President Jimmy Carter went there years ago and made promises no one banked on. Later on President Ronald Reagan went but was befuddled as to why he was there. I don't think President George Bush went. There were no thousand points of light in Charlotte Street. A few days ago, President Bill Clinton invaded the South Bronx to revel in the seemingly successful turnaround of that devastated area.
Several blocks away the blight and neglect continues, but in Charlotte Gardens there stand 89 pretty suburban homes looking much like Queens or upstate New York.
I have more than a passing interest in what the Times still calls "this lowest of the low New York barrios," for I spent 14 years of my young life there.
Upon arriving in New York in 1947 we lived first in a 19th century third-floor walkup on Hoe Avenue and, as we prospered, we moved about three blocks to Boston Post Road, a short distance from the then Charlotte Street. If your building had an elevator you were considered prosperous.
Across the street was Herman Ridder JHS 98, whose teachers nurtured and coddled me as I learned English. On Boston Road and Seabury Place, my Dad and I opened up the very first self-service coin operated laundry in the Bronx.
Pop was periodically an unemployed silk weaver since the industry left New York for the south and parts unknown. I was attending CUNY Baruch School of Business at night, after working on Broad Street all day.
Barron's to the Rescue
Part of my schooling required reading financial publications. In one of them, Barron's, I found an article describing the beginning of a new service to the public, a 24-hour do-it-yourself wash-and-dry emporium. It was being tested in California and Texas with very positive early reports.
My brother and I surveyed all buildings within a two-block radius. We found that more than 2000 apartments were nearby, many in the six-story tenements of Charlotte Street.
Our calculations and projections were correct. The store not only did well financially, but restored my father's dignity. He no longer had to pound the streets searching for employment.
Everything went well for seven or eight years, but then a rougher element emerged from the surrounding population which made it unsafe to remain. We sold the store to a sleazy entrepreneur from Westchester County who insured it heavily. We understand the store, on the ground floor of a six-story apartment house, burned down mysteriously a few weeks later.
The most important memory I and many of my friends have of Charlotte Street was the admirable Dr.Koulack. He lived alone in an enormous dusty and musty ground floor apartment. For all the years we were his patients, we seldom visited his place because he was by today's standards the rarest and most extinct of birds, a doctor who rushed over to our house when called at any hour of day or night.
I recall my bout with pneumonia, when he visited our apartment every day for three weeks till I was able to leave the bed. In my teenage emotionalism I would write a new will and testament every night when I could not sleep. Dr. Koulack would look at the scribbled sheet and laugh, pausing to light a cigar as he left a rank odor in the hallway.
His fee was either two or three dollars and many a time he would not collect it, or state he would next time, which he didn't. He wore thick glasses and had no time for cutting his wild mane. I imagine he was kind of weird looking and his stained brownish suit looked as if he slept and ate in it. He smoked much too much, but paid close and caring attention to his patients.
In the Charlotte Street area, which 50 years ago was a gentle, neighborly place to grow up, Dr. Koulack was the spirit of the times and a beloved figure. As an old resident might say, "the new Charlotte should be so lucky."