My family arrives in Rochester, New York, home of Xerox (where my father works for 25 years), Kodak, Genessee Beer, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Rochester, and Bausch & Lomb. The Vacuum Oil Company, a predecessor of Mobil Oil Company, was founded here in 1866.
Soon, I have three younger sisters and two brothers:
Our family moves to 36 Horizon Drive in Penfield, a suburb east of Rochester. In 1970, the town’s population is somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000. Rochester is a city of approximately 962,000. Part of Rochester’s fame is that it receives less sunshine than almost any city in the U.S. Only Seattle WA gets more cloudy days than Rochester. I make it a point to always live in relatively sunny cities from then on.
The city of Rochester is known as the “Photo Capital of the world” and the “city where the Seaway meets the Thruway.” The city is on Lake Ontario at the Genessee River and Irondequoit Bay. It is a part of the New York state Barge Canal. The city was incorporated in 1834. It was the center of the Abolitionist activity in the years before the Civil War. The city was energized by the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. The University of Rochester (established in 1851) and the Rochester Institute of Technology (established in 1829) are located here.
George Eastman made his first camera here in 1888 and then built the Kodak empire in the city. The prestigious Eastman School of Music, under the direction of the famous American composer Howard Hanson, has become known for new and challenging symphonic works.
The city has one of the world’s largest lilac collections.
Being in the snowbelt due to the “lake effect” (Lake Ontario), the city gets about 90 inches of snow each year. As misbehaving kids, we often hit cars with snowballs, play quite a bit of street hockey, and scream as we hurtle down hills while sledding at Ellison Park. My friends in elementary, junior high, and high school include:
Cathy Van Buskirk
Jack “John” Vicente
Jane Armstrong Mulvehill
Kelley McCall Tiede
Laurie Northrup Pasquale
Vicki Clark Holdridge
During this period, I attend Scribner Road Elementary School. While there, I set the school record for the triple jump (which may still stand) and the record for trips to the principal’s office (13 trips in one school year). On one day in elementary school, in a “Battle of the Sexes,” the fastest boy and fastest girl are chosen to race each other. I am selected, as is neighborhood friend Rhonda Bellavia. She outruns me that day, much to my disappointment. My teachers at Scribner included Mr. Steinbrenner, Miss Pannone, Mrs. McGuire, Mrs. Lake, Mr. Wittig, Miss Aquinni,
Parks I visit and enjoy in the area at this time include Mendon Ponds (a favorite swimming spot for the family), Ellison Park, and Webster Park. At Ellison, many of us enjoy hundreds of outrageously and recklessly exciting toboggan sled runs in the winter at speeds so high that crashes sent bodies flying in all directions. This would often result in a “yard sale,” where clothes and bodies are strewn all over the hill after a crash.
We play a huge number of football, soccer and baseball games in the neighborhood backyards with the neighborhood kids. We also play quite a bit of “par 3” golf in our backyards after meticulously creating and carefully maintaining a putting green in Victor Wittels yard. Many a window is broken by our golf balls, and neighbors would often unexpectedly find one of our golf balls landing within inches of them as they stand in their yard. In 1971, at age 11, I play Pop Warner football for the Penfield Lions (Lou Trabolzi was our coach). I weigh a measly 70 pounds.
I shovel a lot of snow off our 36 Horizon Drive driveway as a result of the many blizzards during those years. But our school superintendent is a tough character. Our school is usually the only one in the greater Rochester area that would stay open after a big storm, much to our extreme disappointment.
One of my first-ever jobs is delivering newspapers with my bicycle. In the towering, snow-drifting, bitter-cold snowstorms of upstate New York, I often find myself riding my relatively thin-tired bike through two to four feet of snow at 5 or 6 in the morning. My pay in this job is little more than pocket change.
During this period, I attend Bay Trail Middle School. My teachers include Mrs. Kapoor, Miss Iaia, Mrs. Hartman, Mr. Lynch, Mr. Sherwood, Mr. Wensel, Mr. Erwin, Mr. Welkley, Mr. Larry Bennet, Mrs. Miller, Mr. Magde, and Mr. Winfield. My friends and I build a fort out of tree branches near the Magde farm (which is now a subdivision). We begin playing golf, frequenting the Durand-Eastman course, and the two Genesee courses. In addition, our neighborhood in Penfield becomes an impressively athletic incubator. We run road races with colored chalk and crayon lane lines on our street (Horizon Drive) to simulate the Summer Olympics (it is handy that our block is one mile in length, making mile races convenient to hold). We also play what seems like hundreds of soccer games in the backyard of the Bellavia’s. Many of the girls and boys in the neighborhood become star athletes in school as a consequence of the rigorous, repetitive training we experience in the neighborhood. I fondly recall endlessly playing street hockey on our neighborhood streets after each big snowstorm created a slick sheet of ice and snow. We build small wooden goals to play long into the bitterly cold days and nights. Also during the snowy winter months, we regularly stage assualts on hapless motorists driving in our neighborhood by letting loose barrages of snowballs that often slam square into the sides of cars. Once, we blast a car and are terrorized for what seems like days and weeks by the victim, who we are convinced is an evil monster who endlessly stalks us, hoping to eventually track us down and strangle us.
I also have wonderful memories climbing neighborhood fruit trees in yards and farm orchards to eat enormous peaches, nectarines and black cherries.
A favorite game we play each summer is “battleball,” which consists of playing dodgeball with hollow rubber balls that we would hurl at rather high velocities at players on the other team, or at guarded bowling pins (knocking down all three at the end line of the other team would result in victory). One day, I foolishly decide to play with the “older” boys, and am so terrified by the bullet-like speeds of the rubber balls whizzing by that I spend nearly the entire game hiding behind other players on my team. But once when a ball is thrown towards my team at impossibly high speed, my teammates all leap out of the way in front of me. I take the ball square in the face and am nearly knocked unconcious by the terrific force blasting my face. Dazed and confused, I stumble to the side of the court, where others on my team who have been hit and knocked out of the game, are sitting.
These are the years when “streaking” (running nude in public) becomes popular. My friends and I often skinny-dip in neighbor pools at night. We also frequent “The Quarry” (a former rock quarry that filled with water and was abandoned, and subsequently sat in a wooded area and used for minor drug use and nude swimming). While working as a valet and dishwasher at Oak Hill Country Club, a friend and I not only play free golf on the world-class course, but also sneak into the club pool to swim naked.
At this time in our lives, we are prolific builders of forts in the neighborhood, which consists of digging trenches in the soil and using the largest fallen tree limbs we can find to lean them into tee-pee-like layouts.
Other mildly juvenile delinquent behavior we would engage in includes climbing up on the roof of our elementary and middle school so we can daringly walk about on the roof. One day, “Danny” (the school custodian) shocks us by swinging open doors and catches us red-handed, just as we are climbing to the roof. We are sheepishly led to the principal’s office to accept some form of school punishment.
I remember some of us would hang out at “The Barn” — an old, abandoned farm hay barn at the corner of Embury Road and Five-Mile Line Road.
While attending Bay Trail Middle School, we attend many dances held in the school cafeteria, where I sport my extreme shyness by almost never having the courage to ask a girl to dance.
These years in grade school, middle school and high school were our glory days in our Penfield neighborhood. We had plenty of fun in those days (and nights), as noted above.
Many of those things were not entirely legal or permissible, but living at the edge of what is allowed, in my view, is an essential part of living a full, gratifying childhood – one where kids learn important life and survival lessons. One of the great lines in rock music history, relevant to this, was penned by Bruce Springsteen and sung by Manfred Man’s Earth Band: “Momma always told me not to look into the sun….but mamma, that’s where the fun is!!!!!!” (Blinded by the Light is the song)
A close friend I had in those days told me in 2012 that “we were never bored.” Given our full lives, I agree with that in a way. But I think I sometimes felt bored. However, that was just motivation for me to figure out something new and fun to do. And we always found that new, fun thing (which occasionally meant we’d get in trouble…).
Curiously, I never went into architecture after all those forts we built. But now that I look back on my career as a town planner, I sometimes regret that I did not go into architecture instead of planning, as I have learned much later in life that urban design is a great passion of mine.
That same boyhood friend told me that he “feel[s] sorry for the kids today that really don’t do any of those things [that we did]…”. I agree. I often tell people that perhaps the most important reason I went into town planning as a career was that I wanted a job in which I could help design neighborhoods that provided open spaces and natural areas that kids could play in. It occurred to me that my life as a boy would have been tragically diminished if I was not able to experience what I experienced as a boy. That the childhood of future kids would be comparatively sterile and unrewarding if they could not do the things we enjoyed as kids in Penfield (because they had no places to play).
I therefore wanted to work professionally as a town planner to make it more likely for future kids to be able to play in natural areas on their own. I think of how important that was for us as kids, and how much less enjoyable and rewarding our childhoods would have been had we had no places to explore and have fun.
On that topic: I saw a study once that analyzed an enormous number of variables. The study sought to uncover what most influenced kids to grow up to be adults who were strongly supportive of conserving and protecting the natural environment. The conclusion was that there was one variable that, by far, stood out head and shoulders above all other life variables as being correlated with becoming an adult environmentalist. Almost invariably, those who became strong environmentalists as adults were able to frequently engage in unstructured (that is, unsupervised) play in natural areas. Think about how many kids today do not have that kind of access to unstructured play in natural areas.
Our families didn’t have lots of money in Penfield in the Sixties and Seventies, but we were very rich in what we were able to do with our imagination, and our desire to explore and seek enjoyable, novel experiences.
Perhaps my most important life lesson from this period in my life was to BE BOLD!
In these years, I attend Penfield High School. My teachers include Mr. Richard Taddeo, Mr. Gordon Shay, Mr. Peter DelGiorno, Mr. Byrl Short, Mr. Earl Wensel, Mr. Robert Peterson, Mr. Richard Frank, Mr. Leonard Szumiloski, Mr. Richard Moore, Mr. George Steitz, and Mr. Jim Cleveland. I am on the varsity track team (long jump & triple jump). Here is a YouTube video of me competing in those events for Penfield High:
When friends and I begin learning to drive a car, we would occasionally test our “rolling and coasting” skill by shifting the car into neutral at the top of Clark Road and keep our fingers crossed that the signal light at the bottom of that long hill road would be green so we could continue to coast another few blocks into our neighborhood.
We would get haircuts at a barber shop at Browncroft Corners shopping center.
I fondly recall the fantastic pizza we often order from Pontillo’s Pizza in Penfield. I also remember the many bars we attend while in high school, such as Short’s in Fairport, Miller’s in East Rochester, and our favorite: Penfield Village Grill at Penfield Four Corners.
I also play on the varsity Penfield football team (flanker, defensive back). The photo shows me dressed in my team jersey for Penfield. The most memorable high school football game I play is against the Fairport Red Raiders, who are the #2 ranked high school football team in the entire state of New York at the time. I’m proud to say that despite our team losing, I am able to catch 3 passes for 110 yards that day. One was a 65-yard catch for a touchdown during our famous mis-direction play, which was whimsically called the “waggle pass.” (It was an amusing sight when our coach “waggled” his hips to signal that play to our quarterback from the sideline.) The play was fearsome to opposing teams, as no team was able to stop the waggle pass that year. Indeed, a defensive lineman who played in that game for Fairport contacts me 30 years later to let me know that Fairport was well aware our waggle pass, and in the days leading up to the game try to prepare themselves to stop it (and me). But despite their expecting the play, they are — like many of our other opponents that season — unable to stop it (or me). One interesting aspect of the game: it is believed that the game set a national high school record, because the 10 extra points kicked in the game are the most ever kicked in a high school game that are all successful kicks.
NOTE: I am seeking films of any of the high school football games I played in. I have contacted the gentlemen who were the Penfield and Fairport varsity football coaches at the time (Jim Cleveland and Don Santini), but both have told me that they are unable to track down copies of the football film from the 1976 or 1977 seasons when I played varsity football for Penfield. If you have a copy of any of those films of Penfield varsity football from 1976 or 1977, please email me at dom[AT]walkablestreets.com. In particular, I am seeking the following games from the 1977 season: Penfield-Fairport game, Penfield-East Rochester game, Eastridge-Penfield game, and Pittsford Sutherland-Penfield game.
I will always recall how wonderful it feels to catch or run with a brand-new football during these high school football games. In our neighborhood games or our high school practice games, we would use old, worn-out, relatively slippery footballs. But in real “game day” football games for the high school team, it is exciting and electrifying to catch and run with a brand-new football with the noticeable, tactile sensation of friction one finds with a never-before-used football. The pristine football seems so easy to catch and hold in my hands — it is as if my hands and the football are attracting magnets. The new football gives the impression that it is worth tens of thousands of dollars, and makes me feel like a world-famous football player playing in the most important football game in the world.
I swim in Lake Ontario, Seneca Lake, Canandaigua Lake, Keuka Lake, and Conesus Lake (all except Ontario are part of the “finger lakes”). I work as a valet at Oak Hill Country Club, which allows me to occasionally play their superb course. The PGA Champisonship was played there in 1980, and I am able to watch, in-person, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Hubert Green, Dave Stockton, Lee Trevino, Hale Irwin, Ben Crenshaw, David Graham, Don January, Tom Watson, and Tom Weiskopf.
My favorite record store during these years in Rochester is, of course, the world famous “Great, Great, Great House of Guitars” (which “loves you, baby!”). The shop, in our day, is most infamous for it’s depraved television advertisements, in which the owner is often brandishing a knife and who’s band is called “Armand Schaubroeck Steals.” The band name is due, apparently, to Armand’s prior conviction for theft. The inner walls are filled with signatures from famous (mostly rock) musicians who have visited the store (the store has an excellent collection of musical instruments), including Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, Aerosmith, Jon Bon Jovi, The Ramones, and Metallica.
Go to this link for photos that were shot of me and the neighborhood, mostly from 1965-1982. When the link brings you to Picasa, select “slideshow” for the best view: https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534/36Horizon#
This link mostly shows images and news articles from my athletic activities at Penfield High School in the 1970s: https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534/PenfieldHighSchool1970s#
More about Rochester
Founded in 1803, the city is a high-tech industrial and cultural center. It is the third largest city in the state. Famous historical citizens include Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglas, George Eastman, Hiram Sibley, and muscians Mitch Miller, Cab Calloway, and Chuck Mangione.
The city is on the Genessee River where the river empties into Lake Ontario. The city and its suburbs are rich in the production of orchard fruits (especially apples).