from Warren Wissemann:
See story below for description.
For those who grew up in Merrick during the 1930s, 40s and 50s this is an air view of our village taken in 1938. It shows the area between Sunrise Highway/LIRR Station going north up Merrick Avenue to just short of Smith Street. Unfortunately, both Smith Street and the Merrick Avenue Grammar School are just out of range. East is to the right and west is to your left.
Let's take a walk up Merrick Avenue. Starting with the bottom right you can see the top of an old house. I believe that is the Hess house. Later the South Short Terrace run by Herman Weddel was built here. His mother, Mrs. Weddel, was our 7th & 8th grade social studies teacher at the Merrick Grade School. The Hess sisters were the owner of "Rocky the LIRR" dog. Rocky became famous for boarding a morning LIRR train and riding it to NYC and riding back and getting off at Merrick in the afternoon. When he died, sometime in the 1920s, the community built a small monument to him which was placed in the grassy area just across Sunrise Hwy. from the Hess house. It was there until the 1960s when the old station was torn down and may still be there. The main part of the station property had several tall American Elm trees and parking was almost all on the west side of Merrick Avenue. If you look at the northwest corner of that parking lot (the one with all the cars) you will see a small, narrow, white shack. That is where the LIRR gatekeeper would go to keep warm and dry. He would come out and lower the wooden RR gates with a crank when a train came thru. He would yell at us if we tried to go around the gate with our bikes. There was another grade crossing further east at Hewlett Avenue but was guarded only by a flashing warning light and bell. The morning after Election Night, November 1944 (FDR's Election) a young boy named Vitale from the Merrick Gables was riding his bike to the school on Smith Street. He crossed over the tracks after one train passed thinking the way was clear when another came through going in the opposite direction.
Continuing north on Merrick Avenue on the west side of the street you see an old dark wooden building which housed a few stores. I don't recall who was on the ground floor but upstairs was my dentist! I hated those stairs. Next is a light colored, two-story sand stone building which housed the Merrick National Bank. The president was Augustus B. Weller. The bank's entrance was on the corner. The Merrick Post Office was housed at the west end of the building. The bank was upstairs and the retail stores were on the street level. Just north of the bank was an old building owned by Sam Sirica who moved to Merrick about 1905 and opened up the town's first barber shop. In those days we all had crew cuts and had hair cuts every two weeks. The back of the shop was always full and Mr. Sirica employed two or three helpers. We were noisy and he yelled at us a lot. He gave me my first hair cut and I didn't dare move. He would let you know that he wouldn't tolerate boys who wiggled his chair.
Further north was Egan's Grocery Store followed by Neili's Hardware, Christy Wolf's Insurance (in one of the two houses shown), Richter's Bakery, a deli, a stationary store where at 10 years old I would run in and buy Chesterfield cigarettes for my mother (Guess you can't do that anymore.), then Mrs. Britton's Longerie Shop. Mrs. Britton's husband was one of two janitors at the Merrick Grammar School. Their daughter became a Broadway actress using her real name - Barbara Britton. Finally, Rahn's Ice Cream Parlor. During WW2 Mr. Rahn would hang 8x10 framed photos of all the Merrick boys who were in service on the wall behind his ice cream fountain. He was everyone's favorite and always smiling! When Mrs. Rahn wasn't looking he would add an extra scoop of ice cream to your cone. An ice cream cone then was 5 cents and 10 cents for two scoops! The Merrick servicemen would write to him while they were overseas. He had been an Austrian officer in WW1. Opposite Rahn's, on the northwest corner of Merrick Avenue and Oakwood Avenue, was the Merroke Tavern. Our house was diagonally across from the tavern on Oakwood Avenue and I would hear the weekend drinkers laughing and yelling well after 11 PM. It was there that I saw my first TV looking into their front window with my nose pressed close watching Gorgeous George and Hat Pin Mary on the evening wrestling shows. If I went to the tavern's back door on Oakwood Avenue I could watch the men play shuffle board. Once in a while, if you watched long enough, someone would take pity and send out a drink (soda!).
Next to the tavern was Ketelsen's Deli, then another stationary store run by two women named Connie and Iris. They had great selection of penny candy in a large glass case. Continuing north was a photography store run by a man named Paul Brunner who was disabled (violent shaking of his head and hands) but did the grade school pictures every year. The Merrick Police Station was here too. Carol O'Keefe House, Class of '54 Represenative told me that Bill Kelly, Mepham's first Class President ('39) once lived above the Police Station. Then came Walker's Funeral Home which I worked very briefly in the summer of 1948 cutting her lawn (push type) until one hot day I found myself in the same room as the lawn mower and a corpse! I didn't stop running until I got home. Finally, Dan Defonso's gas station at the corner of Merrick Avenue and Smith Street. Unfortunately, Smith Street can't be seen.
At the very top right on the east side of Merrick Avenue you can see a white house. That was the 125 year old Birch house which was torn down circa 1947. I remember walking thru the remains of the cellar after the house had been torn down and found that the cellar bricks all had layers of straw between them. The Merrick Theatre was here for many years (Not to be confused with the old Merrick Gables Theatre on Merrick Road and Lincoln Blvd.) Heading further south on the east side of Merrick Avenue the next property was the Merrick Coal Yard. The brown house appearing over the top of a building was the Johnson house. Mr. Johnson was Merrick's post master circa 1905-1922. His daughter died just a few weeks ago in her 90s and lived on Kirkwood Avenue. The flat gray roof of the next building was Paramount Food Store specializing in fruit and vegetables. In the late 1940s Silbaugher's Jewelry Store opened and the last store on that block was Kelso's Pharmacy which opened in the late 1920s. I think my dad bought his gin there during Probiton.
South & across the street from Kelso's is a large plot of land with a 2 story brown shingled house which in the 1940s was owned by Dr. Miro. Later the Friedman's 5 & 10 would be built on the south end of the property. It was a large store and Mrs. Friedman, the owner, was a small thin woman who would watch every boy over the age of 8 to make sure he paid for everything he took. Almost everything like pens, colorful pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, shinny scissors, jack-o'-lanterns, and balloons-- all things 8 year old boys liked. If you were caught she would call your parents. Next was Gray's Luncheonette and then Funch's Bike shop where there was a single gas pump which was one of the first gas stations in Merrick. Mr. Funch, a heavy set man, spent most of his time sitting on a chair on the sidewalk near his door watching everyone walking by. I remember in 1944 a crashed German airplane was exhibited in the alley along side his store as part of a World War 2 bond effort. The large factory-like building opposite the small Merrick RR Station is the Midmer Organ Works. They were known world wide for building quality church organs and built some of the largest in the US. I think that they did one for Saint Patrick'sCathedral on Fifth Avenue in NYC.
I found this picture in the window of Bonges Real Estate Office about 1948. I went in and Mr. Bonges let me borrow it to make a copy. I think that he said that the photographer was German citizen who was arrested by the FBI when WW2 broke out. But now it is 53 years later and I can't be exactly sure what he told me but that is what I remember. If anyone finds an error or can add to the list of store owners, etc. lining Merrick Avenue, I would like to hear from you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will donate the photo and the negative to either the Merrick Library or the Merrick Historical Society.
If anyone is interested I can send a larger version of the photo which will show close-ups of the buildings.
Warren Wissemann, May 22, 2001