Judith Owens-Manley
(315) 859-4486

[7] Vivyan Duncan describing Washington Courts

[8] Vivyan Duncan describing the closeness of Washington Courts

[9] Vivyan Duncan talking about the Potter School

[10] Vivyan Duncan talking about her after school activities
The first residents of Washington Courts remember fondly the early years at the housing project. Vivian Duncan, who moved into Washington Courts on January 1, 1945, recalled that the newly built housing project was "beautiful." Duncan also remembered that "everybody was neighborly; everybody knew each other."7 Often, there were picnics, at which many residents of Washington Courts would gather together. In addition, people could sit outside at night and there was no need for the residents to lock their doors.8 Duncan also spoke fondly about the Potter School, which she attended for several years, as well as her after school activities. The Potter School was diverse, with African-American, Italian and Polish students. Duncan described the students at the school as "wonderful people," and she was very sad when the school closed.9 After school, the children at Washington Courts would attend religion education. Duncan also described going to dances with live music right at Washington Courts.10 It is notable that Duncan described much of the early years at Washington Courts with terms like "we," "everyone," and "together," because it shows that strong sense of community that the residents miss.


[12] Dick Frank discussing local businesses
Another aspect of the neighborhood that built such strong community ties was the amount of businesses in the area. These businesses included bakeries, churches, stores, a barbershop and nightclubs. Duncan remembered that along one of the streets there was Goldman's bakery, an ice cream parlor and a delicatessen. There was also a synagogue and a grocery store. Duncan remarked that, "she could not [remember] everything because there was so much" and the neighborhood "had everything you could think of."11 Richard Frank, a former resident of Washington Courts, echoed this sentiment. He recalled that there were a lot of businesses in the neighborhood, including three bakeries, a doctor and a dentist.12 Frank also noted that there was no need to leave the neighborhood,
[11] Vivyan Duncan describing neighborhood businesses

[13] Dick Frank discussing the accessibility of Washington Courts
because everything a person needed was available in store around Washington Courts.13 The nightclubs and bars in the neighborhood included Fitzgerald's Bar and Club George, as well as many others along Liberty Street. Jack Tobin, now a local hairdresser, remembered when Count Basie and Billie holiday performed at Club George, which he described as a "happening" place with great music.14


[15] Henry Freeman discussing his barbershop
© Alexis Mann
The Freeman Barbershop is perhaps the most distinctive business in the neighborhood. The barbershop has been there since 1978 and Mr. Freeman has been cutting hair in Utica for forty-six years. The shop played a particularly interesting role in the neighborhood, as Mr. Freeman got to know many people from Washington Courts very well. Many of the residents were his customers. One interesting aspect of the store is that it symbolized the trusting nature of the people in the neighborhood. For many years, the Freeman Barbershop served as a babysitter of sorts. Parents would drop off their children, or the children would come by themselves, and Freeman would watch over them until the parents came to pick them up. He would always let the children come in and cut their hair, because he knew he could trust the parents to pay him when they arrived. As Freeman put it, "their word was their bond."15


[17] Leona Pollard misses the trains
Most former Washington Courts residents express a similar sentiment about the old neighborhood. Leona Pollard said that she could not even describe the bond that residents of Washington Courts had between each other. According to Pollard, everyone looked out for and cared about the other residents. She also emphasized the safety of Washington Courts and the secure feeling that she had there.16 For many of the residents, however, it is the little things that they miss the most. Pollard misses the trains that used to pass by Washington Courts. She recalled when she used to lie by the trains, and even though she wasn't traveling anywhere, she still felt like she was "going somewhere."17

[18] Vivyan Duncan talking about her "sitting buddy"

[19] Leona Pollard talking about how people have scattered
Vivyan Duncan remembered sitting outside with Catherine Moore, whom she referred to as her "sitting buddy." Despite the fact that the two women live in the same housing project now, they no longer sit outside like they used to.18 As Pollard points pout, since people have moved away from Washington Courts, "everyone is scattered" and they "don't keep in touch."19 In addition, many of the older people passed away after Washington Courts was demolished. Pollard believed that these people died of a lonely heart, because their home was gone.20


[20] Leona Pollard thinking that the elderly died of a lonely heart
The story of Washington Courts, its demolition and the relocation of its residents highlight the importance of a sense of community. Although both the government and, at times, the residents themselves recognized certain problems or shortcomings with the neighborhood, Washington Courts was a community of people who knew and cared about each other to a great extent. While many of the residents may be better off now, in terms of the diversity and location of their new residences, nothing could replace the sense of community at Washington Courts. The lesson to be learned from Washington Courts is that a sense of community may outweigh other factors in determining the overall quality of one's life. [1] Owens-Manley (2004), Pg. 3