I was born in 1934, and at the age of just one month old I spent my first summer in Woodmont – and I’ve spent every single summer since then in Woodmont with just one exception, the summer my grandfather passed away. Benjamin Rosenthal (Benjamin St. is named for him) built our cottage in 1924 where Merwin & Edgefield Avenues meet, two doors away from the Hebrew Congregation of Woodmont. Mr. Rosenthal told us that before he built the cottage, that spot was called “Back Beach,” so it seems that the area was covered in water. Our cottage was first owned by Mr. Ruderman (see his daughter Frances’ memories post on this blog) for 10 years, and then my grandfather bought it.
We spent our days enjoying the beach. We’d go often to Anchor Beach. My father had rowboats and motorboats and we enjoyed using them in the water. We became best friends with the people that would rent next to us. There used to be volunteer firefighters and they had a whistle that blew at 12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. My mother used to say that we had to come back for the 12 whistle and we’d better be home by the one at 6. When I was little (during late 30s and 40s) there were no houses on Seabreeze Avenue. it was a big open field, and a man would come on Sundays with ponies and give pony rides. I liked to watch the ponies. We had a group of about 10 boys and girls on the beach and we had more nerve than we should have. We used to see Mrs. Poli outside her mansion tending to her garden. One day we asked if we could walk out on her pier, and she told us that we could if we’d be quiet and behave. And we did! After we left, we laughed at our nerve.
When the war was over in August 1945, I was 11. There were boys that worked in Sloppy Joe’s and there was a big bench on the side of the building where people would wait for the trolley. Everyone was so ecstatic that the was over and they made a fire to celebrate. Mr. Rosenthal’s grandson ran into his “barn” and got his wheelbarrow to throw in the fire. The bench from Sloppy Joe’s went in and they were looking for more things to throw in to feed the fire. Everyone was so happy and the fire burned for 3 days. When I got old enough I worked for Mr. Leibowitz who had a laundry service. I would take in the laundry I would sort it right next door to our cottage. These were all great years. My teenage years were so happy and we always had such good times in the summer. I made wonderful friends, first from New Haven and then from other areas where people would come from.
Some landmarks I recall: The Villa Rosa trolley stop was an ice cream parlor, and comic books were sold there. Sloppy Joe’s was called the “Orange Blossom” before it was Sloppy Joe’s. When I grew up in Bagel Beach, it was already called Sloppy Joe’s and was a very popular hang-out. I remember that there were tables outside on Hillside Avenue. We’d come at 6 p.m. to stake out a place…there was a juke box and people would dance. It was filled mostly with teenagers. We made our own good times.
Chain’s Cottages is where the Surf Village Clubhouse is now. Mrs. Finkelhoff from Springfield had a building with rooming houses right across from HCW, where the Tri-Beach Community Center is now. The first floor had stoves and refrigerators: a “koch-alien,” and the rooms upstairs were rented out for the summer. The people that came were from New Haven, Waterbury, and New York. She had a big family and one son, Fred Finkelhoff, was a producer in Hollywood. Whenever he wrote a play, the titles were painted onto the steps inside the boarding house.
Some people I remember from my youth: On Gilette street there was a man he owned a horse and would dress up like a sheik with a “shmatte” on his head and he would ride down the hill on his horse. The fish-man was Italian, and he’d come in an old truck and would wrap the fish in newspaper. One day a week he’d come up from New Haven to Woodmont. Bert Parks, an actor and singer who was famous for hosting the Miss America telecast, would rent a guest house from the Polis. I also knew Milly & Larry Feurman who owned property not far from our cottage. Rabbi Shuchotowitz lived on Sherman Avenue in New Haven. He came to Woodmont for Shabbos several times in the 1940s and he’d stay at our cottage. He was also the rabbi who married us. I remember Pearl Baker who came often to the shul. They lived up on the hill. Her mother would come back from grocery shopping and get off the bus with all of her bundles. I remember her going up the stairs with all her bags. Pearl would go in the middle of the street and put up her hand so that her mother could cross!
My family was very involved with the Hebrew Congregation of Woodmont. My grandmother was an invalid and could not attend services, but she insisted that they sit her in the yard on Saturday mornings so she could hear the prayers from the shul a couple of doors away. In fact, the two front doors of the synagogue building each have a window with an inscription dedicated to each of my grandparents, Rose and William Erlichman. My sister Rose-Billie was named for them.
I attended the Sunday Hebrew school at HCW. Mrs. Max ran the Sunday school and was a dearly beloved teacher. She lived in a cottage on Burwell, and I remember that she had a fish pond. We would put on plays. One year, we wore long dresses blue with silver stars pasted on. We marched in with wooden bowls—I still have my bowl that I used in that play! I can still picture her in my mind. I went to the Sunday school through my teen years and then after Mrs. Max passed away, the school closed.
Every year, the ladies’ auxillary had a card party to raise funds for the shul. It was the social event of the season! They held a raffle and usually my father would obtain the prizes for the winners. The benches in the shul used to be brown. Mr. Lebov who lived on Abigail St. was a builder/contractor. He put down carpeting and had the benches painted white. (Since then, the carpeting has been replaced and the benches have been replaced with chairs.) The lions that grace the ark are from a little shul on Greenwood St. in New Haven. My son William used to blow the shofar at the shul on the second day of Rosh Hashana. His Hebrew teacher was Al Halprin who taught in New Haven. He was the chazzan (cantor) for the High Holidays at HCW for close to 10 years in the 70s.
We still have our cottage in Woodmont (the very same one my grandfather bought—not much has changed) and enjoy coming to the beach each summer and being with friends.