Bob Avery Remembers Westcott 1937-1953
September 28, 2022
Westcott Street Memories
by Robert (Bob) Avery (1930-2021)
Bob Avery, who died last year, was an avid follower and commenter on several Syracuse history Facebook groups. He born in Syracuse, on October 12, 1930, son of Harold Terry Avery and Anna (Pirong) Avery. He attended local schools and served in the United States Navy during the Korean War. Bob obtained his Bachelor’s Degree from SUNY-ESF and subsequently worked as a research and development engineer for several companies. He owned his own consulting business until his retirement in 1999. In the years before his death, Bob shared some memories of growing up in the Westcott Neighborhood in the 1930s and 40s on the Nostalgic Syracuse Facebook page. In answer to some of my questions about the business district, Bob shared some accounts of the many stores that served the neighborhood. I don’t think he would mind WNA making these important recollections more public. I’ve slightly edited the Bob’s comments, and added a few notes in brackets, but the words are all his. – Sam Gruber
I was born in 1930 and lived at 432 Sumner Street until 1931 when we moved to 405 Westcott Street and lived there until 1937 when we moved to 816 Euclid Avenue, next door to the fire department [today’s Westcott Community Center]. I lived on Euclid until I graduated from Syracuse University in June, 1953.
Anybody remember Mutzi’s? It was a small anything store on Bassett Street across from the end of Hawthorne and Sumner School. We were able to buy any and all penny candies there. Across the street on the North side of Hawthorne was another similar store that I can’t remember the name of. Both were run by “old” ladies.
There was also Aggie’s drug store and soda fountain on Kensington, also run by a nice old lady. Other area drug stores included Lancaster Drugs on corner of Lancaster and Buckingham. Lawrence’s Drug Store at corner of Westcott and Dell, and Ostrom’s Pharmacy at intersection of South Beech and Westcott (both had soda fountains). Petit Branch Library was in a small home across from Ostrom’s. Holsworth’s Grocery was on Lancaster across from Lancaster Drug Store. There was also a small grocery store on the other side of Lancaster next to the Lancaster Pharmacy, but I can’t recall their name. Abdo”s was a small family owned grocery store on South Beech on the same side as the library [now home of Casa de Cuse].
How many remember the “old” Westcott Street shopping center? [What we now call “The business district”]
There was an A&P next to the Harvard Theater and, later, with a Mohegan Market next to the A&P store. They shared a common parking lot in back approachable from Strong Avenue [South Beech]. The Harvard Theater ran a Saturday afternoon matinee showing which consisted of one “Grade A” movie, a “Grade B” movie, one or two cartoons, Pathe’ news, an adventure serial, and “selected short subjects”. Admission was 10 cents for a “below 12” and 25 cents for adults. Popcorn in paper bags were 5 cents.
Across the street, a bit north, were a Ben Franklin “5&10” and there was a small “dry goods” store just north of the 5&10 and also a cobbler who repaired and re-soled shoes. A bit later a Loblaws store at the south corner of Harvard Place. We bought all our meats at the A&P Store where they had a full Meat Department counter with the main butcher being Mr. Lambert and his helper Herbie. They cut all purchases at sales time and ground the hamburg while you waited (fresh meat was really fresh).
Heading south there was “the Jewish tailor’s shop” followed by the “Everyday Hardware store”. about halfway between A&P and Ostrom’s, It was a family business staffed by the owner (Ted?) and his wife along with the wife’s brother, a most friendly and knowledgeable group. Ostrom’s Drug Store was on the corner of Strong Avenue [South Beech], where a pleasant, short man named Herb was on duty most of the time along with one of the Ostrom family. That was across the street from the “Petit Branch of the Public Library”. We, as the “gang” of those days frequently hung out on this corner. No, there was no gang warfare or initiation involved.
A service garage was “next” to the Petit Library “down” the driveway and behind and another one on Harvard Place near Westcott (Can’t recall a name for either one). A Mobil Gas Station was on corner of Dell and Westcott. I think that there was also an ESSO Gas very close nearby.
On the other side of Westcott starting from Harvard Place were a couple of small stores I don’t remember. They were replaced by a new Loblaw’s Market. Next, going south was Heilig’s Bakery. Mr and Mrs Heilig were a couple from Switzerland who were about the nicest and most thoughtful folks I ever knew. Mr Heilig spoke 5 different languages with his English so fast when he got excited that you could barely keep up. Mrs Heilig was the quiet, friendly one who acted as if you were the best and most important customer they ever had. Her greeting was a nearly singsong melodious “Hellooowww”. Especially known were their baked goods, all baked on the premises, were truly wonderful; bread, cakes, cookies (especially Half Moons), and best of all eclairs and cream puffs. It was always spotless and smelled like a bakery. If you went at 9 AM you could buy a loaf of hot bread straight from the oven which you could then hurry home and see the butter actually melt into the slices as the yeasty wheat wonderful odors rose.
Going a long ways further (past all the residential neighborhoods and side streets), the far southern end of Westcott Street yielded to one of the city’s “dumps”. It ran from Broad Street out to Meadowbrook Drive. Trash, consisting largely of coal ashes and the “rest”, was frequently set aflame to reduce it. Trash collection was provided by the city, not individual private contractors. Garbage trucks also came round the following day and I don’t know what they did with their loads, (someplace in the city there was a “rendering plant” which did the job). When the dump was burning it could smell pretty bad. The city set it on fire, not the neighbors, and occasionally the fire department was called out to put the smoldering piles out. They could be real bad once in a while if the wind was in the wrong direction. Believe it or not when the dump was burned it would eventually be left unattended after the major flames burned out. The fire could, and often did, continue to burn, underground, until it ran out of “new” fuel. [editors note: this area is now Barry Park ad Meadowbrook Retention Basin].