Saturday, August 20, 2011

A letter from Mr. Augustino (Augie) Vitiello, longtime Carroll Garden's resident

A while back a gentleman walked into the Farmacy, and introduced himself as Augustino Vitiello. Mr. Vitiello worked at Longo's Pharmacy at 513 Henry Street as a young boy, and grew up on Henry and Union. Months after his visit he sent us this letter, rich with historic description. He has generously granted us permission to share his slice of Carroll Garden's history with our readers. Enjoy!

Hi Pete,
I am Augie Vitiello, remember me? The man who as a young boy worked in Longo’s Pharmacy in the early 1940’s. I thought you might be interested in having my e-mail address in case you would like to ask me any questions about either the Pharmacy or the neighborhood back then. The picture you have (above the weight and horoscope station) shows Mr. Longo on the left (in a suit), Mr. Pace (the head pharmacist), in the white coat in the center, and Ralph, the sales clerk at the sales counter on the right.
     We also had another pharmacist who was older than Mr. Pace, a Mr. Scatturo, who was not in the photo. Mr. Longo’s son, Bobby also helped out with the sales. There was another boy my age who worked there at the same time that I worked there also. His name was Vito and he lived on Henry Street between Union and Sackett Streets in the building that now houses “Ling Ling Young” in the middle of the block. The cafe across the street from you was “Cammareri’s Bakery”, which was featured in the movie “Moonstruck”. 
     This  (Longo's Pharmacy) was my first “official” job. I was about seven years old and was paid $3 a week, which to me was a great salary at the time for my age. When I left Longo’s my friend Peter took my place. He lived on Henry Street in the corner building across the street from Mazzola’s Bakery on the top floor. The street level store that now houses “Marius Cafe” (which just closed) used to be an Italian grocery store. Later on it became an Italian delicatessen. Still an Italian grocery store but now catering to the more delicate American tastes. 
     Directly across the street from where I lived, on the corner of Henry and Union streets where Francesco’s Restaurant now stands, used to be Nino’s Restaurant not too long ago. At the time that I lived there, it was Jacks Candy store. It had four of the good old fashioned phone booths, the kind that had a seat and doors that would allow you to speak in privacy. Very few people had private phones in those days, so if anyone got a call it usually went to Jacks Candy store, and he would send a boy to your house to inform you that you had a call waiting in his store. It was also a place were you could get a real egg cream for 2 cents, and were working mothers would pay Jack in advance so that their school children could get their lunch at his counter at noontime. 
     The cellar of Longo’s was our storeroom. Whenever the shelves had to be restocked, I would go down to the cellar, put what was needed in the dumbwaiter and haul it upstairs. The only store that still exists from the time of my youth is Mazzola’s Bakery on the corner of Union and Henry Streets. 
     I lived diagonally across from Mazzola’s at 518 Henry Street on the parlor floor from the early ‘40’s to the mid ‘70’s. My Godfather lived on the top floor. The store on the ground floor which is now “Element Natural Healing Arts” used to be a butcher store owned by a relative of the landlady. My eldest brother worked there for a while. Later on the store became a fruit and vegetable store and I worked there a while. That was after I had left Longo’s. 
     In the back of the building on Union Street , used to be my elementary school, PS 46. The rear windows of our apartment led right on to a roof. I would walk out on the roof and be able to look into the windows of the school and speak to my classmates when I was sick. From our back roof I could also look down into our next door neighbors (to our right on Henry Street ) back yard. The family raised rabbits and chickens (along with the accompanying rats) in their back yard and sold bananas on a pushcart in their front court yard. While the owner of the building sat by his pushcart and sold his bananas, he would whittle flutes that sounded beautiful. After he died, his son (whom we called Bananas), inherited the building. We also had a rooster on our back roof, much to the dismay of our neighbors who did not like being awakened by our roosters crowing.
     Later on the school was transferred to the 76 Pct Police Station. The 76 Pct used to be located on Hamilton Avenue in Red Hook. But when the city built the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel it had to be relocated. The city decided to relocate all the students from PS 46 and allow the 76 Pct to occupy the building. All the students who lived on the south side of Union Street were relocated to PS 142 on Henry and Rapelye Streets. All the students who lived on the north side of Union Street (of which I was one), were relocated to PS 13 on DeGraw Street between Henry and Hicks Streets. The building no longer exists. A row of new houses now occupy its original space. For many years the 76 Pct used the old school building just as it was. But later on it was razed and replaced by the present station house that exists there now. 
     Right next door (just west) of the old school house used to be an electronics appliance store. This store was the first place in the neighborhood that sold televisions. The owner would allow us kids to come in and sit on the floor and watch TV on a 6 inch screen. This was the first time I saw television. Later on the store became a coffee/candy store called “The Sugar Bowl”.  That is where all the neighborhood kids would hang out; get their phone calls, etc. The store no longer exists. It was converted into living quarters. Before I moved into the neighborhood, directly across the street from the electronics appliance store was a small variety store. The owners lived in the back behind the store. The owners were Eli Wallach’s (the actors) parents. That is where he was born. At one time a trolley car used to go down (west) on Sackett Street, passing right outside your door, and loop around at the water front (were there was still the remains of a ferry slip in my youth) and up (east) on Union Street right by my house.  Both Eli Wallach and I played the same prank. We used to put pennies on the trolley tracks, and when the trolley ran over them, they became as big as a nickel. These then could be used as slugs for car fare. Car fare was a nickel at that time.
     Many years after Longo’s closed, it became the Vermont Market & Pharmacy. I no longer lived in the neighborhood by that time but whenever I passed by the store it was always closed. When I looked in the window everything was always in disarray. Then one day, much to my surprise, the door was open and I walked inside. That was when I first met Peter. I introduced myself and said I had worked there as a young boy. I was shown the photo of the pharmacists, and I identified the people in it. It brought back a flood of memories. I told Peter then that there was a dumbwaiter in the back but I was unable to locate it at that time because it had been covered. After “Construction Intervention” did their work, the dumbwaiter was rediscovered. Originally, the back room was where we kept the chemicals we needed to fill the prescriptions. The middle room was where the prescriptions were actually mixed. The wall that separates the middle room from the customer area had a peep hole. This was to allow the pharmacist, in case he was alone and filling out a prescription, to see when a customer entered the pharmacy. This room contained one of those precision pharmaceutical scales (the kind with balancing arms) that was enclosed in a glass case (so that air currents would not effect the weight). It was so sensitive it could detect the difference of the weight of a postage stamp between two weights.
     I hope this information is of some interest to you. The next time I am in the neighborhood I will drop by to say hello. Good luck on your venture.