Letters to the Editor

Letters: May/June 2020

Readers talk back about New Haven pizza and more.

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be emailed to yam@yale.edu; mailed to Letters Editor, Yale Alumni Magazine, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905; or faxed to (203) 432-0651. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to respond to or publish all mail received. Letters accepted for publication are subject to editing. Priority is given to letters of fewer than 300 words.

Mark Ostow

Mark Ostow

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Memories of New Haven pizza

I’m general counsel for a large physician group—we provide care in hospitals. We’re all working frenetically to take care of the people who are taking care of patients during the coronavirus crisis. I had the last issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine (“The Pizza Crawl,” March/April) on the corner of my desk and I stopped to look at it. I read every bit of it, and smiled.

I was married to my husband before law school, and we had ZERO money. I was from rural Kentucky, and our guilty pleasure was pizza once a month. He loved Sally’s. I loved Pepe’s. My daughter was born in New Haven, and we have taken her back a few times. She gleefully tells her friends that they have no idea what good pizza is.

Thank you for this great memory. I needed it today.
Amy Sanford ’98JD
Dallas, TX

Pepe’s pizza was a treat to rival my year-long stay in Rome! You walked down a narrow alleyway to a sort of garage, with the oven directly before you and the tables and chairs exceedingly ordinary, but there was a sense of unchanging dignity in the porcelain tops and wrought-iron chairs with wicker seats. The real glasses in a classic tulip shape held a proper amount of ale or proper plain draft beer. The pizza pies were small, as I prefer, and my favorite was the simplest: I hate being overwhelmed by large servings of anything!

A visit to Pepe’s from 1951 through 1955 was the special, although also ordinary, all-time treat of my sojourn in New Haven, in every way! If I took a Vassar date there, I thought that was class! I therefore deeply (if also playfully) resent the insulting review in the recent alumni magazine, and I take you editors to task for permitting such assaults on that wee world of welcome that didn’t break our budgets, but left us nourished and inspired to face whatever demands mid-century Yale made upon us.
Michael Fink ’55
Providence, RI

Growing up in New Haven and studying as an undergrad and graduate student at Yale, Sally’s was the only pizza parlor at which to eat. Aside from the thin crust and great toppings, my father’s photo was prominently displayed not too far from Sinatra’s. My dad died in 2007 at the age of 97; his wake was just around the corner from Sally’s. Of course, we made the pilgrimage.

A few years after that I was back in New Haven and stopped in for a pie. Flo, Sal’s widow, was there behind the counter, as usual, and asked me a very specific question: “Where’s that red bandana?” I couldn’t believe that she remembered that, back in the day, I always had one hanging out of my back pocket. Of course, I had to explain that to my wife and daughter, who knew almost nothing about Sally’s or my life in New Haven.
Jim DeAngelis ’65, ’67MCP
Pittsburgh, PA

Thank you for your survey of New Haven pizza establishments. In the late ’50s, on a Saturday night, after diligent sermon preparation, half the Divinity School could be found at Pepe’s or The Spot, fortifying themselves for the next day’s services. The drink of choice among the divines, however, was not a draft beer, but Bubble Up, a soft drink no longer offered. I suppose some things have to change, but what a loss not to have a cold Bubble Up with that never-to-be forgotten New Haven pizza!
Jim L. Waits ’61BD
Atlanta, GA

What a great idea to do a spread on New Haven pizza. I just wish that Corby Kummer had larded his reviews with more memories and details because, for Yalies, New Haven pizza is like Proust’s madeleine.

To begin with, there was no mention of Bulldog Pizza, which made a toothsome, thick, bacon-and-egg pizza that must have been invented for impaired and ravenous partyers to devour at 3 a.m. What’s more, Bulldog sliced the pie not into triangles but into small squares that were just as good for breakfast—with another beer.

And a great deal more could have been said about the late, great Naples Pizza, whose pizza, for the record, was very New Yorky: thin and crusty but pliable, a little rubbery with the cheese, and gloriously greasy. For me, Naples conjures strong memories. It was there that I learned John Lennon had been shot. It was there that I carved my initials in a table alongside the initials of a Yale woman who later became my wife of 35 years. And it was there that I heard the immortal words of Johnny, the master pizzamaker who hardly spoke at all until closing time, when he would intone, in the middle of a perfect toss, “All right, everybody! Time to go home and make-a babies.”

We never told Johnny that we often took his advice, but just for practice.
Charles Harrington Elster ’81
San Diego, CA

You describe Naples as having served pizza on Wall Street across from Silliman for 70 years. As a Timothy Dwight denizen from 1954 to 1957, I know only a George & Harry’s at that location, yet 1957 is just 63 years ago. Can you account for this discrepancy?
A. Reed Taylor ’57
Buffalo, NY

Mr. Taylor is right; we got our timeline a little scrambled. Before 1971, when Naples Pizza moved in, 90 Wall Street had been the address of the original George & Harry’s (since 1923). At various times, George & Harry’s had additional locations on Temple near Grove and on Chapel near High. Naples, incidentally, first opened in 1967 at 2 Whitney before moving to Wall Street. (See next letter.)—Eds.

I lived in TD right across the corner from Naples’s old location at Whitney and Grove. The gate was always locked after 9 p.m., or thereabouts. At first we had to scale the iron. Later, my suite mates and I managed to get a key—only to have them change the damned lock! Scaling that gate when high became a challenge, but who cared when a large sausage, pepperoni, and ’shroom pizza awaited.
Bob Witkowski ’70
Santa Fe, NM

Thank you for bringing back some cherished memories of Naples Pizza. I first visited on a summer day in the early ’80s when my then-boyfriend and I made a sentimental visit to New Haven, where he had been a student in the mid-70s.
Just a few years later, I was earning a degree in public health and doing some deep background research in the archives at the Cross Campus Library for Art Viseltear’s book on C.-E. A. Winslow’s establishment of what has become the School of Public Health at Yale. (Alas, Viseltear died before finishing the book.) Naples Pizza was a natural place to stop for a slice at lunchtime and to soak up some of the vibe that we just didn’t have on the medical school campus. One day I looked up from my slice and saw physician-author Richard Selzer having his lunch, and I felt like I had arrived at the quintessential place where students, faculty, and others in the New Haven community could be alone together enjoying the most iconic of New Haven foods.
Thanks for the memories.
Maureen Brady Moran ’87MPH
Chicago, IL

For those of us who were at Yale in the early ’90s, I would argue Demery’s was hands-down the favorite slice. After a long week of studying and a late night dancing to songs like “Oh, What a Night,” there was nothing like a $2 slice on the way out. I am saddened for current Bulldogs who only have a Patagonia store on that epic corner of Broadway and York.
Lisa Farley ’96
Charlotte, NC

Your article reminded me of some of the great times I had with my classmates, exploring Wooster Square late on a random weekend night. My favorite pizza restaurant, back in 1996, was Pepe’s. Sally’s was a close second if the lines were too long at Pepe’s. I had almost forgotten about BAR, as it had just opened. I remember loud music, lots of students, a dance area and bar, but not pizza.

I moved back to my home state of Colorado shortly after graduating from Yale in 1996. Six or seven years later, my wife and I were in Summit County, Colorado, at the Keystone ski resort and had a hankering for some pizza. We walked to a very small pizzeria across from our condo in Summit Cove. It was called Basil Doc’s Pizza. While biting into a delicious slice of pepperoni and mushroom pie, I mentioned to my wife that it tasted remarkably familiar. After I thought about it, I remembered that the taste of the crust and the burnt bottom of the dough was exactly like Pepe’s. To my surprise, I found the owners had worked at Pepe’s in New Haven and brought the recipe for the dough with them—and that they had a location in Denver. What a lucky find! They owned and operated their small pizzeria for many years near Washington Park in Denver. I ate there often and reminisced about the fun college days on Wooster Street. The owners have since sold their original pizzeria and the new owners opened two other restaurants with the same name. They must’ve been able to keep the same recipes, because I still eat there often!
Greg Engelken ’96PA
Centennial, CO

Thank you for the charming article about New Haven pizza, frequently known there as “apizza,” and in my memory pronounced dropping the last syllable. From 1964 to ’66, as a graduate student, I lived in an apartment on Edgewood Avenue. On the nearby southeast corner of Edgewood and Howe there was a pizzeria with a large sign that said, “Nothing beats a Coke and pizza.” One of my roommates used to joke in a faux-Italian accent that it should say “Nothing abeats a Coke and apizz.”
Dennis Helmrich ’64, ’66MusM
New York, NY

Art history changes

I am appalled at reports of the elimination of Vince Scully’s iconic Introduction to Art History course (“End of an Art History Class Draws Protest,” March/April). It’s “too white”? What is going on? It’s discussing the Western tradition—so just change the title accordingly. A History of Western Art, from the Renaissance to the Present. Or whatever period the course used to cover. (Clearly, I was unfortunately unable to take the course myself.) Then offer a course of equal quality in Asian and Oceanic Arts. Tell potential art history majors they must take both courses if they intend to major in art history; all other students may choose either course, according to interest.

The same article I read (from the Wall Street Journal, I believe) mentioned that the English department was no longer requiring majors to take the course Major English Poets—which I remember as Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, Donne, Wordsworth, and Eliot. These are English poets, and if you are majoring in English (!), they provide a superb background to English poetry. I was an English major, and I took that course. Rigorous. Superb. And there is a cornucopia of other wonderful English and American lit courses available for choice thereafter. What the devil is the problem with that course as the prerequisite?

When I was at Yale, its English department was reputed to be the best in the nation. And Scully’s art history course was nationally famous. Neither seems to be the case any longer. Yale will lose many talented applicants because of these farcical steps.
Lee Gaillard ’61
Eugene, OR

The Wall Street Journal op-ed and other opinion pieces about the discontinued course emphasized language from a Yale Daily News article that claimed the move was made because of “student uneasiness over an idealized Western ‘canon’—a product of an overwhelmingly white, straight, European, and male cadre of artists.” But art history chair Tim Barringer says that was the News’s characterization, not the department’s, and that the decision was driven not by student concerns but by the faculty’s desire to update its curriculum. As to Mr. Gaillard’s suggestion that the department offer multiple introductory courses focusing on different cultures and themes, that is in fact the plan, as we reported in our article.—Eds

More on climate change

I read the back and forth on climate change in the Letters section of the March/April magazine with keen interest. I was particularly intrigued by the ideas of the deniers and thought to myself, “What if they’re right? What if we go to these efforts and all we have to show for our investments is clean air, clean water, enhanced flood protection, cheaper energy free of geopolitical intrigue, a healthier landscape, sounder housing, robust biodiversity, reduced traffic congestion, fast and efficient public transportation, and improved public health? Won’t we feel foolish! How will our grandchildren forgive us?”
Joe Orfant ’74
Jamaica Plain, MA

I was startled to read, in “The Climate in California” (January/February), the author’s reference to “the violent urgency of climate change.” Would your editors have allowed an article to refer to the “violent urgency” of stopping abortion, or the “violent urgency” of saving children from being separated from their parents at national borders? I suspect not, as the editors would judge that such inflammatory rhetoric could possibly help inflame unstable people. Every movement of significant size, including climate activists, has unbalanced or anti-social members. Does the magazine want them to think violence is justified in fighting for their cause? Or are you just letting authors use whatever words they wish, no matter how incendiary?

As an attorney advocate for free speech, I appreciate both the First Amendment right not to have government censor rhetoric and the right of private publications like yours to set their own standards. Your editorial policies fall in the latter category.
Walter Weber ’84JD
Alexandria, VA

I was disappointed by the snarky, dismissive response to the three letters objecting to your elevation of climate alarm as gospel in the previous issue (Letters, March/April). The response from two faculty members insults the letter writers without addressing any of the issues raised in the letters. Astonishingly, your experts go on to decree letters objecting to the experts’ viewpoint “dangerous.” This response to differing views sounds more like arrogant theology than science.
Brian J. Fenton ’75
Atlanta, GA

I read with great interest about the upcoming name change of the School of Forestry and Environmental Science to the Yale School of the Environment (“New Name for Environment School,” March/April). Strategically, this makes sense, but the new name missed an obvious and profoundly important opportunity. Behold the power of the preposition to better demonstrate Yale’s core values: “The Yale School for the Environment.”
Charlie Pick ’90
Northfield, IL


Dome sweet dome

What’s old is new again. I chuckled when I saw your photo of the clear plastic “igloo” in Silliman College (“Room with a View,” March/April). In the fall of 1975, as a 17-year-old freshman, I started building a geodesic dome on the Old Campus. We didn’t call it an igloo, and it wasn’t available commercially. It was, though, a popular Whole Earth Catalog offshoot of R. Buckminster Fuller’s inventor-intellectual opus.

During our first few days on campus, another freshman (who shared my interest in architecture and environmental design) and I worked through the calculations, borrowed a car, bought distressed timber in East Haven, measured and cut the struts and the joint angles, and brought it all back to campus. Our diameter was plotted to be 12 feet, as I recall, so a simple small structure was the plan.

We started construction on a Sunday morning. Quite a crowd collected. On Monday, it rained. And the dean of our college informed us that we were in violation of more than one rule in the code of conduct. The project was shut down, and we were fined $50 and charged with carting away the materials, which we did.
Things have definitely changed. Your igloo in Silliman is magnificently beyond our imaginations from 45 years ago.
Daniel Darst ’80
Wilton, CT

Encounter with Bloom

As a former student of Harold Bloom’s (“Inimitable,” January/February), I must add that he had the reputation of preying upon women studying English at Yale. I was able to deflect his advances with humor. He desisted. He was more dogged with some of my sisters.

My encounter: while I was taking his yearlong seminar, Mr. Bloom approached me as I waited at the shuttle bus stop on Whitney Avenue. He grasped my hand, held it up, kissed it, and, while looking deeply into my eyes, said, “My dear Miss Sheppard, you are the most beautiful woman in New Haven.” I replied, “Only New Haven?”
Patricia Sheppard ’74
Belmont, MA

Not cricket

Just received the March/April Yale Alumni Magazine. One page on Yale sports! And it covered cricket! GET REAL!
Howard Will ’61
Troy, MI

Good book

I write to thank you for those soaring lines about the power and beauty of the King James version of the Bible (“The Book of the Book of Exodus,” March/April). I grew up in a minister’s family and was encouraged/required to memorize several scriptural passages by heart (all in the KJV), some of which nourish me today. I graduated from Yale in 1950 and Yale Divinity School in 1953, served several congregations, and was director, now long retired, of the non-denominational Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center.

My deep thanks for your spirit and words. Keep up your splendid work. (I almost wrote “ministry.”)
Robert Raines ’50, ’53BD
Guilford, CT

Just wanted to thank you for sharing your introduction to biblical nuances in your latest letter, about The Book of Exodus [by Joel S. Baden ’99, Professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School]. Some of your irreligiosity is shared by this reader, and I look forward to being able to get a copy of that book. Unfortunately, here in Portland, Oregon, the iconic bookstore Powell’s is closed for the duration of our national travail, and the use of Amazon is against my “religious principles.” However, it occurred to me that you might enjoy further reading along the line suggested in your note: Good Book by David Plotz is an appropriately cogent reading of parts of the Jewish bible by a nonacademic yet well-known writer who is curious about what words mean. In this time of increased anxiety and of some appropriate and much administrative-misdirected hype, it might stimulate a chuckle or two.

Thanks again and good reading.
Jim MacLowry ’56
Portland, OR

A night at Old Heidelberg

Reading about the return of the Old Heidelberg (“Old Haunts, Lost and Found,” January/February) with the last line “Who remembers what IITYWIMWYBMAD stands for?” brought back one of my most cherished memories of running the Yale Law School Film Society. We brought Robert Mitchum to campus in the spring of 1972, accompanied by his manager, Reva Frederick, and a bottle of brandy in a brown paper bag. We showed two of his greatest films, Cape Fear and Thunder Road, in the auditorium of the Art & Architecture Building, followed by an insouciant Q&A, paper bag in hand. We then retired to the Old Heidelberg for beers. Bob saw the IITYWIMWYBMAD on the beam overhead and asked me what it meant. When he finally got the meaning, he gave one of those perfect Mitchum shrugs, then happily bought me a drink!
Bob Bookman ’72JD
Los Angeles, CA

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