PORTRAIT of a NEIGHBORHOOD… 1962
My husband, 3 children and I were living on West 94th St. in NY City in 1962. This was a reputable address … until you turned the corner. In 1965 I wrote the following article for a Writer’s Workshop. The assignment was: “Portrait of a Neighborhood.” I think you will see why we decided to move to the country.
* * * *
To me, “off-Broadway” is not a theater production but a massive, out-dated hotel for transients on New York City’s upper West side. Hanging from the marquee is a grimy cloth banner that proclaims this to be “THE WHITEHALL”.
All shades of humanity pass through the filth-infested hallways of this building just four doors from the respectability of West End Avenue. A handful of World War II vets wheel their chairs to the pavement. They sit deceptively still in the sunlight. Then a pedestrian walks by and they spiel off obscenities from mouths twisted with hatred.
A maroon convertible purrs to a stop in front of the hotel. Five girls and the driver, a handsome black man, pile out of the car and stand around cracking jokes with the men. “Big Boy, you sure can peddle them white gals”, says one of them.
A police siren pierces the air and, as if by osmosis, the group fades silently into the building and the street is deserted. Only the men remain, their faces closed as they watch the squad car approach. The police rush into the building and the men place bets on who they’ll pick up this time. They all lose.
It’s just a family quarrel and the police are still breaking it up as they drag the couple to the squad car. The man holds his arm, blood seeping through the dirty towel that he’s twisted around it. “She used a bottle on him”, say the men, knowingly.
And so it goes at THE WHITEHALL, the transient hotel where only vice and corruption find a permanent home.