All that's left of Colin Powell on the battered old street where he grew up is a two-page report in a file cabinet at I.S. 52.
The record tells us that the future general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff lived up the street at 952 Kelly and got mostly 80s and 90s. That he typed his reports, collected stamps and liked to make maps. That he was elected "class captain" and took French. That he graduated from junior high in 1950.When Dwight Eisenhower, a general to whom Powell is being compared, was named Supreme Allied Commander in 1943, reporters who went to Abilene, Kan., saw the house where Ike was raised. They interviewed his mother, chatted with his friends, visited the dairy where he had worked 80 hours a week.
It's different with Colin Powell. He grew up in the South Bronx.
When the Powell family moved out in 1956, the neighborhood already had begun a decline so rapid that today there is virtually no memory or trace of those who were born, lived and died there in the years after World War II.
Were Powell to return, he would not find the corner bakery where fat Mr. Kaiserman sold cheesecakes for less than a dollar. He would not find the Tiffany Theatre, where he liked to watch Westerns. And he would not find the four-story brown brick walk-up where he lived for 15 years.
J. Sickser's, the children's store where young Colin fixed furniture after school, is shuttered. Intervale Avenue station, his subway stop, has been closed since a fire damaged it several years ago.
Prospect Hospital is now a shelter for homeless families, and P.S. 39, Powell's grade school, is filled with community group offices.
"You're looking for people who knew Colin Powell?" asks accountant Henry Altman, one of the few white businessmen who waited out the two-decade storm of arson, crime, drugs and migration. "You got a tough job."
Carmen Rivera's living room window offers a view of the spot where 952 Kelly stood. Today it is a parking lot, surrounded by an 8-foot-high chain-link fence topped by large loops of barbed wire.
This is the 41st police precinct, "Fort Apache" as it became known in the days when you could count on hearing a siren - police, fire or ambulance - every five minutes.
But in Carmen's home, all is orderly. Thick plastic covers the flower-print upholstery of her couch and chairs. An array of intricate ceramic knickknacks sits on a lace runner atop her coffee table.
Carmen, who left Puerto Rico when she was 5, is living at the corner of Kelly and 163rd Street for one reason: In 1983, she was able to get a three-bedroom apartment in a new, rent-subsidized building.
"It's OK," Carmen says of the neighborhood, "because I don't get involved with the people around here. I just stay inside."
There are no children on the street where Colin Powell and dozens of other kids once played stickball and raced go-carts. Although Carmen's 19-year-old son goes pretty much where he wants when he wants, she makes her 13- and 9-year-old boys play inside most of the time.
And neither she nor they ever go out after dark. "That corner," she says, nodding toward the one where Kaiserman baked, "too much action" - meaning drugs. But no one has been shot lately, she adds.
Kelly Street is a neighborhood in transition, but no one can say for certain if it will change for better or worse. There are signs of hope: apartment houses and brownstones with freshly sandblasted facades and windows still bearing the manufacturer's label. Thousands of homes have been rehabilitated, almost all with government funds.
But the area's economy still is based on the welfare check and the Medicaid number. Most children have only one parent, and most never graduate from high school. Crack has infected many apartment buildings.
Powell is a long way from Kelly Street, however; he now resides in a graceful old house reserved for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff atop a hill in Fort Myers, Va., with a fine view of Washington.
Unfortunately, he is no longer able to indulge in that favorite Bronx pastime - repairing and rebuilding old cars. "That august place that I live in makes it a little difficult to have old Volvos lying around the yard," he said last year. "It drags down the neighborhood."
He was born in Harlem on April 5, 1937, the second child and first son of Luther Theophilius and Maud Ariel Powell. They had emigrated from Jamaica in the 1920s and never lost their lilting British accents. They also never gave up their faith in education and their determination that their children move up in the world.
In 1940, the whole family moved up - to the South Bronx. A few years later, they moved into the four-bedroom apartment on the third floor of 952 Kelly.
Each day Luther Powell boarded the subway and rode to the garment district, where he worked as a sales clerk. His wife, a seamstress, stopped working after their daughter Marilyn was born. Colin followed five years later.
Powell would later describe the neighborhood as "not a completely idyllic place to grow up." It was, however, a solid working class district where Jews, Italians, blacks and Hispanics co-existed with relatively little strife and almost no serious crime. Powell even picked up some Yiddish, which he still uses when an opportunity presents itself.
On Kelly Street, "everybody was a `minority,' " Powell has written. "I was 21 and stationed at Fort Benning before I ever saw what is referred to as a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant."
In 1956, while Powell was attending City College, his family bought a house in a black middle class section of Queens. Over the next few years he began to rise, and Kelly Street began to fall.
In those days, the South Bronx was the most densely populated place in North America. Suddenly, there were more and more alternatives - a new apartment up in Co-op City, a vacant rental over on the Grand Concourse, a Cape out in the suburbs - and more and more empty apartments on Kelly.
They soon were filled with poor, uneducated Puerto Ricans and southern blacks, and the tenements that once seemed cozy grew tense. Many landlords set fire to their buildings for insurance money, and some tenants did the same in hopes of getting placed in public housing.
Eventually almost everyone who could move out did; between 1970 and 1980 the population of the South Bronx dropped from 90,000 to 30,000, and became almost entirely black and Hispanic.
The era's victims included 952 Kelly, which was ravaged by fire, and a community activist named Maria Estela, who was murdered. Carmen Rivera's building later replaced the former, and was named after the latter.
Today, as the South Bronx tries to come back, Colin Powell - the home-boy no one remembered until he became the president's national security adviser in 1987 - is a role model.
At his old junior high, Powell's utterances are repeated on the student "radio station," which broadcasts over the public address system. Tania Osorio, a who teaches religious classes at St. Athanasius Church, calls Powell "an inspiration to the young people around here. His success shows them that hard work and determination pay off."
When Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer spoke last month at the funeral of the first New York soldier killed in the gulf war, he reminded his audience that Powell grew up nearby. "The South Bronx is now a neighborhood which will be known for its heroes," he said.
On the street, however, Colin Powell's name usually evokes quizzical stares. "Colin? What's he, Irish?" asks one man. But almost everyone knows "that black general on television."