GRASMERE IDYLL Brady’s Pond is open for swimming and sunbathing to members of the private Cameron Club. The pond offers a sand beach, lifeguards, rowboats and swans.
MARY DIBIASE BLAICH FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
SEPTEMBER 5, 2008
By GREGORY BEYER
OFFERING a stop on the Staten IslandRailway and a short drive to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the Grasmere neighborhood in northeastern Staten Island has the singular advantage of convenience, according to residents.
If this sounds like a charmless merit, evoking early morning crowds and the like, consider that the pride of Grasmere becomes more evident when the day is done — when the tidal flow of commuters washes back, away from the bustle ofManhattan and Brooklyn, to a neighborhood occupying less than a square mile with its own legitimate claim to the idyllic.
Grasmere is bounded to the north by the Staten Island Expressway, to the east by Hylan Boulevard, the south by Hylan Boulevard and Old Town Road, and to the east by Targee Street and the neighborhood of Emerson Hill.
A major attraction in the area’s northeast corner is Brady’s Pond, which covers 15 acres. The Encyclopedia of New York City describes it as the only freshwater pond within city limits to be fit for swimming. Complete with a sand beach, lifeguards and rowboats and pedal boats, the pond is the property of the private Cameron Club, which was formed in 1930 for members who lived within a prescribed area. Swans glide on the water’s surface against a backdrop of lush greenery and large houses.
“You don’t even feel like you’re on Staten Island when you’re there,” said Jerry Smith, the club’s vice president. “It’s a jewel for many people in the area.”
For residents of the streets lining the pond, the many charms are evident.
The neighborhood’s original creators “were very selective when they made up the lake area,” said Gene Reilly, an 86-year-old widower and club member who on a recent morning sat reading the newspaper on the front porch of his two-story house on Hillcrest Terrace, a shady street near the pond where he has lived for 45 years. He pointed toward Clove Road, one of Grasmere’s main streets, noting that membership in the club was based solely on geography and that houses on the street’s far side did not have it.
Mr. Smith, the club’s vice president, said it was difficult to determine the logic behind the map, pointing out that his own home, though not terribly close to the pond, is included in it.
“It branches out to many streets in the area,” Mr. Smith said, encompassing about 400 area homes. Ninety-nine families are currently members and pay $500 yearly for access.
WHAT YOU’LL FIND
It was the proximity to Brooklyn that originally brought Rhonda and Mario Romano to Grasmere. Mr. Romano owned a pizzeria in Bensonhurst, over the bridge, and convenience led them and their three sons to a home on Steuben Street, a four-lane street connecting Hylan Boulevard to the Staten Island Expressway.
Seven years ago, with Mr. Romano now working closer to home, in Great Kills, they moved two blocks away to a four-bedroom four-bathroom brick colonial overlooking Brady’s Pond, at the end of a cul-de-sac on Delphine Terrace. “It was like a highway,” Ms. Romano said of Steuben Street. “And then we moved here, and it’s like a country house.”
That difference reflects the variety of housing options in this neighborhood of about 6,500 people, from the quiet connecting streets — and “Dead End” signs near the water — to the small but growing condominium market.
A few blocks south of Brady’s Pond is the smaller and less swimmable Cameron Pond, surrounded by modest ranches and gated homes of varying architectural styles.
Stonegate at Grasmere, a condo complex off West Fingerboard Road, a main street bisecting the neighborhood, was completed in the early 1980s and remains Grasmere’s largest such development. The 313 units include two-, three- and four-bedroom town houses, said Laura Slavin, an account executive with Wentworth Property Management. “The setting of Stonegate is very country,” Ms. Slavin said. “The streets are very quiet. It’s a neighborhood within itself.”
Across West Fingerboard Road are the offices of The Staten Island Advance, the borough’s daily newspaper, housed in a distinctive building of dark tinted glass set upon an orange brick base. On a recent morning, a man in running shorts passed through its doors, wordlessly placed two quarters on the receptionist’s desk, took a paper from a nearby stack and strode briskly out.
WHAT YOU’LL PAY
“You have a vast array of different price ranges in the same neighborhood,” said Neil Litvin, the managing director of Robert Defalco Realty. In general, brokers say, Grasmere’s convenience has helped it to weather the economic slowdown, though sales prices have fallen and homes tend to linger as sellers come to terms with the market’s realities.
The crop of luxury homes near Brady’s Pond, which can climb above $1 million, have remained relatively immune to such realities, said Paul Coglitore, a broker with Re/Max United.
“Luxury homes have been keeping their value a little bit more,” he said. “People looking for a home like that are more in a position to pay for it.”
This is often the case for pricier homes in Staten Island, Mr. Coglitore said, adding, “There is not a tremendous turnaround in those areas, either.”
In the first half of 2008, Mr. Coglitore said, 37 units sold in Grasmere, with an average price of $437,500. By comparison, the first half of 2007 yielded 52 sales, with an average of $505,800.
Mr. Coglitore said that houses a year ago averaged 111 days on the market, and today they average 127 days, a figure that led Mr. Litvin to characterize Grasmere’s current market as “very stable.” Rentals are scarce.
Stonegate condos start around $325,000; larger units, listed last year for more than $500,000, now run about $479,000, Ms. Slavin said. Mr. Litvin, who lives in Dongan Hills but is moving to Florida, bought his first home, a three-bedroom Stonegate condo, in 1986 for $121,000, enjoying the tennis court and the pool. “It gave you the best of everything,” he said of Grasmere.
WHAT TO DO
Hylan Boulevard, at Grasmere’s southern and eastern borders, is the closest thing to a commercial thoroughfare, with several bakeries, restaurants and markets evoking the area’s Italian roots. Residents and brokers also mentioned restaurants and sidewalk cafes along Bay Street in nearby Rosebank, or the recently restored boardwalk at South Beach.
The only park is Brady’s Pond Park, a seven-acre patch opposite the private beach. And Fort Wadsworth, beneath the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, is operated by the National Park Service, offering tours of fortifications used for more than 200 years to stand watch over New York Harbor.
Grasmere is a stop on the Staten Island Railway, with a 10-minute ride to St. George, the stop closest to the ferry. The Staten Island Expressway at Grasmere’s northern border leads into the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Grasmere is well served by buses. The No. 78 runs to St. George, the 79 to Brooklyn via the bridge and the 20 express to Manhattan.
David Vain, a broker with Talk of the Millennium Realty, said high gas prices made Grasmere more attractive.
“If you’re buying a house somewhere in Staten Island, let’s say Tottenville, it’s going to take you 30 minutes just to get to the Verrazano Bridge,” he said. “By being in Grasmere, you’re right there.”
For some residents, however, Grasmere’s convenience presents a downside. “Why should we be plagued with speeding and congestion,” asked Alyce Arniotes, president of the Grasmere Civic Association, “because we’re so close to the bridge?”
Elementary schools include the William C. Wilcox School, Public School 48, on Targee Street, which teaches kindergarten through Grade 5. Of fourth graders last year, 92 percent met state standards in English and 98 in math, versus 61 and 80 percent citywide.
One middle school option is the Michael J. Petrides School, on Ocean Terrace near Milford Avenue, teaching kindergarten through Grade 12 and accommodating special-education students. An Education Department quality review last year judged it “a school with many strengths.” Also last year 78 percent of its eighth graders met state standards in English and 81 in math, versus 43 and 60 percent citywide.
Concord High School, on Rhine Avenue, teaches Grades 10 through 12 and had SAT averages last year of 401 in reading, 384 in math and 373 in writing, versus 438, 460 and 433 citywide.
Roderick Cameron, a mid-19th-century developer, named the area for Grasmere, an English Lake District village. In the 1880s, Mr. Cameron sold land to Philip Brady, who harvested ice from the pond that would bear his name.