By Barbara Howe Santoro
Special to the Voice
I was born and bred in Allingtown, in West Haven, the little village, if you will, between New Haven city lines and West Haven proper. And it was a great place to grow up. We had it all, we weren’t aware of that, but in retrospect, we Allingtown-ites lacked for nothing.
Just on the strip of Campbell Avenue from Forest Road to Gilbert Street, we had restaurants, two drug stores, a shoe repair shop, a barber shop, a beauty parlor, a bakery, a variety store, a meat market, neighborhood bars, an Italian store and restaurant, and our very own fire house and volunteer fire department. There was a factory fronting Campbell Avenue, soon to become apartments, that made beauty products and many women worked there. There was a full service gas station, maybe two if my memory serves, and an automotive store.
We had our own K-8 school, and library. We had our own theatre, and one that had burned up before we were born, but was still there. There were two factories on Front Avenue, both of which made necessary items for the war, the big one, WW2. They also provided work for the many immigrants who made their homes in that area, bought their houses, and raised their children. My own Italian grandfather worked in the ‘Web Shop” and bought the house the family owned for years afterward, on Admiral Street.
We knew nothing about stereotypes, everybody was a different nationality, everybody was just one more kid in the neighborhood. On my short dead end street, Taft Avenue alone, my memory can come up with 8 different ethnic names and there might be some I have forgotten. But they were just the neighbors, judged simply by how they interacted with everyone else. We knew not that they were a different nationality than we were, now did we care.
Our school, Forest School, was a combination of two buildings, the “new” building built before 1940 sometime, and the “old” building, which had been there for perhaps 50 years before my time. My parents both attended that school. It was small, and the new building made the school larger, but it was forever defined as the new and the old buildings. The library, governed by the same lady for years, was a place we all gathered, to read, study, do research, and borrow books. She knew us all, our parents, our reading habits, and how to keep the peace. In Forest School, if you drive by it today, you can see two doors, one marked Boys Entrance and one Girls Entrance. And we entered thru the correct doors at all times, no exceptions…ever. I chuckle at it today, but it made perfect sense then, boys were rowdy, we girls were expected to NOT be.
The Allingtown Fire Department was all-volunteer, and most able-bodied men belonged, as did my Dad and my uncle. My mother had many relatives in Allingtown, and no doubt they all belonged to the volunteer group. There was a chart on the back of our pantry door, indicating which street or area corresponded to the number of blasts from the fire horn. Two longs and 1 short might be Orlando Street, for example, but all volunteers had this chart.
My dad would be awakened, as we all were, by the horn, and my job while he hurried to dress, would be to count the blasts and tell him where to go. It was an important job, let me tell you, and I was happy to be rousted out of sleep to do this. The guys assembled at the firehouse or drove their own cars to the location and helped put out all fires. To this day, I am proud of my Dad and all those who did this to keep our little corner of West Haven safe. I am betting that Allingtown Fired Department is more than equally proud of its history in this regard.
In addition to there being a true melting pot of nationalities in Allingtown, there were, as you would expect, numerous religious groups among us. The Catholic kids went to St. Paul’s Church, not IN Allingtown, but close enough for a hike; and on Wednesday’s the nuns came to Forest School for catechism, and nobody but nobody got out of that! We had a Protestant Church opposite The Forest Theatre; our Jewish friends had to go into New Haven for shul, also my Greek and Russian friends, but worshiping was something we all did, giving thanks and just being good God loving people, nationalities notwithstanding. Who knew we were supposed to be judging each other?
Both the trolley cars and later the buses, ran thru the center street and one could get transportation to anywhere by boarding in front of Fater’s or Torello’s across the street. The tracks are paved over now, but they are still under there!
At the end of Taft Avenue and fronting Front Avenue, was “the lot,” an empty field where we did pretty much all the things kids did then. But it was too tempting to the adults and they went and built a ball park there, complete with fence all around it! Took away our lot! Undaunted, that fence only kept out the faint of heart, but the ball park ended up being a good thing, many the summer nights my folks and I walked down there, and sat in the stands to watch the fledgling Yankee hopefuls playing the local lads. Baseball was always big in my family, Dad loved it and my uncles played it.
There was an empty lot next to my house, however, not as large, but just as inviting. Hilly enough for sledding, flat enough for all those other games. And we were outside ALL the time, in all kinds of temperatures mind you, never too hot nor too cold, we had to be outside, that was the norm. Trees were for climbing, and hiding behind in Hide and Go Seek, the street traffic was such that we could play out there, Rover Cross Over, Simon Says, come to mind, and a few others. We roller skated up and down the sidewalk, cracks and all, and we ice skated in the street, as the snow plows did Allingtown last. The cars tamped the snow down enough for us to skate on. We rode our bikes everywhere, cars were few, both my parents drove and had a car, but they were unusual in this regard. My first ‘bought’ bike, the others were second hand, was a boy’s bike because my kid brother was going to inherit it when he was old enough. It made perfect economic sense to buy one bike for both of us, and I doubt that I could ever ride a girl’s bike because of it. I was the only girl kid to be able to give somebody a ride on my bike bar….HAH.
The news speaks of closing up Cellini Place and I want to go on record as reminding people that that little stretch of black top wasn’t always Cellini Place. John Cellini was only 18 when he joined the Army for WW2 and was sent overseas. Very shortly thereafter, he was also the first Allingtown boy to be killed in this war and thus, the street was named in his honor.
There was a ceremony and everything. I remember hearing my mother saying that, poor Mrs. Cellini never saw her boy again after he put on that uniform and went off to war. I think of that with deep sadness now that I have sons, she said goodbye, God bless, and never expected him to NOT come home again. He was buried in France with hundreds of other boys like him. So when they remove this street, I hope somebody remembers why it bore this name, it isn’t just a street but a memorial to a mother’s grief and to an honorable young boy from our little neighborhood who went off to serve his country.
These memories only serve to bring to the fore that fact that Allingtown is a real place ; was a wonderful place to grow up; a true melting-pot in this world where others over-use the phrase; a proud neighborhood; the real gateway to West Haven; rich in history, as it bears the names of both British and American heroes.
I know that there are things I have forgotten, others reading this, if you should decide to run with it, will have memories to add. I just want the West Haven world to know that Allingtown was a good place, hard-working people lived there and raised us to be good Americans, to be true to our faiths, to keep our old friends and be loyal to our families and to be proud of our names and our differences. These same types of people still live there to this day.
If it is time to bring it up to other’s standards, to make it a college town, then so be it, Allingtown will survive even that. I know time has taken its toll there, things are closed up, torn down and unused, are even dismal and sorry looking. But it wasn’t always that way, it was once a vibrant little town of its own. We had everything right there, and only ventured into the Center or into New Haven for the more upscale things, like department stores and huge theatres.
Thank you for indulging an aging but loyal Allingtownite and West Havener, I wouldn’t change my years of living there, all 80 plus of them. Nor would I forget the friends and acquaintances I had there and still have to this day. I raised my family in West Haven and no better place exists in this ever-changing world to bring up kids. I am happy to say they can also lay claim to lifelong friends even though none of us reside there anymore.