This is a photograph of Coney Island Avenue, the grim commercial thoroughfare along which I crept to school unwillingly like snail between the years 1944 and 1952. The unknown photographer who left us this record stood at the corner of Newkirk Avenue, just in front of the P. S. 217 schoolyard, and pointed his camera north toward Ditmas Avenue. It's the east side of the street; on the west side stood a used-car lot and a gas station, where, if the view were more panoramic, signs reading "Veedol" and "Mechanic on Duty" would have been visible.
It takes only a few seconds of detective work to date the photograph. In the center is the marquee of the Leader Theater, which advertises the 1947 release It Happened in Brooklyn, a soldier-returns-home musical with Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Peter Lawford, and especially Jimmy Durante, who was clearly the neighborhood favorite. The second feature, Undercover Maisie, a policier with Ann Sothern and Barry Nelson, was released in the same year. (The double bill was standard -- at 14 cents for kids and a quarter for adults, a good value). It's early autumn not only because the ivy and, in the distance, a Norway maple are still in full leaf, but because the Casa del Rey advertises High Holy Day services (the orthodox congregation's synagogue on 18th Avenue had not yet been constructed). I would guess that the large traffic sign that dominates the frame has something to do with the fact that the old trolley tracks had recently been removed. The shops near the Leader are too small to identify, but I remember Singer's drug store, Safier's candy store, a shoe repair place, a small liquor store owned by P. V. Melia, and Joe Montuori's barber shop. At the moment the camera snapped, I was eight years old, in Mrs. Sherwood's third grade class at P. S. 217.
The architecture is hodge-podge -- the featureless apartment house and shops, the vaguely deco Leader, and then, closer to the camera, the what-the-heck-is-it-doing-there Moorish Casa del Rey (for weddings and other gatherings; I passed it thousands of times but never once entered).
The man at the right of the frame, jingling his car keys in the pocket of his voluminous slacks, stares at the camera unenthusiastically.
It's a dreary picture, I'm afraid. Gray. A nondescript street in a nondescript neighborhood.
I'm trying, but I just can't seem to work up the requisite nostalgia for the old country.