A Tale of Co-Op City: Lost in Space
By guest author Gregory K. Tobkes

Back in March of 1972, we had been residents at Co-Op City for about a year and loved every moment. We were almost in heaven up on the 22nd floor with a magnificent view. We were fond of our neighbors, and especially Ed and his family. Ed Carmel was an 8 foot 9 inch tall Jewish Giant….

Within the complex there were parks, playgrounds and shopping centers. On one occasion we met Theodore Bikel who was there to perform in the Entertainment Center. I knew him mainly because of the Folk Scene, which along with Pete Segar, Bob Dylan, and The Smothers Brothers was still quite active.

On a rare sunny, beautiful Sunday morning , I decided to take my family out for a breakfast treat at a nearby House of Pancakes. My group got into the down elevator…it was me, my wife Helene, who was eight months pregnant, and our two and one-half year old son Eric who was in a stroller. The other passengers were an elderly couple and four other people. Together, we all began our descent to the ground floor. Just as we passed the fifteenth floor, according to the digital readout on the elevator display panel, we came to a teeth chattering stop.

There we were, hanging in space with no exit. Using my teen age criminal skills I slid the door open only to be faced with a solid sheet of concrete! No way to get out. Trapped like a grave robber in a Pyramid. My heart rate immediately took an up tick. Pushing the red alarm button for several minutes did not result in any communication from the speaker in the panel. No one so much as acknowledged our plight. After several more minutes I decided to once again rely on my illicit skills; I managed to get up on the rail and opened the emergency escape door. Climbing up onto the top of the elevator, I found a safe spot to sit and began to call out. The shaft we were in also contained another adjacent elevator; I could see the cage travelling up and down. Every time a car came abreast of us I’d shout even louder for help. On many occasions I could hear people acknowledging our situation.

After a period of three and one-half hours the power came on and we began to descend. Upon reaching the lobby floor we were greeted by a throng of residents, emergency workers and reporters from the local newspaper, The City News. Photographs were taken and a few days later we saw an article in the paper whimsically titled “Lost In Space”. The irony for me was that I had a grievance against this CBS show, as it had caused the demise of my all time favorite science fiction show, Star Trek! Talk about adding insult to injury!

One positive result of the claustrophobia from which I suffered is that I was in excellent physical shape. Today I live in a all-on-one-level ranch house, but on occasion I will take an elevator, when not avoidable, but still have mild panic attack sensations, which I control using techniques I learned from Mr. Spock, the stoic Vulcan of Star Trek fame.

Now that forty years have passed since these events, I still have fond memories of our time living in Co-Op City.

The Bronx went through a period of decay and rebuilding and Co-Op City along with Parkchester are a testament to the enduring strength of its people.

My hope is that any Bronxite who reads this will not only enjoy this anecdote but might relate to it. There must be hundreds of former residents of Co-op City that might enjoy reminiscing about living in “The Emerald City” of the Bronx!

About this entry