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Article on Beloved Former Owner


 
"Exit The Iceman"
By STEVEN KURUTZ
Published: June 26, 2005

During the blackout two summers ago, Paul Palmadessa, who was known as Paulie to everyone who lived and worked in Hell's Kitchen, was in his usual spot at his family business, United City Ice Company. As the day pressed on and the air-conditioners sat idle, Mr. Palmadessa sensed a rare business opportunity. "O.K., O.K.!" he yelled to the sweaty crowds gathering in front of his tiny storefront, reveling in the moment. "Single file. Have your cash ready. I got ice!"
 
 
Mr. Palmadessa, who died of a heart attack at 5 a.m. June 17 while loading a United Ice truck, was the kind of outside New York character who could enliven any situation, even an 8-state power outage. He was, in fact, a neighborhood guy in the truest sense: he almost never left Hell's Kitchen. He was raised in an apartment on 39th Street and Ninth Avenue. The ice business, which his grandfather and then his father had operated before him, was headquartered on 45th Street just off 10th Avenue, and he lived in a bachelor apartment one block south.

Occasionally, his principal interests - eating and meeting women - would take him out of this tightly circumscribed world, to Gino's on 59th Street, or to Florida, where he liked to vacation. However, he was most at home on the streets of Hells Kitchen, where he spent workdays overseeing the family business, and the rest of his time gently needling shop owners, over tipping waiters, dispensing unsolicited advice, flirting with the counter girls at Felix Coffee Shop, or walking his ugly male dog, named Suzy (he was followed by Suzy II).

"This was his world," a nephew, David Palmadessa, said the other day in front of the ice shop. "You put him out in Jersey and he knew one road. Here, he knew everybody."

Mr. Palmadessa's distinctive voice preceded him. It was high-pitched and scratchy and full of Italian street attitude, like Joe Pesci in mid-riff. His conversations were rapid-fire and often sprinkled with malapropisms or little pearls of wisdom. John Michael Bolger, an actor who was a close friend of Mr. Palmadessa's, recalled seeing a man picking up pamphlets outside United Ice one afternoon. "I said, ''Paulie, why is that guy out there picking up papers?'' He said: ''I just threw him out of here. He's a Seventh-day Adventurist. I don't need any adventure.''
 
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Mr. Palmadessa, who was 64, drew sustenance, spiritual and otherwise, from his friends and his business, which he owned with his brother, Donald. Like most old-time icemen in the city, the family came from the Bari region of Italy and began delivering ice in the horse-and-cart days before refrigeration. Mr. Palmadessa dropped out of high school to join the business at a time when a large part of the job was lugging 100-pound "cakes" up tenement stairs, and he had the bull-like physique to show for it. Later, United Ice began to supply pre-packaged ice and dry ice to restaurants and Broadway theaters, a job that wasn't as physically demanding but required no less commitment.
"You never know when a restaurant is going to need ice - you almost had to be on call," said Fred Ferraro, another nephew of Mr. Palmadessa's. "That's probably one of the reasons Paul never married."
 
A few years ago, in an independent film called "Seed" in which he appeared as himself with Mr. Bolger, Mr. Palmadessa offered his own explanation for why his lifelong preoccupation with the opposite sex never resulted in a union. "I didn't meet the right lady," he said. "Maybe I was afraid of getting hurt."
On his own turf, he needn't have worried about such a fate. He was adored in the neighborhood and accepted equally by the old-timers and the arrivistes, who politely described him as rough around the edges. People still talk about the time he bought a bullhorn and drove around yelling to everyone, that scratchy voice echoing up and down 10th Avenue.

Taking a page from the actors to show people who have long resided on the West Side, Mr. Palmadessa began to take on his own role in recent years. As the apartment towers and upscale restaurants opened, he was seen as a living embodiment of Hell's Kitchen's working-class past. His passing is being regarded as a watershed, the moment the old neighborhood disappeared.

Mr. Palmadessa refused to call Hell's Kitchen by its newer name, Clinton, but he had largely made peace with the changes and even welcomed them. "Johnny, you know what it means?" he said to Mr. Bolger, referring to the gentrification. "More beautiful girls in the neighborhood, more people to meet, more conversations to have, and more restaurants to sell ice to."

At the funeral service at Holy Cross Church on 42nd Street, the parish priest, the Rev. Peter Colapietro, remarked to Mr. Bolger that Mr. Palmadessa was in a better place now where nobody needs ice, where everything is perfect. In response, Mr. Bolger said, "Yeah, he'd probably sell them ice anyway."
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