Posts Tagged ‘Houston Street Little Italy’

The old men playing bocce on First Avenue

February 13, 2014

Bocce1940firstaveroyperryBocce is a rare sight in the city today.

But this bowling-like game used to be huge in neighborhoods populated by Italians, who brought it to New York during the great wave of Italian immigration in the late 19th century.

One popular bocce spot was near Peretz Square, the sliver of a park near First Avenue and East Houston Street.

Ephemeral reader Rich L. sent in this fascinating color photo below, snapped in 1970, of some older gentlemen engrossed in a game.

Boccecourts

“These bocce courts were just outside the subway entrance (F train, ‘Second Ave’ station) on the northwest corner of Houston St and 1st Avenue,” wrote Rich. “I lived in Flushing, and my future wife lived on 2nd St, so it was quite the trip to see each other.”

“I’d see these same men playing bocce week after week on these two impeccably kept courts. They were absolutely fascinating to watch. Shame they’re now paved over.”

Bocce1940firstavefedartprojectThe First Avenue/East Houston bocce court existed in 1940, the date of two wonderful photos (at top and left) from the photo collection at the Museum of the City of New York.

However, Ronald Sanders, author of 1979’s The Lower East Side, says they were built when Houston Street was widened in the 1950s.

These photos show the court attracted bocce players at least until 1975, the date the fourth photo was taken.

“Although bocce itself is a continuing reminder of the Italian presence on First Avenue, the inclusion of a growing number of Hispanics among the players and watchers shows another of the instances of ethnic succession on the Lower East Side,” wrote Sanders.

Bocce1975edmundgillonfirstave

Today, Peretz Square has no more bocce courts; it’s the gateway to Hell Square!

[Top photo: Roy Perry/MCNY; second photo: Rich L.; third: Federal Arts Project/MCNY; fourth: Edmund Gillon/MCNY]