Canal, Ludlow, And Division Streets
The front of the Zion Memorial Chapel stands on 41 Canal Street. There are two sides of the building, one on Canal and one on Ludlow. Across two streets, on the corner of Ludlow and Division, there is a huge garage which belongs to it.
The garage has a history of its own. Originally, there had been a stable on that spot. Later, it became Watkins Garage, and according to Tammany ( in the painting he sits in front of its door), it was in a five story building. There was also a man there who kept a big pigeon coop on its roof.
“He used to smuggle heroin on the pigeons legs but one day he squealed on someone and they called him to a phone booth and shot him dead.”During prohibition, the garage was used for bootleg liquor. Now, Eddie Shur (standing next to the Smith’s 1941 antique Ford, wearing a black shirt and tan trousers), restores antiques on back of the garage. The front is used for the cars and the hearses of Zion Memorial.The Smith family, which owns the funeral home, is part of the history of the Lower East Side. In the late part of the 19th century, two friends, Louis Smith and Louis Gutzeit, founded Zion Memorial at 112 Division Street. Later on they moved it to its present location. When Irving Smith, the son of Louis and the father of Sanford and Robert Smith, died in 1976, he left a large family business behind him. Now it is run by his two sons, Sanford (Sandi), and Robert (Bobby). Sandi, (in grey vest and trousers), stands next to Eddie. Bobby (in blue shirt), is crossing the street in front of the funeral home. In back of him is their father, Irving (in dark suit), and Sandi’s three sons, Collin, Jared, and Ian. Irving’s mother sits next to Ethel Lubin, the blonde woman in white from whom I learned most of the family history.I first met Patti Smith when she was restoring a cigar store Indian. She and her husband, Sandi, are also antique dealers and have a fine art gallery off Madison Avenue. I placed her next to the cigar store Indian which their mechanic, Jimmy (in blue shirt), and Buster ( in red shirt), are about to bring into the garage. Irving’s brother, Heshi, stands next to her in a grey suit, and Loui, who works for the Smiths, is shown polishing the car.It was an interesting spot in which to work. What had once been a Jewish and Italian neighborhood teeming with pushcarts and with people, had become a fairly quiet neighborhood of Jewish and Italian stores, and of black, Chinese, Italian, Jewish, Puerto Rican, and Indian residents. Only on Sundays, when shoppers came from many other areas, did the streets become crowded again. Tammany, Joey, and Eddie were usually there when I painted, and they watched over me and told me stories of the area.Tammany used to live near Tammany Hall on Madison Avenue.“That’s why they gave me that name. I lived there during the Depression and when Alfred E. Smith wore a brown derby. That’s when times were hard. I finished high school and one year of college and then I had to stop and sell newspapers.” I used to watch family groups coming to shop on Sundays and painted one of them in.The girl in white is Rashmi, the one in grey blue with dots is Renuka, and the boy in green is their brother, Nalish. They lived in New Jersey, had lived in London, and were about to go back to Bombay to visit their grandparents. There was a Chinese woman in Chinese dress, who asked to be in the painting. She didn’t have time to pose, but she brought a photo, and I worked from that.Underneath the Sari shop, (which is rented out at Sukkah to become an ethrog center) are the arches of the canal which once flowed there.Today, they are simply there to help support the building.
Extra notes on the people:
David Siegel came here at 11, a few years before World War 1. He lived on 55 Norfolk Street. Before he worked here, he was employed in factories and on the pier.Louis came to America in 1947- began work here in 1948.Ethel Lubin is Sandi’s father’s sister. Her mother next to her is done from photographs.“Paint her sitting straight up. They used to say she was a queen- never a hair out of place. There wasn’t a person who didn’t love her. When she died, the merchants on three blocks closed their shops.”Joey said, “Irving was the sharpest dresser. He’d stand there during the day looking real sharp.”Joey’s father died young and his mother brought up the three boys. Everyone calls him “Joey the jockey”. Joey shined shoes to help the family.