WINDSOR TERRACE — As a teen growing up in Windsor Terrace, Pat Fenton watched more than 1,200 families move out of the neighborhood to make way for the construction of the Prospect Expressway.
Today that piece of history seems as lost as the 400 houses that were bulldozed to build the Robert Moses-designed expressway, but Fenton has brought it back to life in his play "Stoopdreamer."
The play, now showing at the Cell Theater in Chelsea, centers on three characters reminiscing over drinks at — where else? — the 82-year-old neighborhood bar Farrell's.
"It's about the displacement of people and the sheer destruction," Fenton said. "The other part is about the change going on there now, the gentrification."
Fenton lived in an "Irish tenement" on 17th Street at a time when the neighborhood was an "Irish working class hamlet," he said. The tranquility was destroyed in the mid 1940s when locals were told the new expressway would cut a swath through their community.
"It took out six or seven blocks of Windsor Terrace and the new people coming in don't really know the deep history and the tragedy of that," Fenton said.
Fenton — who was just a boy at the time but later researched and wrote about the period — said locals screamed and sobbed at a public meeting held at P.S. 10 where officials broke the news. Police from the 72nd Precinct hauled away a man who shouted that Moses was "building a Chinese wall that would separate Windsor Terrace forever," according to news accounts.
Later Fenton played in the empty houses after families had been paid to leave, and remembers when the last holdout, an Italian man who delivered ice for a living, left the neighborhood.
In writing "Stoopdreamer," Fenton wanted to take viewers back to a simpler time and "catch a lost part of Windsor Terrace." The characters, including one based partly on the owner of Farrell's, share memories of vanished neighborhood landmarks such as M.J. Smith & Sons Funeral Home.
Fenton is hoping the play will educate newcomers about local history and maybe even make them comfortable enough to visit Farrell's, a bar some "new people are afraid of," he said.
“I’d like to see some of the new people come in and say, ‘I like this, and instead of having a craft beer, I’ll have a Budweiser,’” Fenton said.
"Stoopdreamer" runs through Sept. 27 at The Cell, 338 W. 23rd St., Chelsea. Tickets are $25.