Bernie and Pauline Goodman

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Feb 27 16:53:23 MST 2002


(Sometimes you find oral history in the most unexpected places. 
"Shelter" is a weekly column in NYC's Village Voice. Usually devoted 
to a writeup of the living situation of gay couples or young aspiring 
dancers or film-makers, it is focused this week on 2 veteran 
Trotskyists. I first ran into Bernie and Pauline when I joined the 
SWP in 1967. He was a colorful, if irascible, character--kind of like 
what I am turning into...)

----

Village Voice, March 5th, 2002 6:30 PM

Shelter
by Toni Schlesinger

--Four-Room Co-op in Circa 1900s Walk-up
--Location Stuyvesant Square 
--Price $3000 in 1974 ($500 maintenance) 
--Square feet 650 
--Occupants Pauline Goodman (activist), Bernard Goodman (painter, 
current show at National Arts Club; former tenant adviser, Legal Aid 
Society)    

We have to have a two-part Shelter column because of all your housing 
battles. Pauline, you're 79; Bernard, 92. You've lived in the 
neighborhood since . . . ? [Pauline] The Third Avenue el was up. We 
raised our daughter here. When the el came down, speculators came in. 
"This house should go down," they said. "That one." A real land grab. 

You took up the sword. Where were you born? East Side. My family 
lived in a lot of places. In those years, immigrants didn't have 
enough to pay the rent. When they couldn't pay, they moved to the 
next apartment. Bernie was raised in an orphanage. [Bernard] The 
memories are baggage I don't want to carry with me. [Pauline] Where 
did we meet? I don't know. We were socially conscious people. We met 
at some working-class hall, maybe Webster Hall, 62 years ago. We fell 
in love in three weeks and got married. We both wanted a better life, 
better people, better everything. Bernie was a merchant seaman. He 
said he'd have to go to sea. It was 1940. He went to San Pedro, 
California. I went with him and worked in the fish cannery union. 
People were making 16 cents an hour, wearing heavy boots. When the 
fish came in, bells rang. We had to run to work or the fish would 
rot. Then we decided to come back to New York. I got a cold-water 
flat on First Avenue, 1942. It was hard to find a place. Then we got 
an apartment in the building next door to here. Then came the March 
of the Monoliths, the late '50s. The el's down. Speculators say, "Why 
do we need three stories when we can have 24?" They threw down the 
working-class houses. [Bernard] A terrible thing—the beginning of the 
homeless problem in New York. [Pauline] Lo and behold, speculators 
bought our building. Yes, we had rent-control protection. But it was 
like today. They'd harass people out of their houses—fires, floods. 
Thugs would come knock on doors. 

What were you paying back then? [Bernard] Forty dollars a month. If 
we had had to move, we would have had to pay $100. We were having a 
hard time. [Pauline] I was a part-time waitress. We needed dental 
work for my child, piano lessons. [Bernard] A lot of our time we gave 
to social causes. McCarthy destroyed our ability to make a living. I 
was blacklisted after 25 years as a merchant seaman. [Pauline] Bernie 
was secretary of the joint strike committee, the Seafarers Union. 
[Bernard] I had to make a living. So I did house painting. I got 
involved in tenants' rights because six different landlords tried to 
buy these properties and force us out. [Pauline] We were able to 
knock down each one—10 years, six different owners. It took five 
years to fight the last one, who said, "These people are ruining me. 
They're costing me hundreds of thousands of dollars." [Bernard] I was 
working for Legal Aid at the time. The landlord owned this building 
and the one we were in next door. I said, "The way out is to let him 
have the other building. We'll fit all the tenants from both 
buildings into this one." [Pauline] There were only eight left in 
this one. The others fled out of fear. [Bernard] We got the city to 
advance us money for what he paid for this building—$250,000. 
[Pauline] The city gave us a mortgage at a low interest rate. 
[Bernard] We had to set up a co-op corporation. [Pauline] We had a 
big, round table with lawyers. [Bernard] No, the lawyers were not at 
the table. [Pauline] There were lawyers. [Bernard] In the next 20 
years, we paid the mortgage off. Some couldn't pay. We helped raise a 
lot of money for two elderly people. It was one of the few successful 
co-ops back then. But they should have given people expert advisers. 
There were properties the city had taken over. [Pauline] Loads! 
[Bernard] The city only chose a handful to turn into co-ops. 
[Pauline] The amount of pressure we put on City Hall was 
unbelievable. Now we get to Esther Moscow! 


-- 
Louis Proyect, lnp3 at panix.com on 02/27/2002

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