Saturday, December 12, 2015

Frank Sinatra's Hoboken, then and now

The Sinatra Centennial Blogathon is an event devoted to the life and career of Frank Sinatra on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth, hosted by Movie Classics and The Vintage Cameo. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at either site.

I think the first time I visited Hoboken might have been after I started seeing movies at the Loew's Jersey City, which would've been several years ago. On the PATH train, Hoboken is the first stop in New Jersey from Midtown Manhattan, and Jersey City is a little further down. Every once in awhile, I hang out in the former before I make my way to the latter.

I had heard that Hoboken was a happening place these days, and I suppose it is, in its way. I've seen it called "the sixth borough." It's so small, it doesn't seem like it could legitimately be called a city - the whole of it could easily fit inside Queens with room to spare. The main drag is Washington Avenue, where City Hall and the overwhelming bulk of the retail businesses are located. Carlo's Bake Shop, where the popular TV show Cake Boss is set, is on this street too, and it always attracts a big crowd of customers. There are tons of sports bars all over town, and in terms of local culture, there's plenty to do. And of course, the first organized baseball game was played here, though Cooperstown, NY, may argue the point. Still, if there's one thing that this riverside burg is known for, above and beyond everything else it has to offer, it's this: Hoboken is the birthplace of Frank Sinatra.

When people hear the name Sinatra, numerous things come to mind: Oscar-winning actor, internationally-known singer, style icon, heartthrob, a lover and a fighter. Sinatra was all these things and more, but before all of that, he was simply the son of Italian immigrants, growing up in a small New Jersey town across the Hudson River from Manhattan, long before it was hip or trendy.

Back in October, I paid a visit to Hoboken to walk the streets Sinatra walked, and visit the places he visited - or what's left of them. I did it with the help of the Hoboken Historical Museum who, through their website, offers a self-guided Frank Sinatra walking tour of the city, touching on a variety of important sites in the early life of the singer-turned-actor. I was fortunate to have had fair weather on the day I went: sun and clouds, with a slight chill in the air - perfect fall atmosphere. I took a bunch of pictures along the tour. What follows are select highlights.

The tour begins here. This spot, 415 Monroe Street, was the birthplace of Francis Albert Sinatra, on this day a century ago, in a cold water flat that was torn down in 1970. He was the only child of Marty Sinatra, a fireman and occasional boxer (who pretended to be Irish because Italians weren't welcome in the game), and Natalina Garaventa, known as Dolly, a midwife and interpreter. Frank's delivery was difficult; forceps were required to extract him, which caused scarring to the left side of his face and perforation of his ear drum.

The spot is commemorated with this plaque. Sinatra had many nicknames over the years, but "The Voice" was one of the very first in his career. There was a small Sinatra museum next door called From Here to Eternity, but it has since closed. The awning is still there, however. When I first saw that awning next to the empty lot, while I didn't know what that building was at the time, I remember the feeling of awe I had for a moment, while standing there. The title struck me as being quite appropriate.

Sinatra was baptized at St. Francis Church, on 300 Jefferson Street, but not until April 2, 1916 because of his injuries. His godfather, Frank Garrick, accidentally gave the priest his own name, Francis, instead of Albert, which was supposed to have been the baby's first name. It became his middle name instead. The church was built in 1889, and is quite lovely.

Firehouse Engine Company #5, on 412 Grand Street (now a private residence), is where Marty Sinatra worked after he broke his wrists as a boxer. His asthma limited his prospects, until his wife Dolly intervened on his behalf, getting him the fireman job. In time, he rose to the rank of captain. Dolly was quite a mover and a shaker; her skill as an interpreter earned her a position as a Democratic ward leader. She was also a suffragette, and as a midwife, gave illegal abortions.

Leo's Grandevous, on 200 Grand Street, was a favorite restaurant of Sinatra's. The menu is reasonably priced, and as you can imagine, there's plenty of Sinatra memorabilia on the walls. It was closed when I passed by there (they don't open until 5pm on Saturdays)... I had lunch instead at Piccolo's Famous Cheesesteaks, on 92 Clinton Street, another eatery devoted to Sinatra, with the appropriate decor and his music playing non-stop, although the Latino cooks had their own music playing softly on a tiny radio behind the counter when I was there. Oddly, there's no print menu - they just tell you what they have and you order accordingly. It's a little pricey, but worth it. I ate in front of the counter like an old-time patron.

The Sinatra family moved to 703 Park Avenue in 1927.

At this point I strayed from the tour to head north to the Hoboken Historical Museum, to see their exhibit, "Frank Sinatra: The Man, The Voice and The Fans," which will go on until next July, so there's still plenty of time to see it if you're in the area. Here are some highlights, starting with this photo of Sinatra with his first band, the Hoboken Four... and letters from Sinatra fanzines (yes, there were Sinatra fanzines)... posters...

... and more memorabilia.

Back to the tour: when Sinatra became a band singer and a star, he bought this house at 909 Hudson Street for his parents.

So many of the places where Sinatra sang in Hoboken are gone, although their sites are part of the tour. Here's one of them: 600 Hudson Street, the former site of the Union Club. Sinatra sang there in 1935 for $40 a week. Here's a brief article about the Club.

Finally, the tour ends in Frank Sinatra Memorial Park, on Frank Sinatra Drive. Here's a shot of the back of the park's restaurant, Blue Eyes...

...a dedication plaque...

...and the view of the Manhattan skyline from the park. That's the Freedom Tower at the left.

In addition, the tour takes you to places where Sinatra worked, went to school, ate, lived and sang. If you're a big fan of the man and his music, come out to Hoboken one day if you're able, and take the tour yourself. It's free!

Films with Frank Sinatra:
Anchors Aweigh
Guys and Dolls
The Man With the Golden Arm


  1. Wow, so great to see all these sights from his hometown! I love how you can tell how proud they are of him, from big stuff like parks and museums to the cheesesteak shop! Thanks for sharing your journey!

  2. My pleasure. I saw your piece earlier today and I think yours and mine compliment each other well - Sinatra in Hoboken and Sinatra in LA.

    1. Yes, I definitely think the two pieces complement each other. Sinatra on the East Coast + Sinatra on the West Coast.

      Thanks for this tour of Hoboken, Rich. Enjoyed seeing the photos of Frank's childhood neighbourhood. If I'm ever in the area, I'm definitely taking this tour!

    2. If you do, lemme know what you think of the cheesesteak.

  3. A very interesting tour. The reverence for Sinatra in Hoboken is touching. From those shots, the weather really smiled on you that day.

  4. I remember how it took me by surprise the first time I visited, seeing there was a street and a park named for him, but you can hardly blame them for showing as much love as they do.

  5. This was a lovely photo tour! It's so nice when a smaller town is so proud of a native son, though it's always sad to hear about special landmarks being torn down.

  6. Yeah, it is. I really wish some of the original buildings that housed the nightclubs were still standing. When you see a different building entirely, you don't get as strong a sense of history.

  7. I already know waht to do when I go to Hoboken!
    This was a very good post, my friend! Thanks for sharing your tour with us. By the way, I didn't know Frank's name was given "by mistake"... but I don't think a singer called Al Sinatra or Bert Sinatra would be that successful!

    1. That thought crossed my mind too! I guess we'll never know.

  8. As a Brit, I don't know how likely I am ever to make it to either Hoboken or L.A., so really enjoyed making a virtual visit via your piece and Emily's! It was fascinating to read about how many places are named in honour of Sinatra around his home town, and to see all your photos. Thanks for this great contribution to the blogathon, Rich.

  9. You're welcome. Glad you like.


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