Holiday memories from a Ridgewood long ago: Our Neighborhood, The Way it Was

Reader Barbara Py (nee Schmitt) recalled when she and her late brother George had a visit with Santa at the W.T. Grant's store on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood in 1949.
Photos from the Ridgewood Times archives

Only a few holidays on this year’s calendar remain to be celebrated. Since two of them, Thanksgiving and Christmas, are usually spent with family members, those holidays tend to be special among the childhood memories of many readers.

This week, we have a holiday-related letter from reader Barbara Schmitt Py of Sewell, N.J., a former resident of our neighborhood. She writes:

Living in a Mathews flat (apartment house) in Ridgewood, New York, during the 1940s at Christmastime left us with a couple of problems. There was no chimney, so how was Santa going to get into our apartment? There were two front doors and you either needed a key to get in or someone had to buzz you in. But if everyone including Mom and Dad were sleeping, that wasn’t possible. Okay, so Santa would use his Christmas magic to get in. That problem was solved. We believed anything Dad told us in those days. Why would he lie to us?

Now where to hang the stocking? We had no fireplace to hang them by. Now what do we do? Since we did not own the apartment, we sure couldn’t tack them up on a wall or window sill. Landlords didn’t like lots of holes in their walls. So, Dad being smarter than us, he told my two younger brothers and me that if we put them side by side on a chair near the tree, Santa would see them and he would be sure to fill them with all his goodies.

The goodies were nothing like the goodies that kids get now. Some of the things we got were an apple, orange, an assortment of mixed nuts (in shells), a hankie, toothbrush, comb and maybe a brush, a pair of socks, and tucked way down in the toe a dime or if you were lucky, a quarter. As a girl, I also got hair ribbons. We thought this was the greatest thing and always went to the stocking first.

The picture is one of my (late) brother George and me with the bearded one at Christmastime. He was 5 and I was 8. It was taken in a W.T. Grant’s 5 & 10 store on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood (Queens), New York in 1949. Santa’s suit was corduroy and his igloo was Styrofoam. After telling him what we wanted for Christmas and having the picture taken, we got a candy cane and a gift from him. I got a book of paper dolls and my brother got a coloring book. My brother was a bit nervous with Santa and for the picture, I was told to hold him on his shoulder. Thus it looks like I am forcing him to stand still and not move, which, in a way, I was. Our younger brother Roger, who was only 13 months old at the time, was terrified of Santa and cried from the minute he saw him till we left and went back up the stairs to leave the store.

One other fond memory of Christmases gone by is that since my birthday was Dec. 21, the year that I was born (1941) my Dad brought a pair of Christmas booties for me and every year it became a tradition to put the booties on the tree as the first decoration. When my husband Bob and I married in 1963, for Thanksgiving that year my parents gave us my booties.

Over the years, many things pertaining to Christmas have changed, including the family always being together. No one lived very far from each other. We also had Christmas shows at church and sometimes school and the entire family would gather together to see us perform. Oh, what I wouldn’t do to just go back to that time once more. But the memories will be with me to my end. I will never forget all those wonderful Christmases of long ago.

We wonder how many of our readers have childhood memories of their own that involve a pre-Christmas visit with a department store Santa Claus. We will leave it to our readers to decide how convincing the Santa looks in the picture taken with Mrs. Py and her brother George at the W.T. Grant’s store on Myrtle Avenue.

While we do not have an advertisement for W.T. Grant’s in our files, we dug out a Christmas-themed ad for another Myrtle Avenue business — Menninger’s, the fondly remembered Ridgewood bakery — from the same year (1949) as Mrs. Py’s visit with Santa.

Many regarded Menninger's as Ridgewood's finest bake shop. The above advertisement appeared in the Dec. 22, 1949 issue of the Ridgewood Times.
Many regarded Menninger’s as Ridgewood’s finest bake shop. The above advertisement appeared in the Dec. 22, 1949 issue of the Ridgewood Times.

In 1903, Florian Menninger opened a bake shop at 538 Knickerbocker Ave. in the western (Brooklyn) section of Ridgewood.

About 1915, Mr. Menninger purchased a new brick building on the northeast corner of Myrtle and Cypress Avenue, at 1701 Myrtle Ave. in Ridgewood. He bought the building as an investment. He leased out the ground floor for a saloon and the upper floors as office space.

In 1915, the eastern part of Ridgewood (Queens County) was growing rapidly, and some of the merchants in the western part of Ridgewood (in Brooklyn) moved to Myrtle Avenue in Queens County. One of those who moved was Florian Menninger, who moved his bake shop to 1748 Myrtle Ave. in Ridgewood. This was on the south side of the street, not far from Seneca Avenue.

Alex Wohlfart, who was related to Menninger by marriage, had first opened a bake shop at this address, later renumbered to 56-50 Myrtle Ave. after the Philadelphia System of numbering was installed. Seeing the construction of several hundred apartments on the north side of Myrtle Avenue at Schley Street (now known as 65th Place) in Glendale, Wohlfart decided to operate a bake shop further east at 65-32 Myrtle Ave. and gave up the Ridgewood location to Menninger, who, along with family members, operated his bakery for many years, until it closed in the early 1960s.

Reprinted from the Oct. 2, 2008, issue of the Ridgewood Times.

If you have memories to share with us, send an email to editorial@ridgewoodtimes.com (subject: Our Neighborhood: The Way it Was) or write to The Old Timer, ℅ Ridgewood Times, 38-15 Bell Blvd., Bayside, NY 11361. Any mailed pictures will be carefully returned to you upon request.