Close-Up on Riverdale


Portions of this article have been updated.

At the end of the 1 train lies the sleepy north Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale, home to senior citizens galore, young couples and families up from Manhattan, city employees (particularly judges) seeking a suburban vibe, and growing numbers of Orthodox Jewish, Latino, and lesbian residents. The sprawling, hilly district reels them in with great river views, cheap grub, and good public and private schools (not to mention oodles of summer camps). Riverdale has served as the location for films both urban (Everyone Says I Love You) and middle American (The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love). Although generally beset by an over-the-hill image, Riverdale is also where gritty pretty boy Jim Carroll claims to have lost his mid-20th century virginity.

With a lower crime rate than the rest of the Bronx and a lower cost of living than you’ll find in Manhattan, friendly Riverdale caters to budgets while living up to its much-vaunted location—halfway between the self-consciously cultured Upper West Side and verdant, après-garde Westchester. Although real estate prices have increased here as in most neighborhoods, the economic slump has slowed down Riverdale’s market, indicating that in years to come this neighborhood may remain a hot spot for penny-pinchers with a hankering for greenery and a manageable commute.

Boundaries: Yonkers to the north, Broadway and Waldo avenues to the east, the Harlem River to the south, and the Hudson River to the west. The Riverdale Historic District, a nationally designated landmark district in which huge estates perch on treacherously steep and windy streets, is bounded by W. 254th Street to the north, Independence Avenue to the east, W. 252nd Street to the south, and Riverdale Park to the west.

Transportation: Take the 1 train to 231st, 238th, or 242nd streets. The trip to Times Square is about 45 minutes. Metro North Hudson Line trains stop at Spuyten Duyvil (Edsall Avenue) and Riverdale (W. 254th Street) stations. It takes about 25 minutes to get to Grand Central. Rail Link buses connect the stations to 19 Riverdale stops. Bx7, 9, 10, and 20 buses run along Riverdale Avenue and the Henry Hudson Parkway. Liberty Lines also runs popular express buses to the east and west sides and to Wall Street.

Main Drags: Lined with cheap and sometimes excellent delis and overwhelmed by the IRT, Broadway separates Riverdale from Van Cortlandt Park. Riverdale and Johnson Avenues are the town’s main streets, serving slightly different needs—Riverdale’s got an indy bookstore, a Judaica shop, and pragmatic institutions like the bank and laundromat, while Johnson is packed with restaurants, most of them casual and Asian, and even a coffee shop or two.

Average Price to Rent: One-bedrooms: $1200 to $1800 ($975 to $1600); two-bedrooms: $1500 to $2800 ($1450 to $2700); three-bedrooms: $2200 to $3500 ($1800 to $3400.)

Average Price to Buy: Over 90 percent of Riverdale’s multi-family buildings are co-ops, says Shaun Trebach of Trebach Realty, and fewer than a dozen are condos (most of these feature excellent river views). One-bedrooms go for between $100K to $300K ($75K and $250K); two-bedrooms: $200K to $600K ($180K to $550K); three-bedrooms: $600K and up ($275K and higher). Three- to six-bedroom houses are popular but not a bargain, ranging from $600K ($400K) in North Riverdale to upwards of $3 million in Fieldston and west of the Henry Hudson Parkway.

Green Space: Spacious, pleasantly seedy Van Cortlandt Park has hilly, tree-lined running trails used by teams from all over the city, but Riverdale’s crown jewel is Wave Hill, a spectacular horticultural community center that receives 100,000 visitors a year and puts the stodgy estate-gardens further upriver to shame. The gardens (called “public” in spite of a $4 admission fee) attempt with considerable success to blur the distinctions between science and art, human and natural. Highlights include the watery Aquatic Garden, surrounded in European style by trellis-covered stone walkways.

Neighborhood Hang-outs: Community life and services revolve around the Riverdale Y, a Jewish community center with a gym, two theater troupes, and sports leagues; the kid-friendly Riverdale and Spuyten Duyvil NYPL branch libraries; Riverdale Neighborhood House, which provides drop-in child care, a teen center, and a meeting space for local organizations; and, for those so inclined and eligible, the neighborhood’s numerous senior centers, day care centers, and places of worship.

Wave Hill runs a number of affordable and popular programs for kids and adults, including weekend Tai Chi, environmental science and creative writing camps, arts and gardening workshops, and Barefoot Dancing (to the sounds of live world music, of course) during selected summer sunsets. Some of the high-rise apartment complexes, most notably the Century, are worlds unto themselves, with gyms, pools, cafés, garages, doctors’ offices, and even attached nursery schools.

Media: Local paper The Riverdale Press, which was firebombed in 1989 after an editorial defending The Satanic Verses, received a 1998 Pulitzer Prize.

Museums: The Judaica Museum at the Hebrew Home for the Aged displays religious and art objects; a new Sephardic exhibit examines the culture of Jews of Middle Eastern and Iberian heritage.

Best Restaurants: Hunan Balcony (3511 Johnson Ave, 718-543-0500) is the best and most popular of Riverdale’s numerous Chinese eateries. Mixed vegetables and two kinds of tofu are served in deliciously garlicky brown sauce for $5.40, and the popular General Tso’s Chicken lunch special, with rice, choice of soup, and egg roll, costs $6.50. Prep school kids scale the fence separating the Horace Mann School and Broadway for a shorter route to Lloyd’s Carrot Cake (6087 Broadway, 718-548-9020), which serves creamy, spiced carrot juice for $2 a bottle, and three sizes of the eponymous dessert slathered in sweet cream cheese frosting ($10, $14, and $20 respectively).

Best Bars/Clubs: The An Beal Bocht Café (445 W. 238th Street, 718-884-7127) serves a mix of Irish expats, lesbians, and local college and prep school students until 4 a.m.

Politicians: Councilman G. Oliver Koppell (Democrat), Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz (Democrat), State Senator Eric T. Schneiderman (Democrat) and State Senator Jeff Klein (Democrat), and Congressman Eliot Engel (Democrat).

Crime Stats: The 50th Precinct serves Riverdale, Marble Hill, Kingsbridge, Van Cortlandt Village, and Van Cortlandt Park. As of November 6, 2005, it reported 4 murders, 13 rapes, 171 robberies, 117 felony assaults, 182 burglaries. (The 50th Precinct serves Riverdale, Marble Hill, Kingsbridge, Van Cortlandt Village, and Van Cortlandt Park. As of September, it reported three murders, down one from last year; 17 rapes, up one; 134 robberies, down 14; 110 felonious assaults, up 28; and 214 burglaries, down 17. Crime has dropped about 68 percent over the past 10 years, slightly more than the city’s overall 64 percent decrease.)