2017 Dec 24th

Happy Holidays Hoboken from The Turoff Team!

I started writing today’s post with the usual warm but impersonal good wishes for the holidays.  I posted it quickly this morning, before starting to make lasagna for tonight’s Christmas Eve dinner with friends.  While cooking, I got to thinking.  Lasagna was what my Italian grandmother, and when she was no longer with us, my mother, made for our family dinner every Christmas.

I was born on the Brooklyn side of Cypress Avenue and grew up on the Queens side, in Ridgewood.  My street was the borough dividing line.  Back then, the neighborhood was very much like Hoboken – but with Italians from Calabria instead of Molfetta, and a mix of Germans and Jews.  We had similar mom and pop Italian and German bakeries, local butchers who gave me a slice of bologna when I’d visit with my mom, candy stores that sold penny pretzel sticks and egg creams, and a nice park.  We lived with my grandparents and aunt, in a two-family row house, at the end of the row (we were lucky – we had an extra wall of windows), much like our house in Hoboken.   We moved to Long Island in 4th grade, for good public schools, so I wouldn’t have to keep sharing a room with my sister, and for a real backyard.  It’s the story of so many of my Hoboken clients who head to the ‘burbs for the very same reasons.

My family sold the Ridgewood house when my grandparents were too elderly to care for it themselves.  They may have gotten $60,000 for it and, at the time, thought they did well.  About a year ago, I saw on Zillow that our old house had sold for well over a million.  I was stunned – a million dollars in Ridgewood!  Like Hoboken, Ridgewood had become popular with young people priced out of Brooklyn Heights and Prospect Park.  The subway was only two blocks away.  Neighboring Bushwick, long a drug-ridden, crime-infested neighborhood, had recently become the cool place to live.

I’m in a few Facebook groups like “Bushwick – the Way We Were” and “Ridgewoodites”.  Last night, someone posted photos of Knickerbocker Park in the 60’s, and it prompted me to google our old address.  My old address came right up but I was confused at first, then dismayed by what I saw.  You’ve got to love Google street view.  Our house had a peaked roof, but this building had a roof deck with views of the Manhattan skyline.  There were no balconies on our house – where did those balconies come from?  Where was the little courtyard in the back?  Wait – where was the front stoop?  Stoops were a very important part of our lives.  Sitting and chatting with neighbors on a nice night, or playing stoop ball with the kids from the block, we all had a stoop.  We lived on our stoops.

Our old house had been torn down, replaced by a bigger, characterless box with an additional story.  It was listed on a rental website.  Three 3BR rental units in “Bushwick” (it’s not, but, unbelievably, Bushwick has more cachet than Ridgewood) for over $3,200 each.  I didn’t sleep well last night.  Knowing the house I grew up in was gone was strangely upsetting.  Yet, I see and I am a part of this very transformation happening in Hudson County on a daily basis.  I’ve sold the tear-down house to the developer.  I’ve sold the new, bland replacement condos.  This was how I make my living.

Which brings me back to lasagna.  I spend a great deal of time showing homes;  talking at length about appliance brands, tile styles, bathroom fixtures and floor finishes.  What I remember about our Ridgewood house is the mural on our living room wall.  It depicted an elaborate Roman ruin scene.  I imagine it was painted by hand, surely by another Italian immigrant.  I remember that mural very well.  I also remember being able to see the Empire State Building from my corner.  But the details of rest of the house are lost to me.  I could not tell you what the kitchen cabinets looked like, or whether the floors were hardwood or carpet.  What I most clearly recall, are all the family events and Christmas dinners, people overflowing at the downstairs kitchen table because all the cousins from Brooklyn were with us.   I’d help make the lasagna with my grandmother, sneaking pieces of mozzarella and the broken off, curly end bits of the lasagna noodles.

Next time you go out looking at properties – maybe at that old house you’d like to renovate, and the little, foreign-sounding grandma is sitting in the kitchen, do me a favor and step outside to talk to your contractor talk about your demo plans.  When people live a life in a place, it can be hard for them to accept that it is going to be destroyed.  It was hard for me and I’ve been gone from my house for 50 years!  Finally, those immigrants who built the old houses, painted the murals, made the stained glass, did the elaborate tile work and intricate millwork had skills that today are few and far between.  My own grandfather was a bricklayer.  Today’s immigrants can be found waiting for work in the parking lot at Lowe’s.  They are the ones willing to do the difficult, often dangerous manual labor jobs.  Maybe if they work hard enough, and save everything, their kids and grandkids can get an education and keep their hands soft and clean.  If only our broken society will continue to allow for such opportunity in the future.  I have to believe that like me, they deserve the chance.

As much as we would all wish for a lovely home, the importance of its physical details will fade with time.  What remains are the memories created in the home.  So during this holiday season, I hope you make your own lasagna memories.  May your home be filled with family, fun, and food.  All our best for a safe, healthy and prosperous 2018.  Thank you for being loyal readers.  We look forward to bringing more information next year.

xmas pix

  1. M. R.

    I rarely post, but I want to say thank you for all of your hard work. You provide so much information, and I want to say I appreciate it very much. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  2. Lori

    Thanks, MR! Merry Christmas to you and yours, as well.

  3. Susana

    Beautiful post Lori.

  4. JC

    Well written…Merry Christmas. Thank you for the effort you put forward in this blog.

  5. Lori Turoff

    Thanks, guys. Hope you have a great Christmas and have fun plans for New Year’s Eve!

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