Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Monday, July 26, 2010

On Pleasant Avenue, a Grisly Past Fades, and a Target Moves In

One August morning in 1882, a police officer discovered the body of a man in an empty lot on Pleasant Avenue in East Harlem. His clothes were covered in mud. His skull had been fractured, his throat cut. The stab wound was of such force that it penetrated to the spinal column. The police believed the man was a peddler who was the victim of a robbery, for there was nothing of value found in his pockets.
People lined up to board free shuttle buses offered by a new Target store, which is the new face of Pleasant Avenue.
It was one of the first grim acts to be documented on Pleasant Avenue, a street that once had trouble living up to its name.
Two years later, in 1884, a day-old newborn was abandoned on the avenue, wrapped up in newspapers, his throat cut. In 1935, Thomas D’Auria, 20, attempted to intervene during an argument between his parents at their house on Pleasant Avenue. His father killed him, stabbing him with a bread knife.
In 1949, Candido Perry made the mistake of reducing the price of a beer to five cents a glass at his Pleasant Avenue bar and grill. Some men with an apparent interest in competitive pricing assaulted Mr. Perry and smashed up the place.
Over the next few decades, Pleasant Avenue would become known as one of the most famous gangland stretches in the history of the mob. It was where Anthony Salerno, known as Fat Tony, ran the Genovese crime family before he was convicted of racketeering in 1986. It was where Francis Ford Coppola filmed the scene in “The Godfather” when Sonny Corleone beats up his brother-in-law.
On Sunday afternoon, a city’s focus once again returned to Pleasant Avenue, for entirely different reasons.
A new Target store was opening. Fifty years after a teenager who lived on Pleasant Avenue was pulled from the East River with 124 stab wounds on his body in 1960, nearly seven years after a man was shot at Rao’s restaurant at Pleasant Avenue and 114th Street for heckling a Broadway soprano in 2003, crowds of shoppers packed the neighborhood. Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes cereal was on sale, two for $4.
The Target’s grand opening represents a new era in the life of one of New York City’s most misnamed thoroughfares. Target’s advertisements for the new store, at the East River Plaza at 517 East 117th Street, featured a drawing of a little gray bird resting on a Pleasant Avenue street sign. The soundtrack of the day came not from police sirens but from the jingle-jangle of the Soft Sensations ice cream truck parked outside Rao’s. A bodega owner fiddled with his iPhone. The only Tony people knew was the one on the cereal boxes.
A 14-year-old boy who lives on the avenue said he heard something about the street being a mob stronghold years ago, but he did not know the particulars. “The Mafia is no more,” he said. “No gangs. Just regular people.” He could not talk for long. He was on his way to Target.
New York City’s streets and the residents who live on them have at least one thing in common: Their reputations can change, for good or bad. There were three homicides reported last year in the 25th Precinct, down from 35 in 1990.
Pleasant Avenue is no longer an Italian enclave, but a black, Puerto Rican and Mexican one. It is home to the Love Café, a laundromat, bodegas, apartment buildings, community gardens and a halal food cart. It is a short street, spanning just six blocks from 114th Street to 120th Street near Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive. At the southern end is Jefferson Park, and at the north are the red-brick buildings of the Wagner Houses public housing complex.
John Vitale, 51, grew up on Pleasant Avenue. He remembers when there were five Italian social clubs on the avenue, when even the car thieves stayed away out of fear of stealing a mob man’s vehicle. “I’ve seen guys leave cars running, brand-new Caddies,” said Mr. Vitale, who now lives in the Bronx but still visits the old neighborhood. “Nobody’s touching it.”
Though the mob influence in the neighborhood has faded, that old reputation lingers in small ways. One 56-year-old Puerto Rican man recalled the bad old days of the Mafia, and the dividing lines that kept East Harlem’s blacks, Puerto Ricans and Italians separated. Asked his name, he declined to give it, worried about the consequences all these years later.
It was shortly before 2 p.m. as shoppers strolled past a 68-year-old man sitting in the shade of the trees along Pleasant Avenue. He is one of the few Italian-Americans who still lives on the avenue, and he remembered the street’s Italian past fondly. “It was just like any other old Italian neighborhood,” he said. “People had respect for each other. Not like today.”
The man was happy to give the name of his pit bull, Cinnamon, but declined to provide his own (“You can ask, but you’re not getting it,” he added).
He pointed to the corner where Mr. Coppola shot the fight scene in “The Godfather.” He has lived all his life on Pleasant Avenue, except for the 27 years he was incarcerated. He was asked if the time he served was related to the mob history of the neighborhood.
“No,” he responded with a chuckle, “that was related to me.”



Post a Comment