LIVING IN | ROSEBANK, STATEN Island
A Quiet Slice of New York Waterfront
Courtesy of The NY Times
By CLAIRE WILSON
Published: March 12, 2006
GLORIA KEK was only beginning to think about buying something on Staten Island when she came upon an ad in the local newspaper for an open house in the borough’s Rosebank section. She went right over after her church service that Sunday morning, but was too early. When she returned to the waterfront town house later in the day, she was almost too late. There were barely 10 minutes to go before the doors closed on the lavishly furnished model home, but in the end that was more than she needed.
Owning and Renting a Home
“I walked out on that first-floor terrace and that was it,” said Mrs. Kek, who bought a $500,000 four-story corner unit with balconies on each level and a second-floor rental unit, both with sweeping views of Manhattanand the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. “It was a clear, beautiful day in October; there were little boats in the water. I just loved it.”
Seven years later, she particularly loves the balcony off the top-floor master bedroom. “You have the privacy of the water,” said Mrs. Kek, a native of the island of Jamaica who owns an Allstate insurance brokerage firm in Brooklyn. “And with no neighbors to peep at you, you can put out your little steamer chair, get under a blanket and read until you fall asleep under the stars.”
What You’ll Find
The steeples of two churches, the remains of an old fort, the green of Von Briesen Park and the even rhythm of cables on the great, gray bridge line one side of the triangular Rosebank tableau, which is bordered on the other two sides by the tracks of the Staten Island Railway and the Staten Island Expressway. Marked by low hills and short, uneven streets, it’s an enclave of mostly older homes, many of them dating back more than a century, with new construction and a few condominium and co-op buildings sprinkled in the mix. It is considered a highly stable area, populated by mostly working-class families, many of whose parents and grandparents were born there or arrived as immigrants.
“I was born at 217 Chestnut Avenue and I live at 212, but in between, we rented an apartment at 221,” said Joseph Gagliardi, whose parents were from a small town near Naples, Italy, and whose wife, Theresa, grew up in a house less than a block away.
Storefronts on Bay Street, the villagelike main commercial drag, tell of its history as a largely Italian-American community — DeLuca’s General Store, Angelo’s Legacy, a barbershop, Pronto Pizza, the deli Montalbano’s Salumeria and a newcomer, an upscale gift and flower shop called Adagio — but the town is increasingly diverse.
“We have a lot of new Polish families, African families, Asian families and an influx of Mexican families,” said Janice Font, a legal secretary and mother of three girls who attend her alma mater, St. Mary’s School, which is Roman Catholic. “My husband is Puerto Rican, and I want my children to learn diversity.”
What You’ll Pay
The part of Rosebank known as Shore Acres is a separate enclave between Bay Street and the water where the parcels are larger and leafier than others in the town. The charming older houses have water and bridge views, and the prices are as high as $1.95 million, according to Scott O’Brien, owner of Our Island Real Estate.
These high-priced large homes are limited to that area. Elsewhere in Rosebank, where about 60 units are listed for sale, lots are small and houses are considerably less expensive. “The typical house is a detached colonial older home on a 25-foot-by-75-foot lot, going between $450,000 and $550,000,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Mary Lou Palladino, a sales agent with Century 21 Safari Realty, said: “There is a big spread. You can get a one-family attached for between $300,000 to $450,000, then you have detached that currently go from $200,000 to $1 million. You could pay as little as $450,000 for a big Victorian that needs to be fixed up.”
Condo and co-op prices are catching up with the other boroughs, according to Marianne Batiancela, a sales agent with Weichert Realtors, Vitale Sunshine. “There is a one-bedroom, one-bath 614-square-foot co-op under contract for $209,000, and a two-bedroom, two-bath with a balcony, a health club, new kitchen and a pool for $599,000,” she said.
Plans have been announced for a seven-story, 102-unit waterfront loft conversion, in what locals call the Wrigley Building, because that’s where chicle was processed for the chewing gum by the L. A. Dreyfus Company. Upon completion about 18 months from now, two-bedroom units are expected to sell for $650,000, according to Joseph Margolis, a project manager.
Rentals don’t stay on the market long, Mr. O’Brien said. A one-bedroom costs $850 to $950 a month, while a two-bedroom costs about $1,100, he said.
Ms. Palladino rents out her grandfather’s 1,638-square-foot three-bedroom house. “It’s $1,400 a month; that’s a very reasonable rent,” she said.
There are housing complexes in Rosebank for residents 62 and older: the 10-story, 276-unit New Lane, operated by the New York City Housing Authority, and the six-story, 84-unit privately operated Canterbury House, a joint venture between St. John’s Episcopal Church and the Sheldrake Organization.
What to do
Clubs like the 60-year-old Rosebank Boys and Ragazzi di Rosebank, an offshoot group started in 1997, keep local men busy with charity and social events.
Activities from three churches — St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s, both Roman Catholic, and St. John’s, which is Episcopal — dominate a busy social calendar, which includes feasts like the Festival of Our Lady of MountCarmel, a figure of veneration in southern Italy, which takes place in July. A procession through Rosebank culminates in a shrine constructed by locals from cement studded with cockle shells, cat’s eye marbles, insulator caps and stones, and populated by plaster saints.
Every October, a group called the Friends From Rosebank (whose members have to prove they were born there) sponsors a three-mile race, the Mark Langone Columbus Day Run for the Roses. The proceeds go to a different local charity each year. In July, the same group holds a picnic and concert with an 18-piece band on the grounds of Clear Comfort, the former home, now a museum, of Alice Austen, a native Staten Islander who was a pioneering female photographer.
The Victorian Gothic house at 2 Hylan Boulevard, part of whose foundation is said to date to 1690, is open to visitors Thursday to Sunday.
The town’s second museum is the Garibaldi Meucci Museum at 420 Tompkins Avenue. This 1840 Gothic Revival house was the rented home of Antonio Meucci, an inventor whom many say was the real inventor of the telephone. The Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi lived in the house from 1850 to 1854, after fleeing a war-torn Italy. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday.
Residents take full advantage of Von Briesen Park, where children go sledding, and Fort Wadsworth, a decommissioned military base, now a park, from whose bluffs you can see the cruise ships coming and going through the Narrows.
Mrs. Kek enjoys long walks along the water. “You can lose yourself in Von Briesen Park — just walk to the top and sit there and you really get a chance to think,” she said. “I have that whole waterfront to walk up and down. It’s a wonderful spot to be.”
Some young Rosebank residents, ones in prekindergarten through Grade 5, attend Public School 13, on Vermont Avenue, where 54.5 percent of fourth graders read at or above grade level and 77.8 percent of fourth graders perform at or above grade level in math.
Many of those students go on to Intermediate School 49 on Warren Street, where 33.5 percent of eighth graders read at or above grade level and 32.2 percent of eighth graders perform at or above grade level in math, or I.S. 61 on Castleton Avenue, where 36.6 percent of eighth graders read at or above grade level and 36.2 percent of eighth graders perform at or above grade level in math.
One of two high schools serving the area is Curtis High School on Hamilton Avenue in St. George, where students taking the 2004 SAT reasoning test scored an average of 459 on the verbal section, compared with 497 statewide, and 459 on the math section, compared with 511 statewide. Other students go to New Dorp High School on New Dorp Lane, where students taking the SAT’s scored an average of 438 on the verbal section and 443 on the math.
The two Roman Catholic schools in Rosebank are St. Mary’s School on Bay Street, which teaches children age 3 through Grade 8 and where tuition is $2,300 a year, according to Dr. Virginia Savarese, the principal; and St. Joseph’s School, which teaches kindergarten through Grade 8. According to Monsignor John Servodidio, the rector of St. Joseph’s Church, tuition is $2,500 per year, or $600 a year per student if parents do volunteer work.
Commuters from Rosebank have many transportation options. The S51, S52, S78 and S81 buses get rush-hour commuters to the Staten Island Ferry terminal in 15 minutes, but passengers can also catch the Staten Island Railway at Clifton, the adjacent town, from which the train ride to the terminal is six minutes. The 22-minute boat ride, which is free, connects passengers with the 1, 4, 5, R and W trains to Midtown. Other commuters drive five minutes to a park-and-ride where they catch the X5 express bus to Midtown. The ride takes about one hour and 10 minutes at rush hour and costs $5. The drive to Midtown via the bridge also takes about an hour. The one-way toll is $8.
According to local lore, Rosebank takes its name from a bank of roses that once thrived on St. Mary’s Avenue. The Dutch settled the town in the mid-17th century and farmed the land until the 1840’s when German immigrants arrived and established breweries. Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine came into the mix from 1845 to 1849, and the Southern Italians arrived in great numbers in the 1870’s and 1880’s and still represent the majority in what continues to be a predominantly Italian-American community.
What We Like
Rosebank has a real small-town feel. Its breezy location on the Narrows gives spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline, Upper New York Bay and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and provides beaches and waterfront parks.
What We’d Change
Despite recent zoning changes, builders are still able to knock down some of the older homes that give the town its character and replace them with the kinds of anonymous new ones that can be found in many other towns around the borough.