Alumni Book Review: “Growing Up Bank Street” by Donna Florio ’73

Review by David Alex Schulz ’72


There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain



In Growing Up Bank Street, author Donna Florio, class of ’73 and one of the first Stuyvesant females as is gleefully described in her book, brings a familiar neighborhood to life, transporting readers through days of triumph and tragedy from colonial times to the current era.

We meet Bank Street’s noted and notorious residents of recent years and decades past with an intimacy borne of a neighbor child’s insatiable curiosity, endlessly quizzing those around her for stories.  Florio brings the keen sensitivity of a native Villager ignited by a New York zest for “place.”  Born into an eccentric family of opera performers, singing opera at the Met herself from childhood to college, surrounded by artists, performers, and authors, Florio serves as historian and memoirist, showing how Bank Street’s array of artists and radicals resonated down to the very core of American Culture.

You can Wiki “Bank Street” to see the dozens of influentials who found it their pied-à-terre – but then you’d miss Florio accidentally water-bombing street-mates John Lennon and Yoko Ono; or leaving her apartment to be sandbagged by reporters frothing about neighbor Sid Vicious’ overdose. Or stories about actor Jack Gilford’s defiance of the House Unamerican Activities Committee, and his subsequent blacklisting.  Tales of spies, ghosts, TV game show scandals, actors, writers great and obscure from Poe to Dos Passos, populate the street and bring it to life.

Not to mention the author’s mortification as her junior high school graduation party turned into a shouting match between her father and New York’s vanguard-feminist politician Bella Abzug, both blessed with tremble-worthy voices.


All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all



Crucial to the book’s universality is that “this building of mine, I came to realize, this 63 Bank Street, holds the stories of America. We are linked across the decades, and far more than we know. What, I wondered, have I learned about life from those who came here before me?”

As the scourges of AIDS, September 11th, and COVID-19 swept the city with harsh impact on Greenwich Village, slamming her life and those around her, we find in tragedy the author’s deepest motivations, and why every page rings with honesty, frankness, and uncommon self-awareness:

“This book started out a lifetime ago as nosy fascination with the neighbors. The diverse panoramas of American history emerged as I dug into the origins of Bank Street and the forces (yellow fever epidemics, immigration, the Great Depression, Prohibition, the Industrial Revolution, the Harlem Renaissance, education reform, American communism, the Cold War, women’s liberation, AIDS, among others) that have shaped the lives of Bank Streeters past and present. As I wrote, I also started to realize that in ways both dramatic and subtle, many of them had rescued me.”

Each book I’ve reviewed left me affected in ways unexpected when opening the cover.  I thought “Growing Up Bank Street” would leave me, an ex-pat New Yorker, 40 years in Texas, with a pleasant fog of nostalgia.

Silly David.

Instead, I’m possessed of a newly profound respect for the city’s residents, their resilience, and for the benefits of a Stuyvesant education, for I have rarely encountered a delight of stories so comprehensively researched and artfully articulated as Ms. Florio’s.


All quotes from Growing Up Bank Street by Donna Florio, NYU Press 2021, Kindle Edition.