By Victoria Gold
I was born in nineteen fifty one in Brighton Beach Brooklyn, NYC. Brighton was a magical and mystical place to grow up. What more could a kid want than to be surrounded by the ocean, Coney Island and New York City?
The Gold family lived surrounded by the bracing smell of fresh ocean salt-water air. The overhead deafening sound of the elevated subway could not deter the pleasures of growing up by the ocean. Living by the beach opened my childhood eyes to all the wonderful beauties and diversities that growing up in the Big Apple in the fifties and early sixties offered.
Until I was eight we lived on Brighton Fourth Street in one of the multitudes of six-floor brick apartment buildings that encircled the boardwalk and Brighton Beach Ave. The assortment of buildings spanned lengthwise from Ocean Parkway through to Manhattan Beach and widthwise from the Boardwalk to Brighton Beach Avenue where you met the elevated train. During Brighton’s heyday, some of these buildings were mighty and grand. When my family moved to Brighton, most of the six floor apartment buildings were erected between the turn of the twenty century and the nineteen thirties. The architecture of a few of the buildings were extraordinary. Even today in 2015, a few buildings stand out as art deco icons. Having intricate art deco engraving on the lobby doors and windows with fancy brickwork under the windows that simulated elaborate window shades.
When I was old enough to notice my surroundings, I realized the building that I lived in was plain in comparison to the buildings that abutted the boardwalk. The buildings on Brighton 4th and 5th Street off Brighton Beach Ave were built in the nineteen thirties and were almost identical. Even though they were not one of the more spectacular buildings, they emanated a dark charming Spanish influence. In the twenties when the elevated subway was built to service Brighton Beach, Brighton blossomed into a viable commuting living area for low to middle income Jews of the first and second generation. Of the estimated 55,000 Holocaust survivors living in NYC as of 2011, most lived in Brighton Beach. http://us.wow.com/wiki/Brighton_Beach?s_chn=89&s_pt=source2&v_t=aolsem. From the time when I was very young, numbers on arms was no stranger to me.
By the time, we moved in the buildings were showing signs of wear and tear and the older I got the wear and tear worsened. Our fellow roommates were giant cockroaches we called water bugs. Truly disgusting creatures but I got a keen eye for killing at a young age. Most of the apartment buildings had two humble garden plots. The plots were on each side of a small courtyard leading to the entrance of the buildings. The flowers if they ever existed had a few weary hedges. Never the less, I was always excited when the hedges blossomed in the spring because summer and beach time was approaching. I would walk into wealthier Manhattan Beach, which was populated with beautiful one family houses with handsome gardens. I never connected that the people who lived there could have possibly produced those real breathing gardens. It was like a bought painting that came with the house. Back in Brighton as time went by, the only occupants of the little gardens were flying newspapers. If you tried hard enough you never needed to buy the NY Times. Despite the trash, the building still maintained a sense of opulence.
My favorite building adjacent to the boardwalk on Brighton 6th Street had a lobby that felt like an ancient haunted castle. I never felt threatened or scared by the dark halls and columns. The charm broke when in the early seventies a girlfriend, of my first live in boyfriend, was found stumbling around the rooftop during a tragic suicide attempt. I having stolen her boyfriend instigated her suicide attempt. I will never forgive myself for my misdeed.
Whether the lobbies were grand or less elaborate, heavily oiled marble furniture filled your nose with an odd musty smell. They had giant marble windowsills, ornate marble tables, and huge marble-based lamps with beautifully designed art deco glass lamp covers. The marble was so thickly saturated with heavy oil that even for a kid it was too yucky to sit on the windowsill despite my over whelming temptation.
My mother told me, “I went on the subway to Manhattan to Lutheran Hospital and gave birth to me. Dad and I took the subway home with one newborn baby girl, Victoria Gold, and one nurse.” As the story goes, in those days, they sent new mother’s home with nurses instead of mother-in-law’s. I was also told, my older brother, Larry —about 4 years older than I— found me amusing until the nurse went home. As the nurse walked to the elevator to leave he ran screaming, “You forgot the baby.”