Southwest Philly meets the South Bronx

This is an edited version of my response to Michael J. McCullough, who asked me to take a look at “Growing Up Philly,” which I did because it was so much like growing up in the South Bronx, where I was born. His $14 book is available as an ebook and through and  Amazon


Southwest Philly meets the South Bronx

A lot in common, and a bit different.

But first, an opinion: The book is well-written, not in the William Faulkner sense, but in the sense that good writing creates a conduit connecting the readers with emotion and makes them feel. Your book does that.

And in a too-easy segue, I particularly enjoyed the chapter about Danny Faulkner, about whom I have written many times, but this gave me a view of his personality I had not enjoyed before.

For the record, I created the term Mumidiots, for the man who murdered the young cop.

We both come from ethnic working-class neighborhoods, yours one of private homes, mine of tenement apartments, but alike in that, years ago, neighbors would sit out at night. In my era, there was no television. I am surprised sitting out continued a generation later, in your neighborhood.

My “gang” was a core of five friends who lived on my block, Timpson Place, that was five blocks long, and the top of a T, almost like a dead end. We played on a single block, between Avenue St. John and 149th St. That was my world. The neighborhood was changing and crossing Southern Boulevard, one block west, took us into enemy territory. It was an era of white versus Puerto Rican gangs and it was not pretty.

We played stickball in the street, occasional softball in a vacant lot between the local moviehouse and an apartment building. We played basketball in the back alley without a hoop. Instead, we shot the ball through the lowest rung of a fire escape ladder. The result of that was I had a horizontal shot that ruined me for regular basketball that requires, as you know, an arc.

I do not recall ever eating dinner at a friend’s house, or one eating at mine. I wonder if that is a difference between house culture and apartment culture. Or maybe it reflected we all had working parents. 

I lived at 600 Timpson Place. In the adjoining building, 588 Timpson Place, lived Jerry Goldstein, Nicky and Louis Ciocci, Louie Tamares, Donnie Janowitz. Gerard Verrichio in the next adjoining building, 576. That was the core, one or two others would drift in and out over the years. A handful of friends. A band of brothers. 

As you can tell by the names, the block was heavily Jewish and Italian. The Irish and Germans didn’t have children my  age. As I like to say, and mostly true, I never met a Protestant until I was in college, and he became one of the most important people in my life — Lutheran Gordon Lattey. He gave me my first jobs in journalism, setting my course for life.

Jerry Goldstein, one month younger than I, was my closest friend. He may have had a sandwich in my apartment, which was a street-level walkin.  He hung around a lot because he loved my dog, and my mother, who was much warmer than his own.

At 15, I moved from The Bronx to a project in Brooklyn and slowly lost touch with my original friends. It was a minimum 90-minute subway ride from my new home to old, and no one had a car. I developed new friends two years later when I entered Brooklyn College, night school, working during the day.

About 25 years ago, deep into my career at the Daily News,  I got an email from Jerry, asking if I was the Stu Bykofsky from Timpson Place.

I was electrified.

“Of COURSE it’s me!” I wrote back. (How many Stu Bykofskys might there be?)

After we found each other, and he was still living in The Bronx, I went up there to visit him. There was one visit he made to Philly, along with a hanger-on friend from junior high, Wally Macnow.

I was moved by the deep kindness of your neighbors, such as Franny, when your mom fell ill, and also by the warm relationships you had with your elders. I am thinking specifically of the Christmas Eve visits you made, something I knew about but never personally experienced. 

My second wife was a South Philly Italian from a rowhouse on 11th near Wolf. Her experience with neighbors is a lot like yours. Her father actually took a homeless male teen off the street and adopted him. No papers, he just made Joseph his son.

My late father-in-law was named Paul Merlino, a WWII veteran who was awarded a silver star to go with his Purple Heart, plus the Italian war bride he brought home with him.

His wife Lucia was a kindhearted treasure, who spoke with a lovely Italian accent. She was his nurse in an Italian hospital after Paul got shot up at Anzio. I was privileged to attend his funeral in Arlington, where he wanted to be buried. When she passed, Lucy joined him there. The military burial service is beautiful, perfect in its somber respect.


My first year in Pennsylvania was 1966, and we rented a house at 951 Bullock Avenue in Yeadon, which is adjacent to SW Philly so I am very familiar with Jerry’s Corner — a great place to kill a couple of hours with the kids — and the rat-infested 61st Street Drive-In. 

The man you identified as the white-hatted federal agent handcuffed to Lee Harvey Oswald was actually a Dallas detective by the name of Jim Leavelle, who I interviewed in 2006 at the Texas Book Depository Museum. He was haunted by his failure to protect his prisoner. 

Yes, we were all taught respect for elders.

That seems to have vanished, along with sitting out on the streets, and television has been replaced by cell phones, which is dubious progress as our kids become more isolated, more suicidal and less sure of their gender.

16 thoughts on “Southwest Philly meets the South Bronx”

  1. We had some real similarities while growing up Stu! :> I grew up in Brooklyn in the 50s and 60s and I also had a very selective set of neighbors in Park Slope: Mainly Irish, with a scattering of Germans, Italians, and what nots on our block. There was one Protestant family with two kids a few years younger than me and I used to feel bad for the kids because they’d be spending eternity roasting in hell (although as I moved into the high-school religion classes I began learning about “Limbo” where it seemed such unfortunates might go and just sort of float around until the end of the world (at which point I *think* they may have been given a free pass to heaven, hell, or purgatory. The nuns ‘n brothers weren’t always totally clear about such things…


  2. Thank you Stu, great column. I am an old Arthur Avenue boy, having grown up on 187th Street, in the old Italian neighborhood. It is amazing how the Italians and Jews always got along, and married each other! My thought as to why……different religions, but very similar cultures.

    Great walk down memory lane and the old days, when everyone went downstairs after supper to hang out. No AC back then in the tenement apartments!!!!

    1. Italians and Jews are a lot alike, both Mediterranean cultures. Both talk with their hands, strong family ties. In each family, Mom runs things, but Jewish fathers knew it and Italin fathers didn’t. 😉

  3. Now you’ve done it, Stu. I may have to pick up the book and read it. My background is similar in many ways to yours, and probably a bit more so with Michael McCullough’s. I grew up in a single family home in the Northeast. The neighborhood was all Jewish, and I didn’t even meet a Protestant or Catholic until I got to Fels Junior High and 7th grade. Dinners were family time, but it was common for kids on our block to have lunch (actually watch our friends have lunch) at each others house. After dinner, weather permitting, all the neighbors would gather on one patio and gab while we kids played step ball under the street lights – I can still remember hitting that sweet spot on the corner of the steps and watching the pimple ball soar for a home run. We’d run around the front lawn chasing lightening bugs. Different now. I don’t bemoan the loss of those times and accept that things are just different for kids today. I hope they’ll have memories as seniors as cherished as mine.

  4. I grew up in the melting pot of the norf east either you were a Catholic or a Public, I never met a Jewsh kid until I was about 10, one of the best damn basball players I ever saw, didn’t matter though, neighborhood was new, kids came from all over the city, and we all formed some of the best friendships, most became cops or firemen, girls became teachers, one a doctor. I remember all of them. Best damn years of my life.

  5. Stu, you article brings back so many memories. I never thought about living in a poor neighborhood. It was home until my mom got mugged. I was 20 when that happened. We left the neighborhood a few week later. We were poor. So poor that my brother and I shared a roll with 3 slices of cheese. That was lunch. Dad worked all the time .. even weekends. He was always borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. To me ,your mom was a saint. I always felt safe with her around. If I fell and bruised my knee your mom patched me up. I am so glad we connected again. I read your posts and look at all your pics

    1. I will bet that you, like I, did not “feel” poor, because everyone had the same — nothing. Sure, we had the movies, but that was make believe. No TV to show us the suburban middle class, thus, no envy.

  6. Wow, what a nostalgic, fun read. Similar story: I grew up in West Philly, nothing but Italians on the block and the blocks around our row house. You identified with your parish (mine was Saint Callistus), and God forbid you should try going to church at Saint Donatos, right up the street. We kids had a lot of fun, following the Aristocrat Milk wagon (horse drawn) and taking shards of ice while the milkman was distracted doing his job; or visiting the Rialto Bakery where maybe the baker would slip us a warm Italian roll off the line. Many years later, while in Villanova night school, I ran into one of the kids from the block. He was studying to be an accountant. We talked for a while, sharing memories of a time long gone.

  7. Hi Stu, thank you so much for reading my book and for showing how much we had in common while growing up. That we still keep in touch with some of our lifelong friends is absolutely priceless. To this day we attend our school reunions. I even went to visit my 7th grade nun back in 2017. I made her cry in school one day and felt guilty about it after all those years (damn that Catholic guilt). When I visited her that day, she had no clue who I was even though I brought my 7th grade picture with me. Oh well, going back fifty years isn’t easy. The next year I brought her a copy of my book since she was in multiple stories. We had a great laugh, for sure! Again Stu, I cannot thank you enough! Be well!

  8. I’ve been traveling and so just saw your column. Never thought of myself as a hanger on. Thought we were good friends.
    I did hear a while ago that Don Janowitz died of cancer.

    1. Don’t take it the wrong way. We didn’t meet until junior high, when we were 12-13. The guys named I had known since birth.
      Maybe “outer ring” would be a better description than hangers on. There was also a Vladimir from Southern Boulevard, and Georgie Porter from 588 who had MD or MS and I regret we didn’t treat him nicely.

  9. There was also Lloyd whose last name I can’t remember. I do remember hunting Batus after he whacked you over the back of the head with a stickball bat. Never did find him.

    1. Last name Turner, I briefly went with his sister, Adrienne.
      The bat attack must have damaged my brain. I have no memory of it or Batus.

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