Van Cortlandt Village
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||This article may contain original research. (November 2007)|
Van Cortlandt Village is a subsection of the Kingsbridge Heights section of the New York City borough of The Bronx. Named after Van Cortlandt Park, bordered by the Major Deegan Expressway to the west, the Jerome Park Reservoir to the east, W 238th Street to the south, and Van Courtlandt Park to the north, Van Cortlandt Village is home to a large elderly Jewish community (due to the longstanding residents of the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative and its garment-center union-related population and their descendants), with a less but still significant Irish community and a large minority Hispanic population. It has a population of about 16,000.
Van Cortlandt Village has traditionally been classified as part of Kingsbridge Heights. However, on September 28, 2004, the New York City Department of City Planning approved the rezoning all or portions of 15 blocks in this northwestern Bronx neighborhood (bounded by Van Cortlandt Avenue West to the north, Fort Independence Park and Sedgwick Avenue to the east, West 231st Street and Albany Crescent to the south, and by Heath Avenue, Fort Independence Street and Orloff Avenue to the west) into Van Cortlandt Village within Community District 8. The proposed zoning changes aim to preserve the community’s low-rise/low-density character by ensuring that new development is compatible in scale, both with the one- and two-family detached homes that prevail in parts of the neighborhood and with the more diverse housing stock in others. The area is predominantly low-density residential, with a significant number of one- and two-family detached and semi-detached houses. Even the multifamily apartment buildings in the area are seldom taller than 70 feet (21 m).
On July 1, 2007, Jennifer Bleyer of The New York Times published an article describing Van Cortlandt Village as a "serene enclave of quaint homes, winding streets and abundant trees at the northern end of Kingsbridge Heights in the northwest Bronx." She described how outside real estate "investors began snapping up one- and two-family houses, intending to replace them with larger buildings. Longtime residents were unnerved, fearing their low-slung environs would become overwhelmed."
“It’s a little more affordable than Riverdale, and that made it dangerous,” said Anthony Perez Cassino, former chairman of Bronx Community Board 8 who helped to rezone the neighborhood, describing Van Cortlandt Village. “Developers could easily buy tracts of houses and put up a building up to 12 stories. This area was very vulnerable.” In late 2009, Urban Pathways proposed to build low-income apartment housing for disabled military, recovering substance abuse and alcohol, and the homeless on a hilly incline on Cannon Place. Community opposition was substantial and fierce with NYS Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and U.S. Congressman Elliot Engels voicing their enthusiastic support to build the complex elsewhere. However, NYC Councilman G. Oliver Koppel staunchly supported the proposed construction, going against local community organizers. Due to strong community opposition, in the Spring 2010, Urban Pathways withdrew its application from the community board.
In response, neighbors and community leaders became feisty, expending time and energy in pursuit of changes to its zoning regulations. By 2004, the Department of City Planning and the City Council had approved the rezoning of about 15 blocks, to preserve the community’s character and ensure that any future developments conformed to its low-rise, low-density scale.
Van Cortlandt Village has continued its life as a tranquil preserve for those with long personal histories in the neighborhood as well as for newcomers setting down their own roots. In recent years, a steady trickle of young families, and large amounts of families with children, have arrived, drawn by the leafy landscape, relative affordability and refreshing neighborliness. Even after the national residential real estate crisis, 2010 still proved Van Cortlandt Village to be a desirable affordable neighborhood for young Manhattan families to bring up their children.
Bradford Trebach, a broker with his family’s firm, Trebach Realty, acknowledged that newcomers were shifting the area’s demographic, but said some things hadn’t changed and that people who had lived in the neighborhood for a long time were still living there. “I sell to second- and even third-generation Van Cortlandt Villagers who take real pride in the charm and history of that area,” he said. “What impresses me is the strong sense of place.”
Neighborhood description 
The half-square-mile neighborhood is generally thought to extend from Van Cortlandt Park on the north, to Dickinson and Sedgwick Avenues on the east, to Bailey Avenue on the west and Albany Crescent on the south. Its housing stock is diverse, including spacious single-family homes, multiple-family attached homes and postwar co-op buildings. A garland of greenery wends through the neighborhood.
“Take a drive on Sedgwick Avenue from 230th Street up,” advised Mary Kavanagh, a broker with Robert E. Hill. “You have beautiful trees, the park on one side, private homes on the other. Some of the apartments get a view of the reservoir.”[attribution needed]
The reservoir, which is being refilled after having been drained two years ago to facilitate repair work on the New Croton Aqueduct, is revered for its beauty when full, though many in the neighborhood disdain the fence that restricts access to it. A community effort persists to have the reservoir and its surrounding land designated an official 125-acre (0.51 km2) park and to see a recreation path built around it.
“People would like to have access to this body of water,” said Anne Marie Garti, president of the Jerome Park Conservancy. “Because of the handcrafted stonework around the edge, it’s in some ways more beautiful than the Central Park reservoir.”[attribution needed]
Jeff Mower sees the reservoir as well as tufts of treetops outside the two-bedroom co-op that he and his wife, Sandra Chan, bought in 2005 and moved into with their daughter, Ellie, now almost 3.
“The neighborhood isn’t trendy or anything,” said Mr. Mower, a 41-year-old editor. “There’s not great restaurants or anything. But we really like the apartment; it’s a good-sized two-bedroom, not a Manhattan two-bedroom. And I like seeing trees out the window.”[attribution needed]
In the heart of the area, on twisting hilly streets like Giles Place and Cannon Place, are elegant brick homes with porticos and manicured hedges. Along the broader avenues are handsome co-op buildings, capped on the northern end by the Amalgamated Cooperative Houses, one of the city’s historically significant co-op complexes.
With nearly 1,500 units in 11 buildings, the complex was founded in 1927 by leaders of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, who fashioned it as a sort of proletarian paradise. While some of the descendants of the mostly Jewish immigrants who made up the Amalgamated’s original tenants remain, a more diverse collection of residents carry on its legacy, with communal enterprises like children’s play groups and art classes.
“There’s obviously turnover as more of the old, longtime cooperators age out and get replaced with newer cooperators,” said Ed Yaker, the vice president of the Amalgamated Housing Corporation. “We still have a full range of activities. We’re still what we’ve always been in terms of a community.”
Shopping in the neighborhood is limited to a small but serviceable collection of retailers at the northern end of Sedgwick Avenue, including a grocery store (C-Town), hair salon, dry cleaner, savings bank (Ridgewood Savings), Sedgwick Pharmacy, Chinese takeout and pizza parlor. A neighborhood branch of the New York City Public Library and the Van Cortlandt Jewish Center are also located here.
Across the Major Deegan Expressway, Broadway is lined with national and independent retailers, and in nearby Marble Hill, the River Plaza center has a Target, a Marshall’s and a Starbucks. Another shopping mall is expected on Broadway at 230th Street, with retailer Kohl's anchoring it.
As elsewhere in the borough, street parking can be difficult to find, especially in the winter. Some co-ops have resident parking lots.
Historic District Council names Van Cortlandt Village for preservation 
The Historic District Council in early January 2012 recognized Van Cortlandt Village as a New York neighborhood in need of preservation. "Neighborhoods throughout New York are fighting an unseen struggle to determine their own futures," said Simeon Bankoff, HDC executive director. Highlighting the rich history of middle-class housing in Van Cortlandt Village could help local residents beat back what they call inappropriate real estate development.
In Van Cortlandt Village, the Fort Independence Park Neighborhood Association has been fighting a handful of land grabs and new housing projects. The community sits atop the ruins of a Revolutionary War fort and was designed by legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. It boasts small Tudor revival homes and during the 1920s became a mecca for socialist factory workers fleeing the tenements of the lower East Side to build cooperative housing.
Now that former co-ops such as the Shalom Aleichem Houses have fallen on hard times and the character of the neighborhood is threatened by overdevelopment, HDC will help FIPNA get it listed on the national historic register, said Kristin Hart, president of the community group. “We want people who live here to know about and celebrate the great history of the neighborhood,” she said.
Shalom Aleichem Houses 
The historic Shalom Aleichem Houses, a 15-building Neo-Tudor fortress started by socialist Yiddish members of the Socialist and Communist Parties, began construction in 1927 as co-operative housing. Today, this fascinating historic multiethnic rental complex is considered to be located in the heart of the Van Cortlandt Village community. As part of the Office of the Bronx Borough President's Bronx 2008 historic preservation project, the Shalom Aleichem Co-operative complex is being reviewed for landmark status.
The community, named for the legendary Yiddish author Shalom Aleichem, was founded as one of the country's first housing cooperatives. It failed during the Great Depression and became a rental complex. But the close-knit community produced a generation of successful scientists and artists, and Bess Myerson, the first Jew to win the Miss America Pageant. "It was a shtetl, (town)" said tenant Esther Nelson Sokolsky, whose parents helped found Shalom Aleichem. "There were Jewish poets, Jewish writers. It was unique."
Shalom Aleichem's garden courtyard is still lush and beautiful, tended by its diverse, working class tenants. But the complex's brick walls have begun to crack and many of the 270 elegant apartments have water damage.
Housing costs 
House hunters in Van Cortlandt Village tend to be young families, many from Manhattan, Mr. Trebach said. A persistent problem, he noted, is that demand outpaces supply.
“I have a waiting list for Van Cortlandt Village,” he said. “If a house comes up on Giles Place, I have people who want to be notified immediately.”
Although eagerly sought, the homes remain less expensive than comparable ones in Riverdale — and far less than in Manhattan.
Recent sales, Mr. Trebach noted, have included a three-family detached brick house for $690,000 and a two-family detached brick and stucco house for $630,000. Yearly property taxes for both were in the range of $3,500.
Apartment prices also skew lower than elsewhere. Ms. Kavanagh of Robert E. Hill said she sold a one-bedroom co-op recently for $150,000, another one-bedroom co-op for $105,000, and a three-bedroom, two-bathroom co-op for $365,000. “For anyone who wants to buy,” she said, “it’s a very affordable option.”[attribution needed]
At the Amalgamated, Mr. Yaker says there is a three- to five-year waiting list, with one-bedrooms generally becoming available sooner than two- or three-bedrooms. Charges vary from building to building, he said, with the average for a one-bedroom in a more expensive building around $650 a month, and the average for a two-bedroom around $900 a month.
The neighborhood abuts Van Cortlandt Park, a 1,110-acre (4.5 km2) swath of forest, trails and playing fields that is the city’s fourth-largest park and includes the Van Cortlandt Golf Course. Stretching along part of Sedgwick Avenue is Fort Independence Park, a popular neighborhood spot with handball courts, a basketball court and a playground.
The Amalgamated offers its own slate of social activities: ceramics classes, writers’ workshops and art exhibits. Many of the Bronx’s cultural amenities are a short distance away, including the New York Botanical Garden and Wave Hill.
The Jerome Park Reservoir offers a 2-1/2-mile walking-jogging scenic pathway for sports and outdoors fans.
The Van Cortlandt Public Library has a small branch for both adults and neighborhood children. The children and young adult sections is rather large and extensive; and, there is free public internet access to neighborhood residents.
Public School 95 on Hillman Avenue teaches kindergarten through Grade 8. A new elementary school, the Am Park Neighborhood School, recently completed its inaugural year in a building owned by the Amalgamated with a kindergarten and first grade class. Popular with young families, it will eventually extend through fifth grade.
The Bronx High School of Science (75 West 205th Street) offers an outstanding inexpensive public education for the academic inclined within the neighborhood, and is just a quick 20-minute walk from Van Cortlandt Village.
DeWitt Clinton High School, also located nearby on West Mosholu Parkway, had a 64 percent graduation rate in 2004. Students there scored 433 on the verbal SAT and 442 on the math in 2005, compared with 443 and 472 citywide.
There are various parochial and private schools in the area, including Visitation School on 239th Street and the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Horace Mann School, Riverdale Country School and SAR Academy in Riverdale.
Manhattan College, a small institution of higher education, is a small Catholic university with a renowned undergraduate engineering school is located nearby. Alumni include former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The arrival of the elevated subway line around the turn of the 20th century brought an influx of immigrants to Kingsbridge Heights, including the section of the neighborhood that would eventually become known as Van Cortlandt Village.
The Amalgamated, because of its distinctive culture and high population density, came to define its corner of Kingsbridge Heights as a distinct area, according to Lloyd Ultan, the Bronx borough historian. In 1975, a member of the local community board proposed that the Amalgamated and its surroundings be renamed, and a sign was unveiled designating the area Van Cortlandt Village.
Manhattan, New Jersey and Westchester Access 
Van Cortlandt Village is served by the 1, 2, 3 and 10 bus lines in the Bronx, as well as the BxM3 express bus, which takes 30 to 50 minutes to travel from Sedgwick Avenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. There are no subway stops in the neighborhood, although nearby on Broadway, the No. 1 stops at 231st Street and 238th Street. On the east side of the reservoir, the No. 4 subway stops at Mosholu Parkway, and the D train under the Grand Councourse stops at Bedford Park Boulevard.
The nearby Major Deegan (87) Highway and Henry Hudson Parkway offers a relatively quick route to both Manhattan's Upper East and West Sides as well as to Bergen County, New Jersey via the George Washington Bridge. In addition, the nearby Saw Mill Parkway also offers local neighborway access to Yonkers, Scarsdale and Westchester County.
- Bx1: to Riverdale or 3rd Av-138th St station (via Grand Concourse
- Bx2: to Kingsbridge Heights or 3rd Av-138th St station (via Grand Concourse
- Bx3: to Kingsbridge Heights or Columbia University Medical Center - Washington Heights/Manhattan
- Bx10: to Riverdale or Norwood-205th St station (via Kappock Street-West 231st Street)
- BxM3 Express: to Yonkers or Madison Square Park