The Lower East Side of New York
Jewish Life in America

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On the East Side Smooth Streets are Virtual Additions to the Park Area.

From The New-York Tribune, July 5, 1896.

Playground baseball.

Playground baseball.
date unknown
Courtesy of the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery.

That part of the East Side lies between the Bowery and river is, to a considerable extent, paved with asphalt, and the Public Works Department is planning still further extension of that system of pavement. Indeed, E P. North, the Water Purveyor, in whose direct charge this branch of municipal administration is, favors smooth streets for tenement-house regions, even if thoroughfares used by bicyclists have to be content with rough granite blocks a few years longer. In general, the argument in favor of asphalt for streets where the population is huddled in greatest numbers is the sanitary one. That material can be kept clean so easily that the health of a neighborhood is appreciably affected by its use, and, besides, danger of an epidemic which might spread to wealthier parts of the city is averted.

This is true, but it is not all. Asphalt pavements are an important contribution to the opportunities for amusement of the East Side residents. They in a measure add to the park area of that region, serving as they do as playgrounds for the children and breathing spaces for their parents. It may be said in passing that these two classes seem to make up the population over there, early marriages are so common. It might appear that as the streets were there before, they would have served as well for playgrounds when paved with cobblestones, but such is not the case. Their superior cleanliness for one thing makes the asphalt pavements far more available. In the next place, they dry quickly after a rain, and, unless in poor condition, are not covered in spots with puddles of water.

The smoothness is perhaps the chief element in their adaptability to the sports of childhood. The boys can play marbles on them, while granite pavements are useless for this. It is lots more fun to roll a hoop, play ball or "one o' cat" or "prisoners' base" on asphalt than on rough stones, muddy, perhaps, and slippery. The little girls also find that "ring around a rosy" and other song games are much more satisfactorily played on a smooth surface. The Hebrew boys are not as much given to "prisoners' base" as those of other nationalities; neither do they play ball a great deal. There is no room for batting, and mere pitching and catching get tiresome. Besides the danger to windows and passers-by leads the police to stop that sport.

"One o' cat," as it is pronounced, has been the favorite game for the boys of Hebrew parentage, but this, too, has been generally suppressed on account of the accidents to show windows and noncombatants. The sport is really a form of baseball, except that a piece of wood is used instead of a ball. It is some three or four inches long and an inch in diameter at the center, tapering to rather a dull point at either end. There are sides, as in baseball, but the total number of players is usually not larger than eight or ten. The piece of wood is laid on the ground, and the batsman touches the end lightly with his stick. It rises into the air two or three feet, and then he strikes it sharply. Sometimes it is sent half a block, and he makes the circuit of the bases before one of the fielders can return it to the home plate, where the catcher stands. If he cannot get beyond first or second base (the number of bases varies, he may be brought home by the next batsman. There is no need of a pitcher

This for the children. The grown folk also reap benefits from the asphalt pavements. The children being on the street, there is more room on the sidewalk for their elders. Chairs are brought out on the sidewalk, and the curbstones furnish seats for many. With the old paving materials, the gutters were more or less unclean and noisome, but the asphalt makes the curbstone really an attractive place to sit.

When it is called to mind that a certain East Side block has 3,700 dwellers, it is easy to believe that these streets are crowded on summer evenings. And they are, even where the blocks have a much smaller population. Someone has said that there is not standing room at one time on these East Side streets for all the people that live in them. It is interesting to ride on the front platform of a car through one of these asphalted streets in the early evening, say at seven o'clock. You are in constant dread lest some of the children be run over. But the driver goes slowly and is constantly on the lookout.

The popularity of asphalt is attested in Avenue C. A line of cars runs through here, but on fair days and evenings children crowd the street, playing their various games. Avenue D has less traffic on it but, being paved with stones, has not nearly so many people, small and adult, upon it. The laying out of two new parks over there will keep many persons off the streets, but meanwhile the asphalt paving forms a fairly satisfactory substitute.







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