Real Estate

City Island: A ‘Little Magical Wonderland’ in the Bronx

When Wendy Yang Clark first arrived on City Island, a place she had never heard of, it was early-morning dark. A costume designer, she was there to work on the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” in this narrow, 1.5-mile-long section of the Bronx.

“Then the sun comes up,” Ms. Clark said of that life-changing moment a decade ago, “and I’m in this little magical wonderland.”

A woman walked by with several children, all carrying beach paraphernalia. “I asked her, ‘Is there a beach on this island?’ and she said, ‘There’s a beach on almost every block.’”

Ms. Clark, 41, who was born in Hong Kong, studied theater at New York University, graduating in 2003. After renting in several Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods, she considered leaving New York, with its clutter and high prices, before she discovered City Island.

A year and a half later, she and her then-husband bought “a really amazing” six-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath Victorian house with a “nice-size yard” on a corner lot for $600,000. Now she can walk one minute to her local beach, or 10 minutes across the bridge connecting City Island to the mainland and to the much larger Orchard Beach, which has two playgrounds. She goes there with her second husband, Ian Clark, 50, the owner of a Brooklyn record store, their 3-year-old daughter and his 6-year-old daughter.

The island attracts residents who work in the arts, as well as filmmakers looking for quaint, New England-like backdrops. And it’s a very friendly place.

“I always say, ‘You’re not buying a house, you’re buying a community,’” said Louise Del Giudice, an agent with Century 21 Marciano. “People help each other. People care for each other. They have craft festivals. They have parades.”

Mary Colby, who has owned a studio art gallery on the island for 20 years, compared it to a small town. “I call it Mayberry,” she said, as in the fictional town in the 1960s TV series “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Pelham Cemetery, on the island’s eastern shore, offers a nautical vista. Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

Emily Kunkel, 37, a stage actor, knew about City Island because her godmother lived there. In 2018, she and her husband, Alden Ford, 41, who acts and directs, had their first child and needed to move out of their Kensington, Brooklyn, rental apartment. Around the same time, her godmother, she said, “wanted to downsize and told us she was putting her house on the market.”

The couple paid the full price, $679,000, for the four-bedroom, two-bath 1901 house with front and back decks. The couple, who now also have a 3-year-old, could have bought an apartment in Kensington for about the same price, Ms. Kunkel said, so their choice was “a no-brainer.”

At the local diner, she said, “everybody knows your name,” and the woman who works at the post office “knows my kiddos’ names.” Ditto at the coffee shop, where the servers know the not-too-hot temperature her sons prefer for hot chocolate. Once, she said, “Someone texted me, ‘I’m baking, need eggs,’” a modern twist on an old-fashioned request.

Ms. Kunkel and her husband often watch “the sun set from a rocking bench on the front porch,” she said. “We look at each other and say, ‘Can you believe this?’”

2 BAY STREET | A five-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bathroom house, built in 1920 on an 0.2-acre lot, listed for $1.875 million. 646-228-1861Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

What You’ll Find

The 253-acre island lies at the western end of Long Island Sound, east of Eastchester Bay and south of Pelham Bay Park. A three-lane bridge (with a bike lane and a pedestrian walkway) is the only solid connection to the mainland. With about 4,500 residents — plus many weekend visitors, especially in the summer — it’s a maritime community that is now more focused on beaches than on building boats.

Because of a Special Purpose District designation, City Island looks “entirely different from the rest of the Bronx,” said Lauren Nye, a sixth-generation City Islander and the volunteer secretary of the City Island Nautical Museum. (She is also the director of operations for a nonprofit in the Wall Street area, to which she commutes two or three days a week.) “You can’t build higher than five stories.”

Most of the buildings along City Island Avenue — the main commercial thoroughfare, stretching the length of the island — are three stories tall. Most of the homes are small and on east-west streets, while grander houses tend to be on the waterfront. A few condominium complexes have been built and another one, on Marine Street, is in the planning stage.

Three large yacht clubs dot the shore on the bay side. There are also smaller yacht clubs and a kayaking club. Neighborhood beach clubs at the end of nearly every street effectively block day-trippers from using any of the beaches.

70 ISLAND POINT, UNIT 70 | A three-bedroom, three-bathroom multilevel condominium, built in 2018, listed for $809,000. 917-319-2178Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

What You’ll Pay

As of early October, there were 14 homes listed for sale, ranging from $299,000 for a studio condominium with a fireplace in a complex with a pool, to $1.875 million for a five-bedroom, four-and-half-bath waterfront home.

The median sale price of a single-family home has increased to $583,000 from $430,000 over the past decade, said Anthony Marciano, the real estate broker who owns Century 21 Marciano. Multifamily homes (there are fewer of these) jumped to a median price of $775,000 from $585,000, while condos rose to $515,000 from $370,000.

Larger waterfront properties often trade privately among families that have lived on the island for generations, said Jane H. Carmody, an agent with Houlihan Lawrence, Inc.

Of the seven homes listed for rent on Trulia on Oct. 20, the least expensive was a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment for $1,600 a month; the priciest was a single-family home with three bedrooms and one bathroom, for $4,000.

190 SCHOFIELD STREET, UNIT 3I | A one-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom condominium listed for $379,000. 718-885-0017Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

The Vibe

City Island has dozens of restaurants, including a few large ones that serve lobster in indoor and outdoor spaces. Residents don’t eat in them much, unless they have visitors. Local hangouts include Lickety Split Ice Cream, City Island Pizza Company, Clipper Coffee, City Island Diner and The Snug, an Irish pub.

Among the numerous art spaces is City Island Gallery, where curator David Ellis offers a creative art program on Sunday afternoons. There are theater groups and a small movie house called Cinema on the Sound. Kaleidoscope Gallery, an art and jewelry store, is owned by Paul Klein, the president of the City Island Chamber of Commerce. Ron Terner’s Focal Point Gallery has an eye-catching storefront and eclectic collections. The City Island branch of the New York Public Library offers many programs and boasts a 1,000-plus-volume collection of seafaring books covering topics like boat construction, pirates and the America’s Cup.

The Nautical Museum — open weekends from May through October, or by appointment, in a former elementary school on the National Register of Historic Places — is full of historic artifacts and displays telling the story of the island’s nautical and shipbuilding past.

The Snug is a pub that opens at 4 p.m., when its neighbor, City Island Diner, closes.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

The Schools

P.S. 175 City Island has about 240 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. In the most recent student achievement ratings, for the school year 2018-19, 37 percent of students met state standards in English, compared with the same percentage citywide; 35 percent met state standards in math, compared with 46 percent citywide. Some children attend private or religious schools in other parts of New York City or in New Rochelle.

Nearby public high schools include the Harry S. Truman High School, in the Co-op City section of the Bronx, about three miles away. Many students go to private high schools in Westchester or the Bronx.

Inside the Black Whale, the nautical theme continues.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

The Commute

Driving into Midtown Manhattan from City Island can take 45 minutes, or much longer. The BxM8, an express bus with limited service, is scheduled to make the trip in about an hour and 15 minutes.

The Bx29 bus recently started 24-hour service to the Pelham Bay Park subway station. From there, riders can catch the 6 train, which takes about 45 minutes to get to Grand Central Terminal.

Other options include driving to the Pelham or New Rochelle Metro-North stations for a 35- to 45-minute ride to Grand Central Terminal. The trip on the Soundview Ferry, from Ferry Point Park, near the Whitestone Bridge, to Wall Street takes about an hour.

The History

At the turn of the 20th century, City Island was a major center for wood boatbuilding, according to the City Island Nautical Museum website. Motor yachts and sailing yachts were produced on the island, as well as military vessels during the war years and 12-meter sloops that successfully defended the America’s Cup.

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