JFK Comes Home to the Garment District

by Sara Petitt

 The industry that I was part of for so many years has disappeared along with the wooly mammoth and the Tasmanian tiger. From the years after WW 2 until the 1990’s the garment district and textile manufacturers buildings lined the streets from 34th Street to 42nd Street on 7th Avenue.

During John Kennedy’s bid for the Presidency, he came to give a speech on a platform hastily built on 7th Avenue. It was October 27th, 1960 and the sun was shining when Kennedy mounted the platform. Workers from the nearby office buildings flooded the streets while hundreds looked down from open windows. I was packed in the crowd with other textile artists from my company. 

He started with an off the cuff joke given in his Boston accent, “I have returned to my people” which was followed by uproarious laughter from the crowd of mainly natives of Brooklyn and the Bronx. We all heartily cheered this handsome aristocratic looking man so alien to our neighborhood. 

When he finished his speech the cheering crowds threw swatches of fabric from the windows instead of the usual ticker tape. Then the frenzy really started. All eyes left Kennedy and flew upwards towards the cascading remnants of fabric. Voices around me shouted, “Look, look, Lowenstein is using Periwinkle Blue…do we have any in our line?” “Over there Cone Hall Marx is using olive green!!” Then the crowd dispersed and we all ran back to our offices not to discuss politics, but to repaint designs in the array of colors that floated from the sky that sunny day.


Although Sara Petitt taught design for 30 years at the college level, she always loved to write and often integrated writing into her artwork.