83 Years Here


Location West Harlem

Rent $227.46 [rent controlled]

Square feet 700 [four-room apartment in tenement building]

Occupant Eleanor Murray [retired lingerie buyer, Bloomingdale’s; office worker, CCNY]

All these buildings named Loraine, Regina, Corinne. Ionic columns too. I got a spur in my heel. I don’t live on Tylenol all day. I’m not a pill popper.

Right now we’re outside sitting on the steps of the building next door. I sit here every night. My landlord put in the gate and took away our corner three years ago, before John died. All our life we sat there. John was a supervisor on Macy’s platform, watching over the trucks. I was born here in this building on West 135th, September 27, 1922. I met my husband right on this street. We were 15 years of age. We belonged to the same crowd. Everybody on the block had crowds. We used to go around together. We liked each other until the day he died. He lived up the hill in a corner building, 1512 Amsterdam. The neighborhood in my day, from my birth until 1950, was 80 percent Irish, other was Greek, Italian, German, Jewish—all very nice. [ To a kid] Hiya, Kenny. Do I know everyone on the block! I know a lot but I don’t speak Spanish. The block is now 80 percent Hispanic, 19 percent black, 1 percent white.

You know demographics like the planning department. I had six children. I lost my seventh. I had a miscarriage. Eleanor came, 1950. Daniel came January 20, 1953.

The one who raised the pigeons on the roof across the street?
The bird man.

How many birds? Ha! Five hundred. Since he was 10. Then my beautiful daughter Jean. Her husband died six months after mine. Then came Neil, then Barney. My last child passed December 24, 1990, Timothy. He was 28. He worked for a modeling agency. Nice boy, they all are nice. When I graduated high school, I became assistant buyer of lingerie at Bloomingdale’s. I stayed home 19 years with the children. My mother was super of this building for 50 years. She died at 99.

Did she have to keep the building clean? Ha! She was in the days of coal and ashes. She had to make fires in the big boiler. She had to take out the garbage. She had to mop the building every day, roof to stoop. She cleaned the sidewalks. My father, he never did things in the building. He was a foreman in a warehouse, 27th and the Hudson, the Terminal Warehouse, 42 years. He was never absent one day. I was born in the basement. When I graduated high school, my mother took the apartment upstairs. Me and my older sister didn’t want to live in the basement. We were overcrowded, all of us in three bedrooms, living room, and kitchen.

People complain today about being crowded. I had to let it do. I always felt bad that I couldn’t give my children more comfort, eating and sleeping. We had one bath, four sons in one room. My one daughter stayed with my mother in the basement. I’m also a singer. I sang in the Horn & Hardart’s Children’s Hour. I was 11. I sang “When It’s Springtime in the Rockies.”

Let’s hear . . . [ Sings] “When fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly, I’m going to love one man till I die . . .” I was madly in love with my husband. He was intelligent, handsome, friendly, kind. Did you see our high-rise up the block? A beautiful building. [ We go upstairs to the apartment.] I was baptized at the Annunciation Church. I made my Communion there, married my husband. Orlando Gonzalez was our best man. My mother was Hungarian. My dad was from Croatia. They met in 1907 when they got off the boat.

Here’s a photo of you in a smart suit. Yeah, I dressed bea-uuuuuuuutifully. I had mink, furs, everything. At Bloomingdale’s, you had to dress nice. That painting is called The Lacemaker, by Vermeer. This is the seat I sit in every night and watch television.

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