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1970s newsletter was local bulletin board

Chris Maas

The May 25, 1977 edition of To the Point featured eight Hunts Point baton twirlers.

Three young people told it like it was, to every single resident

In the late 1970s, as Hunts Point faced some of its darkest days, residents and business owners could count on one publication to deliver the peninsula’s news, good and bad.

The paper’s staff consisted of three young people who reported, wrote, and photographed neighborhood news as they saw it happen, laid out copy in their family’s Hunts Point apartments, sold ads to local businesses and distributed the newsletter door to door to every home in the peninsula for two years.

It was 1976. Brothers Chris and Fred Maas of Faile Street, who were 21 and 23 at the time, and their friend Rachelle Fernandez, grew increasingly angry as they saw violence rise and buildings burn, while city government turned its back. The three friends responded with “To the Point,” their own newsletter, which they went on to publish weekly for the next two years, hoping to inform their neighbors about crime trends, traffic accidents, local events, and PTA meetings, in hopes of prompting them to act.

“We were on the spot. News as it happened,” laughed Chris Maas, 58, remembering his first forays into news coverage 37 years ago.

After reporting and typing their stories, the three would cut up copy with an Exacto knife and lay it on a piece of cardboard on a glass table. “We would get it as straight as possible,” Maas remembered. A mother with three children who lived in Fernandez’ building translated the stories into Spanish, and, though unpaid, as they all were, remained on call through the wee hours on deadline nights.

Pages were mimeographed at a local school, then brought to a Mott Haven printer. When the newsletter was printed, the Maas brothers would bring two boxes of 5,000 copies each back to Hunts Point on the 6 train, then slide a copy under every door, on every floor, in every residential building in the peninsula.

“We hung out and saw the deterioration of the neighborhood,” said Chris Maas, who later went on to a career as a milk pasteurizer. “We wanted control,” he said. “We just said, ‘It’s not gonna happen.’”

He recalled a peaceful, pastoral Hunts Point before the meltdown of the 1970s.

“You’d see pheasants, rabbits. Every other backyard had cherry trees, pear trees, apple trees,” he recalled, remembering a farmer on Longfellow Avenue who used to yell at kids to get off his property.  Hundreds of acres of grassland stood where the Hunts Point Terminal Food Cooperative was later built on the banks of the Bronx River in 1967, Maas said.

Chris Maas

A June 1977 photo from To The Point shows a burning building on Coster Street.

Fernandez, who now works as the fiscal officer at The Point CDC, said her frustration with her neighbors’ passivity helped drive her.

“Doesn’t anybody care? Why is everybody so apathetic?” Fernandez remembered thinking.

“We became obsessed,” she said, adding that the trio would write and lay out the paper well into the night, and nudge family members and neighbors to do their part to ensure deadlines were met.

The three have hung on to most of their copies of “To the Point.” Back issues offer an amusing peek into the past, and a sobering reminder that some of the neighborhood’s same problems persist.

An ad from Alfredo’s Food & Delicatessen on Faile Street offers a large platter of several kinds of meat with trays of condiments–and a bottle of champagne–for 20 people, all for $35. In another of the paper’s features, crossword contestants are advised that winners will be chosen from “all correct entries at random.”

There are numerous coupons from area stores in every edition.

“Businesses knew us. They liked what we were doing,” said Fernandez.

A Nov. 24, 1976 story in a weekly column called “Let the People Know,” begins, “All of us living in Hunts Point are aware of the danger of crossing Bruckner Boulevard when entering or leaving the peninsula.” It encourages residents to hold a protest if the city did not meet demands to install a traffic light to protect pedestrians.

Fernandez shrugs off the idea she and her friends were doing anything special.

“If we dare claim any kind of a legacy, it’s that people care about where they live,” she said.

Chris Maas still remembers those days spent running up and down every stairwell in Hunts Point to deliver the news, hot off the presses.

“There were seven elevators,” in the entire peninsula, he remembered, adding he can still count in his head the number of buildings he had to deliver in.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said. “It was my backyard.”

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