The few Albanians I know in this area are all great f'in guys and all own businesses and/or real estate. It's a nice little community and seems to be growing. Good, I would like to see some more, new, European immigration to the city.
June 6, 2004
Albanian? Now, That's Italian
By LIONEL BEEHNER
The sign outside says Giovanni’s, but the pizza dough is flipped by George Dedvuka.
AROUND a table dotted with espressos, a 34-year-old Albanian construction worker named Bajram Camaj was enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon with three well-built men with olive skin and thinning, slicked-back hair.
Sitting outside their regular hangout, the Gurra Cafe, one of the few Albanian-style restaurants tucked among the garble of Italian bakeries and cheese stores that line Arthur Avenue, they chatted about food, girls, growing up in Kosovo and the recent war in the former Yugoslavia. The conversation about the war quickly segued into a discussion of "The Sopranos."
"If you want the real stuff," said Mr. Camaj, nibbling at a plate of dried meat and Albanian cheeses, "you have to watch 'The Godfather.' "
Elvir Muriqi, a 25-year-old boxer who this day was wearing a skintight shirt and mounds of shiny jewelry, and, were it not for his goatee, could stunt-double for Sly Stallone, chimed in. "Italian culture, the food, it's very comfortable," said Mr. Muriqi, who emigrated from Kosovo to the United States in 1996. "My managers are Italian. They're my second family."
In most neighborhoods, the arrival of a new ethnic group brings noticeable and sometimes disruptive changes. But in Belmont, the traditionally Italian neighborhood where the music of Caruso still streams from local restaurants whose owners go by nicknames like Uncle Nunzio, a recent influx of younger Albanians has blended in with surprising ease. Like the Italians who preceded them a century ago, they are not only opening Italian-themed restaurants; they also employ Italian help and have adapted Italian customs like sitting for hours in cafes nursing little cups of strong coffee.
"You can't even tell Italians from Albanians; we all look the same," said Hilmi Haxhaj, a 39-year-old building superintendent from Kosovo who lives on nearby Pelham Parkway. Some of Belmont's younger Albanians also speak a little Italian, particularly Italian slang, and often give one another Italian-sounding nicknames, slapping an 'o' or an 'i' onto their first or last names; Gjevat, for example, becomes Gjevato.
Although Albanians have already begun gobbling up businesses and properties long owned by Italian immigrants, most local restaurants that have changed hands, like Giovanni's and Tony and Tina's pizzerias, have retained their Italian names, not to mention pasta-heavy menus, red-checkered tablecloths, etchings of Sicily on the walls and other trappings of Italian restaurant.
The only hints of Albanian ownership are the occasional bust of the Albanian war hero nicknamed Skanderbeg, pictures of Mother Teresa (also an ethnic Albanian) and the ubiquitous double-headed eagle (Albania's national symbol, which looks a little like the Ferrari logo).
Albanians and Italians, separated only by the narrow Adriatic Sea, share a long, if checkered, history. As far back as the 15th century, Albanians began flocking to Italy's shores, leading to tension but also cultural similarities between the two countries. Even today, a few residents of the Bronx's Little Italy resent their Albanian neighbors for assimilating too much.
"A lot of them try to pass for Italians," said a local barber who would only speak anonymously, citing relatives who have ties to organized crime. "Because the two countries are close, Albanians always follow Italians around. Maybe it's because we took care of them during the time of Mussolini."
But most of the longtime Italian residents sympathize with their Albanian neighbors. Many of the Albanians are fellow Roman Catholics who fled via Italy during the 1980's as the country's Communist dictatorship began to unravel. En route, they picked up the traits, cooking styles and language of Italians. They settled in Belmont in part because, as one Albanian put it, the place felt "comfortable."
Peter Madonia Sr., 80, who used to run the Madonia Bakery, which employs a team of mostly Albanian cashiers and bakers, says Albanians make great customers (though they prefer their bread with softer crusts) but even better businesspeople. "They're not afraid to own businesses or buy property," he said. "They advance themselves."
But no one seems worried that the Bronx's Little Italy will turn into Little Albania. "We've got better food than anybody else," said Uncle Nunzio, a k a Nunzio Sapienza, over a cup of coffee from the corner of Emilia's, the restaurant he owns. "After all, who ever heard of someone going to Albania looking to eat?"
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
The few Albanians I know in this area are all great f'in guys and all own businesses and/or real estate. It's a nice little community and seems to be growing. Good, I would like to see some more, new, European immigration to the city.
South Bronx, The Bronx:
The (South) Bronx is up: a neighborhood revives
By Tom Acitelli
During a 1977 World Series game at Yankees Stadium, television commentator Howard Cosell directed the cameras away from the Yankees and Dodgers on the diamond toward a burning building a few blocks from home plate. "Ladies and gentlemen," Cosell announced to the nation, "the Bronx is burning."
It wasn't much of an overstatement.
Much of the borough's lower regions--that collection of neighborhoods roughly below the Cross Bronx Expressway known as the South Bronx - had been in disrepair and decline for decades.
By the late 1970s, landlords craving insurance money--and other arsonists-- regularly torched South Bronx buildings, sparking fires that sometimes consumed entire blocks, scarring the region with emptiness and inviting comparisons to bombed-pocked German and Japanese cities at the end of World War II.
Barely a generation later, gentrification is replacing conflagration in the South Bronx. While it's far from becoming the next East Village or Williamsburg--crime remains high and air quality low, for instance - the population of the once-emptying region is growing, and the real estate scene is evolving as more people discover a cheaper alternative to Manhattan and Brooklyn neighborhoods.
Randy Lee has watched the South Bronx real estate market since the 1960s. Lee, CEO of Leewood Real Estate Group, said middle- to high income homes are going up in the South Bronx, although only 10 years ago developers stuck mostly to building low-income housing. That fresh housing, Lee said, is being snatched up by people who would've left the South Bronx after a raise at work or starting a family, as well as by people who are returning to an area once synonymous with urban blight.
"What I see is that, where developments were a dime a dozen even five years ago," Lee said, "the competition today from as far down to the 140s is hot."
The South Bronx's population increased 11.8 percent in the 1990s, according to the Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems at New York University, which spearheaded a policy study of the region in 2004. That's a greater population increase for the decade than the borough, the entire city and the state. With an approximate population of 523,000 as of 2000, the South Bronx is home to 40 percent of the borough's population. The demographics there are shifting, with the percentage of African-Americans in the South Bronx dropping in the last several years and the Latino population increasing by double-digit percentages.
Artists and musicians are now part of the mix as they head north across the Harlem River in search of cheaper real estate. These reformed Manhattanites have rejiggered their new neighborhoods so much that the local media now speak of the South Bronx as a potential "next East Village." That lower Manhattan neighborhood was once synonymous with drugs, crime and squatting, and is now the site of $2,000-a-month studios and $500,000 walk-up one-bedroom apartments.
Could the South Bronx ever commonly command such prices? Short answer: No. Long answer: Yes, but it'd take a while.
A brownstone dating from the late 1880s recently went on the market in Mott Haven for $470,000, a much lower price than a similar property would command anywhere in Manhattan. Many detached, framed houses sit snugly among the South Bronx's public housing buildings and still-vacant lots, and, generally go for well under $1 million. Rentals mirror prices available in much of Queens, Brooklyn or Staten Island. A two-bedroom for under $2,000 a month is not uncommon in the South Bronx. Rezoning by the Bloomberg administration will soon make considerable amounts of industrial space available for commercial and residential use.
Lower rents are a draw for artists moving into the region, said Barry Kostrinsky, a co-founder of the Haven, an art space on 141st Street in Mott Haven. He has worked in the South Bronx since the early 1980s and lived there in the 1960s. Part of the region's allure for artists in addition to being cheap is its accessibility to galleries in lower Manhattan, Kostrinsky said.
"The express subway stop on 138th means it takes 20 minutes to get to 14th Street, to the galleries there," he said. "I've gone to 86th Street in 10 minutes."
Also, because of its bad reputation for so many years, time forgot some areas of the South Bronx, Kostrinksy said. Development ebbed to a trickle, and industrial areas converted into art spaces now serve as islands of quiet in which artists can produce.
"So, the South Bronx," Kostrinsky said, "it was terrible, right? That's what people said. But it started to clean up 20 years ago."
Still, crime rates remain higher in the South Bronx than in much of the rest of New York despite a more than 70-percent drop in major crimes over the past 12 years, according to the New York Police Department. The area's crime-ridden reputation, established decades ago, lingers.
Crime, asthma, unemployment -- not exactly strong selling points to lure new buyers and renters. Couple these with the resistance of some current residents who reject a gentrified South Bronx as another homogenous, expensive enclave, and real estate brokers have a clear challenge touting the region to outsiders, even with lower prices than much of the city. "
It would be trite to say it's an up-and-coming place," Lee said, "but I think it's certainly a comeback place."
Perhaps if (or when) the Yankees host another World Series in the South Bronx, a successor to the late Howard Cosell will gaze over the borough's southern environs and declare, "The Bronx is gentrifying."
Copyright © 2003-2005 The Real Deal.
Port Morris, The Bronx:
Rebuilt for Comfort, Not for Speed
The South Bronx is going upscale—but don’t expect an Armani store to move in just yet.
By Alec Appelbaum
Near the Third Avenue–138th Street stop on the 6 train, the Bronx neighborhood known as Port Morris looks frozen in the seventies. Forlorn-looking public-housing towers face one-story delis and Hub Cap City across Lincoln Avenue, and other bleak towers block views of the midtown skyline. There’s a steady hum of traffic over the Harlem and East River bridges.
But walk a few blocks to the west, crossing under the Major Deegan Expressway, and you’ll see the first flickering signs of what Bronx officials have promised for decades. Young women in knit hats and pale fellows with delicately messy hair slouch by. A brick five-story building called the Clocktower (pictured) stands near the Third Avenue Bridge on-ramp, and there are satellite dishes bolted to a few of its windowsills, marking, like pins in a map, where residents have replaced factory workers. The Bruckner Bar and Grill, under the on-ramp to the highway, resembles a set for a mid-budget movie about Irish cops—cops who eat portobello sandwiches, that is. Is the South Bronx’s reinvention for real? Is Port Morris going from gritty to “gritty”?
Yes, but slowly. The Bloomberg administration and the Bronx borough president’s office are pruning the zoning rules here, to encourage a modest yuppie influx without bumping out the factories and small businesses that make their homes at this nexus of expressways. If they pull it off—and despite reports of tofu on sale at the Western Beef on Morris Avenue—boho in the Bronx isn’t going to take its usual home-wrecking, mesclun-strewn path.
Port Morris’s shift began in 1997, when a big local nonprofit called SOBRO spearheaded streetscape improvements—installing sidewalk benches and the like, planting trees—to coax antique dealers to Bruckner Boulevard. Around that time, the city rezoned five blocks near the water to allow residential as well as light-industrial use of vacant properties. Artists started moving into the lofts; a gallery, Longwood, now showcases local creatives.
Now they’re bracing for company. On March 9, the City Council voted to expand the mixed-use district another eleven blocks toward the river. “Our aim here,” says Purnima Kapur, the Department of City Planning’s Bronx director, “is to take an area that seems very well situated and increase its potential.” When I speak to Adolfo Carrión Jr., the thoughtful borough president, he admits to drawing inspiration, and early-adopting residents, from that other revitalized B-borough.
One of those early adopters, Melissa Calderón, is now a coordinator for the Bronx Council on the Arts. “A lot of people came from Williamsburg and Dumbo in the past year,” she says. A visual artist, Calderón took loft space in nearby Mott Haven in 2002 and recently opened a gallery, Haven Artspace. “Now there’s food-shopping runs to Fairway so you can get the good stuff,” she says.
To that end, some of what’s going on is the usual upscaling story. The Clocktower, at Lincoln Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard—in the area rezoned in 1997—symbolizes one of Port Morris’s potential futures. It’s a former knitting factory that contains 75 lofts, all but two now rented as residences. Isaac Jacobs of Carnegie Management, whose father started the Clocktower project, says the company bought the building and adjacent lots for $4.75 million in 2000 and finished it this year. He’s charging $900 to $1,600 for units of 700 to 1,200 square feet—sized for professional-class apartment-dwellers, not artists who need space to stretch canvas or weld. The tenants are aesthetically alert, judging by the sculptures outside a couple of their doors, but most of them probably have day jobs. Carnegie even has plans to raze three buildings facing the Clocktower and build another 150 apartments.
The nearby blocks up for rezoning are mostly low- and mid-rise warehouses, all of which could see conversions. Some of them already have artist tenants, living illegally on commercial leases. They withhold their names and worry that rezoning would spur costly adjustments to their space, pricing them out. Representative quote from a resident: “It’s important to look out for the artists, and when someone like you writes an article, it’s a death knell.”
So far, it sounds like Soho in 1974 or Williamsburg in 1992—and we all know how those neighborhoods changed next. But something’s different in the Bronx. The usual gentrification script calls for manufacturing businesses to vanish from a neighborhood as residents pour in, and this part of the Bronx just isn’t headed down that road. Ask Allison Jaffe, a real-estate agent selling single- and multi-family houses for under $500,000 a few blocks inland, on Alexander Avenue. “Port Morris always sat at the crossroads of New York’s commercial routes,” she notes. “So this neighborhood will always retain a kind of mixed culture.”
Unlike prior loft-to-luxe neighborhoods, Port Morris isn’t half-deserted—it has an active, noisy working waterfront. Waste Management runs the borough’s transfer station in the Harlem River rail yards. Other big employers include a New York Post printing plant and the more olfactorily appealing Zaro’s Bread Basket bakery. The Bruckner runs right through the area. “The real issue,” says SOBRO senior vice-president Neil Pariser, “is going to be how residential fits in with industrial.”
The area’s proximity to Manhattan and airports attracts small offices and manufacturers like Antoine Debouverie, a 31-year-old importing laser-cut steel gazebos. Debouverie lives in his 3,000-square-foot Third Avenue loft, soaking up the local character when he’s not traveling on business, and sees the area growing organically. “If you don’t speak Spanish here, you’re not going to have good food,” he says. “The first grab [for housing] is going to be by Bronx locals.” Though the rezoning could theoretically open up the river to a cluster of blah towers, like the ones edging the Queens waterfront and planned for Brooklyn, that’s not likely in the Bronx’s political climate. “I’m not worried about displacement” of businesses, Carrión declares. “I’m more worried that we not create an enclave for high-income-earners only.”
So far, that worry seems somewhat academic. The area still lacks the services and buzz that would stoke speculative construction. Even so, neighborhood residents like Calderón are talking about organizing for low-income set-asides in new developments, and people like Carrión are taking the idea seriously. In short, the borough president is trying to simultaneously bring about change while managing it and making it prettier. His office and nonprofits like Sustainable South Bronx and the Point are trying to fund waterfront greenways and a footbridge to Randalls Island. “The Bronx is bearing the ball and chain from the 1970s,” says Carrión. “Development like this is going to break that chain.” It may. Just not all at once.
Copyright © 2004 , New York Metro
Riverdale, The Bronx:
Riverdale Confronts Change
By NADINE BROZAN
Published: May 1, 2005
WITH its mix of mansions, attached houses, highly regarded private and public schools, colleges, religious institutions and the pastoral Wave Hill public garden, Riverdale seems set off from the rest of the Bronx - indeed from the rest of the city.
But while it may seem bucolic, it is a cauldron of controversy, a stage on which the major dramas of real estate - preservation versus growth, public interest versus entrepreneurship, trees and rocks versus roads - are playing out. Even the question of whether basketball hoops ought to be permitted in front of the stately homes of its Fieldston section can raise hackles.
But, more urgently, the accelerating pace of construction, particularly for tall apartment buildings, concerns some residents of Riverdale who fear the loss of something special.
"We are a shellshocked community," said Anthony Perez Cassino, chairman of Community Board 8, whose district includes Riverdale. "People cannot believe how quickly things are changing before their eyes. There are lots of big holes in the ground."
Bradford Trebach, an associate broker and general counsel with Trebach Realty, a family firm in business there for 33 years, agreed. "I have never seen this pace of development in the more than two decades I have been living and working in Riverdale," he said.
There is considerable resistance from civic organizations, government officials and residents like Eleanor Maute, who is constantly fending off offers - including one for $2 million - for her three-story stone-and-stucco Tudor in central Riverdale. An 82-year-old widow and great-grandmother, she is determined to stay, no matter how great the temptation to sell. "I am comfortable here," she said. "What would I buy by myself?" Nevertheless, her neighborhood is changing; a seven-story condo is under construction at the edge of her property.
There have been, of course, apartment towers in Riverdale, but until now, they were concentrated on the Henry Hudson Parkway, where they do not loom so markedly over houses like Mrs. Maute's.
Now it is impossible to drive around without coming upon one construction site after another or hearing speculation about the conversion of existing buildings.
All told, 11 condominium projects and a rental development of five three-family town houses are in various stages of planning or under construction. In addition, many schools, nursing homes and other institutions are pressing at their boundaries. All of that ratchets up the tension between proponents of growth and advocates of the status quo.
"Riverdale is a hotbed because it has an affluent, intellectual and verbal community and several platforms for debate including two community newspapers that compete and keep the dialogue going," said Charles G. Moerdler, chairman of the community board's land use committee. Among the more controversial developments are the projects being put up by Shmuel Jonas and Joseph Korff.
When it became clear last fall that a new zoning regulation was about to pass that would limit new construction to eight stories in parts of central Riverdale, both developers raced the clock to get their foundations in the ground under the old rules.
David Mandl, the architect of the Jonas project called Arlington Suites, a 13-story building going up on an irregular parcel between Arlington and Netherland Avenues, recalled how the developer managed to get the building going before the new rules took effect. "We compressed six months of work into 45 days, digging out bedrock, excavating and pouring 18,399 square feet of foundation," he said. "On Sept. 27 I went to the Buildings Department myself and got the last permit at 3:45 p.m. They shut the permit window at 4 p.m. The next morning the City Planning Commission voted to change the zoning, restricting heights to 70 feet."
Though he encountered several challenges to the project's eligibility for coverage under the old code, which requires that the foundation be virtually complete, he did get a stamp of approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals.
"It is all over," Mr. Mandl said triumphantly. "This is the last tall building in Riverdale."
Well, not quite. Mr. Korff's condominium project on a mostly vacant parcel at 237th Street and the Henry Hudson Parkway will rise to 19 stories. The new regulations limit building heights in a 30-block area of central Riverdale and Spuyten Duyvil. They also confine new construction in north Riverdale to single-family and semidetached dwellings.
Developers working in other parts of Riverdale will not have those restrictions - at least not for now. But rezoning is being considered for other areas.
Some of the new projects sit on land occupied until recently by small homes, inciting arguments about scale, context and scarcity of parking. Others are going up on vacant lots, raising environmental hackles. In fact, regulations governing the Special Natural Area District, which was created in 1975 to protect the topography and plant and marine life, were tightened in February..
Four houses came down to make way for Arlington Suites, the Jonas building at 3220 Arlington Avenue. Originally Mr. Jonas, who is the 23-year-old son of Howard Jonas, a telecommunications magnate, wanted to put up a 32-story tower. He approached St. Gabriel's Church next door offering to buy 5,000 square feet of its land and about 42,000 square feet of air rights for what he says was about $3.7 million.
As word got out and parishioners began to object, the plan collapsed. "It is hard to diagnose why, but you can always count on vocal opposition to any development," said the Rev. Thomas R. Kelly, pastor of the congregation. "We decided it was not in the interest of the parish to pursue this development."
But, he added, "this does not preclude future development."
As an alternative, Mr. Jonas decided to build a 17-story building. In a subsequent compromise reached with Mr. Moerdler, who was representing the community board, four more stories were lopped off.
When it is completed sometime next year, the building with three setbacks will contain 26 large three- and four-bedroom apartments. Although he cannot begin marketing the apartments until the offering plan is approved by the attorney general, Mr. Jonas said he anticipated that prices would run from more than $700,000 to $2 million.
Though Mr. Jonas said he is not planning to market the building specifically to Orthodox Jews, he said that it will have a "Sabbath elevator," programmed to stop on all floors without buttons being pushed.
Arlington Suites has come to represent the change that people dislike in Riverdale. "This building is the line in the sand," Mr. Perez Cassino said. "People feel inundated by the newer developments, and 1,600 signatures were collected opposing it."
Though Patrick Boyle and Norman Danzig, founders of a group called Concerned Residents of Riverdale who collected the signatures, say they are pleased that the height has been reduced, in their view that it is not enough. "In a neighborhood that has only seven-story buildings, we will now have a 13-story eyesore," Mr. Danzig said. "I am sure it will be architecturally fine, but 13 stories is still out of context."
Mr. Mandl disagreed. "Virtually the entire neighborhood is six stories built right out to the property line with heights of approximately 75 feet," he said. "Thirteen stories set back gives the area architectural variety rather than another boring six-story building."
The Korff building on 237th Street also aroused protest. When Leah Kaplan, a physical therapist who lives across the street, learned that every tree in the lot was being chopped down, she went out with a petition.
"We feel that a needle of a building is being thrust onto a small piece of land and it feels like a tower in the wrong place," she said. "What also riles the community is that he knew full well that the zoning code had a good chance of passing, so he broke ground to rush his foundation. That is a slap in the face to the community."
Mr. Korff denied that the height would be obtrusive. "It will have a great deal of light and air, but will not cast shadows impacting our neighbors to any great extent," he said.
He has been interested in the site since 1986. "As a result of the burgeoning real estate market and pricing in Manhattan and the attractiveness of Riverdale as a community, I decided this would be the time to attempt the risk of building luxury apartments," he said. Mr. Korff expects the project to be completed next spring.
In the view of G. Oliver Koppell, the area's City Council representative, such buildings "are out of scale and not a positive addition to the community."
But he added: "Will they be fatal or overwhelmingly ruinous? No, both are in areas that are already built up. They are not going into virgin territory."
To residents, every house torn down for an apartment is another domino falling. Nowhere is that more deeply felt than on Tulfan Terrace, a tiny cul-de-sac that sits high on a bluff in central Riverdale in an area that was not rezoned.
Three of its eight houses were demolished in March to be replaced, pending the approval of the Buildings Department, by a 20-story condo with 30 units to be constructed by D.J.C. Realty. Initially the Tulfan Terrace owners banded together, contacting public officials and hiring an urban planner. But one by one, three owners on the south side of the street gave in, tempted by breathtakingly high offers, fearful of being engulfed by a large structure and after hearing rumors, unfounded as it turned out, that everyone else was selling.
"I did sell my house after much protest and many misgivings," said DiAnn Pierce, a widow who lived in her house for 36 years. "The neighbors all told me, 'They couldn't offer me enough money to sell.' But one by one they caved in and the houses on either side of me went. I was afraid I would live between two construction sites."
She told the broker for the buyer, Stephen Eldridge, that she would reconsider. "They just quietly offered me more money until my price was met," she said. "That is the way business is done and it is very sad." Mrs. Pierce would not divulge how much she got.
Robert Wagner, a partner in D.J.C. Realty, said the houses were bought at fair market prices, without any pressure, "from the owners who were happy to sell to us."
Philip Friedman, a mechanical engineer, bought his house on the north side of Tulfan Terrace for $650,000 in July 2002. "It had been on the market for 18 months and at that time, developers were not interested," he said. "A week after I moved in, I was told that one of my neighbors was trying to sell a vacant lot, and I made an offer to buy it for about $275,000, intending to build a house for my mother." The neighbor sold it instead to Mr. Wagner.
Mr. Friedman is determined to stay put, no matter what. "I moved here because I wanted my kids who are 5 and 7 to grow up in a small community," he said.
The same determination motivates Mrs. Maute, whose husband, a retired firefighter, died last year. She raised five children in her house and plans to stay. "I have lived here since 1948 and my brother lived here before that," she said. "As the years went along, one house after another was sold and apartments gradually came about. The last house next door to me sold a year and a half ago, and a seven-story apartment building will go up adjoining my house."
The developers of that project, whom she declined to name for fear of antagonizing them, have been among her more ardent suitors. "My house will determine how they build there," she said. "If I sold to them, they could be secure that the windows facing me would not be shut off if another apartment house goes in."
"They offered me an amount up front with an agreement that I could stay but they would take complete control of the house," she said. "I told them, 'Absolutely not.' "
Not all the controversies roiling Riverdale revolve around apartment towers. In Fieldston, there has been enough concern about so-called McMansions to prompt efforts to have the enclave given landmark status. It is being reviewed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
With some residents either tearing down or expanding their houses, Mr. Trebach said, "they are regarded as a little too close to the neighbors, a little too new looking, too plain faced given the number of Tudor, Federal and Georgian-style houses that are common or a little too garish."
Even more worrisome, residents say, is the prospect of a cluster of houses planned for Chapel Farm, a pastoral 16-acre site abutting Fieldston's northwest border.
John E. Fitzgerald, a lawyer and developer, acquired the property in 1990. Since then he has been jousting with opponents, including the Fieldston Property Owners Association, and has filed lawsuits against various parties in both federal and state court.
Mr. Fitzgerald, who has changed the name of the complex to Villanova Estates in honor of his alma mater, said he intends to build 15 mansions - Tudors and colonials among them - measuring at least 10,000 square feet each.
Though Marc Odrich, chairman of the Fieldston Property Owners Association, which is being sued by Mr. Fitzgerald, said he could not comment while litigation was pending, the bone of contention appears to be access through the streets of Fieldston, which are privately owned.
In addition, said Mr. Moerdler, the chairman of the community board's land use committee, "I've gotten call after call objecting to the fact that the owner has removed half or more of all the trees, even where he is not going to build."
But the hostility may run deeper. "What you are seeing is legal maneuvering on both sides," Mr. Perez Cassino said. "People just don't want to see it developed."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
Riverdale, The Bronx:
New Residents, New Developments Change Riverdale
By A.L. GORDON - Staff Reporter of the Sun
May 11, 2006
Even the name Riverdale evokes the natural beauty of the Bronx neighborhood separated from Manhattan by the Harlem River, and from the New Jersey Palisades by the Hudson. Its steep grades and lush greenery make it seem a world apart from Manhattan, and in fact, many people assume it is not part of New York City.That's about to change.
Riverdale is on the cusp of a transformation, driven by young professionals looking for value and amenities that other tipping point neighborhoods such as Fort Greene or Harlem lack: quality public schools for students from kindergarten to 12th grade (an important moment for Riverdale was when it got its own public high school in 1999); parks; and convenient transportation to Manhattan by bus, subway, and commuter rail.
"For people who are thinking about having a family, it's very desirable," a 34-year-old Web designer, Hal Siegel, said.Mr.Siegel and his wife, Stephanie, a graphic designer who is 29, are preparing to start a family, and recently bought a three-bedroom condominium in Riverdale for $600,000. The unit is in Arlington Heights, a five-story building that is expected to be ready for occupancy in early summer. Mr. Siegel plans to commute to his office on 26th Street using the no. 1 line, a trip that will take 40 minutes each way. Mrs. Siegel works from home.
The Siegels are leaving behind the trendy Smith Street shops and restaurants they live near now, in Carroll Gardens, but they're charmed by what they have found in their new neighborhood. "There's a sense of neighborhoodiness," Mr. Siegel said. "I like the fact that there are places that have been there for years and years."
The condo the Siegels bought is one of many in development in Riverdale. And while there are many up-and-coming neighborhoods in various parts of the city, few can compete with Riverdale on price.
"Riverdale values are tremendous," a real estate broker with Atlantic Realty Partners, Peter Bobotas, said. "In Riverdale condos are a new phenomenon, people are just getting the word, while in Brooklyn and Queens that kind of market is there and developing for some time." Mr. Bobotas's firm handled sales at Arlington Heights, where two of the nine units are available.
Before young professionals started moving to the area in greater numbers, the influx of Orthodox Jewish families had already begun, and that has made the existing housing market tighter, driving up property values.
Fortunately for prospective buyers, developers have entered the market with a vengeance, with at least one building, Arlington Suites, marketed to Orthodox Jews, and others taking more of a cue from the luxury condos going up in Manhattan.
Almost everywhere you turn, a construction site is bringing noise and dust to the tree-lined streets, which are peppered with a motley blend of single-family houses and red brick apartment buildings.
The most popular spot for the new condominium developments is near the shopping center on Riverdale Avenue. The center features a Chase bank branch, a locksmith, a grocery store that delivers, an independent bookstore, and a handful of places to eat that offer pastries, sushi, kosher steak, and Italian subs.
Another condo development, the seven-story Cambridge Mews, is expected to be ready for occupancy in early summer. It contains 31 units with one-bedroom apartments starting at $329,000 and three-bedroom units starting at $800,000. Designers of the Mews tried to give the building an old, English-style look, adding a stone parapet that echoes the stonework at the 1926 walk-up co-op that is situated up the block, Fieldston Garden, where units rarely come on the market.
Across the street is Westwood Terrace, which aims to provide the luxury and amenities seen in new developments in Manhattan and Brooklyn. It in fact is designed by the same team that worked on the Chelsea Club and the Gretsch Building: designer Andres Es cobar and architect Karl Fischer.
The building with the sleekest look is the 20-story, 65-unit Solaria, which offers floor-to-ceiling glass apartments, most with balconies. When it is completed this fall, the Solaria will be the tallest building in Riverdale. It will also be one of its most expensive, with fivebedroom condominiums costing as much as $3.75 million. Contracts have been sent out for 20% of the units, with the developer marketing the units to a select list of potential tenants. (The sales office isn't open to the general public.) "The building is a great place for growing families, empty-nesters, and individuals looking for Manhattan quality in Riverdale," the president of Marketing Directors Incorporated, Adrienne Albert, said.
The feel of the neighborhood has already changed, with the sidewalks filled with many more children than there were four years ago. The 1970s style Chinese restaurants may not be around for long.
But because the new arrivals are drawn to the new construction,perhaps the lives of current residents will not be too disrupted. These are the teachers, nonprofit and arts administrators, and waiters at the Four Seasons who live in the massive white and red brick buildings.A one-bedroom in these buildings, now co-ops, sells for about $180,000 these days - an increase of 150% over the past five years.
And there will be significant price hikes in the luxury developments that have filled in right along the water's edge, where in small numbers, affluent professionals and empty nesters have been finding refuge from and proximity to Manhattan for years.
Riverdale also has super-wealthy areas with stately castle-like homes. In Fieldston, which recently received landmark status, houses sell for prices between $7 million and $10 million. Parents like the proximity to the elite private schools in the neighborhood: Fieldston, Riverdale Country School, and Horace Mann.
Newer residents are likely to feel most at home near Manhattan College and the College of Mount Saint Vincent, an area with bars - such as the Irish pub An Beal Bocht - that appeal to a younger crowd. But there are a few things lacking in Riverdale. There's no BAM, for instance, and there is no chic restaurant scene. As a resident of one of the historic mansions in the neighborhood, Susan Morgenthau, said, "When we have guests, we go into Manhattan to eat."
One place Mrs. Morgenthau hasn't tried yet is the River City Grill on Riverdale Avenue. It's the restaurant that developers feature on their Web sites to market the neighborhood and their new buildings. The restaurant itself is pictured with signage and decor that, more than any other Riverdale spot, could meet the standards of the hipsters of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
"Riverdale used to be the best-kept secret," the restaurant's owner, Bob Albert, who also owns a stake in the Zagat-rated Jake's Steakhouse in nearby Kingsbridge and has lived in the area since 1978, said."It's definitely not a secret anymore. I've never experienced anything like this."
© 2006 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC.
City Island, The Bronx:
Close-Up on City Island, the Bronx
The Seaport of the Bronx
by Jessie Pascoe
May 3rd, 2006
"Round here we don't die; we just dry up and blow away." Or so goes the New England adage evoked by a 1939 guide to New York in describing the robust inhabitants of City Island. Today, you can still find traces of the old pioneering spirit across this 230-acre neighborhood. And although wooden boats are crafted no longer on the self-proclaimed "Seaport of the Bronx," its aquatic legacy continues to be channeled, if in a more a recreational vein. Now the island is home to various dive shops and Jet Ski rentals, and an abundance of seafood restaurants along the main thoroughfare.
Vintage bungalows and Cape Cods freckle the quiet lanes. Yacht clubs cling to the water's edge. But a generic Wisteria Lane this place is not, with City Islanders tending more toward the Jolly Roger. Locals have long referred to themselves as "clam diggers" and outsiders as "mussel suckers."
Today, developers are erecting new condos, causing established residents to worry that their urban fishing village will shrivel away and live only as souvenirs in one of the local antique shops or as exhibits in the nautical museum. Take heart: City Island has a way to go before it becomes another Soho.
Boundaries: Located in the western part of Long Island Sound, south of Pelham Bay, City Island is connected to the Bronx by the City Island Bridge.
Main Drags: City Island Avenue is the sole major artery, lined with numerous shops and restaurants.
Transportation: Getting here by car is a million times easier, but taking the 6 train to Pelham Bay and then transferring to the BX29 can be your personal MTA adventure. During the weekdays, the BxM7B express ($5 each way) runs from Midtown.
Average Price to Rent: On average, one-bedrooms go for $850-$1,000; two bedrooms for $1,400 to $1,600; three bedrooms for $1,800 and up; and cottages and bungalows for around $2,000.
Average Price to Buy: Again, the water matters. One-bedroom houses are rare. Two-bedroom cottages go for $350,000, and three-bedroom houses rent for $500,000 to $800,000.
Cultural Institutions: Galleries and museums dot the small island. Focal Point Gallery (321 City Island Avenue, 718-885-1403) exhibits contemporary art, with a strong emphasis on photography. Starving Artist Café and Gallery (249 City Island Avenue, 718-885-3779) blends coffee with local art and performances. For a taste of the municipality's salty past, take a turn off the main street to City Island Nautical Museum (190 Fordham Street, 718-885-0008). Here you can peruse archives of all things boat related, including old World Cup sailing photos.
Shopping: A visit to City Island would not be complete without a stop at Mooncurser Records (229 City Island Avenue, 718-885-0302). A one-man local institution, owner Roger Roberge has over 100,000 records for customers ranging from first-time vinyl shoppers to serious collectors. Get your fix for memories of times past at Silver Arrow Antiques & Things (275 City Island Avenue, 718-885-1598) or Midtown Antiques (310 City Island Avenue, 718-885-2820).
Restaurants and Bars: City Island's seafood restaurants are a piscatorial paradise. Visitors flock to Johnny's Reef, on the southern tip of the island (2 City Island Avenue, 718-885-2090). Here you can wash down inexpensive fish and chips with a piña colada or Mai Tai. If you like to mix and match, head to Artie's Steak & Seafood (394 City Island Avenue) and have your lobster with some cow. For late-night dining, try Sammy's Fish Box (41 City Island Avenue, 718-885-0920. Manhattan sophisticates fear not! The concept of brunch is alive and well here. Prime spots include The City Island Diner (304 City Island Avenue), which hosts a traditional Irish Seisun, and the Black Whale (279 City Island Avenue, 718-885-3657), which has a back veranda. Both are good choices for vegetarians. Nightlife is mostly absent on the island, but the recently opened Sixmilecross Saloon (288 City Island Avenue, 718-885-1664) hopes to shake things up with weekly events including "Tattoo Tuesdays," and "S.I.N. on Sundays."
Crime Stats: As of April 23, 2006, the 45th precinct, which serves both City Island and Co-op City, reported one murder, three rapes, 69 robberies, 28 felonious assaults, and 91 burglaries.
Politicians: City Councilmember James Vacca, Assembly Member Michael Benedetto, Representative Joseph Crowley, State Senator Jeff Klein, all Democrats.
Copyright © 2006 Village Voice Media, Inc.
Living In | Crotona Park East, the Bronx
Out of Blight, a Step-Up Neighborhood
Todd Heisler/The New York Times
CONVERGENCE Shoppers navigate the intersection of Southern Boulevard, Boston Road and 174th Street, a business hub in Crotona Park East. New construction has replaced blight in many parts of the neighborhood. More Photos >
By C. J. HUGHES
Published: October 24, 2008
IT would be hard to get much emptier than the landscape of Crotona Park East in the late 1970s.
Slide Show Living in Crotona Park East, the Bronx
After being eviscerated by highway projects, poverty, public health crises and crime, this square-mile South Bronx neighborhood took its final blow in the form of arson, both by tenants and landlords, which helped to reduce rows of tenements to rubble.
The ruined streets conjured fear when used as film locations, whether for horror movies (“Wolfen”) or police dramas (“Fort Apache the Bronx”).
They also served as a different type of media backdrop when, 31 years ago this month, President Jimmy Carter paid a visit, describing the area as America’s “worst slum.”
In the intervening decades, much has changed. Once-desolate lots now have housing, whether rebuilt two-families or luxury condominiums.
One lot that Mr. Carter visited is now the site of Intervale Green and Louis Nine House, a $46 million complex with 173 moderately priced apartments, built with planted roofs and leafy courtyards by the nonprofit Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation. It is to open to renters next month.
Some new homes in the area make use of materials that are sensitive to Crotona’s high asthma rates. In fact, 28 new brick-and-stone two- and three-families with nontoxic rugs and paints built by the Blue Sea Development Company, won a city environmental award in September.
Other burned-out lots in this neighborhood of 33,000 residents have become Charlotte Gardens, a 1980s subdivision of raised ranches with deer lawn ornaments and covered boats in driveways. One resident is Elizabeth Jurden, who said that when she checked out Crotona more than 20 years ago, it didn’t look much different from the way it had when she watched Mr. Carter’s visit on the news.
“Rats were running across the street,” said Ms. Jurden, a retired transit worker, who moved here from a two-bedroom rental on the Upper West Side. “But I figured if it’s the pits now, it can only go one way, and that’s up.”
Her 1,500-square-foot home, with three bedrooms and one and a half baths, as well as grass on all sides, cost $50,000 in 1983, she said. Today, owing to its suburb-in-the-city feel, it might sell for $400,000, even in the downturn.
As tranquil as parts of Crotona might look, however, they still have their share of crime, as the barred windows on Ms. Jurden’s block suggest.
There have been 12 killings this year in the 42nd precinct, of which this neighborhood is a part. This is four more than in 2007. But from 1990 to 2007 murders here fell by 85 percent. Robberies are keeping pace with last year’s total, with 288 reported so far in 2008, about the same as late October 2007. And high unemployment persists, city officials say.
Yet now that Crotona’s long-term build-out seems to be nearing completion, attention can be focused more fully on social issues in this mostly black and Hispanic area, says Peter Williams, president of the Mid Bronx Desperadoes, a nonprofit developer and community organization founded in 1974 by women who patrolled to stop arsonists.
“Our next phase is human-capital development,” said Mr. Williams, whose group has worked on 121 local buildings, including Charlotte Gardens.
“We always believed this community could be revitalized,” he said, “and that dream seems closer.”
WHAT YOU’LL FIND
The Cross Bronx Expressway forms Crotona’s northern border. The Sheridan Expressway frames it to the east.
To the west lies Crotona Park, which in the 1980s was known for its crime. Today, through an $11 million Parks Department project, the 127.5-acre expanse is receiving new sidewalks, a pool house, tennis courts and a soccer field.
To restore Indian Lake, workers are removing concrete banks. A 500-seat amphitheater is to open in May. Among other events, hip-hop concerts will be held there on Thursdays in July, said Steven Cain, the park’s administrator.
Crotona Park East’s southern boundary, which touches Morrisania, is open to interpretation, but in terms of housing stock, there’s little distinction.
Both have squat vinyl-sided homes tucked in between three-story brick tenements that survived earlier eras. In Crotona, examples line Hoe Avenue, and Simpson and Home Streets.
Along Bryant Avenue, yellow-brick row houses feature terra-cotta inlays of cherubs. Some are in rough shape, with graffiti-scrawled doors, cracked stoops and plywood-covered windows.
In places, sneakers dangle from power lines. Sizable spray-painted murals also punctuate the area, like the eulogy to Mad Mark on East 167th Street (“the only M & M that will melt your heart”).
Early-20th-century apartment towers face Crotona Park. Their residents, like most in the area, are renters — many in Housing Authority buildings.
But the area has its share of owners, who live in single-family homes or in buildings where they rent out the upper floors, brokers say.
WHAT YOU’LL PAY
Even though many rents are set low, they’re slipping out of the reach of some residents, says Nancy Biberman, the president of Women’s Housing, citing its Intervale project, where the most expensive three-bedrooms are $1,089 a month.
“We’re having trouble filling it, which is extremely unusual,” she said. She guesses the problem is the current economic climate.
Otherwise, the rental market is fairly tight, with only about 75 apartments out of 3,000, or 3 percent, changing hands every month, brokers said.
Sales inventory, on the other hand, is escalating; it is currently at about 200 homes — three per block. Buyers, many of them investors, typically pay $360,000 for three-families whose units have two bedrooms, a bath and 900 square feet each, said Leslie Bhagwandin, a broker with Nardin Real Estate in Baychester. That price is off 20 percent from 2007; most of the decline occurred in the last 90 days. Older row houses on Bryant Avenue average about $425,000.
Still, “this is a step-up neighborhood,” for first-time buyers who ultimately settle in areas like Throgs Neck or Pelham Parkway, Mr. Bhagwandin added.
One troubling sign is the recent spike in foreclosures in a place where “for sale by bank” signs are not uncommon. Foreclosures have tripled since 2005, Mr. Bhagwandin said.
WHAT TO DO
The commercial strips are Southern Boulevard and Boston Road; under a flaking trestle sit auto-body shops, storefront churches and bodegas.
For groceries, most residents head to the New Horizons mall on East 174th Street, which offers a Pathmark, a Radio Shack and a Hollywood Video. At El Despertar restaurant nearby, $6 buys a plate of chicken, beans and rice.
On Bristow Street, at the quarter-acre Model T Senior Citizens Garden, volunteers grow figs, squash and beets, and tomatoes the color of plums.
People can pick what they need, said Tina Espinell, as she sat at a picnic table under wind chimes, “and it’s just a nice place to come for peace of mind.”
Crotona’s many public schools receive mixed reviews; one of the better-performing schools is Public School 61, the Francisco Oller School, which teaches prekindergarten through fifth grade. On state proficiency exams, 45 percent of fourth-graders there met standards in English, 83 percent in math. Citywide, percentages were 61 and 80.
For Grades 6 through 8, many head to Intermediate School 98, the Herman Ridder School, which enrolls about 500. On the 2008 state exams, 24 percent of eighth graders met standards in English, 57 percent in math, versus 43 and 60 citywide.
In recent years, the city has replaced large dropout-plagued schools with smaller specialized ones; South Bronx High School in Morrisania, for example, gave way to three schools, among them Mott Haven Village Prep. This year, averages at Mott Haven were 377 in reading, 355 in math and 369 in writing, versus 488, 503 and 475 statewide.
The Nos. 2 and 5 trains, which share elevated tracks through Crotona, have stops at Freeman Street and 174th Street, though the 5 skips those stops during the morning rush.
Most morning commuters take the 2 and transfer at 149th Street-Grand Concourse to the 4 or 5, to arrive in Midtown in 35 minutes.
Buses include the Bx11, Bx17, Bx19, Bx21 and Bx36. There is also the Bx35, which runs to the George Washington Bridge Bus Station.
The area’s hip-hop legacy is notable, says Mark Naison, a professor of African-American studies at Fordham.
Joseph Saddler, known as Grandmaster Flash, inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame last year, grew up on Fox Street, just south of Crotona, and gained fame as a D.J. at parties at Public School 63. A block away lived Theodore Livingston, a k a Grand Wizard Theodore, who is said to have invented turntable scratching, Mr. Naison said.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
Silver Beach Gardens: Private Bronx 'hood is hidden gem
BY Jason Sheftell
July 23rd 2009
For those who think Bronx neighborhoods are loud, busy, and filled with retail, prepare to be shocked.
After walking through the estate section of Riverdale and thinking I was in rural Vermont, and climbing Staten Island like it was the hills of San Francisco, nothing equipped me for what I would see and hear in Silver Beach Gardens, the Bronx.
A tight-knit waterfront co-op community where references count more than finances, Silver Beach felt like some white-picket-fence fairytale land where nothing bad could happen — a combination of an island in Maine without telephones, a sleepy Nantucket beach road and small-town U.S.A.
Sitting on a 50-foot bluff staring at the Manhattan skyline, a visitor might feel like this neighborhood of brick and wood one-, two- and three-story homes is a movie set plunked down in New York.
Even I feel bad letting people know it exists. Why? One, I may want to go back someday, and two, I don’t want to disturb the most peaceful neighborhood I’ve seen yet.
This place is so quiet you can hear an acorn drop and a squirrel climb a tree. In eight daylight hours, all I heard was the occasional laugh of a child swimming in a private cove, the bark of a dog, a laundry buzzer, a Jet Ski on the East River, the turning of a book page, the sizzling of a cheeseburger and the bristling of leaves.
When I arrive upon a little park, a simple headstone reads “Never Forget, 9-11-01,” pointing past the Whitestone Bridge to where the twin towers once stood. There are other private memorials, one to World War II, closer to the center of this little neighborhood that has 1960s “Slow, Children Playing” signs scattered about. On a bench overlooking the water, a young man pushes a baby carriage.
“The only way I can describe it is like that movie, ‘Pleasantville,’ ” says the man, a Queens native who moved here with his wife, who grew up in the neighborhood. “Once you come off Pennyfield Ave. to enter the Gardens, you’re somewhere that you don’t think can exist. It’s like stepping back in time. Living here has been the best experience I’ve ever had in my life.”
Kindly, the young man, whose name I don’t want to mention because of possible reprisals from his co-op board, who refused to talk to the Daily News, points out places of interest.
“Go down to the swimming beach,” he says, “and check out the Silver Beach Deli on Plaza Drive. That’s our neighborhood store. Then just walk around. It truly is unbelievable.”
Reachable via an hour trip in traffic on the BXM9 express bus from 51st and Madison Ave., the neighborhood is ideally situated between the Whitestone and Throgs Neck Bridges.
While the Great Depression devastated most areas, it created others. Silver Beach Gardens in the north Bronx was a waterfront summer resort on a curved cliff facing the Manhattan skyline when the stock market crashed.
Known as the Irish Riviera, its residents were affluent Irish New Yorkers who used their small wood and brick beach homes seasonally. In the fall, they boarded up the windows and went back to the city. After losing everything in the crash, some residents sold their city homes and winterized their Silver Beach houses to live there permanently.
Records show that in 1973, residents formed the Silver Beach Gardens Corp., making the area private. To live there today, inhabitants must have three letters of recommendation from co-op members as well as the necessary finances to purchase a home. The co-op arrangement means that homebuyers purchase shares to own the land.
While there are no manned gates or fences, and I didn’t see any “No Trespassing” signs, there is a sensation that these are unlike other city streets. Residents whisper “Hello” as they pass. Some were kind enough to help with directions, everyone was friendly (but kept to themselves), and no one asked who I was. Romantic couples may get away with a quiet walk, but I do not recommend large groups going there. In fact, please don’t.
Unlike Manhattan co-ops, which normally rise or fall in value based on market prices, these home prices remain stable, ranging from $300,000 for cottages in need of renovation to $1.2 million for waterfront homes that have four-level wooden decks cascading down a cliff. Michael T. Nagy Realty, a local leader in property sales, has the exclusive listing on a four-bedroom home for $329,000.
Just outside of the Gardens, where you do not need references, a smaller three-bedroom attached home on Pennyfield Ave. near the bus stop and a small tennis club lists for $470,000.
“The garden co-op tries to keep home prices affordable,” says a local source. “Fireman, policemen, good people can still afford to live here as long as they know someone. It’s not about making money when you move away. It’s about living here all your life. Houses don’t come up for sale until someone passes away.”
Some new buyers tear down the older historic homes to build three-story houses with windows facing the water. The co-op board, however, has strict design guidelines. Recent houses are Cape-style wooden structures with three stories and fences.
Indian Trail is the neighborhood’s main drag. It’s called a trail because it is one. About 5 feet wide with enough space for two people to walk side by side, Indian Trail is marked by wooden street signs with jagged edges. Cars can’t fit and bikes are not allowed. All street signs are wooden in Silver Beach Gardens, with most roads named after local trees or flowers. Linden, Acorn, Beech and Cedar intersect Magnolia, Plaza and Poplar.
Because of the views and the tiered docks, Indian Trail has the most coveted real estate in the neighborhood. Almost all the small lawns are well taken care of, with rose bushes, azaleas, wooden lighthouses, fake seagulls and a copper-rusted birdbath. The shades of homes are drawn, more to keep cool than for privacy.
Most homes have flagpoles, one of which has a blue-and-white Yankee flag below the red, white and blue. On one lawn, a young child cleans a totem pole. On a wooden deck, a couple lounge in a hot tub.
At the end of the trail, a woman walks a collie on a green space under the Throgs Neck Bridge. Behind the park, large research vessels from the nearby SUNY Maritime College campus put an exclamation point on the constant “whoas” associated with this Bronx neighborhood.
As I leave, a Wiffleball bat rests on a manicured lawn next to a tennis ball. A shirtless man in a bathing suit paints his wood siding navy blue. A couple sit on their stoop, petting a relaxed St. Bernard. I may have seen 30 people the entire day.
Around the corner, a sign on the ground reads, “Cherish Life’s Simple Pleasures.” It’s clear these people do. I just wish they’d share them a little more.
Living In | Edgewater Park and Silver Beach Gardens, the Bronx
Co-ops Galore, but Not a High Rise in Sight
By VIVIAN S. TOY
THE streets of Edgewater Park, a community on the southeastern edge of the Bronx that could easily be mistaken for a seaside village, didn’t even appear on official city maps until about 20 years ago.
Real estate agents say that many clients they encounter still have no idea where Edgewater Park is. And that seems to suit its residents just fine.
Marjorie White, a real estate agent who moved to Edgewater Park as a child in 1962 and has reared her own children there, said, “As a kid, I actually thought it was kind of cool that it wasn’t on the map because nobody could find me.”
Even now, residents do not use the street names, clinging instead to an old system that divided the 60-acre community into sections labeled A through E, as in, “We live over in A section.”
Ms. White describes Edgewater Park as close-knit and “great for kids, because everybody sort of looks out for one another and we all know who they belong to. It’s really a community within a community.”
Quiet enclaves of summer bungalows post-conversion to year-round homes, Edgewater Park and its neighbor on the other side of the Throgs Neck Expressway, Silver Beach Gardens, have an out-of-the-way, distinctly un-city-like feel to them. The streets have no sidewalks; some are little more than lanes leading toward Long Island Sound, on the Edgewater side, and wooden stairways to the East River, in Silver Beach.
What really sets both communities apart from the nearby streets of Throgs Neck is that they are cooperatives — Edgewater Park has 675 single-family homes, Silver Beach Gardens 451 — whose residents own their homes but lease the land from owners’ collectives. Each owner pays a monthly maintenance fee for the upkeep of the streets, beaches and common areas and the signs that proclaim: “Private Property, No Trespassing, No Soliciting, No Loitering.”
Neither place is open to just anyone, either. Potential homeowners are required to submit letters of recommendation from three current residents.
“Both places are kind of nestled where people don’t know about them,” said Diane Capone, an agent with Claire D. Leone Real Estate in Scarsdale who has listings in both communities. “They’re unusual, too, because people think of co-ops as big apartment buildings, not as single-family homes.”
WHAT YOU’LL FIND
Edgewater Park and Silver Beach Gardens each have one main entrance and have closed off other streets into the communities. Silver Beach has a part-time guard at the entrance gate, and both co-ops have a part-time security foot patrol.
The co-ops began in the early 20th century as summer colonies on sprawling waterfront estates, whose owners leased lots to city dwellers looking for a summer retreat. The original mansion in Silver Beach now houses the co-op association, but residents still refer to it as “the mansion.” Edgewater Park’s stone mansion is now the headquarters for the Edgewater Park Volunteer Fire Department. Brokers say many of the co-op members in both places are city workers, particularly for the police and fire departments.
Neither co-op has a simple street grid or regularly sized lots, although most lots are about 25 by 40 feet. Some homes have modest backyards and others have small front yards, but few have both. Although most started off as two-bedroom ranches with unfinished basements and small attics, many now have additional bedrooms and bathrooms, either on a second floor or in a finished basement.
WHAT YOU’LL PAY
The homes in Edgewater Park run the gamut in price from $39,000 for a house that needs a gut renovation, to almost $200,000 for a two-bedroom ranch, to as much as $375,000 for a renovated cottage on the water. Prices in Silver Beach are a little higher, with two-bedrooms starting just below $240,000 and an expanded duplex on a double lot asking $539,000. Brokers estimate that as in much of New York City, prices in both communities are about 20 percent lower than they were a year ago.
Maintenance in Edgewater Park is a flat rate of $232 a month; in Silver Beach it depends on the number of shares a homeowner holds, but is about $280. Any work to expand a house or to remodel the exterior must be approved by the co-op board.
Parking is allowed on the wider streets; the communities also have free parking lots for residents, and covered garages for which there are long waiting lists. In addition to the three letters of reference required from current residents, each place requires a co-op board interview. Silver Beach has a minimum down payment requirement of $30,000, and Edgewater Park requires $20,000 or 10 percent of a sale price, whichever is higher.
WHAT TO DO
Edgewater Park and Silver Beach have very active resident organizations that plan holiday events geared toward families with children. The beaches in Edgewater Park, none of which have lifeguards, look out on Long Island Sound and across to Long Island. Silver Beach sits on a bluff, with stairs leading down to beaches that look across to Queens and the Manhattan skyline in the far distance, and it has a lifeguard at its largest beach.
Edgewater Park opens every summer season with a Memorial Day parade led by the Edgewater Red Coats, the community’s fife-and-drum band. Other big events include an Easter egg hunt, swimming races on Labor Day, a Halloween party and a Christmas tree lighting hosted by the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the volunteer fire department. Edgewater Park also has an Over 40 Club that has weekly bingo games, a craft club and a Social & Welfare Association that holds fund-raisers “to help the less fortunate who are running on hard times,” according to a notice in the most recent edition of the community newsletter, the Edgewater Park Gazette.
Amelia M. Lewis, a broker who rented a home in Edgewater Park in the 1960s and then moved to Silver Beach when it went co-op in 1972, said both places were wonderful for young families. “It’s like a Shangri-La, where the kids can live in bathing suits all summer long,” she said.
Silver Beach Gardens, like Edgewater Park, has many child-oriented activities throughout the year. Ms. Capone spent a lot of time in Silver Beach as a child because her father ran the Silver Beach Restaurant and Tavern, a local catering hall that burned down in 1984. She has many relatives who still live in Silver Beach; she brings her children from Westchester for the egg hunts and Labor Day festivities. “It’s a real warm community,” she said, “with a lot of children always running around and keeping busy.”
Both communities have delis where residents can pick up sandwiches and last-minute groceries, but most residents take a short drive to East Tremont Avenue in Throgs Neck for more substantial shopping.
Both communities are zoned for Public School 72, on Dewey Avenue in Throgs Neck. Its test scores are about on a par with comparable public schools elsewhere in the city. In 2007-8, 66 percent of fifth graders met standards in English, 72 percent in mathematics; percentages for city schools with similar demographics were 63 and 75.
A nearby middle school, No. 101, is also in Throgs Neck, on Lafayette Avenue. The school has a gifted-and-talented program, and test scores reflect that. In 2007-8, 86 percent of eighth graders met state standards in English, 95 percent in math. The percentages for similar schools were 72 and 84.
At Herbert H. Lehman High School, on Tremont Avenue in Pelham Bay, 2008 SAT averages were 415 in reading, 436 in math and 405 in writing, versus 438, 460 and 433 citywide.
Many families in Edgewater Park and Silver Beach send their children to St. Francis DeChantal School, a parochial school that runs from kindergarten through eighth grade.
With no traffic, it can take as little as 40 minutes to drive to Midtown Manhattan from either Edgewater Park or Silver Beach Gardens. An express bus that stops inside Edgewater Park and just outside Silver Beach takes about 50 minutes to make the trip. It runs every 5 to 10 minutes during rush hour.
Edgewater Park was once the estate of an Irishman named Richard Shaw, who created a summer campground in the 1910s, renting lots to people who would pitch tents to enjoy the waterfront. The tents gave way to summer bungalows in the 1920s, and by the 1930s, during the Great Depression, were inhabited year-round. The community became a co-op in 1988.
Silver Beach was once the estate of the Havemeyer family, which made its fortune in sugar refinery in the 19th century. It followed a similar trajectory, becoming a co-op in the early 1970s.
Last edited by Merry; July 31st, 2009 at 11:38 PM. Reason: added pictures
Faces in the Rubble
By DAVID GONZALEZ
audio slide show
By the rivers of Babylon
There we sat down and wept
When we remembered Zion.
THE afternoon sun dipped low over the empty lots around Charlotte Street. There in the long shadows stood three boys against a backdrop of smashed bricks, crumpled beer cans and a busted bike wheel. Behind them, past the tall weeds of this urban prairie, loomed decrepit apartment buildings.
Yet the trio were grinning, their faces friendly, even goofy. Look closer at the picture and you can see why they smile: A scrawny mutt’s snout peeks out from their huddle.
Thirty years ago this summer, I returned to the South Bronx, where I grew up, with a Yale diploma in one hand and a beat-up Pentax camera in the other. Raised to get a good education, become a doctor and escape, I had instead come right back to teach photography — on Charlotte Street, no less, the world’s most famous slum.
In the four years I had been away, the South Bronx had gone from anonymous to notorious, a brand name for urban decay and despair. The landscape of my childhood had vanished, its buildings abandoned, stripped and incinerated.
Private tragedies became public humiliation in 1977. Howard Cosell damned the place, declaring, “The Bronx is burning,” as the cameras showed fires flickering beyond Yankee Stadium. Looters picked clean Tremont Avenue’s stores during that summer’s blackout. President Jimmy Carter made an obligatory pilgrimage — as Ronald Reagan would during his campaign in 1980 — for a photo-op amid the rubble.
The only way I could even try to confront this confusion was to slice it up into snapshots, each frame giving the illusion of a neat answer to inexplicable questions. For five years, I wandered from Fordham Road to Mott Haven, taking thousands of pictures in parks, street fairs, stores and even empty lots.
The negatives ended up stuffed in a closet. And the South Bronx was quietly transformed in the late 1980s by community campaigns that created new homes, community gardens and smaller schools. I became a journalist and traveled to Latin America, where I confronted poverty that made New York’s worst look tame.
But I always came back to the Bronx. I have spent much of my professional life chronicling the same streets I photographed as a young man. Six years ago, I moved back for good, with my wife and son. Some people thought I was crazy; cynics swore it hadn’t changed much from the Bad Old Days of 1979.
This year, I dug out the old pictures. The images may be black and white, but to look back upon them now is to discover that their secrets are revealed in shades of gray. In a landscape that was written off as uninhabitable — if not unsalvageable — you can see creativity, faith and even a kind of innocence.
Click. In the middle of a Mott Haven street, a lone couple hugs tightly and twirls to the music of an unseen orchestra. Squeegee boys dart out among the land yachts rolling off the Deegan to cadge a quick quarter.
Click. A couple with faces etched by lines depicting a tough journey rest for a moment, she with her groceries and he with a beer. An artist fills an abandoned building with lithe torsos made from the charred wood that had choked its apartments. A blind guitarist sings boleros from a faraway island.
The Bad Old Days?
Where some saw only rubble, life persisted in all of its ordinary glory. Where many fled in despair, others made a valiant stand. And where outsiders trembled, those who knew what this had been — and might one day become — clung to an affection that defied all logic.
Youngsters scramble about a schoolyard, a jumble of shapes and shadows. Close up, one plays with a toy gun. Now, look past him, beyond the fence.
Community School 61 was about the only occupied building on Charlotte Street when I arrived in September 1979 to teach photography. It was an old-style red-brick schoolhouse, unlike the Brutalist concrete learning factories that had become popular that decade.
The classroom overlooked a heartbreaking panorama of rubble, on streets that had incongruous names like Suburban or Home. One week, a Hollywood film crew descended on a nearby block and built a wood-frame church. Just as quickly, they torched it, so it could serve as a suitably charred ruin for their movie, “Wolfen.”
The plot revolved around wolves reclaiming the urban wasteland. Right. Then again, if wolves had actually roamed this area centuries before, one could see why they were upset with how things had turned out.
Some afternoons, buses rolled down the street and unloaded their nervous cargo. One by one, tourists stepped out, snapped a few frames of the devastation and retreated to the safety of their seats behind tinted windows. Off they went, with snapshots that became props for their tales of derring-do back home.
The pictures taken by my students were anything but despairing. They clicked happily away in the schoolyard, acting out superhero stories. They snapped their mothers cooking or their kid sisters sleeping. On Halloween, they ran around in costumes improvised from baggy skirts and jackets, their faces hidden behind Groucho glasses.
Before the devastation, this neighborhood had been a familiar backdrop to my own childhood. A music shop where my father bought guitar strings was on Southern Boulevard. The furniture store where he paid his weekly tribute for our plastic-covered sectional sofa was on Prospect Avenue. The five and dime where my mother worked the lunch counter was on Westchester Avenue.
No matter how far north or west my family moved to outrun the fires, we kept going back to the South Bronx. When we lived north of Crotona Park we trekked past Boston Road to visit friends and relatives on our old block on Beck Street.
Halfway between these two neighborhoods, on Southern Boulevard, was the Freeman Theater, which featured musicals by Mexico’s singing cowboy, Antonio Aguilar. To a boy like me, raised watching the broken-English bumbling of mustachioed banditos, Aguilar was a revelation. The Mexicans were the good guys, and Aguilar was the most heroic of the bunch, proudly singing atop his noble steed. In Spanish.
The Freeman went dark in the 1970s and was sealed shut with bricks. The blocks around it grew silent, too, as people left and buildings crumbled. Yet the South Bronx was anything but quiet. Fire alarms and sirens became so frequent that a friend joked that you could dance to their frenzied rhythm.
The Walkman was born the year I returned, 1979, but no one wanted a private soundtrack. Music was communal, binding rebellious teenagers or nostalgic parents. This was the granddaddy of file sharing: blast it out on the streets.
Old men with accordions and guitars would set up outside bodegas, playing for beer and companionship. Teenagers with boom boxes perched atop one shoulder like a bazooka bopped onto subway trains, drowning out the noise of grinding wheels as the No. 5 train made its tight turn onto Westchester Avenue.
Down by the Hub, the commercial crossroads where several streets cut through Third Avenue, loose-limbed dancers with fat-laced Puma sneakers and helmetlike Kangol caps ruled the streets and playgrounds. Felt letters on sweatshirts declared their allegiances — Rock Steady Crew, Rockwell Association — announcing to the world the nascent B-boy culture that would help launch hip-hop’s global assault.
Inside a graffiti-slathered storefront — where a spray-painted gravedigger walked among the tombstones — B-boys and graffiti writers from the Bronx mingled with artists and writers from downtown. This common ground was Fashion Moda, an alternative gallery that became world famous.
The South Bronx was abuzz with creativity, even as policymakers wrote it off. City officials suggested a policy of gradually cutting services to the worst neighborhoods. They called it planned shrinkage. It sounded more like thinning out your family by feeding the kids less each day.
Small surprise that the art from that era mocked the conventional wisdom. Along Charlotte Street, an artist wrote BROKEN PROMISES on the same buildings that served as stage sets for politicians who visited to troll for votes.
Inside a tenement near the Hub, a sculptor repopulated the building with figures made from garbage. The effect was startling: sticklike phantasms leaned against walls. Their heads were cardboard boxes, painted with big eyes and fierce teeth, like a shaman’s mask. Instead of incense to invoke the spirits, there was the pungent funk of mold and garbage, mixed with the burnt aroma of arsons past.
A guitarist, his face obscured by sunglasses and a hat, croons tropical love songs outside a shoe store. Behind him, a mannequin’s arm lifts her skirt, frozen in a pirouette. In case passers-by were unmoved by the music, his guitar was emblazoned with “I Am Blind.”
He was El Cieguito de Lares — the Little Blind Guy from Lares. His Puerto Rican birthplace was where islanders rebelled against Spain in 1868. It was fitting that he was on Fordham Road, since that was the Bronx’s Maginot Line, where businesses, not bunkers, would stop the creeping tide of arson.
Unlike Tremont Avenue, which had been picked clean by looters, Fordham Road bustled. The movie theaters had yet to be converted into discount clothing stores. Alexander’s — its huge sign immortalized in the opening moments of “The Wanderers” — stood sentry.
A few bookstores managed to stay open, as did some old-style candy stores with fountains. Old Irish ladies with no-nonsense cloth coats, and Jewish ones with babushkas and beat-up sandals, chatted in the vest-pocket park across the street from Cye Wells, which probably clothed their sons.
Lapels were wide and pointed, shirts were tight and garish, and none had a strand of natural fiber. Halfway up the Concourse from Alexander’s, a barber did brisk business giving young men identical Tony Manero disco haircuts, kept shell-hard with hot blasts from a dryer and dizzying clouds of hair spray.
Yet on the edges of this world were troubling signs. At playgrounds near Webster Avenue or parks on Jerome Avenue, young men rushed up to strangers whispering, “Pillow, sess, nickels and treys,” as they offered fat little manila envelopes stuffed with pot. Some sales were finalized in restrooms, with the seller offering a free hit.
The fires that everybody worried would rip past Fordham Road never happened — at least not the ones that incinerated buildings. Within a decade, thousands of smaller fires — the kind that set rocks of crack aglow — exacted a deadlier price.
“Hey, mista! Take a pickcha!”
Five boys jostled into the frame, all faces and hands, plastic water pistols jutting out at odd angles. Minutes later, four girls stood in the same spot, smiling coquettishly.
Those two pictures were taken on Aug. 10, 1979 — the day I turned 22 — as my friend Rafa Ramirez and I spent an afternoon at a Mott Haven street fair showing off the work of other Puerto Rican photographers. We did this a lot, bringing art to the people as part of our work with En Foco, the Latino photographers’ group that had hired me to teach at C.S. 61.
The children we encountered that day were like so many others from those years. They would ask — if not demand — that you take their picture. They all had their poses, filled with mock bravado or impish charm.
I have no idea what became of them. Maybe the boys got caught up in the insane violence that swept the area when crack wars broke out on those same streets, riddling hallways and passers-by with volleys of bullets. Maybe the girls became mothers before they became high school graduates.
Then again, maybe not.
The projects and tenements that lined those streets were home — even in the Bad Old Days — to people who worked and studied. Others might find it hard to believe, but lawyers and doctors came from there. Yes, there was poverty and violence. But there was also life that defied death.
Of all the stories told by these images, there is one that runs through all of them — my own. They chronicle how I made peace with the past as I figured out the future.
In the Bad Old Days of 1979, I was an exile in the land of my birth, ashamed of my neighborhood and myself. When my father died the next year, one of his friends quietly asked me at the wake, “How’s medical school?” — stunning me with the realization that Papi never had the heart to admit I had forsaken medicine for photography.
Three decades later, I’m still making pictures, with both words and cameras. The landscape is cleaner and safer. For sure, money, health and hope can be in short supply on some blocks.
But life lingers. Kids play in the street. Music blares from windows. And while new faces are in old buildings, a few people still remember me. At churches where I once fidgeted in pews, I drop in for morning Mass, the priest nodding at me from the altar as I settle in.
A battered trash can rests outside 858 Beck Street, below the window that was my — and my parents’ — room. My earliest memory is of sitting on the floor right by that window. I couldn’t see the garbage. I was too entranced by Papi playing his guitar.
Whether through sheer luck or providence, the buildings from my childhood survived the 1970s crucible. Some days, I can drive through every neighborhood I ever called home, knowing that by the end of my journey, I am happily and exactly where I should be.
In the Bronx.
Living In | Mount Hope, the Bronx
Easy on the Wallet; on the Eye, Too
By C. J. HUGHES
SYMMETRY Beaux-Arts row houses along Morris Avenue are part of Mount Hope’s historic district.
1754 Topping Avenue
111 Henwood Place
The Lewis Morris apartment building at 1749 Grand Concourse
80 steep steps that connect Clifford Place to Grand Concourse
Julius Richman Park
O'Brien Oval is a tiny city park sitting where East Tremont and Valentine and East 176th Streets come together
Mount Hope Playground is at Walton Avenue and 177th Street
NATURE has abhorred vacuums along Walton Avenue in Mount Hope, a diamond-shaped neighborhood in the occasionally rough central Bronx.
In the early 1980s, when torched or abandoned apartments were razed — particularly in the East 176th Street area — patches of tall grasses and flowers quickly took their place. In many ways, the hardy meadows probably resembled those that blanketed the area until the mid-1800s, when the advent of the New York and Harlem Railroad station down the street began encouraging development.
It is only within the last few years that a new wave of apartment building has swept across Mount Hope, snatching back those green spaces again for human settlement — in this case, low-income renters.
Radiance Brown sees the repopulation as marking a return to the Mount Hope of 1973, when she moved from Brooklyn to Morris Avenue, into a two-family Beaux-Arts row house whose bowed facade and bracketed cornice evoke the South End in Boston.
Back then her husband, Charles, paid $65,000 for the home, plus $10,000 in renovations. The roof and windows were replaced, as well as the plumbing and electrical systems, but the plaster moldings are still in place.
Today, Ms. Brown said, the building might sell for $650,000; she bases her estimate on a recent listing on her block. Both also now sit in a city historic district.
Mount Hope’s improvements represent a personal victory for Ms. Brown, who organized neighbors to clean sidewalks when the city wouldn’t. As she put it: “We grabbed brooms and went where the garbage was. It was work, work, work.”
The Mount Hope Housing Company, which she helped found in 1986, symbolizes her determination. Today the company, which creates affordable housing, has 32 buildings in its portfolio, most of them in Mount Hope.
Almost all the units in those buildings are low-income rentals. But the company is about to strike out in a slightly new direction, with New Hope Morris, a 39-unit condominium scheduled for occupancy in February.
Though its units, too, will have income restrictions, they will be among the few new homes for sale here in years, brokers say.
Attracting buyers should be a priority for Mount Hope, said Glen Hardwick, who as a local homeowner knows that homeowners tend to take better care of their property than renters.
“We need a middle class here, because it’s all low-income now,” said Mr. Hardwick, as he leaned on a cane by a row of green peppers in the 176th Street Community Garden.
His theory is that there is so much affordable housing in Mount Hope that it is depressing the value of his two-bedroom co-op, which he said his mother bought for $4,000 in 1981.
Not that he is nostalgic for those times, which he remembers as dominated by gangs hanging out across the street. Nowadays, he said, “a lack of a parking is the only major problem we have.”
WHAT YOU’LL FIND
As its name suggests, Mount Hope sits on a rise. Its 80 blocks are bounded on one side by the Cross Bronx Expressway and cut down the middle by the Grand Concourse.
Much of the housing stock consists of six-story Depression-era apartment buildings interspersed with attached wood-frame homes, whose derivative Queen Anne styles — as seen along Anthony Avenue by Prospect Place — occasionally have flourishes like turrets topped with domes. Multiple electric meters on their facades suggest that they are multifamily dwellings.
Meanwhile, the two-family houses along Townsend Avenue, near Clifford Place, dress themselves up with peaked lancet-arch doorways and a medley of brick courses. And Topping Avenue’s slightly sagging row houses, near the rush of the expressway, have friezes adorned with garlands and shields.
There are also residential towers, like the enormous 1880 Valentine Avenue, erected as part of a 1970s urban-renewal project. It has 167 units, ranging in size from studios to two-bedrooms. They start at $739 a month, and can be subsidized through Section 8 vouchers, according to the building’s rental office.
All told, rentals make up 96 percent of the housing units in this neighborhood of about 46,000 people, according to census data. That compares with 70 percent for the city as a whole. Almost all of Mount Hope’s rental housing is subsidized, according to local officials.
Much of the population is foreign-born, census data show. Forty-one percent said they were from the Dominican Republic; there were also contingents from Jamaica, Ecuador and Guyana. And among the 31 percent who described themselves as African were populations from the western countries of Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
The 46th Precinct, which encompasses Mount Hope, continues to struggle with crime.
From 2001 to 2008, the murder rate dropped by 12 percent, from 17 to 15; the city as a whole recorded a 19 percent drop. Over that time, grand larceny actually increased by 7 percent in Mount Hope, to 450 from 422, while it went down 5 percent citywide.
The statistics tell only part of the story. “Is it in-your-face kind of stuff? No,” said Xavier Rodriguez, the district manager of Bronx Community Board 5, which represents the area. “But indoor drug-dealing is horrendous.”
A more fundamental challenge, Mr. Rodriguez said, is that Mount Hope has four homeless shelters. One of them, Susan’s Place, is in a one-story building at 1921 Jerome Avenue; another, at 115 Henwood Place, is in a 14-story high-rise. They add a transient population that doesn’t have the neighborhood’s best interests at heart, he explained.
“We don’t have that many homeless people in the Bronx,” Mr. Rodriguez said, “so the city must ship them here from elsewhere in the four boroughs.”
But the city’s Department of Homeless Services disagrees. Kristy Buller, a spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail message that while “37 percent of families entering intake come from the Bronx,” 35 percent of shelters are in the Bronx.
WHAT YOU’LL PAY
Because there are so few homes to buy and sell in Mount Hope, analyzing the market is difficult.
In the first six months of 2009, for example, only two homes sold, according to StreetEasy, the real estate research company. The average price of those two homes — one single-family, one two-family — was $222,000.
Likewise, only two homes — both two-families — sold in the first six months of 2006, near the market’s peak. Their average price was $500,000.
Rental prices are fairly consistent. At the 104 income-restricted units of the new Walton Henwood Apartments, studios start at $691, a sign in front says.
Across the street, at New Hope Walton, which began leasing in June, one-bedrooms start at $800. Those rents are comparable to what people pay in older buildings, give or take $100 a month, brokers and community leaders say.
At Public School 28 on Anthony Avenue, 68 percent of fourth-graders met standards on the state reading exam last year, while 88 percent did in math. Citywide, the figures were 69 percent and 85 percent.
Intermediate School 117, also known as the Joseph H. Wade School, was less successful: 36 percent of eighth-graders met standards in reading, 60 percent in math, versus 57 and 71 citywide.
For the next step, the William Howard Taft Educational Campus is nearby and houses six high schools. Only three have been open long enough to have recorded SAT scores, and averages are considerably lower than the city’s as a whole. At Bronx Expeditionary Learning, for example, averages last year were 333 in reading, 338 in math and 328 in writing, versus 435, 459 and 432 citywide.
The 4, B and D subway lines serve Mount Hope, delivering passengers to Midtown in about 20 minutes. Two buses, BxM4A and BxM4B, run express down the Grand Concourse to Midtown.
WHAT TO DO
Women and children walked hand in hand down East Burnside Avenue on a recent Saturday afternoon. They passed Fino, a clothing store that offered three suits for $200, and Rehoboth Fish Market, which displayed plastic bins full of shrimp on ice. Pastel-colored bird cages filled a pet store window.
In Julius Richman Park, huge outcroppings form an eye-catching backdrop for recreation.
The Grand Concourse, which opened in 1909, was one of the first “grade-separated” roads outside of a park, according to Lloyd Ultan, the Bronx historian.
Mount Hope had very few buildings when the road went in — although the flatiron-shaped No. 1882, at East Tremont Avenue, had already gone up. It was once the borough’s tallest building, Mr. Ultan said.
The Bigger Little Italy
By JEFF VANDAM
PASTEL PARADE Houses along Hoffman Avenue are typical of Belmont, which in addition to its well-known Italian-themed Arthur Avenue has Puerto Rican and Albanian influences.
THE other day in the Belmont section of the Bronx, two women carrying shopping bags conversed excitedly as they ambled down Crescent Avenue. One wore black winter gear from head to toe; her companion had on jeans and stylish black boots. Something marked their conversation as unusual: half was in Italian and the other in Spanish. But they clearly understood each other.
So it is in Belmont, now and perhaps forever known as the Little Italy of the Bronx — or, to some, “the real Little Italy” — and the subject of longstanding lore. The neighborhood was the breeding ground for Dion and the Belmonts in the 1950s and the setting for Chazz Palminteri’s “Bronx Tale,” a childhood memoir that he has toured the country to perform. (Robert De Niro’s film version came out in 1993.)
To this day Arthur Avenue, Belmont’s main artery, remains a thriving marketplace of menuless trattorias and pork stores par excellence.
“On any Saturday or any holiday, any given weekend, you cannot walk,” said Ivine Galarza, the district manager of Community Board 6 for the last 15 years. “It is so congested. People come from all over — Jersey, Connecticut — to get their meats.”
But what is it like to live there?
Outside Arthur Avenue and its sister commercial strip, East 187th Street, the neighborhood’s Italian standbys become sparse; instead, there is Tu y Yo Unisex Salon and La Iglesia Que Se Va.
An influx of students from Fordham University, just north of Belmont across Fordham Road, makes up a sizable part of the population, alongside communities of Puerto Rican and Albanian immigrants. (The restaurant Rozafa on Crescent Avenue serves both chicken marsala and Albanian speca te mbushur, a type of stuffed pepper.)
Yet, far from a museum piece or a shopping mall, the area is a functioning community where people get along.
“A lot of people say, ‘Move!’ No. I like it here,” said Marie Riolo, 90, who moved to Belmont early in life and has lived in the same building since 1941. Now the secretary of the local community board and chairwoman of its senior citizen committee, Mrs. Riolo is friendly with the students in her building on Lorillard Place and still visits all the same shops she has for years.
On the other end of the spectrum is Thomas Conroy, 21, a Fordham senior from Maryland who lives in a Hoffman Street apartment with five roommates, for which he pays about $600 a month. After two years of frequenting local shops, he has learned to follow the local loyalty rules when it comes to meats and cheeses.
“You feel like you’re betraying them if you go somewhere else,” said Mr. Conroy, a devotee of Tino’s Delicatessen on Arthur Avenue. “It’s my ritual now; I go there once a week.”
WHAT YOU’LL FIND
Roughly eight blocks long at its longest point and nine blocks wide at its widest, Belmont is hemmed in to the east by Bronx Park. But on other flanks, it has seen enough shifting of boundaries over the last few decades that there is no longer any firm definition of where it ends and where the rest of the Bronx begins. The southern border is generally thought to be either 182nd or 183rd Street; the dividing line then snakes up Third Avenue, at some point turning north to hit Fordham Road, the clear northern boundary.
Outside of the area around 187th Street and Arthur Avenue, where a new business improvement district was recently approved, Belmont consists largely of two- and three-family houses, though apartment buildings appear here and there. Some homes are in pristine condition, decorated to the nines for whatever holiday is approaching. A few are boarded up or have sat empty since construction.
Busy Fordham Road winds west into Fordham Plaza, a frenetic shopping area with all the staple chain stores and also the neighborhood stop on the Metro-North Railroad. There is talk in Belmont both for and against the idea of a new 13-story mixed-use building on Fordham Road; community hearings took place last week.
Belmont doesn’t contain an excess of green space, perhaps because Bronx Park is close by, but a small community garden called Belmont Little Farmers is in operation on Belmont Avenue. On East 188th Street, children swing to and fro at the Ciccarone Playground, which had $2.7 million in renovations in 2007.
Crime remains a concern. In 2009, the precinct that includes the neighborhood had 7 murders, 383 robberies and 362 felony assaults, according to the police CompStat system. A few well-publicized crimes last year did not help matters, including the early-morning murder last August of a former area lounge owner behind the Arthur Avenue Retail Market.
WHAT YOU’LL PAY
Like many Bronx neighborhoods, Belmont has had its share of foreclosures and short sales in recent years; the phenomenon has had the effect of dragging down prices.
“Right now nobody knows where the real estate market is,” said Pasquale Perretta, a former Fordham professor who owns a rental agency called Belmont Realty. “It’s still a very precarious situation. There is an abundance now, a glut of housing.”
Perhaps the best way to find property for sale is to wander the avenues and look for houses with for-sale signs attached. Few brokerages outside of rental agencies focus on the neighborhood, which makes Internet searches difficult; those with units on the market are typically based elsewhere in the Bronx or even farther afield.
Properties for purchase are by and large two- or three-family houses; if there is an apartment to be had, it is most likely for rent. In general, said Jennie Ng, broker and owner of ERA Champions Realty, single-family houses can be found starting in the $200,000 range, and two-family semidetached houses sell for about $400,000.
“The same two-family brick homes would have sold for $440,000 or $460,000 a year ago,” Ms. Ng said. Last year, she sold a single-family house on 183rd Street for $220,000. Comparable-sales reports from recent months show the price per square foot in the neighborhood hovering around $140.
The area also has a dose of “For Rent” signs, thanks in part to its still-growing student population. Two-bedroom apartments close to the Fordham campus generally cost about $1,400 a month, less if they are below 187th Street. One-bedrooms can be found for around $800.
A study released last March by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University found that Belmont, coupled with the nearby neighborhood of Morrisania, had the city’s third-lowest homeownership rate. The study also found that the area’s median monthly rent, when combined with nearby East Tremont’s, was $655, perhaps owing to the neighborhood’s supply of low-income housing.
WHAT TO DO
If you’ve stocked up on all the soppressata, pecorino Romano and zeppole you can handle on Arthur Avenue, venture east toward Southern Boulevard, where the Bronx Zoo, Bronx Park and, a bit farther north, the New York Botanical Garden all reside. Also northward, at Fordham University, continuing education courses on offer include medieval studies and anthropology.
Last year at Public School 32, the Belmont School, on East 183rd Street, 94.7 percent of students met standards in math, 77.1 percent in English. At Middle School 45, the Thomas C. Giordano School, on Lorillard Place, 61.6 percent met standards in English, 75.1 percent in math. SAT averages at Belmont Preparatory High School on Fordham Road were 357 in reading, 357 in math and 360 in writing. The most recent statewide averages were 531, 563 and 535.
Among the private possibilities in Belmont are two Catholic schools: the all-girl Aquinas High School on East 182nd Street and St. Martin of Tours School for prekindergarten through Grade 8.
The nearest option for commuting into Manhattan is the Fordham Road Metro-North Railroad, near Third Avenue. The ride into Grand Central Terminal is about 20 minutes; one-way peak tickets are $7; a monthly pass is $164. The closest subway is the Fordham Road station on the B and D lines, about a 15-minute walk from the area.
Belmont was once the province of the Lorillard family, for whom a street is named. After moving its tobacco operations to the Central Bronx from Lower Manhattan in the late 18th century, the family greatly expanded its property in the area, with its land known as the Belmont estate. But after the Lorillards decamped for New Jersey in 1870, the city acquired part of their land for Bronx Park; another section was divided into the streets that form Belmont today. (The Lorillards are still in business, as anyone who smokes Newports or Kents might tell you.)
City Moves to End a Bronx Olfactory Nightmare
By SAM DOLNICK
The city is moving to end its contract with the New York Organic Fertilizer Company in Hunts Point.
Barbara White no longer dries her clothes outside. Lucretia Jones has stopped holding backyard barbecues. Tanya Fields keeps her windows shut tight year-round.
For years, these neighbors in Hunts Point in the Bronx have battled a common plague: an acrid stench that hangs over the area like a black cloud, clinging to clothing, keeping children home from school, choking neighborhood life.
Some compare the smell to a filthy toilet, others to rotting meat; but everyone agrees that the stench comes from behind the gates of the New York Organic Fertilizer Company. The company’s Hunts Point plant processes sludge from 14 of the city’s sewage plants, amounting to nearly half of the city’s waste, and converts it into high-grade fertilizer pellets.
But now, after years of lawsuits, protests and complaints, beleaguered residents seem poised to win a major victory: City officials say they plan to cancel the $34-million-a-year contract with the company, effective June 30.
Caswell F. Holloway, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, said the city could save roughly $18 million a year by sending the waste to landfills instead. “We plan to make this happen this year and aggressively pursue more cost-effective beneficial reuse of biosolids,” Mr. Holloway said during testimony before the City Council earlier this week.
The company’s contract runs through 2013, but a spokesman said the city planned to end the contract by June 30.
“This is a huge victory,” said Representative José E. Serrano, who has fought for years to close the plant. “It was horrible — the smell, the stench. People living in the poorest congressional district in the nation, in many cases with very little education, knew this was something they could not tolerate.”
Community advocates have fought the plant for years. In 2008, the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the plant on behalf of a community group called Mothers on the Move along with 10 local residents. Last year, the state attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, also filed a public-nuisance lawsuit against the company. A settlement is being negotiated, said Albert Y. Huang, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Mark McCormick, a senior official at Synagro, the plant’s parent company, said the settlement would include upgrading the plant’s technology in an attempt to mitigate the smell.
Everyone in the Hunts Point area has stories about the inconvenience and distress caused by the smell. It worsened children’s asthma, they say. It forced grandmothers to leave their gardens untended, families to cancel picnics, and schools to hold recess indoors.
“It smells like a decaying body,” said Wilfredo Gebre, who noted that the smell was especially bad on hot summer days.
But the stink was more than just a nuisance. For many, it became a symbol of the city’s disregard for Hunts Point, a neighborhood made up predominantly of low-income and minority families.
The New York Organic Fertilizer Company “meant everything that was unfair about the treatment of the Bronx,” Mr. Serrano said.
Wanda Salaman, executive director of Mothers on the Move, said the plant was just another instance of the city’s treating Hunts Point as a dumping ground.
“Would they build something like that next to Mayor Bloomberg’s house?” she said inside her group’s office, from which she can sometimes smell the Oak Point Avenue plant a mile away. Her colleague, Thomas Assefa, nodded his head. “It’s an issue of race and class,” he said.
Mr. McCormick of Synagro said they were still hoping to find a resolution with the city.
“We’re going to reach out to the city and see what we can do short of terminating the contract,” he said, adding that the plant employs about 50 people. “At this point, we’re open to discussing anything to help them out, whether it’s volume or price or other ways we can help work with each other.”
While the city maintains that its decision has been made, local advocates cautioned that it was not yet time to celebrate. Even if the city voids the contract as planned, the plant operators could still sign a new deal with a different municipality to process even more sewage sludge.
“Our struggle doesn’t end just because the city has a different strategy,” Ms. Salaman said. “They could just take it to another poor neighborhood somewhere else. Just because it’s not in our backyard doesn’t mean that the problem is over.”
Protecting an Array of Gems in the Bronx
By ALISON GREGOR
IN the 1970s, when the Hunts Point section of the Bronx became associated with drugs, crime and prostitution, a group of bow-front row houses in the 800 block of Manida Street remained an oasis of tranquillity.
Now, some residents of the block would like to ensure that the houses remain intact. They are thinking of seeking landmark status.
There are about 40 of the homes, which were built around the turn of the last century, though the borough’s historians have not determined an exact date. Semidetached two-families, they were built in a Flemish architectural style that would have been familiar to the Bronx’s overwhelmingly Germanic population at the time.
The brick homes are a most unexpected gem in Hunts Point, a small peninsula separated from the rest of the South Bronx by the Bruckner Expressway. Properties there are mostly industrial buildings and low-income housing developments that in the last decades of the 20th century were plagued by arson and other problems.
“When I first started doing walking tours in the 1970s,” the architectural historian Barry Lewis said, “there were two neighborhoods I wouldn’t go into: Hunts Point and Red Hook. They were peninsulas, and you couldn’t get out if a gang confronted you.”
That sense of danger notwithstanding, the two-story row houses endured, and Mr. Lewis was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon them one day while visiting a nearby community group called the Point Community Development Corporation.
“Around the corner was this lovely row of town houses, some of them beautifully restored,” he said. “You would think you were in Park Slope.”
Residents of the block have long known they had something special, and a number of them take extra pride in their homes. Cybeale Ross bought her 2,792-square-foot home in 1958 for $16,500; she has preserved the high ceilings, French doors, bay windows, Gothic arches and stained-glass skylight, though she did turn a dumbwaiter shaft into a closet. She calls the 800 block of Manida Street a “little oasis.”
“We never sold our home,” Ms. Ross said. “When the Bronx was burning, people were running like it was the plague. I said, ‘No, I live in the Bronx, I work in the Bronx, the Bronx is my home.’ ”
Other longtime residents include Jeannette Johnson, the wife of the Big Band-era bandleader Buddy Johnson, and Cynthia Phillips and Orrin Hercules, who describe the block in the ’50s and ’60s as one of elegance and refinement, populated by doctors, lawyers and musicians. Ms. Phillips, who bought her 2,624-square-foot home for $17,000 in 1961, said some of them had been modified a bit.
“Some of the owners made changes,” she explained. “The back entrance would be a bedroom in most of the houses, but the gentleman who owned my home prior to me made a kitchen at the back. Most of the homes have kitchens in the middle of the house.”
Mr. Hercules said he installed wooden paneling and drop ceilings in his home in the 1970s. He is now removing those elements.
“I guess at the time, people wanted to conserve heat,” he said. “But now I’m taking out the drop ceilings and paneling, and going back to the original walls, because these are beautiful structures. They all have French doors separating rooms, and upstairs have skylights, and there are patios in the back.”
Maria Torres bought her home in 2006, and said she knew of at least one person who bought a home on the 800 block of Manida Street more recently, hoping to restore it.
According to Sidney A. Miller, a director of the Haven Heights Group in the Bronx, a real estate brokerage, values in the 800 block of Manida Street can be widely divergent, depending on how much historic detail remains in the home, whether the basement is finished or whether there is a garage.
(In general, homes on the west side of Manida have garages; those on the east side do not.)
At the online real estate marketplace Zillow.com, homes on Manida were valued as high as $533,000 at the residential real estate market’s height in late 2008. Now they are closer to $370,000.
Ms. Torres, who moved to the neighborhood to work at the Point, said the Longwood Historic District was right on the other side of the Bruckner Expressway from Manida Street. “This block probably should be landmarked,” she said.
Lloyd Ultan, the Bronx borough historian, agreed, though he said finding historical data about the 800 block of Manida Street had not been easy.
The homes were built around 1900 on subdivided estate or farmland at a time when the suburbs of New York City were being developed to alleviate congestion. At the time, the Bronx’s largest population was of German ancestry, Mr. Ultan said.
“The second-most-spoken language in the Bronx was German,” he said.
The homes may have been built by Henry Morgenthau Sr., a prolific Bronx real estate developer who also served as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and was the grandfather of Robert M. Morgenthau, the longtime Manhattan district attorney. There is, however, no record of a direct tie to the elder Mr. Morgenthau, Mr. Ultan said.
The bow-front homes on Manida Street may be the only example of this type of Flemish architecture in the entire city, similar in spirit but not identical to the Bertine Block Historic District on East 136th Street in the South Bronx, where the architecture is inspired by northern Germany, Mr. Ultan said.
“There are a lot of hidden treasures in these areas that most people think are devastated,” he said. “It’s very difficult to get any real historic background, though. But I think there is a good claim for these homes to be landmarked.”