Dad turned right to head from Park Avenue (Weehawken) over to Boulevard East where he turned left. Directly ahead was the Manhattan skyline, in full view from the Battery all the way past Morningside Heights. The North Tower of the World Trade Center could be seen rising to the right. “Look at that view!” he declared again. It was magnificent. The centerpiece was the Empire State Building stretching regally skywards. Ordinary and old-looking row houses lined the other side of avenue.
We pulled up to 974 Boulevard East, with its Dutch Colonial roof, which is found in the center of the 1930s era picture above. It was one of the very few buildings to be found on the east side of the Boulevard, which was usually only a sidewalk, the railing, the Palisade cliffs tumbling down to the river, and of course, the view. From Boulevard East onwards to the west was a hodgepodge of gerrymandered towns, sort of like the ones on the north side of the Charles River from Boston. With names like Guttenberg, West New York, and North Bergen, these communities had all of the grit of Cambridge but none of the charm (although today there is a lot of new construction). By 1970, the trolley line, the railroad pier, and depot down the cliff were all gone, the pier destroyed in a fire perhaps 20 years earlier. It was a dreary and derelict waterfront. The rotten posts formed a large swath of dots in the inky water off the trashed riverfront below, missing here and there like bad teeth.
974 Boulevard East itself had three creaky levels. There was an Irish pub restaurant on the first floor. The second floor hosted the offices of Olcott International & Company, newly incorporated and busy paying patents renewals in 60 countries around the world. And a small air-conditioned cocoon of a studio apartment at the penthouse, the third floor. I called it the “Little Retreat.” “Look at this commute,” Dad said as he demonstrated walking up and down the small staircase between the second and third floors. We both looked out the window at the river, the skyline, and boats plying the Hudson. It was a mesmerizing tableau. Was it truly goodbye area code 212, and hello 201?