Chicago was his kind of town, L.A. was his lady and he certainly was a big part of New York, New York. But despite a love-hate relationship, the mile-square New Jersey city where Frank Sinatra was born is finding the centennial of his birth to be a very good year.
Throughout 2015, Hoboken has remembered its native son, who died in 1998 at age 82, with outdoor screenings of his movies, a “Sinatra Idol” competition and concerts that will be capped by a centennial birthday bash on Dec. 12 at the Stevens Institute of Technology, which awarded the high school dropout an honorary degree in 1985.
Even so, the Hoboken Historical Museum has seen a 300 percent jump in visitors since opening a Sinatra exhibit in early August and has hired extra staff, director Robert Foster said.
“Whenever we do something on Sinatra, people come out of the woodwork,” Foster said. “We enjoy the fans because they are so loyal and he means so much to them.”
Lacking any major items that belonged to Sinatra, the museum tells his story through media displays and visitors receive a map with their $4 admission that features Sinatra sites.
Greta Wilson, who was born and raised in Hoboken, said Sinatra is “always the first thing” people ask her about when they learned where she is from.
“They always wanted to know if I had seen him in a store or a movie theater or some other place in town, and if he was like a regular person or if he acted like a stuck-up movie star,” she said.
A plaque marks the former building at 415 Monroe St. where Sinatra was born in 1915 to middle-class parents.
“He had a nice life,” said Chuck Granata, who co-produces and engineers the Nancy for Frank satellite radio program with Sinatra’s oldest daughter, Nancy. “Frank was not poor and was probably one of the more fortunate kids growing up.”
His mother made sure her son had nice clothes and even a car, which helped him gain a spot in 1935 with the singing group the Hoboken Four. They won first prize on a national radio program for amateur entertainers, and Sinatra started along a path that led to big bands, bobby soxers and fame.
However, some Hoboken residents felt Sinatra had forgotten them, reflected in the reception he got when he rode on a float in a 1947 parade and was pelted with tomatoes, according to biographer Ed Shirak. Sinatra later called Hoboken a sewer.
Urban blight plagued the city until the 1970s, when New Yorkers started crossing the Hudson River to renovate brownstones and build condominiums. The icy relationship began to thaw in 1979 when the city changed River Road to Sinatra Drive. A park and the city’s main post office would also bear his name.
Hoboken these days reflects Sinatra cool, where fashionable young hipsters roam the city’s bars and restaurants after spending the day working in Manhattan.
Wilson, 68, who now lives on Long Beach Island, said she thought Sinatra was a great representative for Hoboken.
“People unfamiliar with Hoboken seem to think of it as a dumpy small Jersey town, filled with people who really want to live in New York City,” she said. “Frank helped put Hoboken on the map, and people still come there to this day just see ‘his town’ and learn more about him. Hoboken owes Sinatra a lot.”