Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Packard Court" by Jim Brunn

I grew up in the projects. Today, when someone says that phrase you usually think of poverty, crime, drugs, and guns. But in the 1940's and 50's, growing up in the projects was a great place to live.

Although known as the "Honeymoon Capital of the World, "Niagara Falls, New York, was a center for war-time industry. As a result of the influx of war-time workers, primarily from Pennsylvania, Alabama, and other southern states, housing was at a premium. Packard Court was built in 1941-42 and was meant to house families whose bread-winner was working in factories such as DuPont, Hooker, Carbide, Carborundum, Vanadium and others, producing material for WWII.

Due to a high school football injury, my father was deferred from military service and went to work at the Chemical Warfare Plant operated by DuPont Chemical here in Niagara Falls. Our family was the first to move in to the still-under-construction project, settling in apartment 8E right after the building was finished. The day was bleak, rainy and muddy, but the excitement of relocating from a farming community to the "big city" was palpable. And to make it even better, we were going to have our maternal grandparents in the next apartment, 8F.

Packard Court was a near-perfect community, with buildings in circles of about 6, and each center area holding a playground for the children. On the west side of the project, extending from the main road about a mile back was a dense hickory forest with a creek running through it. On the north side of the complex were fields that included wild strawberries and many areas of high brush, into which we could venture and see various wild life, as well as create our "forts." And this was in the city (long before the power authority conduits destroyed the forest)! The fields extended to Porter Road which was the site of the LeValley Stables (yes, with horses) and the SPCA. We would frequently venture there to pet the horses or spend hours in the SPCA playing with the dogs and cats. The horses were available for riding on the bridle paths that extended throughout Hyde Park.

Green space not only surrounded us on three sides but was included within the project. Many a football game (mostly tackle - and no helmets or pads!!) was played on the expansive lawns maintained by the management.

Our 2 bedroom apartment was tiny by today's standards, but we thought it was great. We had coal-fired furnaces and the outside coal bin had a slanted, hinged, cover that was the perfect angle for winter "skiing." We had both a front porch and a back porch, and our mothers would sit out on nice days with their coffee discussing the news of the day with the neighbors.

It was a friendly place. On weekends our parents would have card games around the kitchen table with their friends. Although when television came along, Friday nights were made for walking to Eli Roffle’s gas station & the Packard Diner to watch the Friday night fights. Saturdays evenings were saved for the 'Rasslin' matches watched over a freshly grilled cheeseburg and milkshake. Very few residents had a personal TV of their own. The Packard Diner became our gathering place for television and Eli’s service station was a great place to “hang out,” and Mr. Roffle was very kind to us kids.

Street lights made it possible to have evening games of kick the can, or hide and seek, with our parents simply having to hollar or whistle when it was time to come in for the night. Summer days were usually spent in the woods climbing to the highest branches of the hickories, swaying in the wind, or perhaps playing a game of "war" with sticks for our rifles and plenty of good cover. We frequently would collect hickory nuts that our parents would crack and extract the nut meats for cookies or brownies or just nibbling.

Winter provided a chance to ice skate on the frozen creek, which extended several miles north before doubling back into Hyde Park Lake, where the city would clean the snow off with a bulldozer.

It took quite a few months for the completion of construction and the filling of the apartments, but when they were occupied we had a ready supply of friends our own age, many of which were kept for years afterwards. We lived in the projects for 11 years before our parents bought their first house.

Today Packard Court is a subsidized, low-income housing facility, recently renovated, and looks better today than it ever has been. The hickories are gone, replaced by baseball and soccer fields, and a new high school sits on the strawberry fields, but the great memories of a wonderful place in which to grow up will never be forgotten.

Jim Brunn

Apt 8F – at the time was one story 3 room apt.

Children outside - note the cars in the background!

Harold and Kay Quinn sitting on their back porch – Harold was an owner of Quinn and Keller Appliances in the 300 block of Third St.

Having morning coffee on back porch of Apt. 8E – Note the coal bin

Herold Woodring (visitor) and John Brunn standing outside Apt 8F c1945

Jim Brunn hiding behind great-aunt Eva Woodring c. 1946

Judy Brunn c1944 – buildings in background are around #20-22

Mary Woodring standing by the family sedan

Bob Woodring, who was a welder at DuPont following service with the US Army during WWII built the basketball “net”. Bob was an outstanding player in the Industrial Basketball league.

Circa 2009

Circa 2009

Circa 2009


G&J said...

This article made me remember the ...June-e-ogga Club. I used to go there and sit on the porch watching ball games. They kept the doors open for air to circulate. I can still remember looking inside at the hardwood floor. Those open double doors allowed the smell of beer to come out.
I can also remember the first night I was allowed out after dark. The kids were playing hide and seek. When I ran to touch the "safe place" I fell up the stairs and hit my head on the step. My family took me to Dr. Breezings for five stitches in my forehead.
I can remember standing in the kitchen at Packard Court, arguing with my brother about who would smash the little red dot on the grease bag. When we squeezed it we "made butter"
I remember the day I was walking with my dad when I laid a finger on the side of one nostril and held it shut. Then I blew my nose out of the other side. My father snatched me up so I could look him in the eye. He said, "where in the world did you ever learn to do that?" I told him about the old man who would bend over and blow his nose on the sidewalk!
Ah yes, the ice cream truck would come after supper and toss out free Popsicles.
My friends and I would go out into the woods and pick up hickory nuts and fill our pockets full to bulging. We went home adn borrowed the hammer to crack them open and eat to our hearts delight.
I almost forgot... on rainy summer days we'd snitch newspapers and take them out to the parking spaces, lay the papers in the drain to plug it up, and then swim in the water we managed to keep out of the drain.

Jim said...

The Juniaga Club was a private club for the workers of the local power company. They had a bar and frequent "special events." My friend, Pete, father was the custodian/manager and Pete and I used to go to the upper floor where there was a knothole in the floor which allowed us to peek into the club room. To a couple of young teens it was an "illuminating experience." The club disposed of the empty bottles and bottle caps in big piles outside and we used to use the bottle caps to make "badges" on our clothes and sail them like mini-frisbees. The building is still there and used by the Orthodox church as part of their compound. Between the club and Packard Court there were a couple baseball diamonds, which I believe were maintained by the power company. We used to play sandlot baseball there.
Back then we took the local buses to get around the city. Packard Court was a "turnaround" for them. There was one bus driver who was our favorite. When we just wanted a ride to the closes store at 39th St & Pine Ave. bus driver, Phil Paonessa uses to let us ride the few block free of charge. We thought he was the greatest guy around to letus do that. It was such a simpler time of life.

Anonymous said...

Omg I lived there for over 20 years starting from 1985 to 2008 its a shame for what it has become can anyone tell me about a little girl whom may have passed due to the creek behind the court?

Blogger said...

+$3,624 PROFIT last week!

Subscribe For 5 Star verified winning picks on MLB, NHL, NBA and NFL + Anti-Vegas Smart Money Signals...

Blogger said...

There's shocking news in the sports betting world.

It's been said that every bettor must watch this,

Watch this now or quit betting on sports...


saundra zysek said...

I lived there in 1991 when my oldest daughter was born. My husband got a job in Lockport so we moved to Lockport. We were there about 1 year.