Monday, September 07, 2015

A Shave (but no haircut)

NOW on a digital device near you: A Shave (But No Haircut) takes you on an adventure on the New York City subway. Starring Ariel Ferreira as a very neat subway rider and featuring a cast of characters including a beautiful flamenco dancer, an enthusiastic tuba player, a talented painter and an irritated manspreader, the journey begins and ends at 168th Street in Washington Heights. 
Images of subway trains accompanied by a hypnotic score make this unusual and lively short film worth far more than the price of a subway ride.
Showcasing local talent: Every cast member lives or works in Washington Heights or Inwood. And - the most diverse cast inside and outside of Hollywood! And perhaps a final look at the old C trains, slowly being replaced by new, more modernized cars. 

Click above to watch or on this link:

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

NYPL Oral History: Bridging Our Stories: Nicholas Estavillo, Retired NYPD Chief of Patrol and Former Commanding Officer of the 34th Precinct

Meet Nick Estavillo, the first Hispanic three-star chief in the history of the New York City Police Department, who talks about his time in Washington Heights and Inwood as Commanding Officer of the 34th Precinct in the late 1980s and 1990s.

In this wide ranging interview, Estavillo discusses his challenges of managing a precinct, from boosting the morale of police officers devastated by the tragic death of 24-year-old Police Officer Michael Buzcek, shot and killed in 1988 as he and his partner attempted to arrest two drugs suspects; through a time when murders and drugs in the neighborhood were at an all-time high; and through the Washington Heights riots in 1992.

Estavillo talks about his plan for splitting the 34th Precinct into two, which was implemented; how he tackled the issues of noise and quality of life concerns of neighborhood residents; advice on managing a police precinct filled with people of different personalities, educational backgrounds, skills, and values; and the importance of community support. He talks about charming Dr. Ruth who lives in Washington Heights (he does a great imitation, by the way).

Listen to the interview here:

Signing the log book at the precinct

With the current commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Chris Morello

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

NYPL Oral History Project: Bridging Our Stories: Marina Torres

MEET MARINA TORRES of Washington Heights through the New York Public Library's Oral History Project, Bridging Our Stories. Marina and her late husband, Miguel Amaro, founded the Dominican Day Parade in 1982. A community leader until his untimely death in 1987, the corner of Audubon Ave and 190th Street is named in his honor. 
In this candid conversation, Marina talks about the origins of the parade and the uptown politics that eventually excluded her from participating; raising a family and running a business during the height of the drug trade; and what it means to live in the Washington Heights/Inwood community. Her daughter, Judy, is also involved in the community and serves as a leader or member of different local organizations.
Marina is camera shy so a photograph of the street named after her late husband is included rather than her portrait.
Listen to the interview here:

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

NYPL Oral History Project: Bridging Our Stories: New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat

In this latest installment of the New York Public Library's Oral History Project, Bridging Our Stories, New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat talks about arriving in New York from the Dominican Republic, growing up in Washington Heights, and the influences of his parents and grandparents. This informal conversation includes his favorite uptown restaurants and will he or will he not run for Congress again? You'll have to give a listen to find out.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

What's in your bag? Inside a typical New Yorker's pocketbook

So what do you carry in your pocketbook or briefcase? Here's an exclusive look at what this New Yorker carries in her bag. Yes, all are important.

1 20 ounce bottle of water from Rite Aid
1 half empty container of peppermint Tic Tacs
1 three-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer
1 black sweater
1 small desk fan
1 unlimited MetroCard in cardholder
1 expired MetroCard

1 Riverside Oval wall calendar
1 Chinese takeout menu featuring frogs
1 laminated Save NYC sign
1 folder with image of cat that holds the calendar, Chinese food menu, and Save NYC sign

1 purple and pink polka dot Marimekko pen bag filled with 17 pens, including one Sharpie
1 cloth bag filled with sanitary napkins (okay, I said it)

1 large silver plastic Clinique cosmetic bag holding
  • a traveling toothbrush
  • a large tube of toothpaste
  • dental floss
  • Burt's Bees facial cleanser
  • paper towels to dry off face after washing with above
1 cloth bag filled with tissues

a Girl Scout pocket knife, pepper spray, and chuka stick on the keyring

1 Krispy Kreme donut, now flattened
1 half empty bag of honey cough drops from Rite Aid
1 box of dark chocolate Raisinets
Four crumpled potato chips

1 black and white Marimekko cosmetic bag filled with
  • a Clinique powder compact
  • small bottle of Advil
  • more dental floss
  • more paper towels
  • 1 Clinique high impact lipstick, never opened
  • Scope breath drops
  • 1 Maid of the Mist Niagara Falls folding hair brush
  • 1 small container of facial toner
  • Zip-loc bag filled with cleansing pads for facial toner

I.D. card on a string
1 notebook for writing
1 Netflix DVD - Land of Silence and Darkness directed by Werner Herzog
1 book - Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design
1 bookmark from the Jewish Museum that has fallen out of book

1 shades-of-brown-with-flowers Orla Kiely cosmetic bag filled with
  • Apple charging cord for iPhone
  • portable charger and cable
65 cents in loose change at the bottom of the bag
1 crumpled dollar bill
Three stray but clean tissues
1 plastic supermarket bag

1 receipt for an apple pecan salad and Diet Coke courtesy of Wendy's
1 baggie filled with eight vitamin Ds and nine multi-vitamins
1 business card holder with business cards
1 holder for discount cards
1 overstuffed wallet
1 flash drive
1 hole punch
1 credit card bill
1 oversized postcard from Uber complaining about my local council member
 2 empty wrappers from string cheese from Duane Reade

Note: The donut did not survive long enough to make it to the photo shoot.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

A Peek Behind the Blue Wall: The NYPD's Citizens Police Academy

The city comes alive in its streets, from the highways that Robert Moses built to roads named after veterans killed in battles many of us are too young to remember, to streets named after heroes who lost their lives on September 11th, to highways and plazas named after explorers, a baseball player, and men and women who contributed to the history and values of our city, particularly Peter Minuit who purchased a little island named Manhattan from the Lenape Indians for a mere $24 in trinkets and who really is the father of gentrification.

We live in a city where so many people have mental health issues, where so many make their homes underground that the A train is known as the homeless hotel, where so many people are looking for jobs, where heroin overdoses outnumber homicides, where people are more consumed with Facebook and Twitter than they are about the welfare of a neighbor, in a time that we are besieged by coyotes downtown and Elmos midtown, and elected officials for whom integrity is just a word.

 The participants in the NYPD’s Citizens Police Academy came from the different streets of our city: rabbis, reverends and imams; a public school principal, teachers, social workers, a forensic psychologist, an athletic trainer, and an aide to a state senator from Staten Island where Eric Garner once lived, from the Lower East Side where photographer Jacob Riis showed us how the other half lives more than a century ago to basketball courts around the city where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar perfected his skyhook, from a postal carrier named Anita who walks her beat near Gracie Mansion and celebrates two years of being cancer free, to those living near the most magnificent parks in every borough. 

Sometimes, sadly, the lives of those around uswearing the uniform of the NYPD or the uniform of color, race, gender, age, rich or poormean very little. These same streets can also take away. And that they did with deaths of four men who recently lost their lives in the line of duty. 

 The Citizens Police Academy works quietly behind the scenes to enhance communication between the NYPD and the community. A record 222 people attended this last class held at the old Police Academy on 20th Street, mostly African-Americans with a smattering of Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Whites, Hispanics, and Asians, bused in by police vans from their respective precincts. Most were well past the recruitment age of 34 and they were there with the mission of connecting with and finding out how NYPD operates. Attendance was mandatory for clergy connected with local precincts.

Presentationsabbreviated versions of classes taken by recruits in the Police Academycame from detectives and police officers from the Domestic Violence, the Gang Unit, Internal Affairs, Community Affairs, School Safety, Homicide, Hostage Negotiation, and Counterterrorism units with programs on law and justice and emotionally disturbed persons presented over 14 weeks. We learned of tactics using weapons and tactics using words and how, in less than four and a half seconds, the time it takes for a violent situation to unfold, a life can change and be changed.

We learned how the rest of the city lives. ISIS is here and recruiting; how gangs like the Bloods, the Very Crispy Gangsters, Tomb Raiders, and Young Bosses use Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook to recruit, document, and threaten. Teen suicide has grown to epidemic proportions. Kids take online bullying seriously. And sometimes homes are so hostile that anger is the norm in those households with kids being told to “handle it” without the specifics of how exactly to handle what and how. An average of 759 calls come in a day for domestic abuse: there’s a lot of people fighting in New York City. And that policing isn’t a science because people aren’t a science. That steps are being made to connect the police with the community, from Neighborhood Policing Officers in Washington Heights and Inwood, cops back on bicycles, and through technology. Precincts are now using Twitter to report news and updates and the 34th Precinct in upper Manhattan is the first to have a Facebook page. And tablets mean that information is at fingertips and a history of an incident gives the officers responding more information for a hopefully, more measured and logical approach Fitness classes are in place in some precincts, and new and old recruits are taught to take a deep breath when the anger and animosity come their way. Additional and better trained police officers are on their way. And we learned that the average life of a police officer after retirement is only 10 years. 

Detectives and lieutenants and sergeants and police officers are not permitted to talk about cases as per NYPD policy and so they did not. They spoke about procedures, tactics ranging from how a Taser works and how and why some people are unstoppable, that there’s little or no time in an emergency situation for questions or pleasantries, and how the fundamentals of policing work and how they don’t. They didn’t change some minds but hoped to open them up a little to see how the other half lives. And there are many other halves. And have and have-nots. And in less than four and a half seconds, a life can change and be changed.

 They all recalled stories, with great joy and pride, of their mothers, who, in a long ago time, reminded them all to get home before the street lights went out or else. And one reminded us that there is another reality. As a seven-year-old growing up in the Bronx, it was he who cooked for two younger brothers. His mother didn’t come looking for him after dark. She was out on the street looking for her fix and at 10-years-old, he was the one who brought her home.

Detective Derek Wilson reminded us that there is an art to talking, to persuading, of finding the right words, asking a question: Are you all right? What do you need? Not simply talking but saying something important and worthwhile, of being in the moment.

We learned that an EDP, or as Detective Jimmy Shanahan says, “an every day person” – could be any one of us triggered by something seemingly mundane or of great consequence. Some of us, unfortunately, are born into lives where the “everydays” are every day. The unpredictability of people is the one constant thing in our city. And that is what police officers respond to.

We listened to Detective First Grade Alfred Titus of Homicide who is earning his doctorate so soon he may be Dr. Detective: do not disturb anything and everything is evidence from the cigarette in an ashtray to a footprint in the dust at a crime scene; how the direction of blood spatter can help solve a case; and the role of the medical examiner in dissecting bodies and cases. 

School Safety Agent Vernon House kept the crowd riveted with stories about bullying in public schools around the city, and how the punishment of taking away a kid’s cell phone is one of the strongest ones imaginable to them.

Lieutenant Jack Cambria of the Hostage Negotiation Unit who trained many police officers, and who is retiring this year, focused our attention on the tactics of patience and avoiding two dangerous words designed to incite the calmest person: calm down. And by the way, the next time you’re typing something in Microsoft Word, you’ll find him there. He’s the only member of the NYPD to have a font named after him. It’s called Cambria. Maybe there's an officer named Helvetica or Garamond but we haven't heard of him or her yet.

The warmest applause was given to Detective Shanahan, for whom all the world’s a stage, a bit of a ham who entertained with his good humor and approachability that underscored the seriousness of his work. He, too, stressed the importance of how cops and the rest of us should and could talk to people and that “police science” is still made up of people like us.

Hopefully, the members of our class, armed with knowledge and information of how another half works, will make our city better. We all come from the same pool of New Yorkers. We are all neighbors. We all want our streets and our homes to be safe. And we must all work together – neighbors, police officers, politicians.  This takes sacrifice, this takes courage, this takes the overcoming of prejudice in every form, and it takes recognition and respect of others. We must engage with those around us and come up with compelling alternatives as to how we live.

 We can go back to our communities and reassure others that we are here together as a city to make it better for all of us. Muhammad Ali once said,  “Often it isn't the mountains ahead that wear you out, it's the little pebble in your shoe.”

Let’s pick out those pebbles and get to work.

This record class of 222 graduated on Tuesday, June 23rd, the largest class of citizens in NYPD history and the last class to attend training at the Police Academy building on 20th Street in Manhattan. The building, which has graduated thousands of NYPD police officers and commissioners, is being repurposed for other NYPD units. Training will take place at the new Police Academy in College Point, Queens beginning in the fall.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

NYPL Oral History Project: Bridging Our Stories: Herman "Denny" Farrell, Jr.

For the New York Public Library's Oral History Project: A Conversation with Denny Farrell, the 83 year old uptown assemblyman who has a spotless memory for detail. In this wide-ranging interview, he talks about his first memories of growing up in Washington Heights, his early fascination with cars, how his military experience shaped him, his adventures in politics, and how he would like to be remembered.

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NYPL Oral History Project: Bridging Our Stories: Frank Hess

MEET FRANK HESS: Born and raised and still living in Washington Heights, Frank Hess is the son of Holocaust survivors from Germany. A political and marketing strategist, he currently serves as Assemblyman Herman "Denny" Farrell's chief of staff. In this conversation for the New York Public Library's Oral History Project, Frank shares his love of the community and its past, present, and future; his favorite Denny Farrell story, and his love of cooking. His matzo ball recipe is available upon request.

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Friday, June 05, 2015

NYPL Oral History Project: Bridging Our Stories: Ed Lehner

And here's ED LEHNER, the former judge and local assemblyman who initiated the pooper scooper law in 1977. Listen to him talk about the origins and impact of the law; growing up in Washington Heights, where he still lives; and his baseball card collection. And no, he does not own a dog.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

NYPL Oral History Project: Bridging Our Stories: Edith Prentiss

Meet EDITH PRENTISS, New York City's champion for people with disabilities. She lives in Washington Heights and was recently interviewed for the New York Public Library's Uptown Oral History project, Bridging Our Stories. 
Edith talks about her experiences as a social worker with Holocaust survivors living uptown, why it is so important to be a visible and vocal voice for people with disabilities, and the upcoming Disability Pride Parade.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

NYPL Oral History Project: Bridging Our Stories: Milton A. Tingling

IN CONVERSATION with MILTON A. TINGLING for the NYPL's Oral History Project, Bridging Our Stories:
A longtime resident of Washington Heights, Milton Tingling currently serves as New York County Clerk. He's the man whose signature appears at the bottom of the your jury duty summons. The first African-American to hold this position, he succeeded Norman Goodman who retired after 45 years. 
As a State Supreme Court Justice, Milton Tingling struck down Mayor Bloomberg's proposed ban on large sized sodas. In this comprehensive interview, he talks about growing up as the son of a judge and public school teacher, his former "careers" as a cab driver and MTA token booth clerk, the impact of growing up in Washington Heights, and as an "exclusive," what kind of soda he drinks.

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NYPL Oral History Project: Bridging Our Stories: Eric K. Washington

RAISING THE DEAD: Meet Eric K. WashingtonUptown's brilliant historian and tour guide who is interviewed for NYPL The New York Public Library's Oral History Project, Bridging Our Stories. 

In this conversation, Eric talks about transitions - the folks living in the neighborhood, those buried in Trinity Cemetery, and the impact of gentrification. He talks about neighborhood boundaries and how porous they can be and the ghosts of former neighbors who once lived in his apartment building, boxing heavyweight champion Jack Johnson and famed saxophonist Coleman Hawkins.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Lessons from Bill Heinz

W. C. Heinz, simply called Bill by friends, family, and colleagues, was perhaps the lesser known of a literary cannon of sports journalists: A. J. Liebling, Red Smith, John Lardner, and Grantland Rice, but the most influential. A craftsman of the written word whose use of detail plucked the reader into the middle of a story whether he was writing about boxing (The Professional), football (Run to Daylight with Vince Lombardi), the war from the frontlines or a surgeon during the Korean War (he wrote the novel M*A*S*H under the pseudonym Richard Hooker), Heinz brought a descriptive, personal feel to his writing, influencing generations of writers, journalists and novelists, including David Halberstam and Jimmy Breslin. Ernest Hemingway wrote that “The Professional is the only good novel about a fighter I've ever read."

Bill Heinz and boxing trainer Ray Arcel remained close friends since the days when Heinz began pounding the keys of his Remington (one loaned to Hemingway) 50 years ago. Arcel, the legendary trainer of more 2,000 fighters and over a dozen world champions, handled so many of Joe Louis’ opponents he given the nickname “The Meat Wagon.” Two years before his death in 1994, Arcel and his wife, Stephanie (Steve or as Bill referred to her, Stevie), suggested that I write to their old friend. The advice from a master whose keen eye for detail and reflective modesty holds its own as a standard for writers. Bill Heinz died at the age of 93 on February 27, 2008.

Postscript: Stephanie Arcel, who died in 2014, would have loved this new book, The Top of His Game, by Bill Littlefield, and I have no doubt that copies purchased for friends would send this book into a second or even a third printing. To commemorate the book, I've added this postscript and two photos - one of a small collection of Bill's books, ones that have been read to pieces when I covered boxing and after - and the newest collection. Thankfully, he and his work have not been forgotten and hopefully, he'll pick up a few more followers along the way.

July 17, 1992

Dear Arlene Schulman,

Naturally I'm pleased that you find something of substance in the product I have been turning out of this Remington portable since 1932. I don't know what help any advice from me will be, but I'll try by the numbers (which relieves me of the task of building those paragraph bridges which are so important in giving a piece of writing its flow).

1. It has been said that writing is like painting, I guess--can't be taught, but can be learned. Hemingway said he learned by reading the greats he admired and studying what they did to create the emotion, or emotions, that moved him. In other words, the science precedes the art.

In my own growth process I derived much from reading John O'Hara's short stories for dialogue, and Hemingway for scene setting, the placement of the characters in it and, of course, the dialogue that identified and distinguished them.

2. Writing is show-and-tell, and "show," when possible, is far preferable than "tell." Anything anyone tells is suspect, while if the readers is brought to believe he has seen and heard it himself, he is a believer forever. Too many writers get between the subject and the reader, so whenever possible the writer should get out of the way.

3. Back to role models: A half century ago I used to ski, and found that when I followed the instructor down the slope my form flowed much better than when I was on my own. I think that in trying to find one's own style, one should find in one's reading the style, or styles, with which one feels most comfortable, and then follow that as I followed the ski instructor. Of course, at the beginning, one will be just an imitator until gradually one's own self emerges in one's own style. Critics like to sneer at this, but the French impressionist painters all borrowed from one another and learned from one another in finding their own way.

4. When, at the end of WWII, Milton Gross was given a sports column by The New York Post, he asked Red Smith for advice. Red said: "Be there." Being there means not only being in attendance, but with eyes and ears at the ready. Too many writers don't really look or really listen. Look and listen for the distinguishing ingredient. Many years ago Stevie Arcel, in talking about "The Professional" mentioned (in the opening chapter) the flower pots on the tenement fire escapes, the yellowed leaves of the Easter lillies and the pink foil still around the pots a long time after the shouldn't be there any longer. She said: "That tells the whole story of tenement life." Of course. That's why I put it there. Now, Stevie may be the only reader who caught that, but I caught it and every good writes first for himself or herself.

5. The space problem: I know what you're going through, and I don't know any answer except to write as tight and right as you can. Even now, when every couple of years or so and I do a piece for The New York Times sports section, they'll call and say: "We've got to take out six lines." My reaction, although I can't say it, is: "Take it out of the white space around the goddamn drawing." So, you see?

6. Grammatical note: The proper verb form is to "try to" and not "try and." Anyone who ever tried and put it in the past tense got a sentence like this. Don't feel badly. Some of the highest priced heads talking heads on TV make the same error. Somewhere here I've got three or four single-spaced typed pages of grammatical errors made on the networks by their reporters, anchor people and commentators. When I was doing an occasional piece for TV Guide I sent them the casualty lists and asked for suggestions as to how it might be made into a piece. They said their readers wouldn't care. The point was that they didn't care.

7. Sometimes the dice come 7 and here I am. In closing, I can only say that whatever I have to say is in my work, and if you can find Once They Heard the Cheers you'll find a lot of "how-to" there. To you and your work I send my

Very best wishes,

Bill Heinz

Originally posted on April 26, 2008

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Saturday, March 07, 2015

NYPL Oral History Project: Bridging Our Stories: J.A. Reynolds

MEET our neighborhood treasure, MR. J.A. REYNOLDS, through Bridging Our Stories, the New York Public Library's Oral History Program focusing on Washington Heights and Inwood.
Mr. Reynolds, who is 91, spoke about he helped transform Isham Park from a garbage strewn dump into the beautiful park it is today; the life and loss of his son, Port Authority Police officer Bruce Reynolds, during 9/11; the cultivation of neighborhood teens and Bruce's Garden; his experiences with racism in the community; his life as a social worker and performer; and how he hopes to be remembered.

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NYPL Oral History Project: Bridging Our Stories: Dave Hunt

MEET DAVE HUNT, one of the owners at Coogan's on 168th Street, through Bridging our Stories, the NYPL's Oral History Project. 
Listen to Dave reminisce about growing up on Cooper Street in Inwood, playing basketball with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor), his friendship with writer Jim Carroll (The Basketball Diaries), the influence of his Irish-born parents and the community, and tales from the world-famous restaurant, Coogan's.

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NYPL Oral History Project: Bridging Our Stories: Obie Bing


The New York Public Library's Oral History Project, Bridging Our Stories, kicked off its project with an interview with Washington Heights' very own Obie Bing. Obie spoke about the migration of his parents and grandparents from the south, growing up in Washington Heights where he still lives, and the tremendous impact the neighborhood has made on him. And for you sports fans, Obie is a first cousin of Hall of Fame basketball player Dave Bing (Detroit Pistons, Washington Bullets, and Boston Celtics).

The photograph was taken by me. The calendar was produced by my friends, Steve Simon and Vivian Ducat, to benefit the Riverside Oval Association. This year's calendar includes a photograph of the apartment building that Obie grew up in.

To listen, click on this link which will take you to the interview:

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey - Uptown

Take two!

Uptown's version of Fifty Shades of Grey takes place on set at Riverstone Life Services Center on 163rd Street and Fort Washington Avenue in Washington Heights. The space was formerly the home of Delafield Hospital, which was converted into affordable housing for seniors through the New York City Housing Authority, and Riverstone Senior Life Services

Because - #SeniorLivesMatter.

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Sunday, February 08, 2015

Vanishing Uptown: A Boxing Gym Closes

Lost Washington Heights boxing gym a symbol of city's changing landscape

Before it shuttered last summer, Artemio (Poppa) Colon's Westside Gym on W. 163rd St. provided a safe haven for youngsters coming up in the murder, cocaine and heroin capital of NYC. 

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Sunday, February 8, 2015, 12:29 AM

When gunshots rang out like the Wild West and Washington Heights was the murder, cocaine and heroin capital of the city, there was one place where fights ended someplace other than the morgue.
In an unassuming apartment building on W. 163rd St. between Broadway and St. Nicholas Ave. was the Westside Gym. For 55 years, a narrow, crumpled stairway led to Artemio Colon, known as “Poppa,” who opened the basement gym in 1959 with two boxing rings and a dream.
When time took its toll and the old man wasn’t able to navigate the steps, his son Artemio Jr. kept the operation going.
The gym closed last July, with little notice, a symbol of the marching gentrification in this neighborhood and throughout New York City.
"I trained a lot of people," said Colon, now 93, who still lives around the corner, across the street from an elm tree that predates the Revolutionary War. “They didn’t listen to their mother or nobody. But they listened to me.”
When the Westside Gym opened its doors, Robert F. Wagner served as mayor and a subway token cost 15 cents. In the grand tradition of neighborhood boxing gyms, guys from the Heights packed its subterranean warren of gray rooms, hitting the heavy bag, sparring, lifting weights and learning the ropes.

Artemio Colon - mid 1980s - photo © Arlene SchulmanARLENE SCHULMANEnlarge
Artemio Colon, young and old - photo  © Arlene SchulmanARLENE SCHULMANEnlarge
Artemio Colon, now 93 (r.), landed in New York in 1946 and trained under famed boxing sage Cus D’Amato. Colon (pictured in the 1980s, l.) opened his own gym in 1959, and built it into a staple in Washington Heights.
It didn’t matter whether they won or lost. It took them away from the lure of gangs, drugs and misbehavior, taught them discipline and gave them the sense that there were options.
When the boxing business was booming, there were several active neighborhood gyms in every borough. Connie’s Gym on 125th St., Brooklyn’s Red Hook Boxing Club and the Bronx’s Jerome Boxing Club were among the casualties of waning interest and higher rents. There’s nothing like the Westside Gym in Manhattan any longer.
“Community gyms help kids in the neighborhood,” said Bruce Silverglade, the owner of Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. “They are not a place where pros go. These mom-and-pop gyms are stabilizing centers in disruptive areas.”
When the tidal wave of drugs and murders disrupted the neighborhood in the 1980s and 1990s, Colon provided a place where young men could find a safe corner.
“It was a little scary,” recalled Anthony James, a two-time Daily News Golden Gloves winner who trained there during the 1980s. “Guys were always selling drugs on that block out in the open, and people were always getting shot. Washington Heights was definitely out of control. But, he added, “If you were with the gym, no one bothered you.”

Anthony James, a Daily News Golden Gloves champion in 1982 and 1983 who trained at Colon's gym, laments its loss but says that nothing lasts forever.ARLENE SCHULMANAnthony James, a Daily News Golden Gloves champion in 1982 and 1983 who trained at Colon's gym, laments its loss but says that nothing lasts forever.
The diminutive Colon barred drug dealers, gang members, and other unsavory characters.
“No drugs in the gym,” Colon said firmly. “We never deal with them. I kept the street clean in front and let no one hang out. Even the kids never played ball here. No barbecuing. You have to move.”
The gym was considered sacred. Outsiders never intruded. Even the NYPD knew not to expect any trouble.
“I don’t recall any problems there,” said Deputy Inspector Wilson Aramboles, who covered Washington Heights as an anti-crime officer in the early 1990s. “The gym made a little dent in crime back then.”
NYPD Captain Ernest Morales, one of hundreds who trained at the Westside Gym said it “represented what it meant to fight your way out of poverty to fulfill the American Dream,” a safe haven for generations of children in the rough-and-tumble tracts.
If you were with the gym, no one bothered you.
Fighters and neighbors alike still mourn the fact that Colon had to close his sanctum down.
With crime in the city down overall, it’s difficult to determine what impact, if any, the gym’s loss will have. There were only two murders last year in the 33rd Precinct, which covers the neighborhood.
But if the major crimes are harder to detect, so are the men (and later, a few women) who walked down the block with a singular purpose.
“Everyone has gone to Planet Fitness,” James said. “Boxing is not what it used to be. We all get old. Colon can’t do it forever.”
Silverglade, who oversaw the moving of Gleason’s Gym from 30th St. in Manhattan to Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood in 1984 due to rising rent, said it’s gotten harder and harder for gyms to stay on their feet.

It was far from posh, but the Westside Gym was typical of neighborhood boxing centers that once thrived in every corner of the city.ARLENE SCHULMANIt was far from posh, but the Westside Gym was typical of neighborhood boxing centers that once thrived in every corner of the city.
“Insurance is extremely expensive,” he said. “Rents are going up. The cost of training is going up. At one time, there were a lot of bootleg shows and gyms could run shows and make a small profit. Now, there are so many rules and regulations combined with the economy make it difficult for small gyms to survive.”
Gleason’s, like the Times Square Gym, had a heavy roster of professional fighters training and sparring but added fitness training, women’s boxing, and white collar boxing some time ago.
“If I was relying on actual boxers, I would never be able to survive,” Silverglade said. “The big fitness chains are in competition with the boxing clubs. As people are getting older they don’t remember the value of boxing. They go into Equinox and the other new places. And the gym owners,” he added, “are getting older. I’m here at five in the morning and I leave at seven at night. And we don’t have those trainers like Artie Colon and Ray Arcel around anymore.”
Colon landed in New York City in 1946, just after World War II and ahead of the the “great migration” of Puerto Ricans who arrived in New York City a decade later.
Armed with an eighth-grade education and a wiry physique honed in the tobacco and sugar cane fields, the 25-year-old found work as a cook at Luchow’s, a famous German restaurant on 14th Street, as a tailor and then, finally, as a building superintendent.
Everyone has gone to Planet Fitness; boxing is not what it used to be.
He discovered the Gramercy Gym and trained under Cus D’Amato, the mentor of world champions Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres and, later, Mike Tyson.
“Boxing made me what I am,” Colon said. “I traveled all around the world. Cus taught me how to box, how to take care of myself. He was like a father to me. Whatever I knew in boxing, he teach me.”
Later, while running his own gym and shuttling fighters to matches around the city, Colon served as the super of the gym’s building. So long as floors were mopped, the repairs made, the boiler fixed, the gym was his.
The block is quieter now; it’s as if the gym has been erased. The steps down to the basement have been straightened, and the sign removed. The space is being converted into yet more apartments, and a building across the street is now a high-priced co-op, which neighbors call the “white building” because only white people, they say, can afford to live there.
Dario Rosario, 78, who mopped up blood in the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center emergency room night after night during the '80s and '90s, has lived at the corner of 163rd and St. Nicholas since 1967. He misses the gym. “That's the only thing we had here,” he said. “Now they are smoking marijuana in front of the building.”

539 W.163rd St., where the Westside Gym operated in the basement for some 55 years.ARLENE SCHULMAN539 W.163rd St., where the Westside Gym operated in the basement for some 55 years.
The Westside Gym is gone, relegated to memory and the history books like so many long-standing icons, another lost piece of the city’s vanishing lore.
“That’s the way life is,” Colon said. “I feel sad. A lot of people miss the gym. That’s the way it goes.”
Some of the city’s storied neighborhood gyms that have been KO’d by factors including higher rents, skyrocketing insurance rates and operating expenses, and the proliferation of health clubs.

DAS Boxing Center
Jefferson Boxing Club
Empire Sporting Club at the Gramercy Gym
Connie’s Gym
Times Square Gym
New York City Gladiators

Fort Apache
Boxing Club Zaragoza
Boxing Gym Aaron Davis
Boxing Gym

Lost Battalion Hall
Cowboys Boxing Club
Irish Ropes
Rhino Fight Team
Gallagher’s Gym

Fight America

Brighton Boxing Club
Evolution Boxing Club
Kid Kelly’s Boxing Gym
Sunset Park Boxing Center
Arlene Schulman

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