370 JAY STREET, A LOVE STORY
Inspired by the New York Transit Museum’s former exhibition, “The Secret Life of 370 Jay Street”.
Taken in 1957, this simple black and white photograph from the Transit Museum’s New York City Transit Photograph Unit Collection, depicts the former Transit Headquarters at 370 Jay Street. Portrayed at a unique angle, the photographer was standing on the mezzanine, overlooking row after row of desks. At work below, are the women of the New York Transit Authority’s Data Processing Department, with perfectly coiffed hair and manual typewriters. Only a few men can be seen: a cluster near the back of the room, a man speaking to a female employee a few rows from the back.
This photograph once hung on the wall of the Transit Museum’s former exhibition “The Secret Life of 370 Jay Street,” which detailed the quirks of form and function that defined the building that housed the Transit headquarters for over 50 years. During a curator-led gallery talk, a longtime museum member stopped in front of this photograph and studied it intently. At the end of talk she said to the group assembled, “My parents met while working for the Transit Authority. I wonder if they met in this building?”
Celedonia “Cal” Jones is a dapper African American man who looks decades younger than his actual years. He is known among a number of museum staff, as he has been a volunteer for more than two decades at the Museum of the City of New York, where several Transit Museum staff have worked. Having spent more than 40 years working for the City of New York, his CV is long, but many of his most recognized accomplishments are not in the career in which he made his living. Instead he is the Borough Historian Emeritus of Manhattan, having served as historian from 1997 until 2006. He has worked tirelessly to keep and highlight the history of Harlem, where he was born and raised. In the past, he has given tours and lectures as well as being a trustee and distinguished fellow of the New York Academy of History and on the advisory board of the Seneca Village Project.
In 1949, Cal Jones was a 19-year-old kid from 151st Street who began as a bookkeeper in the accounting office of the Board of Transportation (BOT) at 250 Hudson Street. Within a few years, the BOT staff, including Cal, moved from 250 Hudson Street into the fourth floor of the brand new Transportation Building at 370 Jay Street. However, Cal left his position later that year when he was drafted into the army. Having been a popular employee, Cal received many letters from his Transit colleagues while serving. Upon returning in the fall of 1953, he arrived at 370 Jay Street on his first day back in the city, so that his friends could see him in his uniform. Asked by his boss to return to work immediately, he went down to personnel still in his uniform and returned to the accounting department the very next Monday. Pictured at the top right of the photograph, Cal was the only African American employee at the time.
Photo: Cal Jones in 1953 with his colleagues in the accounting department. As the only African American employee at the time, he is easy to pick out at the top right.
As is often the case when an employee returns after time away, Cal’s coworkers relayed the latest news and gossip including the comings and goings of staff. One new employee was a young African American woman whom Cal had noticed right away. Her name was Dolores Cain and she worked in the Typist Unit. Somewhat quiet and extremely professional, Dolores was known to be the most accurate typist in the unit. When a colleague told Cal “I have the girl for you!” she walked him over to Dolores’s desk and made the introductions. Dolores smiled and said hello but did not stop typing. Dolores later told Cal that one of her friends, Winona in the Statistics Department, had suggested making the introduction as well, since Cal was a good young man “because he loves and takes care of his mother.” Dolores’s desk was near the water cooler and Cal would say hello when he got up for water, and he often needed to speak to her regarding work documents, as she was the best at making quick and careful corrections.
Dolores and Cal would see each other socially for the first time in the spring of 1954 when a group of Transit employees met at the popular Savoy Ballroom, on Lenox Avenue, for a Sunday afternoon dance. His memories of Dolores from that day are that she was wearing a crinoline skirt. And it was here that they danced together for the first time.
Photo: Cal and Dolores in the mid-1950s while dating.
Perhaps bolstered by the experience, Cal approached her at her desk one day to ask her out. She said she couldn’t make it, and when Cal persisted in hashing out plans, she reminded him that she was not available. Even with this disappointment Cal persisted and they began dating in 1955. They often rode the train home together from work, getting on the A train at Jay Street and traveling to Harlem where she returned to 138th Street and he to 151st Street.
Photo: Dolores at a Transit Christmas gathering in the late 1950s. She is in the third row back, second from the right.
In 1956, Cal would take the civil service exam and leave Transit to take a job as an assistant accountant in the office of the NYC Comptroller. Dolores remained a typist, and they continued dating. Because Dolores was very private she didn’t mention her boyfriend to anyone at work. So her friends at 370 were surprised when in 1958 she came to work wearing an engagement ring. Asking whom she was engaged to, they were shocked and thrilled to find out Dolores’s beau was their old friend and former co-worker Cal! Dolores and Cal married in June of 1959 and remained close to their Transit colleagues. In 1962, the ladies of the Typist Unit threw Dolores a baby shower for their first-born, a daughter named Diane. This photograph shows Dolores wearing a corsage at the shower in January 1962.
Photo: Dolores wearing a corsage at the baby shower thrown for her by the ladies of the Typist Unit in January 1962.
It was that daughter Diane who, as a museum member in 2015, saw the photograph of the women typing at rows of desks and thought to ask her father where her parents met. When Cal visited the exhibition he was able to recall the names of a number of women in the photo.
Cal and Dolores were happily married for 50 years until Dolores’s death in 2009.
We at the Transit Museum are very grateful to Diane and her father Cal for sharing this beautiful 370 Jay Street Love Story with us!
Photo: Cal and Dolores in their late 70s after being together for 50 years.