Close-Up on Fort Lee, New Jersey


Portions of this article have been updated.

When sheltered only by the low storefronts of Main Street, one can feel encroached upon by Fort Lee’s looming high-rise apartment buildings. But don’t worry: The town’s quiet, hilly, tree-lined side streets offer plenty of respite, not only from the towers, but from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan—just across the George Washington Bridge. What’s more, the view from inside those towers can be spectacular—the Hudson River, the bridge, and yes, the famous skyline. “At night it’s really pretty; the buildings are all lit up,” says resident Sharon Scheiner of her relatively modest eighth-floor vista.

Population: Fort Lee is largely a transient town, and the average resident stays only three years, but plenty stay longer to raise families in a safe neighborhood with a good school system. Immigrant communities, especially Asian, Hispanic, and Russian, are also putting down more permanent roots, and on a stroll through downtown, you might hear three or four different languages being spoken. “I tend to think things are better than they ever were because of the diversity,” says Tom Meyers, chairman of the Fort Lee Film Commission.

Boundaries: The boroughs of Leonia, Palisades Park, and the city of Englewood to the north; the borough of Englewood Cliffs to the east; the Hudson River and the borough of Edgewater to the south; and the boroughs of Cliffside Park and Ridgefield to the west

Transportation: The 171, 175, and 178 buses go from Fort Lee to New York’s G.W. Bridge bus terminal in as little as five minutes. The 154, 158, and 159 take riders to New York Port Authority in about 40 minutes. A one-way bus fare costs $3.10.

Main Drags: Fort Lee’s large Korean population (around 6000 and growing) makes its presence felt on Main Street, where you’ll find Korean restaurants, real estate agents, hair stylists, video stores, and even “energy healing” parlors, all with bilingual signs.

Average Price to Rent: One-bedrooms, $1200 to $1500 and up ($1200 to $1500); two-bedrooms, $1400 to $2000 ($1500 to $1800); and three-bedrooms, $1700 to $4000 ($1800 to $2200).

Average Price to Buy: One-family homes, $589,00 ($500,000 to $600,000).

Museums: The Fort Lee Museum (1588 Palisade Avenue) exhibits artifacts, photos, and documents of Fort Lee’s history, spanning more than two centuries.

Stores: The Main Violin Shop (547 Main Street) specializes in violins, cellos, and bows, including those handmade by owner Gihyuk Park.

Green Space: Fort Lee Historic Park (Hudson Terrace) is a part of the larger Palisades Interstate Park—its picturesque trails are ideal for hiking and nature walks. Constitution Park (between Fletcher Avenue, Lewis Street, and Linwood Avenue) provides residents with a softball field, jogging track, and plenty of shaded grass to stretch out on.

Cultural Institutions: Fort Lee calls itself “the birthplace of the motion picture industry,” and while this title is as debatable as “the birthplace of baseball,” the town at least played a major role. Fort Lee was once home to about a dozen film studios and served as the location for countless seminal silent films, including early works by D.W. Griffith, Thomas Edison, and pioneering African American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. The Film Commission holds frequent film screenings and festivals. The Korean American Association of Fort Lee (KAAFL) publishes a quarterly newsletter in Korean and operates programs to help immigrants acclimate themselves to the town.

Best Restaurants: Han Il Kwan (2053 Lemoine Avenue) serves a split menu of authentic Korean and Japanese foods. For a mere $11, you get a spicy seafood and silk-tofu soup flanked by about a dozen cold appetizers (kimchi and such), chased by a much needed cooling dessert. The Parisienne (250 Main Street) is a fine French bakery-café that also happens to serve Japanese pastries like tsubushi anpan (a sweet, red-bean-filled bun). Al’s Kosher Deli (209 Main Street) is probably the only kosher deli in the tri-state area with a life-size statue of a dancing Elwood Blues in the window (his brother is in the back).

Happenings: Every year on a November weekend, members of the Brigade of the American Revolution and others gather in full Revolutionary garb at Fort Lee Historic Park to commemorate the town’s role in Washington’s famous retreat, muskets a-blazin’.

Politicians: Mayor Jack Alter and councilpersons Joseph L. Cervieri Jr., Ila Kasofsky, Armand Pohan, Michael Sargenti, Michael Villano, Mark Sokolich—all Democrats. Fort Lee is part of New Jersey’s 38th District, served by State Senator Joseph Coniglio, a Democrat; Assemblywoman Joan Voss, a Democrat; and Assemblyman Robert M. Gordon, a Democrat.

Crime Stats: The New Jersey State Police reported for the boro of Fort Lee 0 murders, 0 rapes, 16 robberies, 19 aggravated assaults, 199 burglaries, and 27 motor vehicle thefts in 2004. (The Fort Lee Police Department reported one murder, three rapes, 12 robberies, seven assaults, and 103 burglaries for 2001).