Roller Skating on Pearl Street, circa 1940



10 Pearl Street ny ny

Neighborhood: Lower Manhattan

There were no rollerblades in those days. We wore our roller skates on our shoes. The skates had straps that buckled across the instep — clamps, also referred to as “clams,” that we tightened with the all-important skate key we wore on a string around our necks. The wheels themselves were ball bearings; in fact, we referred to our skates as ball bearings.

I grew up on Pearl Street, across from Hanover Square, then moved over to the west side on Washington Street. During the week, there was always time for some skating after school and before dinner. I remember when three or four of us had gotten new skates, all within a few days of each other. It rained for a couple of days, it must have seemed longer than it really was, and the skates sat in their boxes waiting for a dry day. Finally, we couldn’t wait any longer. There was a building on West Street with a covered walkway that ran an entire block from West Street to Washington Street. We put on our skates and skated back and forth under that walkway until we had worn away the new smoothness on the wheels. It was wartime, so with gas rationing, traffic was at a minimum.

Come the weekends, when there was almost no traffic at all, we would skate from early in the morning until dark. That was the time to go to Wall Street. We owned Wall Street from 5 p.m. on Friday until 9 a.m. on Monday. What a thrill it was to stand at the top of Wall Street at Broadway on our roller skates and skate down the middle of the street all the way past the New York Stock Exchange and Broad Street with nary a car to dodge or even see someone we didn’t know. One at a time, two or three at a time, we held hands, maybe whipping the anchorman around at the bottom. As long as it wasn’t raining or snowing, it was always the season for skating. Sometimes we played in Battery Park, when there was an aquarium there. We never tired of going through the aquarium or just visiting the seals. We would stand down by the water and watch the ships going in and out. Maybe the fireboats would get a call and go out. It was not the busy harbor it is now.

I was about 9 or 10 at the time. My friends were all about the same age, some a little older, some a little younger. The only street vendors then were the hot dog wagons — there must have been one on every block, real comfort food. Outside of the Woolworth’s and the A&P, every clothing store, coffee shop, butcher shop, grocery store, or restaurant was owned by someone from the neighborhood.

Later, when I worked in the Financial District, I would hear my co-workers talk about living in Battery Park City and how convenient it was. I would think it was never about convenience, it was just about living downtown.

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§ One Response to “Roller Skating on Pearl Street, circa 1940”

  • Bg says:

    What a fun memoir of a simpler time. I, too, had those skates. My best friend Joan and I would sweep the street in front of our houses so that we had a clear surface. My skates had red straps. As I grew older, I longed for a pair of “shoe skates” and a membership at the local roller rink.

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