Close-Up on Livingston, Staten Island

Ancient mariners, underground railroaders, legendary cricketers—what Livingston, Staten Island, lacks in residents, it more than makes up for in ghosts. This village-sized enclave—on the North Shore of the quietest borough—still retains the shape it had in the mid-nineteenth century, when famed abolitionist and ophthalmologist Samuel MacKenzie Elliot bought up dozens of houses and helped make Livingston a prime stop on the Underground Railroad. At the time, the neighborhood was called Elliotsville, and several other prominent, progressive-minded families followed in its namesake's wake—among them Robert Gould Shaw, who led the first black regiment in the Civil War, and Sydney Howard Gay, an editor of the American Anti-Slavery Standard and both the New York and Chicago Tribunes.

Livingston today wouldn't look unfamiliar to any of these founding fathers. It's still not much more than a collection of spacious colonials, wide streets, and shady elms, and hosts a diverse and largely stable population of middle-class families. And that's precisely how its 3,000-some residents like it—while nearby ferry stop St. George offers a geographic and commercial bridge to Manhattan, underdevelopment is a matter of pride in Livingston. (After the historic Wilcox house—according to local legend, a former haven for runaway slaves—was demolished in 2001, vigilante preservations set fire to the subsequent construction site.)

But resistance to change doesn't mean Livingston's no fun.Walker Park is home to the Staten Island Cricket Club, as well as six tennis courts—a link to Staten Islander Mary Outerbridge, who reportedly imported the game from Barbados in 1874. For less athletic explorers, adjacent Snug Harbor, once a retirement home for merchant seamen, was reimagined in the 1970s as an eccentric cluster of cultural attractions. The 83-acre site now includes such destinations as the Chinese Scholar's Garden, the Noble Maritime Collection, and a children's museum.

Snug Harbor Cultural Center: Where it's at
photo: Carla Blumenkranz
Snug Harbor Cultural Center: Where it's at

Mass Transit: For a place that feels so remote, Livingston is surprisingly easy to reach. From the 1/9 at South Ferry or the 4/5/6 at Bowling Green, it's 25 minute ride across the Hudson to Staten Island. A 10-minute ride on the S40 bus to Snug Harbor lands visitors at the Center's gates.

Boundaries: Like most neighborhoods in Staten Island, Livingston is a little loose on the seams. Popular consensus places it slightly northeast of West New Brighton, with the Kill Van Kull shore and Snug Harbor rounding out the borders.


Snug Harbor Signpost: Eclectic offerings
photo: Carla Blumenkranz

Main Drags: Richmond Terrace to the north and Henderson Avenue to the south are the biggest roads running through Livingston, but they certainly don't approach commercial. For shops and restaurants (aside from the theme-park fare of Snug Harbor), visitors are better off heading east toward St. George.

Average Rent: Eager real estate brokers often rename the neighborhood Snug Harbor or insist that Snug Harbor falls within the boundaries of Livingston. Either way, one-bedroom apartments run for about $900; two-bedroom, $1,200; three-bedroom, $1,500.

Average Price to Buy: Single-family houses cost about $480,000 to $520,000. Less prevalent (and generally less historic) two-family houses go for about $600,000.

Cultural Institutions: Snug Harbor is where it's at, culturally, in Livingston. Some of its more famed attractions include the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, the Noble Maritime Collection, and the Staten Island Children's Museum. The Staten Island Museum isn't far away, either, about two miles east, in St. George.

Green Spaces: Also at Snug Harbor, the Staten Island Botanical Garden includes—in addition to the Chinese Scholar's Garden—the Lion's Sensory Garden, the Lion's Sensory Garden, the Glade of Shade, the World Trade Center Educational Tribute Building, and a 20-acre wetland.

Famous Residents: The tightly-knit abolitionist community that settled in then-Elliotsville included members of the Gay, Shaw, Wilcox, and Curtis families. George William Curtis, a renowned editor and critic and staunch advocate of civil rights and social equality, lived most of his life in Livingston.

Politicians: In this notoriously conservative borough, only the North Shore elected a Democrat to City Council, Michael MacMahon, who is reportedly considering a run against Republican Congressman Vito Fossella. Democrats Savino and John Lavelle represent the North Shore in the State Senate and Assembly, respectively.

Crime Stats: The 120th Precinct, which includes the entire North Shore, had reported no murders and eight rapes for the year, as of February 8. There were 27 robberies, 36 felony assaults, 31 burglaries, 37 grand larcenies, and 21 stolen cars in the year-to-date.

 
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