Abraham Goldfeld.

The diary of a housing manager online

. (page 5 of 11)
Online LibraryAbraham GoldfeldThe diary of a housing manager → online text (page 5 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

baum, the chairman, frequently lost his temper and banged on the
table with the gavel to preserve order. Most of the argument was
over the question of whether or not Yiddish should be spoken at
the meetings. It was finally agreed that English be the only language
spoken. Several fathers find it difficult to express themselves in Eng-
lish but the decision is that since the club is in America all should
learn the English language.

The Good and Welfare Committee brought up the question of
buying window screens cooperatively. Several members were named
to investigate prices and report at a future meeting.

[Eventually the office made arrangements to buy from a local
hardware store a quantity of screens at a reduced price which
we sold to the tenants at cost.]

JUNE 7, 1928

The "commissioners" collected books from the tenants for our li-
brary. The response was gratifying over 200 children's books were

JUNE 8, 1928

At 8:30 in the evening the Fathers' and Mothers' Clubs held a
joint meeting to discuss plans for the Fourth. This meeting was also
badly conducted and again the chairman lost his temper in deciding
on points of order.

It was thought best not to have outsiders at this first celebration
because of lack of experience in running affairs and because we have
over 500 people here enough to tax the capacity of the roof. Every
family is to receive an invitation.

Later, the question of expenditures came up and it was evident
that the majority of the tenants were against bearing any of the cost.
One of the members suggested that the board of directors be asked

46 The Diary of a Housing Manager

to pay for the band, saying, "It will give them (the directors) much
pleasure to know that the tenants are going to have a good time and
that such celebrations take place in their building. Besides, the Lavan-

burg Foundation is very rich and $40 would never be missed "

I told the tenants I was sure the directors would not care whether
we celebrated the Fourth or not and that their policy was to help
the tenants help themselves. I reminded them that this is not an in-
stitution; and that the fathers and mothers sacrifice their independ-
ence by asking the Foundation to pay for their entertainment. The
members saw my point and passed the motion that the Fathers' Club
meet the cost of the band and the Mothers' Club provide all re-

Throughout the meeting Mr. Berlin again asked lengthy and point-
less questions, taxing the patience of other members and arousing
some resentment. I think Mr. Berlin's oral wanderings are due to his
physical condition. He is a pensioned World War veteran, having
been seriously gassed while in service.

After the meeting, I spoke to Mr. Kirchbaum about his inability
to control the meetings. He readily admitted his difficulty and said
that whenever his wife is present he feels very embarrassed and ex-
cited. I tried again to inform him on procedure rules which he
promised to make use of at the next meeting.

[The tenants never again thought of soliciting the board for
funds. They have conducted all kinds of affairs completely on
their own and there is never any question of how they are to
be financed. The only subsidy the Foundation ever gave to a
group was in connection with the Fathers' Clubroom where it
contributed half of the cost of the furniture and paint.]

JUNE 9, 1928

Met Mr. Berlin on the street and spoke to him about his questions
at the Fathers' Club. Tried to explain that people become very irri-
tated and annoyed when very involved statements are made. He was
quite apologetic and told me his brain does not function as well as
it used to and that he does not realize when he speaks so incoherently.
He was glad his attention was called to it and said he would try to
control himself. From this he drifted to talk about sex and religion-
subjects he had brought up before demonstrating a great need to
talk about these topics.

The Diary 1927-1930 47

[Mr. Berlin never was able to control his tongue. He finally came
to be known as a "type" and was accepted as such.]

Mr. Kirchbaum and I went to New Jersey to buy fireworks for
the Fourth of July celebration.

JUNE 10, 1928

The tenants are greatly alarmed over reports that thieves got into
the backyard and climbed the fire-escapes. Evidently they were
frightened off before they could break in anywhere, because noth-
ing was missed. I visited police headquarters and spoke to a detective
who had little to suggest. Mr. Somers came over, and after discuss-
ing the situation with him I decided to put up a high fence around
the yard with gates at the rear entrance.

[Petty thefts subsided for a number of years, not recurring until
in 1935 when three successive cases were reported. Several
tenants thought that a pass-key was used to gain entrance to the
apartments. In order to give them a feeling of security, we
changed all the cylinders of the locks, and now no pass-key
can be used.]

The "commissioners" took twenty-one younger boys to Pelham
Bay Park. I went with them and enjoyed the outing. Though the idea
was to make the older boys feel responsible for the younger ones, it
did not work out that way. While in the park, the "commissioners"
met some girls and spent the greater part of the time with them. The
youngsters were left to themselves and it fell upon me to do most
of the entertaining. Nevertheless, all of the boys were highly pleased
with the day.

JUNE 12, 1928

Last night the Just Pals Club gave an entertainment and a play for
the fathers and mothers. The performance of the play entitled "The
Aunt from California" lacked finishing touches, but was rich in sin-
cerity and interest. Both the individual numbers and the dramatic
piece were enthusiastically received by the mothers and fathers.

JUNE 15, 1928

Bought a small piano to be used in the recreational programs on
the roof.

[My experience with a piano for roof activities taught me that

48 The Diary of a Housing Manager

the most practical and economical plan was to hire a piano on a
monthly rental basis. The instrument can be used as long as de-
sirable and be removed on request.]

JUNE 1 6, 1928

A group of mothers have asked about a class in Jewish history
for the children. Today Miss Kaufman, sent by the Jewish Educa-
tional Society, came to volunteer her services. She is a professional
teacher and seems to be greatly interested in the work. The class
will begin next Saturday.

JUNE 17, 1928

Recently several radios were bought by tenants who strung the
aerials haphazardly, and at odd angles, the wire marring the appear-
ance of the building. Sent notices to the tenants calling their atten-
tion to this condition and advising them to consult our superintendent
who knows where and how to string aerials so that all will be in
orderly arrangement.

[This plan was very satisfactory. Occasionally, a tenant would
have his aerial connected in his own way but we insisted on a
general conformity to our plan.]

JUNE 1 8, 1928

Mrs. Gottlieb in to talk to me on behalf of Mrs. Jacobs who,
Mrs. G. explained, is ashamed to come in herself. Mr. Jacobs is still
unemployed and the family needs help. He is the tenant who pre-
viously planned to move because of financial difficulties, but was
forced to remain when his wife became ill. I suggested to Mrs. Gott-
lieb that she tell Mrs. Jacobs to come to the office herself since there
is no need to be ashamed of discussing such matters.

Later Mrs. Jacobs appeared. She related that her husband is work-
ing for her brother who is a painter but receives only $15 a week,
which obviously is not enough to support a family. She has already
borrowed to the limit from her relatives. Mrs. Jacobs insists she does
not want charity but would go to work herself if she could find a
place to leave her children. I told her we would try to locate a
nursery where the children would be well cared for while she was
at work.

Called the Jewish Social Service Association and explained the case
to the supervisor. A social worker is coming to see what can be done.

The Diary 1927-1930 49

JUNE 2O, 1928

Fathers' Club meeting. Discussion of the Fourth of July celebra-
tion took up most of the time. There was much argument. Evidently
the men, because of frequent meetings, are gradually losing respect
for each other's opinions.

After every meeting, we go in a group to a neighborhood restau-
rant for coffee and more talk. They never seem to get enough. These
meetings are really adjourned only when the restaurant lights are
turned out. The amusing thing is that despite their "fights" in the
clubroom, they are the best of friends in the restaurant.

JUNE 24, 1928

Ordered coal to fill our bins. It was bad economy to have built
the bins so small. Coal in large quantities at this time of the year is
cheap, and a considerable saving could have been made to put in
the winter supply at this time.

I do not know why the engineer placed the rheostat on our boiler
at a point so difficult to reach. Will order it moved. Also will put
up wooden barriers for the roof exits to the fire escapes. These exits
are unprotected now, and several children have attempted going
down that way, a dangerous practice.

It is a pleasing sight to see the fathers play with the boys on the
roof. They umpire the games and voluntarily form mixed teams for
some lively bouts of volley ball.

The adults complain that the benches on the roof are uncom-
fortable and hard to sit on. I have suggested that they buy beach
chairs, but somehow they do not take to the idea.

[Two years ago I bought two dozen beach chairs which we
rented to the tenants at 2 cents a night; or a tenant could pay
5 cents a night until he paid for the cost of the chair ($1.60) and
own it. As a result of this plan a number of tenants bought their
own chairs.]

JUNE 28, 1928

The public school near by complains that smoke from our
chimney drifts into their windows. Evidently the smokestack is not
high enough and will have to be extended.

Late last evening several fathers and I had a discussion about the

50 The Diary of a Housing Manager

problems of child-rearing and family relations. They enjoyed the
talk so much that they expressed a wish to carry on similar conversa-
tions. Quite naturally, then, an Adult Education Group formed. It
plans to meet every other week for such talks as that of last night.
The group will be limited to about fifteen members, and the fathers
will invite only those who appear to be progressive enough in their
attitude to be interested in these discussions. July 13 is the date set
for the first meeting, and out of the several subjects proposed the
fathers have chosen "Why Men and Women Marry."

JULY 2, 1928

Finished preparing the fourth issue of The Lavanburg News. The
paper has grown to four pages. This time it is devoted to the July
Fourth celebration. There is a picture of Mr. Lavanburg on the first
page, and all the presidents of the various clubs contributed signed

JULY 4, 1928

The big day. In the morning met several fathers on the roof and
we started hanging the decorations. Worked hard all day, and late
in the afternoon the roof was gaily dressed in bunting and colored
paper. But alas, at six o'clock just as the doors were to be opened, a
storm arose and lasted long enough to make all our work a be-
draggled sight. We did not know whether we would hold our cele-
bration or not, but at eight the sky cleared, and, soppy bunting
notwithstanding, the tenants began to gather and the show went on.

The amateur entertainers were very well received, indicating the
great joy of parents and children in watching their friends on the
stage. There were several impromptu numbers. The speaker of the
evening, because of the unsettled weather, arrived late. His speech
was a trifle too long. None the less, he received a generous round of
applause. At ten dancing began for the parents and children, the music
playing until half past twelve. Folk dances of foreign homelands
alternated with American ballroom dancing. About one o'clock the
party ended though it took some effort to persuade friends to go

The only flaw to mar the otherwise enjoyable evening was the
news that one of our families had been robbed while the tenants were
having a good time on the roof.

The Diary 1927-1930 51

JULY n, 1928

Rents continue to be paid with marked regularity. No changes or
removals are indicated. The oft-repeated opinion that with the ad-
vent of warm weather a number of people would move out because
there would be no need for steam heat appears to be groundless.

JULY 12, 1928

We are receiving a number of complaints about overflows from the
ice-boxes. The water trays are so high that they touch the bottom
of the boxes, making them almost inaccessible for cleaning and caus-
ing clogging.

Two teachers sent by the Board of Education to conduct play-
school here for the summer appeared today and began their classes.
Over one hundred children attended the first session. Discipline was
poor, probably owing to the mixed ages of the children. Classes are
scheduled to be held from 1:30 to 4:30, with a fifteen minute milk
period. Sheffield Farms, a local dairy company, is furnishing the milk
for the children at 5 cents a bottle.

[For four successive summers the Board of Education provided
men and women teachers. In 1932, because of economies insti-
tuted by the city, we had to provide our own. This we did with
the cooperation of the Child Study Association of America. Our
summer play-school became, eventually, a cooperative project
with the Child Study Association. We supply the funds and they
the expert advice and supervision. Additional teachers are fur-
nished by the WPA. ]

JULY 13, 1928

Seven men attended the first meeting of the Adult Educational
Group, held this evening. Each person gave reasons to explain why
men and women marry. One brought out man's desire for legitimate
sex-expression; another his desire to have children; another the need
for companionship. Apparently, all spoke about themselves. It was
gratifying, indeed, to find men in this way earnestly searching for
truth. The meeting was well conducted and everyone revealed a
grand spirit of tolerance and respect for the opinions of others. The
talk finally drifted into channels that brought up the question of
companionate marriage. As the time was growing short, it was de-

5 2 The Diary of a Housing Manager

cided to discuss companionate marriage and divorce at the next

As I was passing through the court at 11:30 A.M., Mr. and Mrs.
Silberman overtook me and excitedly said they wanted to see me
about something very important. We went into the office and there
they told me that young Samuel Fishbein, the 1 4-year-old son of one
of the tenants, had attempted an "act of immorality," upon their
daughter. This had happened about two hours earlier on the roof.
They had already gone to police headquarters to report the case,
and after conferring with two sergeants there, decided to demand
the eviction of the Fishbein family on pain of reporting the boy to
the Children's Court. I tried to calm the parents, and suggested the
consideration of this matter in a more mature way; I pointed out that
sex curiosity among children is a well established fact and that chil-
dren experiment with sex. Further, I offered to talk to the boy and
to assure the parents that similar occurrences would not happen
again. They were willing to leave the matter in my hands.

JULY 14, 1928

Called young Fishbein into the office to talk to him about the
episode on the roof. He was apparently prepared for the interview
because he talked profusely with but slight encouragement. He im-
mediately put the blame on several other boys, saying that he was
merely a bystander and was pushed into doing what he did. The
thought of possible punishment frightened him and he wept through-
out the conversation. After emphasizing to him how bad an act it
is to molest girls, I let him go. During the day I talked to the other
boys involved, who in their turn shifted the responsibility to the
others. Apparently the whole thing originated as a game which
culminated in the desire to show off. All of the boys realize what is
right and what is wrong. They are ready to promise not to play
such games again. I think this whole situation was accidental and
not premeditated. However, one boy does require attention. I get
reports that he swears frequently and sometimes suggests unhealthy
ideas to the other children. All of these boys are members of the
Health Club. When Mr. Eisenstein returns in the early fall, I will
talk to him about looking into the situation. Meanwhile will keep in
touch with the children.

[Similar instances happened several times and had to be handled.

The Diary 1927-1930 53

Our policy was not to make a fuss about it. In most cases, a quiet
talk with the children seemed to be sufficient. In only one in-
stance, where a father became over-familiar with several of the
little girls, was another course taken. I contacted the Crime
Prevention Bureau and together we planned the following pro-
cedure which was very successful. The Bureau sent for this
man and he was brought to the police station. There they told
him a written complaint had been made about his conduct. I
was called in as a character witness. We spoke to the father about
the gravity of the offense, and he became so frightened that he
never again caused trouble.

The children know a great many sex terms. They use various
profane words and phrases freely. Whether they know the pre-
cise meaning of their profanity is hard to tell. In the neighbor-
hood, the adults swear openly and children soon pick up this
kind of language.]

JULY 1 6, 1928

The New York Edison Company exhibited on the roof movies of
various electrical devices and of the growth of electrical service in
the city. About 300 adults and children saw the pictures, which
were shown here for the first time. Many residents from the neigh-
borhood came and all appeared to enjoy the show.

JULY 17, 1928

The summer wear and tear on the stairs is very evident. When
the paint wore off too quickly I thought at first it was because of
poor quality. But after trying several kinds of paint in different
hallways, I find that concrete will not hold any kind for any length
of time. It was a mistake to make the stairs of cement, which is porous,
instead of slate or tile which has a smooth surface and is suited to
extra heavy usage.

Fathers' Club meeting. Mr. Silberman brought up the question of
roof supervision, apparently having in mind his daughter's recent
experience. Two fathers will supervise the roof every night. A mo-
tion was also passed to prohibit card playing on the roof.

[This last rule was never enforced. We sectioned off a part of
the roof where the fathers and older boys might play on sum-
mer nights. Card playing in this neighborhood is very prevalent
and it is healthier to play here than in other less wholesome places.

54 The Diary of a Housing Manager

It was agreed, however, that the games be of a sociable nature
and that gambling for large sums be prohibited.]

JULY 21, 1928

Miss Sohnfeld, who is making a study of the neighborhood, re-
turned from her vacation and came to talk to me about her work.
She finds she cannot give as much time here during the day as we
require, but she is willing to spend an evening each week doing
recreational work. I suggested the possibility of forming a dramatic
group, especially since several adults have mentioned their desire for
one. The idea appealed to her and she will get in touch with those
who are interested. Her community study, she informs me, is grad-
ually taking concrete shape. I hope to see some results soon.

[Miss Sohnfeld never completed the study of the neighborhood,
which was planned to include an investigation of nationalities
and community facilities in recreation and health.]

JULY 23, 1928

Twenty children from the Social Circle of the Church of All Na-
tions visited the building. Took them around and explained the na-
ture of our activities.

At 4: 30 the Play School gave a party to a group of parents. Vari-
ous children recited pieces and sang songs. The mothers were highly
pleased and commented favorably upon the value of the school.

JULY 26, 1928

Sheffield Farms Company was scheduled to show movies on the
roof, but to our great disappointment their representatives failed to
appear. A large group of children and parents had gathered. For-
tunately, I had invited a photographer to take pictures, which served
as an attraction.

JULY 27, 1928

A reporter from one of the metropolitan newspapers came to inter-
view me about the progress of the homes.

JULY 28, 1928

The Mock Marriage took place last night. This was an entertain-
ment planned and staged by the tenants themselves to which they

The Diary 1927-1930 55

invited guests. Though we limited the number of invitations, the
roof was jammed with over 600 people. It is evident that we cannot
permit tenants to invite people on this scale as such huge roof con-
gregations are dangerous.

The comic nature of the program gave the men full opportunity
for their histrionics and they acted their parts vehemently. After
performing for an hour and a half, they gave no signs of ending their
hilarious slapstick. I finally prevailed upon them to give their audi-
ence a chance to rest.

Afterwards refreshments were served and everyone danced. I
purposely gave very little cooperation in order to learn how far they
could assume responsibility for planning and running their own
social activities.

Two quarrels marred this otherwise successful evening. Mrs.
Papoosha lost her ice-cream ticket and that brought on a heated
argument in which epithets were hurled such as I never before heard.
The other quarrel was between Mr. London and Mr. Wolfe. Theirs
was an altercation over the awarding of the prizes. Both disputes
apparently would have gone on indefinitely had I not interfered
and restored order.

JULY 29, 1928

All in all last night's entertainment was a memorable affair. So
much that when I came to the roof today, at least fifteen partici-
pants were there discussing its highlights.

JULY 31, 1928

The janitor situation is the problem of the month. Tremendous
turnover of porters creates a difficult situation for the superintendent
and myself. I believe the men leave because of the poor living quarters
provided here for them, lack of opportunity to make tips and money
on the side, and the long hours of work necessary to maintain our
standards of cleanliness. During the summer the building is not easy
to care for. The children are here so much of the time and they are
apt to scatter about the premises fruit pits, nut shells, and fruit cores.
They also linger in the courts and hallways and use the roof scarcely
at all during the daytime because of the intense heat. An awning
is really very necessary if the roof is to be used to its fullest advantage
by the tenants.

56 The Diary of a Housing Manager

AUGUST I, 1928

At the Fathers' Club meeting tonight, the members took up the
question of how to observe the memory of Mr. Lavanburg. A Me-
morial Committee was appointed. Mr. Romansky read a letter from
a Republican Assemblyman in which he asked for the privilege of
addressing the club. A lively debate ensued as many of the fathers
are ardent Democrats. A motion was made to ban speeches at the
club by men representing political parties. Another motion was made
to permit political speakers to address the meetings, provided they
did not talk about politics! However, these motions did not pass. A
final motion was carried to have political speeches from representa-
tives of all parties. However, until the series of speeches are arranged,
no response would be made to the overture of the Republican As-

As before, Mr. Berlin was a disturbing element. Tempers were so
ruffled by his long speeches and the bitter arguments they caused
that several members got up to leave, remaining only after an appeal
from the chair pacified them.

AUGUST 2, 1928

Spoke to an active member of the Fathers' Club about the argu-
ments and disagreements that take place at every meeting. He said
he thought that jealousy was a contributing factor. Later I saw the
club's president and we discussed the same problem. He suggested
that meetings be held only once monthly for business, because it is
around business matters that the arguments center. The other meet-

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryAbraham GoldfeldThe diary of a housing manager → online text (page 5 of 11)