By Manuel Cortazal
"Oh, my gosh, it's Charlie the doorman," said Lillian Kormes, a longtime resident of 3900 Greystone Ave., as she clasped her face with her hands.
Charlie's stern visage, beneath a hat with "3900" embroidered above its brim, had struck fear in the hearts of any naughty 1950s children who tried to run through the courtyard of the Greystone Manor, as the building was known, or play stoop ball on its granite steps.
Now the face was glaring back at Ms. Kormes from an album of photos chronicling life in the building that had been taken by her long-deceased neighbor, Emanuel Redfield.
As she turned the pages of the photo album, gasping with astonishment as faces from 50 years ago jogged her memory, Ms. Kormes, 89 — who has lived in the building for 54 years — fondly recalled that when he died Charlie had arranged to have his ashes sprinkled in its courtyard.
She was joined by a couple of her contemporaries and about two dozen of those naughty children and their husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends who had gathered for a 50-year reunion in the Palisade Avenue backyard of Riverdale Press editor, Richard Stein. He and his brother and co-publisher Bernard Stein, grew up in Apartment 63A.
"I lived right next door to David and Celia," said Ms. Kormes, referring to the Steins' parents, who founded The Press in 1950.
Joshua Rabinowitz, 62, who spent his childhood in Apartment 42A, was one of many who traveled from out of state to reminisce with friends he hadn't seen in decades. The recently retired United Airlines pilot flew in from Loveland, Colo., to relive, if only for an afternoon, the shared joys of his youth.
"We all grew up in the same place and in the same way," said Mr. Rabinowitz. "So, there was never any pretense."
To evoke memories of those golden years, Mr. Stein stood ready to prepare egg creams for his guests. For those who hadn't been back in years, Mr. Stein and his wife, Hilary, provided marble cake from Mother's Bake Shop on West 235th Street along with Double Bubble gum and Nick-L-Nip fruit syrup — just like the candies the kids would buy at Mike's candy store on the corner of Greystone Avenue and West 238th Street. Later, the group chowed down on Liebman's Deli-style hot dogs and barbecued chicken.
The reunion was the brainchild of Judy Greenberg (nee Eisenberg), who grew up in Apartment 12A, and now lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband Larry, where she is the director of the Kreeger Museum.
"The idea came about last December," said Ms. Greenberg. "I had run into Doris Ratoff and we thought 'Wouldn't it be great to have a reunion?' Then Richard happened to call me and offered his home. So, we started e-mailing each other and the word started to spread."
Ms. Greenberg was overwhelmed by the response. Some, like Linda and Barry Mermelstein, Sarah and Jerry Levy, Bernard Stein, Linda Randel and Steve and Gilda Kormes had easy trips from nearby homes. Others, like Bob Gell, his sister and brother-inlaw Madeleine and Phil Handler and Susan Eisenberg, along with her friend Jeanne-Pierre, came from Connecticut. Jack and Iris Scher braved traffic on the George Washington Bridge to come from New Jersey.
David Fidelman, David Steinberg and his wife Nancy, Alan Goodfried and Barbara Goodfried Kaplan and her husband Roy, flew in from Colorado and California. Sigmund Kolatzki is now a cheesehead in Wisconsin.
From their humble beginnings in small apartments they had grown to accomplished lives in the law, engineering, computer science, medicine, dentistry, publishing, real estate and the art world.
Eager to reproduce the good old days, Mr. Stein, along with childhood chums David Steinberg and his wife Nancy, Jack Scher and his wife Iris, Sigmund Kolatzki and his friend Ruth Lansing, broke away from the backyard chatter and headed to Greystone Avenue to play stoop ball and king ball.
They had decided to forgo skelly, a time-consuming croquet- like game they played with bottlecaps on the sidewalk in front of Fieldston Lower School, but they still recalled with a chuckle how Bob Gell used lead from his father's dental office to load his bottlecap.
An improbable site it was for some current residents and passersby, but the four men, all nearing 60, took turns smacking the little pink "Spaldeen" ball against the same stoop they knew as kids.
With the ball bouncing onto the street and an approaching car slowing making its way toward the foursome, Mr. Stein yelled out to the others, "Car, car!" A scene that surely played out at that moment in much the same way as it did 50 years ago.
In a walk through the courtyard at Greystone Manor — a six-story structure with 127 apartments noted for its landscaped courtyard and distinctive Tudor-style architecture — Mr. Stein and his pals looked around and waxed nostalgic.
The complex is still owned by descendants of the Weissman family who built it in 1929. But the cramped guardhouse where Charlie kept watch now stands vacant. There are no children playing in the courtyard this afternoon.