A Tale of Two Sunnysides
by Allen Rosenshine
To celebrate my 80th birthday, my children arranged to take me on an organized tour of Sunnyside. I do not recall the name of the sponsors but do remember that they conduct tours of various New York City neighborhoods, focusing on some aspect of their history. For Sunnyside, the subject was the Art Deco designs on the facades and in the lobbies of many of its apartment houses, most built well before our generation was born.
Frankly, I never thought of Sunnyside as an exemplar of Art Deco, probably because while living there, I must admit to having had very little interest in art and even less in “deco.” Happily, I eventually overcame that deficiency and am a fortunate if minor collector of works up to and including post-impressionism (after which, at the risk of an expressing an intemperate opinion, the art world pretty much lost its mind.)
Anyway, off we went on a two-hour walking tour starting at the corner of 46th street and Queens Boulevard, working our way through the area bounded by 40th and 47th streets on one axis, and between Skillman and 48th Avenues on the other. And so I was reintroduced to many buildings of my youth (including the one in which I had lived), featuring Art Deco designs -- a heritage of which I had been blithely unaware.
But even with that revelation from a tour guide enraptured by Sunnyside’s brick-and-mortar expressions of artistic creativity, my thoughts were unsurprisingly far more on the memories evoked walking past and into places and buildings I had known growing up. The most emotionally engaging of course was the one in which I had been raised along with Bonnie Goodman, Joel Keltz of Keltz’s Delicatessen fame, and John Nicholas and his cousin Nick Scopas whose families had emigrated from Greece.
The tour took us past P.S. 150 and its schoolyard where I had probably spent the most hours of my adolescence … the apartment house where my aunt and a friend of my mother’s from the old country lived and whose son-in-law helped me get my job at the company from which I retired after 41 years … Torsney Park where I played countless softball games … the building where Alan Finke, Florence Goldberg, Larry Fiedler and Allan Ehrlich (I think for a time) lived … the Center Theater now renamed but still standing and the places where the Sunnyside and Bliss theaters used to be … J.H.S. 125 from which my 1952 graduating class picture shows 183 students of which just two were Asian and only one was Black … the row house where my closest friend Jerry Kossoff lived … the boyhood homes of two of our more notable Sunnyside contemporaries, filmdom’s James Caan and David Horowitz, today’s ultra-conservative Trump supporter and yesterday’s equally committed Marxist but nonetheless best-selling biographer of the Rockefellers, Kennedys and Fords … the entrance to the Lowery Street subway station where Teddy Gewanter and I stood for hours with a handmade sign waiting to cheer Adlai Stevenson as he rode down Queens Boulevard during his first campaign for president … the building in which I spent many Saturday evenings with Robert Sussman and his family watching Sid Caeser’s Show of Shows (we were late in joining that quaint media demographic, “the TV household”) … the Sunnyside Jewish Center, now a far smaller version on 47th Avenue rather than 43rd Street where I attended admittedly only on the high holy days and only to accompany my father at his insistence … and (at the risk of an inappropriate juxtaposition) the apartment house about which, to my son’s great amusement, I could only describe my recollections by a shudder and a “woof!”
At the end of the day, it was a trip through two Sunnysides – the one that still stands as a cultural repository of the Art Deco genre, and the other that remains only in memories, too many to chronicle here but almost all marking an upbringing for which I am very grateful.
Allen Rosenshine grew up in Sunnyside and graduated from Columbia College. He served in the U.S. Naval Air Reserve, taught at Brooklyn College, and eventually became Chairman and CEO of the worldwide advertising agency network, Batten Barton Durstine and Osborn. Recognized by Advertising Age as one of the hundred most influential people in advertising during the past century and a member of the American Advertising Federation's Advertising Hall of Fame, in retirement, he is a marketing and communications advisor to a variety of business and philanthropic enterprises. His book, "Funny Business: Moguls, Mobsters, Megastars and the Mad, Mad World of the Ad Game," is a collection of off-beat stories from his experiences in the world of advertising and business. His blog, My Two Cents (and Worth Every Penny) can be found at allenrosenshine.com.
Allen is married, has four children, three grandchildren, and divides his time between Lyme, Connecticut, New York City, Park City, Utah and traveling - as he puts it - to places he has been but never really seen.