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billyblancoNYC
January 1st, 2005, 03:09 AM
Stapleton, SI

A Past to Preserve, With Original Details

By CLAIRE WILSON
Published: January 2, 2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/02/realestate/02livi.html

JEFF KOLASINSKI remembers peering through the windows of an old town house in the Stapleton section of Staten Island one day in 1990 and thinking, "Holy smokes! I have to have it." The two-floor apartment had just been rented, but when he saw the crown moldings and medallions on the parlor's 11-and-a-half-foot ceilings, the showy fireplace and the lovely patina on the original pine floors, he called the owners, Bill and Tom Henry, and persuaded them to give the new tenants their deposit money back.

They did just that. (The tenants, who were performers, had been planning to use the unit only as a studio.) And not only did Mr. Kolasinski, who is an interior designer, rent the upper portion of the 1870's residence for $850 a month, four years ago he bought the entire three-story house for $125,000. In addition to most of its original details, it has a back deck with views of Manhattan, ample on-street parking and a soon-to-be-stylish address on Harrison Street, whose residents hope to see their block designated a historic district.

"It was the way I wanted to live in Manhattan but couldn't afford to," said Mr. Kolasinski, who lived on the Lower East Side in the 1980's when it was more dangerous than desirable. "In Manhattan you don't have the proximity of your neighbors and the opportunity to get to know them, and being from Wisconsin, I need that."

Mr. Kolasinski, a painter of faux finishes, is one of many artists and preservation-minded refugees moving to Stapleton for the large affordable spaces, rambling old houses to renovate and convenience to Manhattan. Bordered by Bay Street and Upper New York Bay on the east; Vanderbilt and Osgood Avenues to the south; Van Duzer Street, St. Pauls Avenue and a cross-hatch of small streets to the west and north, the town is 15 minutes by car from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and 12 minutes from the ferry by bus, jitney or the Staten Island Railway.

"In nice weather it is a 25-minute walk from our house" to the ferry, said Frances Paulo Huber, president and chief executive of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, a Greek Revival complex of exhibition and performance spaces and home to the Staten Island Botanical Garden. "When we go to the opera, it takes longer to get the car out of the Lincoln Center garage than it does to get home."

Ms. Huber and her husband, Bob, an executive with I.B.M. and a former speech writer for Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani, live in a 60's-era split-level ranch that they say was once a bordello. It's relative newness makes it an anomaly in this part of Stapleton, where 92 houses in the vicinity of the central thoroughfare, St. Pauls Avenue, were landmarked last summer.

The hamlet's uneven patchwork of hilly, tree-shaded streets is pleasantly hospitable to a variety of architectural styles that include Victorian, Italianate, Arts and Crafts and colonials, many of them dating back to the middle to late 1800's, as well as small pockets of new town houses. Some older structures were ship captains' homes, while others were built by German beer barons whose massive brick breweries dotted the local landscape and perfumed the air with the smell of hops well into the middle of the last century. German was spoken on the street into the 1960's, and there were German-language services at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church into the early 1970's, said Barnett Shepherd, a historian and former executive director of the Staten Island Historical Society.

Encouraged by the efforts of the local preservation group, the Mud Lane Society for the Renaissance of Stapleton (Mud Lane was the original name for St. Pauls Avenue), the restoration of older homes has moved steadily forward over the last three decades.

Claire Bisignano Chesnoff, a broker with Weichert Realtors Vitale Sunshine, said not every avenue is pristine. "On some streets there are homes that are manicured and others that are on the way," she said. "People have to be a little more flexible in what they expect on a block."

She has a 3,400-square-foot, six-bedroom 1890 house with a rental unit listed for $559,000, close to the top of the market for Stapleton where prices on detached one- and two-family homes range from about $199,000 to $600,000.

Dawn M. Carpenter, owner of Dawning Real Estate, expects prices to continue to rise. "On Prince Street, houses that were selling for $200,000 two years ago I sold this year for $305,000 and four or five years ago it would have been half that," she said.

Carl Neuhaus of Neuhaus Realty, recently sold a four-year-old, three-bedroom, three-and-half-bath semi-attached house for $436,000 - above the $420,000 he expected it would sell for because there are so few houses available in this increasingly attractive area. Eight-year tax abatements on some units make the area that much more appealing. "In the last few years the market has gotten hotter, inventory is at a record low level and interested buyers are at a record high level," he said.

Staten Island's largest public housing project, the 693-unit Stapleton Houses, occupies 18 acres in the lower third of the community, adjacent to the former Bayley Seton Hospital. Other rental units are in small renovated buildings or carved out of large houses and run from $600 a month for a one-bedroom to about $1,200 for a two-bedroom.

"Our top-floor two-bedroom with a patio and view of the city goes for $1,200 and one with fewer windows is $1,100," said Cynthia Mailman, an artist who is president and founder of the Mud Lane Society, and who owns rental property as well as a house in the St. Paul's Avenue-Stapleton Heights Historic District.

The neighborhood is well served by schools, both public and private. They include Public School 16, on Monroe Avenue, where 40.9 percent of fourth grade students read at or above grade level and 50.3 percent perform at or above grade level in math; and P.S. 14, on Tompkins Avenue, where 28.2 percent of fourth graders read at or above grade level and 54 percent perform at or above grade level in math.

Most students go on to Intermediate School 61 on Castleton Avenue, which teaches Grades 6 to 8. Of eighth grade students there, 41.1 percent read at or above grade level and 36.1 percent perform at or above grade level in math.

On Hamilton Avenue in nearby St. George, Curtis High School, one of the oldest in the city, teaches Grades 9 to 12. Seniors taking the SAT reasoning tests in 2003 scored an average of 437 on the verbal test, compared with 496 statewide, and 438 in math, compared with 510 statewide.

Among private schools, Trinity Lutheran School on St. Pauls Avenue teaches 162 children ages 3 to eighth grade. The Immaculate Conception Church school on Gordon Street has 166 students in prekindergarten through Grade 8. The 101-year-old, 750-student Notre Dame Academy on Howard Avenue, teaches girls only, prekindergarten through Grade 12.

Stapleton is a short hop by car from the 80-acre Snug Harbor arts center and the 107-acre Silver Lake Park and Golf Course. Well-stocked grocery stores are a short distance away by car and a one-block stretch of Van Duzer Street seems to have morphed into a little hipster neighborhood. It has the Muddy Cup coffee house, where "The Education of Max Bickford," the Richard Dreyfus and Marcia Gay Harden television series, was often filmed; a vintage clothing shop; a quirky auction gallery; and a cozy bed and breakfast, the Victorian Manor Inn. The latest arrival is Vida, a restaurant serving Mediterranean fare that quickly turned into a destination spot for diners from all over the island.

The area around Tappan Park, at Bay and Canal Streets, is the main commercial center. It was there that Stapleton Studios, whose backers included the actor Danny Aiello, came and went, as have a number of grandiose redevelopment plans. But the city recently earmarked $66 million for the development of the 36-acre Navy home port site. The plans include residential buildings, shops, restaurants, a sports complex, a farmers market and restoration of Tappan Park. Slated for completion by 2009, that project will further increase business at the villagelike collection of shops and restaurants.

"So much is still intact there that with a nice facade program, awnings, street furnishings and plants the place would be beautiful," Ms. Huber said. "You need people who are willing to pioneer in an area. Then, all of a sudden there is a bright spot and it starts spreading."

billyblancoNYC
January 1st, 2005, 03:10 AM
Ridgewood, Queens

One Family Makes a Move, And Four Others Follow
By JOYCE COHEN

Published: January 2, 2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/02/realestate/02hunt.html

WITH two young children, Robin Hardman and Peter Hill loved living in Stuyvesant Town - the playground right outside, the playmates across the hall, the 10-minute walk to school (15 if the kids dilly-dallied).

But inside, the living conditions were tight. Leo, now 9, and Mae, 6, shared the bedroom. Their parents slept on a pullout sofa bed in the living room. "It was an expensive and comfortable sofa bed," Ms. Hardman said.

When Stuyvesant Town's rental policy changed, the family lost hope of upgrading from their $1,200 one-bedroom to a two-bedroom they could afford. They simply had to move. "We tried to figure out how to stay in Manhattan, but it seemed impossible," said Ms. Hardman, whose children attend a school in the East Village that draws students from around the city. "We thought of Williamsburg often. A lot of families in our school lived there because of the L train."

In nearly two years of house hunting, they found that Brooklyn co-ops in their price range, $300,000-something, were "ugly and depressing." But the co-ops in Jackson Heights, Queens, were lovely. The family was about to buy one until they considered the school commute - three different trains. "It would kill us," Ms. Hardman said. "We called it off."

But last year, their son mentioned that a classmate, Lucien Simpfendoerfer, had just moved to a house in Brooklyn. Or was it Queens? At any rate, Lucien took the L train.

Near the First Avenue entrance to that very train, Ms. Hardman bumped into Lucien's mother, Claudia Jungkunst. Ms. Jungkunst's family was one of several school families in similar situations - artist parents, growing children, rising rents - who had bought houses in Ridgewood, which straddles the Brooklyn-Queens border.

A decade after Williamsburg became the new SoHo, they wondered: Would Ridgewood become the new Williamsburg?

The chain that steered Ms. Hardman's family to Ridgewood formed five years ago when Amanda Uprichard and her husband, Rick Gallagher, moved from SoHo to Williamsburg after the birth of their daughter, Shay, now 7.

They faced a rent increase to $2,800 from $1,800. "We wanted to stay in Williamsburg," Ms. Uprichard said. But she saw only "crummy frame houses" for sale. "I looked everywhere - Sunset Park, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Ditmas Park - but Ridgewood seemed the most logical. Our lives revolve around the L train," she said.

They found a brick house circa 1906, with a backyard, for $280,000. Though the neighborhood felt quiet, "the price was right and I was tired of looking at houses," Ms. Uprichard said. "I think we did the smart thing. The house is giant and in excellent shape."

Meanwhile, Sharon Horvath, a Williamsburg neighbor, faced a rent increase of her own - to $1,400 from $900 for a two-bedroom - when her building was sold.

Other rentals were equally pricey, and landlords were unreceptive anyway - Ms. Horvath is a single mother with a son, Paulus, 10.

"I was determined, like Scarlett O'Hara, that this would never happen to me again," she said. "I would be a property owner - I didn't want to get pushed out of a neighborhood I had helped to pioneer."

She heard that prices in Ridgewood were low. Driving around, she said, "I didn't know where I was, but it was suddenly green and pretty and there was a 'for sale' sign. I called from my cellphone. The next day, I was making a bid. I bought the first house I could afford on the L train in a neighborhood I had never heard of."

The three-bedroom house cost $210,000. "The L train was key," she said. "You maintain your trajectory - you just go farther out. It's a great subway line. It's what made Williamsburg. It's like the Gulf Stream, this warm current that supports culture."

So when Marilyn Gold and Paul Baumann could no longer bear the claustrophobia of their family's $1,050 two-bedroom Williamsburg rental - shared with sons Fergus, 10, and Liam, 6 - they looked to their artist friends for inspiration.

In Williamsburg, "the market was so hot that you could offer asking price and not even get a phone call back," Ms. Gold said. "We probably bid on 10 houses" and were outbid every time. "I realized we were barking up an impossible tree with Williamsburg. It seemed like we could spend years in bidding wars with nothing to show for the effort."

Her family was invited to a Halloween party given by Ms. Uprichard. "My husband loved their house, but I did not want to move to Ridgewood," Ms. Gold said. A year later, worn down, she reconsidered. So when Ms. Horvath called to tell her about a "for sale" sign on a three-bedroom house, she was ready.

The owner accepted their bid of $280,000, the asking price. Though the house lacked the yard they wanted, the interior space was thrilling. "The first day in the house, I was on a cloud," Ms. Gold said. "The children were asleep upstairs, my husband was fiddling in our new basement, and I was in the living room. It was heaven to have that separation."

Ms. Gold, in turn, saw the "for sale" sign on the house later bought by her friends Claudia Jungkunst and Thomas Simpfendoerfer, parents of Lucien, 9. They had been renting a Williamsburg two-bedroom for $900. Then Leila, now 3, was born.

Ms. Gold invited them out to Ridgewood. "We thought: 'Finally, a nice neighborhood and houses we can afford,' " Ms. Jungkunst said.

But it was tough finding houses for sale. "I drove out every week to a deli to buy The Ridgewood Times," the local weekly, Ms. Jungkunst said. There were few ads on the Web, and brokers rarely had more than one house to show her.

One day, Ms. Gold called - she had spotted a house with a "for sale" sign. Within hours, a downpour smudged the phone number. Ms. Jungkunst had already arranged to visit. The previous owners had bought the house a year earlier for $180,000, she said; they agreed on a sale price of $315,000.

It was her son, Lucien, who told his classmate Leo Hardman-Hill about their new house. And shortly afterward, when the mothers bumped into each other, Ms. Hardman found out more.

She and her husband first visited Ridgewood on a "bleak winter day," when the streets seemed desolate. But they followed up on some leads, and the neighborhood grew on them.

Again, the call came from Ms. Gold: a four-bedroom house on the market for $389,000. Ms. Hardman and her husband dragged themselves over, expecting to rule it out. But the house was enormous, with a yard, a garage and original details that included a stained-glass skylight. This part of Ridgewood was "busy with commerce" and suitably urban.

"I got the feeling they had offers for $320,000 because the real-estate agent knew they would not go that low," Ms. Hardman said. Her family offered $350,000 and settled on $360,000 - more than they had intended. They removed the ugly carpet, replaced the ancient furnace and moved in last fall.

The first thing they bought was a real bed. Despite the high quality of the sofa bed - now used exclusively as a living-room couch - "we sleep a whole lot better," Ms. Hardman said.

Though they miss Manhattan, the space makes up for it. "In Stuy Town we were tripping over each other," she said. "If your shoes were across the room, you literally had to move someone out of the way to get to them." Even the big kitchen has made a difference. "I make more complicated dishes. The kids say the food is better - 'You never used to make bread pudding.' "

The kids have joined the ranks of L-train commuters. Their ride is 10 stops; 18 minutes. The trip is "kind of annoying because I am used to walking to school and now I have to wake up earlier," Leo said. When he runs into friends, the ride goes quickly, "but when I'm there with just my Dad, it seems to take forever."

alex ballard
January 1st, 2005, 02:06 PM
Do you see the entirety of the L train becoming one string of gentrified neighborhood after gentrified neighborhood?

billyblancoNYC
January 2nd, 2005, 02:40 AM
You can never tell, but that seems to be the pattern.