad dash for 66th Street and Amsterdam Avenue and into Commerce High  hoping to beat the 8:00 AM  late bell.  The journey was repeated in reverse each afternoon.  For three years we passed the Tavern on the Green as a major marker  on our daily circuit.  We regarded the Tavern as a special place.  We looked upon it as a symbol of success: frequented only by people of means.  On the morning of  Monday, December 8th of 1941, in our senior year, we were called to gather in the assembly hall  of the High School of Commerce.  Over the speakers that morning,  in the intense quiet of the hall, the voice of  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt broke the silence with the U.S.  declaration of war on Japan.  In June we graduated  into the War.  I never heard from my four high school mates again.  The Tavern on the Green closed in 2010.  The High School of Commerce is gone.   As well as Junior High School 30. The 2014 rehabilitation of the Tavern revives the good memories of my high school friends, our  jog through Central Park  to the Tavern and our race to the High School of Commerce to beat the 8:00 AM bell.  Hear the continuing story on: www.onthesidewalksofnewyork.com

Chapter 12 – A Time to Live, A Time to Die

Henrietta Schoelzel Poethig, 1901-1946

Henrietta Schoelzel Poethig, 1901-1946

In September 1945, the war is over and former students, now veterans, return to the dynamics of rebuilding the post-war world. Richard learns the value of a liberal education at the College of Wooster, where the study of science and religion are complementary. He holds down three jobs on campus to cover expenses. In December, his father, Ernest, falls from a ladder at work and fractures his skull; the accident causes epileptic seizures. Henny, Richard’s mother, leaves St. Francis Tuberculosis Hospital to care for Ernie at home. Richard rushes back to New York to help. He takes his mother back to St. Francis, and, believing the situation at home to be stabilized, makes the decision to return to Wooster. During Easter break, Richard is urgently summoned back to New York.

Chapter 11 – Going West!

Boarding the Broadway Limited at Penn Station in January 1945, Richard begins a new venture. Descending the train in the gloom of winter in Wooster, Ohio, is a sobering experience. Richard faces the uncertainty of college life and its requirements. There was housing and work to find and the intense pace of academic learning to tackle. Richard’s heavy New York accent marks him as an outsider among the (mostly female) student body at the College of Wooster. In the midst of his anxiety over his mother’s declining health at home, Richard breaks through on the academic frontier. At the same time, history was changing fast: President Franklin Roosevelt dies, the war in Europe comes to an end, and in the fall the campus spirit takes on a new vitality.

Chapter 9 – Facing a World at War

Photo of Fred Waring signed by Fred Waring

“With benevolent good wishes to the Reverend Dick” – Fred Waring

The late 1930s was a period of mounting tension in the world. People in Yorkville were on tenterhooks waiting for the next explosion in Europe. Richard rapidly advances through junior high and into the High School of Commerce in 1939. One Monday in December, 1941, the students are called into the auditorium to listen to President Roosevelt on the radio over the speaker system declare war on Japan. Too young for induction into the army, Richard works at Best & Co. and buys his first Harris Tweed suit. Next he gets a job with Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians in the shipping department. Here Richard learns how business gets done and how to be entertained along the way. Upon turning 18, Richard submits himself for the draft but is rejected because of his poor eyesight. Richard resolves to go to college.