My name is Robert McCaffrey I am a lifelong resident, born and raised in New Rochelle in the late 1950’s, not too long ago. It was a time that saw the days of a thriving Downtown with movie theaters like RKO, Lowes and Town, Lowes, we had several bowling alleys, Bloomingdales, Arnold Constables, Palace Shoes, Grants, F&W Woolworths, Schrafft’s Ice Cream and so much more. Those were the days when the people with disposable incomes would shop at Bloomies and go to lunch at Schraff’s. My grandmother was one of them; we would meet my Great Aunt who worked at Arnold Constables at Schraff’s for lunch and always have some coffee ice cream. Then we would go to Palace Shoes down Main Street to get me some new shoes for school.
The people from the North End and many surrounding cities would shop Downtown. It is these businesses and the many others like Lillian Vernon that brought people into Downtown New Rochelle every day to work and shop. Sadly, they are all gone now but I.B. Cohen and a few others.
My father’s parents settled here coming from Ireland in the early 1900’s and my grandfather retired from The New Rochelle Police Force in 1959. As for my mother’s parents, they were born and raised here in the 1900’s as well. Until, as recently as few months ago, if you looked up at the side of the building at 305 North Avenue, which my Grandfather owned until his death in 1987, you would have seen The Raymond Porter’s Real Estate sign but it has been painted over.
Speaking about my grandfather’s office brings me back to a time when the Thanksgiving Parade was on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving and we would sit in my grandfather’s office on North Avenue to stay warm while waiting to watch the Annual Thanksgiving Parade. It was always fun because you knew the people that built the floats and were in the parade, sometimes even marching with the Boy Scouts. On the way home you would look to see if there would be the Big I for Iona Prep that would be floating in New Rochelle High School Lake and unfortunately the Jacob Leisler Statue would get an unwanted paint job of purple and white or maroon and gold. In the morning was the Turkey Bowl at Memorial Field in Mount Vernon between New Rochelle High School and Iona Prep.
Back in the days of a thriving Downtown New Rochelle there were a number of movie theaters to choose from and who would forget about going to RKO’s Little Theater for The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Midnight to throw rice and get sprayed with water. You could walk anywhere in New Rochelle and feel safe. New Rochelle had so much back then and still tries to keep some of the same traditions but some have lost their luster. There was the fishing derby, Soap Box Derby, Ice Skating day and night on the lakes. The lakes would get spotlights for night time skating. When necessary the lakes would get plowed and the fire department would spray down the lakes to get a clean surface like a Zamboni.
In the summer going down to Hudson Park was another big thing. The cement pier would be so full you had to get there early to stake out space. You knew it was summer when Greasy Nicks would open on Saint Patrick’s Day and it was warm enough to have your Barge Burger out on the deck at Dudley’s.
Then there was the New Macy’s Mall that was built in the 1960’s and opened in 1968 with shops, movies and ice-skating next to Peachtree’s restaurant patio, it was beautiful. The only problem was that White Plains and other city beat us to the concept of closed malls so The New Rochelle Macy’s lost its luster and due to Macy’s filing for bankruptcy, closed in 1992, and was demolished by spring 1998 taking most of downtown with it. This was going to start the revival of Downtown New Rochelle by making way for New Roc and other developments. I will stop now as this is supposed to be about happy memories of New Rochelle.
We must now build new memories and a new future for The City of New Rochelle and the future generations to come with new traditions or reviving old ones. We can do this, we can make a difference but we all must take part in the change for it to be a true New Rochelle vision, a vision of the people.