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One. Thing. He began his career in newspapers in the middle of the Great Depression. It was a time when each of the few local murders made banner headlines a time when city police were known to look the other way at the more than two dozen illegal betting parlors. It was also a time that he grew into a career that over the course of more than 50 years looked primarily at the sunny side of Rochester streets. Despite wars more violent crime and a gradual loss of innocence reviews found in his column warmth and humor and a rare but welcome trip from
cynicism today. Bill Pierce talked with Bill Beeny about the Rochester he knows really a 50 cent Bill Beeny great to have you here. We're going to talk about the Rochester you know today and you know it better than I think anybody because you've been on every beat. I think that the newspapers are good at newspapers overhead and now filled with the wolf papers. Yes but first before we get to that were you born in Rochester. Yes I was. This is seriously enough you know this is one of the few red people I guess is where where where where where you board. Well where did you live when you were on Boardman Street which is just off Main Munroe Avenue. I used to feel St. Westerfield's I think their street was the younger of the world then as far as I know. Yeah yeah. So when you were growing up there that was that the country started there is that right. Well yes but I only lived there for about four years when I moved to Utica and then came back here when I was about 11 or 12 years old I lived here ever since I was born here
and when you came back at age 11 where where did you where did you know Shepherd Street which is off Monreal and so on say pinnacle road which is also off you know the pinnacle that's right under the. Yeah right under pinnacle hill there right at the city line. So that's your neighborhood. Yeah that that was that's where I was. Where do you go to school and went to Monreal high school one day just one day because I had gone to school in Utica and when I came in here they said well you're in the modern high school district so you have to go there and it was kind of a funny thing. First when I saw as I went there they said you're going to take a civics course and we're having an examination tomorrow I said Well heck and I take an exam it well you're going to have to go you're there one day you want to get a test one day. I knew one name of one person in Rochester that was George Eastman. So when ever they had they had a hundred questions on this test or something like who's the mayor. Who did this who did I just put on Georgie for every single question I told was no sense of me taking it I had one answer right I guess they said it would record after I had George.
So then I went to East High School the following day and stayed there till I graduate. East High on Alexander Yeah yeah yeah yeah that's where WXXI where the station started. That's right you know in the basement of the girls the girls gym but you know Alexander Yeah yeah what were those days like you know you look pretty good because I had to walk all the way from Shepherd's street to East High every morning and you know you got used to the neighborhood and it was nice over there. Elbert Wilcox was the principal at that time and a lot of older people now that are you know what you forget about but it was a it was a pleasant area East High School was quite famous for all for the number of people who came from who want to provide leadership for this community. Yeah that's right. I guess there were only two high schools east and west one there and then a little while later just a couple years later. Then Franklin opened up. I think that was around 1930 when East and West had identical foreplay as they save money by building two schools Exactly exactly exactly alike.
Yeah the city has had quite a rivalry in the sports thing I know and then they stopped playing football at one time for some reason. He'd been some kind of a problem and it was many years before they started it again. Now you're in high school you graduated from. And then what did you do. Then I went to the University of Rochester. But in the meantime I went to work at the Democrat and Chronicle as a copy boy and the guy who was the managing editor said You better go to college at the same time. So I went to the university while I was going working at the paper and I was also the correspondent campus correspondent thank you all that. And so then when I got through there I just automatically went right into work. BB Now do you have are you going out to River campus or downtown on the riverboat river Tampa river Yeah. Although I did have one class a Spanish class I remember on the university have a look at this pretty and you go from the river campus to the other one in a limousine. There are only about four of us who had
classes on the other so they bring a big limousine to one day one day a week or whatever it was that they drive you over there. What will you remember what tuition was. I remember at one point there was 300 dollars per semester. So every 600 yet was a whole that included the limousine that is that's right. Yeah can you imagine a different cost and I think you learn as much and you got a good liberal arts education I would think What was your major that history right. That's why a good foundation for a good journalism. Yeah but I think I wish I had taken economics or something like that. Now you started as a copy boy to deal with the Democrat and Chronicle in the building where the DNC is no no no no the one that was on Main Street just across the street from Front Street on Main Street. Well it's no longer there but it was. Right there on mean a thing. If you will and your lawyers co-op. Yeah yeah but I'm a street lawyers co-op with street there and they just copy whatever you would write stories or stuff would get shipped over
to the composing room which is where the building is now on Broad Street in pneumatic tubes under one under the river. You put the thing in and turn the thing in a way that stuff would go once in a great while it would be a collision underground somewhere and it would all be lost and I don't know how the heck they ever got it out of there. It was quite the stuff. Now what did you do as a copy boy. You're going to college on your account yeah boy at the DNC. You got seven dollars a week as a copy and this is probably a big sell. Yeah pretty big. But anyway. Well you take the copy from the one desk and take it over to the other guy and you run out for food for him. And then you have a go for that and yeah that's about what it was. And the main the biggest thrill that I ever had was there was a guy you know I know you remember him Dr. Howard Hanson. He wrote an opera called Merry mount. Just remembered I hadn't remembered it before and it had its debut in the theater and such and
such a date I forgot what it was while I was a copy boy. And because we made such a big thing of it they were going to run a copy from the opera back to the paper that night so I did it and then the next day I said Gee I wonder could I write a story. They let me write it and it was the first byline I ever has a copy boy go to the opera told how I was running up and down the street with Dr. Hansen Howard Hanson is one of the outstanding figures in this community. That's right yeah. Yeah it's always amazing to me when I visit other cities I invariably see his name somewhere in other places. Yeah I think we lose sight of the fact that he was an internationally known that's right you know composer I don't remember the story but didn't he have some connection with an island when he was he had an island up off the coast of Massachusetts or somewhere and he was called upon by the people of Washington. I've forgotten the details it was quite exciting. You know he's yeah he contributed a lot to the music of this community. Now you're a copy boy and you're go for all these folks in the city room
you're across from Front Street now the front street that I've heard about fabled and story and saw. Now replaced I guess by the Rochester Plaza was right along the river right where between Main Street and Andrew Andrew street yeah. So it was about all one long block there maybe was a little boy a couple of black because it went across Central Avenue and write down what was in that block. Well there were pawn shops and chicken stores you know where you'd go in and buy fresh chickens and ducks walking and a lot of second hand stores and guys would they'd hang their clothing out on in front of the place and grab you by the lapels to get you in there when you walked out and they were beer joints and people's rescue mission which was run by the Reverend Tom Richards I remember at that time and that was a very you know and there were a couple of parking lots but and meat markets Louis Jacobson's meat market and bookies bookies Yeah many bookies. Well at least Yeah I was on one side of the street
and the time he had a hand was over there too so and it was two bookies being operated openly. Oh yeah even though it was illegal. They were among twenty six illegal bookie working in Rochester at that time. All different area before betting parlors were were legal before there were any Only you know the few years ago when I was you know TV's only been going What about 15 20 yeah something like that yeah. So prior to that bookies were places you could go in and place a bet without going to the track were illegal. Oh yeah you are supposed to do that. But you could be arrested. Were you ever arrested. No I came close. We had apparently there was something going on with the people rosters of police and everybody the politicians wanted to impress Governor Rockefeller. What a clean city we had so they were going to raid the bookmakers. Now these bookmakers were always paying off the cops too you know so they knew what was going on with twenty six horse parlors. Somebody had to get it
right. But the one on Front Street on this particular day I dont remember the year exactly but I remember it was a Friday the 13th and it was in October and I had gone in there too. Let's just to look around but I got to make a bet. One of my 50 cent bets you could make 50 cents a day. So I went in there and it was there were a lot of people above 90 between 90 and 100 people you know customers and then all of a sudden in through the front door burst the cops and I thought that this was a raid and leading the charge was deputy chief. Harold burns. Yet all of his uniform he was a big impressive looking guy. So he came and he said All right this is a raid everybody is under arrest. So I just ran up to him and said OK I take a piece of paper in my pocket like this took it out my pants and I said All right Chief tell me what's going on. How did you get in here as I came right in to Vaca you get the hell out of here. I'll talk to you later I got out believe me. And there you are. Your bluff your way out of that where you were better rested with the rest of them.
That's right and then when I got out I turned around looking to see the Democrat and Chronicle building was right at the end of the street and my boss and all the other people were looking out the window at the raid because there are just hundreds of people around there now. So I just obviously couldn't hear but I just wave my hand I said I'm covering it's all done don't worry about it took off that was the end of that one. With with the newspaper you are right at the at the end of the street over overlooking I presume the bookkeeper did the newspapers ever do an exposé on the horse parlors I said but where or wherever it was everybody today's paper betting. Not everybody but enough guys were. No they never made Expos age in those days I don't know why. Yeah there were a couple of half hearted attempts but not on the front street. Yeah I never could figure it out. As a matter of fact even today you know they all know that betting. Let's say football and baseball. So far as we know is illegal unless you're in Las Vegas. Yet every week they post the ads of the football and baseball games. So how do you equate that with you know I don't know there
must be better. It goes with journalism doesn't go with reporting theoretically with with betting. But now you are. We went ahead a little bit you were a copy boy how did you get a full time job. Well it was almost understood because I was working as a correspondent and the copy boy it was almost understood that as I went to the university when I came out I would automatically go on the staff. And I started out on the police beat but I had CNN I was working summers too all the while I was there and my days off from the university I'd go and so I knew the police and I knew the people around. And so it was just kind of automatic and I went on the police beat for a couple of years then into the federal federal building and general assignments and covered. Openings of horse shows and. Burlesque shows movie critics because it was it wasn't just specialize in those days now.
So you've changed your beat. Yeah it was a policy of the newspapers right. They wanted you to get used to everything you know so and knocking around and all those beats over the years you know there are certain whether certain beats you're like better than others and I think I kind of like the police beat about as well as any other. Yeah. Because you're dealing basically with people you know when you got into the courtroom courthouse beat. You had to be a little bit more careful cause if you made a mistake you know you could get sued herself and I never read that. But the police beat was. I don't know you. You met people and it was easier. What was the police like then it was well the police station of course was on Exchange Street and there was headquarters where you had a little press room there which was a dirty little place. But you were in touch all the time with the police operator the telephone operator and the detective bureau was right next door and the show you were you know you knew what was going on the complaint bureau is in the building. So you could go in there and get the files and we could walk right in and take them out by ourselves so you
have all the you know the cast of carryin on what were the crimes. I'm just trying to think in this weird 1991 we seem to be having almost like a murder or two a week. If you had two murders a year it was big really and then you know if it was any kind of a thing. Very seldom did you have murders and burglaries you'd have you'd have pick ups of liquor stores and things like that they'd have a wave of those. But heavens now they have bank holdups every liquor store. It was totally define the word any muggings that I remember it was just what was considered was the dangerous part of the city at all. Well theoretically Front Street was supposed to be dangerous but it really wasn't that's where all the bars that I know and there was no real problem. And in the black sections of Joseph Avenue or Nassau Street in that area that was no problem they had a place called The Cotton Club. And we'd go down there
after work to midnight two o'clock in the morning. Never had any difficulties at all. And in the black section on the west side around Jefferson Avenue and Randall street that was our right. It was totally different. There wasn't wasn't any feeling of tension as far as I could see. The city has changed somewhat. I would say you want to stay the same as it always struck me something on the streets. Now over the years you've had all these beach you saw you know every man or politician come and go you saw county managers become county executives they had city managers. You know any of those people particularly colorful. I think all of them were Yeah even though evolution more and I saw today for the first time in quite a while he was a colorful and a very good political figure I thought you know he was a county manager Yeah. And Gordon how was it was a very capable guy. You know how shook so many hands one time I used to say I think it's your wrist is getting kind of like a I'm a hinge and he said you just thought it was to George
Aldridge I never knew but Tom Broderick was. He was a colorful was George Aldridge. He was the early Republican leader. And I never knew him before Gordon before going home before Tom Broderick. He wound up eventually as the controller of the port Rye where he lived or died right. The controller of the Port of New York or something like that which was a big political job. But and Al Skinner of course was a big political figure the sheriff and quite a. Really notable guy his biggest thing was he go out and make all these political speeches and all we would do is get up and say thanks very much and sit down. He got more votes that way than any of these political guys get for speaking for an hour. Yeah. Do you think we still have that same kind of tough leadership if I could use that word today. I don't really think so I don't know. Gordon how really kind of ruled the calendar Yeah. Oh yes he did. I never knew it. I suppose there were people who didn't like what he did. Oh he was smart enough to make his peers well liked in most places.
So I never knew anything bad that he did. Well you saw the you know the great migration to the suburbs I'm sure of you know over your lifetime you lived in the city and one to the suburban bred start whether you really whether to really come to your attention that right if you were leaving the city right after World War Two and at that time Bill Lang was the head of you know of the trances company and at that time some of us could foresee that there was going to be a heck of a problem. People moving around in the suburbs and we used to talk and say What are you going to do with the bus system to get out there. Well he said that will all work out well obviously it hasn't worked out. I don't know what they could have done differently but at one time you know we had the subway downtown which was a short thing. Where did the subway run from where we ran to from a place called Rawlins R O W L A N D in Brighton down through Munroe in the past month or YMCA in back of the way and what is now 490 that that was the thing and I ran all the way down to Delco
practically. So went through the city and passed Yeah yeah yeah. So it it headed upward originated in Brighton which was a suburb of that yeah yeah yeah. Now we're now the subway lasted until when the 50s till the 50s and then they decided to use it for the for the 490 And you know ran right in back and underneath the library at the Main Library Yeah South Avenue and. I don't know whether they used utilized properly but I guess they did. They made a heck of a road out of it that's for sure. Otherwise they wouldn't have had it right away to get in to make 490 that way. How long did the trolleys run. Not how long but one did. Where did they run do they run into the suburbs and and when did they stop cars the street cars or trolley cars. I guess I guess they ran into. I don't really they didn't go all the way into the suburbs No as I remember I'm trying to think they ran from the Lake of course from the beach all the way up and I'm trying to think out there on the east I have an idea I can't remember exactly that they turned around there by cab
still I don't think they went out much beyond that and that's where the country that's what I'm trying to get you started. Yeah so they got as far as the hill that was kind of a natural barrier right to contain the city. Beyond that there is no civilization. That's right I was talking with a couple younger people some friends of mine that I know just the other day kid named Steve castle and I and a girl Teri Castro and they were talking about what the change I said I don't understand what changes have taken place in the city in the last 10 years and they both thought what made sense to me after I thought about it that the street system you know with the 490 in the can of worms. And also these elevated things across Main Street. But he called. The elevated thing goes away so yeah the privilege to build the building to go you got the right those are proliferating these where the idea was to bring people downtown they bring them down and now they've taken right off the street and put them on those walk
when they walk way. What do you think is happening in the city. Do you think it would be the direction the city's going is. Going to bring people back downtown or I really can't see it how do I know I don't even. Is it going in any direction. I don't I think that it all started to change when I made the convention center. But there hasn't been anything to bring back downtown that I can see really the parking is tough. What is the City and Bill. I don't know I wish to heck I did. I think it needs to. I think the probably one of the things I don't envy Wolf is always been talking about that there's better use of the waterway think of the river you know as an attraction in various ways I don't know exactly how you do it I'm not a planner but I think that they could utilize better the falls. But. The average person that I run into in the suburbs says gee I don't want to be downtown at night. I don't think that it's because they're afraid of anybody or what they do down here. Really there has to be an attraction. You know right now you you're writing now for the wolf publication right
which is run by A&E and you and you Wolf yeah you make it. Yeah. How long have you been doing that for eight or nine years now and yeah you've always been a people oriented writer writer and you know and I guess that's mainly what you've done that's probably why you like the police. That's right I don't like writing about. Yeah you don't have to see the latest technical. You still do that today we have talk about people and their personalities and and the things that they do and that's marvelous what now the world publications go to what all the. All the suburbs have 9 different newspapers you know like the Brighton press riposte the Henrietta run to quaint Greece Fairport parents and there are nine separate papers and each one of them really serves its own community and they have a real good. I don't know precisely what the circulation is but I know it's a very loyal readership and I seem to do a good job. But and you but your column appears and all in all of me in all all night. Once I was able to get on the editorial page which is where the wolf is I said to you that's good because now I know I'm going
to get all of it with the way you and that page doesn't change. No that's right. You know you've made a lot of newspaper people over the years I guess you go back to what Frank Annette. Yeah. Who are in you know of all those people you met with or newspapers today where they go oh. I don't know I think that I think any Wolf's papers are doing as good a job really as anybody that I've seen along. Well at least he seems to stay on a consistent track some of these others. Unfortunately the Democrat in the times you know they don't live up to what I used to think they did. I don't know why. But there's because of a changing population or changing personnel or whether the management doesn't kind of tie in with the community as well I think you have to have people who are really dedicated to the community in which they live and that's the way Andy does do it working on those papers. Yeah yeah. Now in all the years. That you work for good at which was how many years. 40 some 40 years you saw any number of well not a number
of publishers come and go but some publishers come and go. Mr Neuharth a local publisher for a while. Well he was here you know he came here and then he went to start us they say yeah is that is that is that paper compete too much with city newspapers around the kind I don't I don't think so no I think it's basically for travelers or for people who are on the move from one place to another or people just happen to like it. It's pretty good I didn't like it at all at first I've gotten so I like a once in a while I don't like it all the while. It's like reading a complete issue of TIME magazine every day you know. But it's not a quick read. You know you you you've been you've seen a lot of sports figures come and go in Rochester did he stand out in your mind. Oh you know well Johnny and to Nellie for one and I I don't know whether everybody realized member Bob Keegan. He pitched a no hit no run game for I think it was the Chicago White Sox and he was from. Sure he's still here and I just I don't I think
it's Greece or did he play for the Red Wings. No not that I remember unless he may have played a couple of games after we retire. I don't really know. And then the golfers of course Walter Hagen heavens he was something Walter Hagen was what it was like to golf or golf from Rochester went on to win what the masters and although he won everything I don't think they had a masters. He won the British Open the United States Open the whole thing. He was he was the most colorful flamboyant golfer of all time probably and then he died later. He was Detroit a few years ago. But you know him you know not well but whenever he came back into town somebody like Karl Helo or someone would have a meeting and we'd all get together and talk with him you know. Did you play golf with him. No I never played golf with him. But you're a golfer. I used to be. I got some arthritis in my hip. But you know it's like going to a doctor and say if this gets better can I play the violin and if he says yes say well that's great I couldn't
before. Bill will be great to reminisce with you about the Rochester you know your stories are wonderful in your newspaper career is marvelous. We still read you avidly and all the Wolfe publications and we hope you continue to do that for many years. I thank you very kindly Bill Beatty thanks for being here I'm Bill Pierce see you next time on the Rochester I know. You're.
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The Rochester I Know
Episode Number
Bill Beeney
Producing Organization
WXXI (Television station : Rochester, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
WXXI Public Broadcasting (Rochester, New York)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/189-73pvmm8w).
Host Bill Pearce interviews journalist Bill Beeney about his career that he devoted to the Rochester area. Beeney talks about his time in Rochester as a teenager when he was a copy boy for the local newspaper. He then talks about the ways in which the Rochester community has changed over time and ways in which the city might improve.
The Rochester I Know is a talk show featuring in-depth conversations with local Rochester figures, who share their recollections of the Rochester community.
Asset type
Talk Show
Local Communities
1991 WXXI Public Broadcasting Council
Media type
Moving Image
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Guest: Bill Beeney
Host: William Pearce
Producer: W. David Doremus
Producing Organization: WXXI (Television station : Rochester, N.Y.)
Publisher: WXXI-TV
AAPB Contributor Holdings
WXXI Public Broadcasting (WXXI-TV)
Identifier: LAC-1013 (WXXI)
Format: U-matic
Generation: Dub
Duration: 1800.0
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Chicago: “The Rochester I Know; 215; Bill Beeney,” 1991-06-19, WXXI Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 15, 2021,
MLA: “The Rochester I Know; 215; Bill Beeney.” 1991-06-19. WXXI Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 15, 2021. <>.
APA: The Rochester I Know; 215; Bill Beeney. Boston, MA: WXXI Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from