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The Parkchester Reunion: Saturday, May 20th, 2023 at Brewski’s, East Tremont Avenue, The Bronx

Picture by Judy Shadwick Torressen

The past is another country and the Bronx is a different country even without the past, if you add a mid-1960s vibe to not just the Bronx but also the legendary Parkchester. Parkchester is a residential neighborhood located in the eastern part of the Bronx. With 12,000 units available to rent, it was a city within a borough within a city. And for certain children raised there before 1974 and the switching to condos, it was a kids paradise. You could play on the streets, if not on the grass, and you were surrounded by children’s town: a middle class haven where neither New York City nor the Bronx intruded. publisher John Pasquale spent a chunk of his childhood in Parkchester, “I remember my mom, who was from the Bronx initially, so excited when we got an apartment…” Event organizer Rob Cardone, John and I left Brewski’s in full swing on a soaking wet Saturday afternoon to find some quiet and discuss what is happening. Rob is a charming man and a good organizer, tracking down 100s of former residents of Parkchester as learnt as his IT job, along with his Facebook wall, email addresses, and the help of Brewski owner and former Parkchester child Albie Torrenssen.

John Pasquale and Rob Cardone

Sipping a coffee and drying off in the quiet of a Dunkin’ Donuts, Rob takes us through it. “Actually, some guy started doing this in the late 80s and 90s, Cardone explain, “and the subject came up in 2018. Somebody said we could do the reunion at Brewski’s and so I asked Albie what he thought. He said, “It’s a great idea, I don’t even have to make money on this, let’s just do it.”

“Because of social network and the internet we were able to find people from 40 or 50 years ago.

“It was for Parkchester and the surrounding neighborhoods. Parkchester and friends. We had 500 people at the same reunion.” There were between 200 – 300 Parkchester friends and neighbors on Saturday. “I walk through the door and it takes me an hour to get to the bar, I’m meeting so many old friends.”

Development by MetLife In the late 1930s, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company purchased a large tract of land in the eastern Bronx. They aimed to create a planned community that would provide affordable housing for middle-class families. Construction began in 1938 and was completed by 1942.The architectural firm of Clinton & Russell, known for designing the New York City landmark, the Woolworth Building, was hired to design the Parkchester complex. They envisioned a self-contained community with modern amenities and spacious apartments. The complex featured 171 mid-rise buildings, comprising over 12,000 apartments. Affordability and Diversity: MetLife designed Parkchester as a mixed-income community, offering apartments at different price points. This approach aimed to foster socioeconomic diversity and attract a range of residents. Parkchester was designed to be a self-sufficient community. It featured an array of amenities, including retail stores, a movie theater, a post office, a bank, restaurants, schools, churches, and parks. The centerpiece of the complex was the Metropolitan Oval, a large green space for recreational activities.

In the 1960s, Parkchester was a thriving and diverse community. It was known for its middle-class population and was one of the largest housing complexes in the country at that time. The neighborhood was predominantly residential, consisting of apartment buildings and townhouses. The majority of the residents were of various European ethnicities, including Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Eastern European immigrants.

The community had a strong sense of community pride, and there were numerous social and recreational activities available for residents. Parkchester had its own shopping center, which included a variety of stores, restaurants, and services, providing residents with convenient access to everyday necessities. The neighborhood also had several parks and green spaces, providing opportunities for outdoor recreation and relaxation.

Parkchester remained a vibrant and close-knit community throughout the 1960s, with residents actively participating in various civic and social organizations. The neighborhood continued to evolve and adapt to the changing times, and its unique character and sense of community endured.

It was that very self-containment on a huge tract of land that made it a magical place for children. “It was a different time, no one was worried about being out at night. “On Halloween we would go home with two bags filled with sweets,” John remembered with a touch of nostalgia. It certainly sounds like the last great time to be child.

Listening to Rob and John discuss the late 60s at Parkchester is like an excerpt from “Stand By Me”, the past as a promised land of Christian schools and extended friends and families. What MetLife did was take the dreams of suburbia and place them in the heart of the urban jungle, it gave families a sense of the extended flutter of summer that is all white picket fences, and built it to the sky.; it is an IRL “Celebration” via Disney World.

John Pasquale And Albie Torressen

Rob can barely get through the doors at Brewski before he is hit with waves of friends, older, grey, but partygoers and sociable, as though they had a shared memory that lives on like a seed of the past that spread the years of their lives. There is a certain joyfulness behind the attendees, horse racing on one screen, the Yanks on another, outside in the garden the tarpaul is hope and folks are there as well nearby where the entertainment of the evening., Arena Rock Tribute Band, will be playing.

When Albie took over the bar and grill it was a single storefront, he tripled the size and opened a garden behind. With his children now part of the business, Albie saw the larger area as a chance to be a community center for the area, large parties welcome here. Split in two, with a dining area and a drinking area, and outside the twain meet. The vibe at Brewski is all timeless good times. During the pandemic, Albie pivoted to “Brewski’s To Go” and now is more popular than ever now that it is over.

On the Parkchester Facebook wall (here): Rob wrote “Thanks to the Torressen’s: Albie, Judy and Brian for hosting the reunion. I could never promote an event unless I knew guests would enjoy the venue, be comfortable, and get a good deal and proper treatment. Brewski’s consistently checks all the boxes. Food had high reviews. Servers were diligent and friendly. Check-in was expedient. I didn’t hear the band much but I heard folks liked them”. Certainly, the Arena Rock tribute perform songs from the early 70s dialed up to 11: everyone from Yes to Styx and back and a fine add to the Parkchester reunion.

Rob promises another reunion one of these years where we can step backwards and bask in the glory of extended family, freedom, care, and love in a past we no longer own.

1 Comment

  1. Fern Felman on May 23, 2023 at 9:16 am

    The band was great! If they play with on a weekend that I’m off I would go just to listen to them. It’s great seeing everyone that you grew up with.

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