NYTimes Touts Uptown’s Audubon Park Historic District Real Estate

Check out this article on Audubon Park, which mentions our Riverside Drive Condos and quotes lil ol me :)

Living In | Audubon Park

Naturalist Perched Here


ONE can imagine how John James Audubon, the renowned naturalist and illustrator of “Birds of America,” might have reacted to the idea: his own name, being used to promote the very development that would transform the rambling woodlands of his beloved Washington Heights estate into a densely populated urban district. But that is precisely what happened, according to Matthew Spady, a longtime resident and magpie collector of historical facts about the area.

In 1841, shortly after the publication of “Birds,” Audubon bought 14 acres north of 155th Street, which at that point existed only as a line on a map. There, at the base of a hill overlooking the Hudson River, he built a green-shuttered white clapboard house with a parlor he used as his painting room. When he died in the house a decade later, he left his family land-poor. To make ends meet, his widow, Lucy, began selling off parcels of the estate, which came for the first time to be called Audubon Park.

“The Audubon name had sold books,” Mr. Spady said, and now it would sell real estate.

It is doing so again. Residents revived the name Audubon Park, which had been in disuse for nearly a century, during their decade-long campaign to win city landmark protection for their tranquil, architecturally cohesive enclave. And ever since the creation in 2009 of the Audubon Park Historic District, brokers have found the historic designation an effective lure uptown.

“It gives people that extra level of comfort to be able to say, ‘I’m moving into one of the city’s newest historic districts,’ ” said Sandy Edry, a senior associate salesperson for Citi Habitats, who handles sales for two of the three prewar buildings converted into condominiums in the district in the last five years.

Historic character was a draw for Jane VanLare, a lawyer, and her husband, Jordan, who studies nearby at Columbia University’s medical school. The couple, who met a decade ago as members of the Harvard ballroom dance team, paid $755,000 last year for a four-bedroom two-and-a-half-bath unit with a maid’s room in the Riviera, a Renaissance Revival co-op with a marble lobby.

The sixth-floor apartment, which overlooks a church and the stately edifices of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, retained its gracious proportions but cried out for a renovation.

“It’s an opportunity to combine the traditional, beautiful architecture with the modern amenities we wanted,” Ms. VanLare said. While taking care to restore original French doors, the couple’s workers are installing central air-conditioning that will be controlled by a home automation system, as will the lights, window treatments, heated bathroom floors and audio-video equipment.

The kitchen, complete with “wine cave,” will connect to a library that the two plan to use as a family room, with a built-in projector and movie screen.

All told, the work will cost about $500,000, which the VanLares consider a savvy investment, far more so than if they had stayed on the Upper West Side, where they previously rented. “We were looking for a neighborhood with good potential for growth,” Ms. VanLare said, predicting that Columbia’s northward expansion would increase demand in her new neighborhood. “By moving uptown you get so much more space, but you still have the benefits of Manhattan: the great transportation, the shows, the restaurants of New York City.”


Just north of the serene, green grounds of the Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum, a tributary of Riverside Drive breaks off from the main drive’s north-south straightaway at 155th Street and makes a sinuous, almost furtive turn inland. As it curves uphill and uptown past residents combing their dogs or playing guitar on park benches, tall prewar apartment houses with eclectic limestone and terra-cotta detailing rise up on either side, giving the area the feel of a secret enclave. On high ground at 157th Street looms the great prow of the triangular, nine-story Grinnell co-op, the Renaissance Revival-style grande dame looking as if she might at any moment sail down the drive’s curve and into the Hudson.

A lushly planted oval, shaded by London plane trees, stands in the center of Audubon Park’s part of Riverside Drive. It is tended by neighbors from the Riverside Oval Association, who last fall planted 1,000 bulbs. “I live for it all winter, to see the fruits of our late-October labors,” said Vivian Ducat, a co-chairwoman of the group, which hosts a party for Audubon in the oval in April.

Most of Audubon Park, which runs from 155th to 158th Streets west of Broadway, is a visually consistent streetscape of apartment houses built from 1905 to 1932. The landmarks designation report lavishes a nearly Audubon-worthy level of attention on the architectural plumage of the Beaux Arts and Renaissance Revival buildings. Census data for Audubon Park and the three contiguous blocks to the east show the population in 2009 was 58 percent Hispanic or Latino, 29 percent African-American, and 8 percent white.

The area has come a long way since the early 1990s, when drug-related shootings plagued Washington Heights. Crime rates in the 33rd Precinct have plunged in every major category since 1995, police data show.

Officer Steve Api of the 33rd Precinct said Broadway was a crime dividing line. The police are very rarely called to Audubon Park, he said, but “the east side of Broadway between 155th and 158th Streets has a bad prescription-drug problem.”

Residents said the streets generally felt safe. “I’m never afraid to walk around at night,” said Frank Poindexter, who takes his King Charles spaniel, Parker, for long strolls.


The Riviera and Grinnell co-ops, both of which are celebrating centennials, are the queens of Audubon Park. Their apartments have high ceilings and prewar details, and some have river views. Nine units sold in the Riviera in the last year, said Bruce Robertson, a senior associate broker with the Corcoran Group, who lives in the Grinnell. Three-bedroom two-bath units cost $670,000 to $720,000. A renovated four-bedroom two-bath in the Grinnell recently sold for $999,000. “Co-ops are selling faster than a year ago,” Mr. Robertson said.

Five prewar apartment houses have been converted into condos in the area in the past five years, three on Riverside Drive below 158th Street, and two above, just outside Audubon Park. Mr. Edry of Citi Habitats said that 801 Riverside Drive was one sale shy of the 50 percent mark, while 35 percent of units had sold at 807 Riverside. One-bedrooms have been selling in those buildings for about $300,000, he added.

The rental price for a gut-renovated two-bedroom condo in the area is around $2,250 a month.


Broadway is a lively, sometimes litter-strewn commercial corridor, where old men hawk tube socks and Spanish-language radio stations blare from cellphone stores. “I love how Hispanic it is, and all the salsa that blares out,” said Sue Woodman, an English journalist who moved into a prewar rental building opposite Trinity Cemetery last year. “It just seems much more fun than Starbucks and CVS.”

But for Ms. Woodman, the greatest cultural revelation was the Hispanic Society of America Museum and Library at Audubon Terrace, the Italian Renaissance-style museum complex at 155th Street and Broadway. In 30 years living on the Upper West Side, Ms. Woodman had never visited the Hispanic Society. When she first walked through its column-flanked door, her jaw dropped. “It’s just Goyas, and Velázquez paintings hidden back there,” she exclaimed. “They’re just there, and you walk in there anytime you want.”

“The World Outside Our Windows,” an exhibit of photographs taken from apartments in the Grinnell, will be on view June 26 and July 17, from 2 to 5 p.m., at 800 Riverside Drive.

A virtual walking tour of Audubon Park is at audubonparkny.com. For a multimedia centennial celebration of the Riviera apartment house, go to 790rsd100.org/index.html.


Primary students are zoned for Public School 28 on West 155th Street, which serves prekindergarten through fifth grade; it got an A on its most recent city progress report. Thirty-one percent of third graders met state proficiency standards in English, 38 percent in math. Grades 6 through 8 are taught in two schools that share a building on West 164th Street: Middle School 326, which earned an A on its report, and M.S. 328, which got a B.

Some children attend the selective Bronx High School of Science. SAT averages last year were 632 in reading, 685 in math, and 643 in writing, versus 439, 462 and 434 citywide.


The No. 1 train stops at 157th Street and Broadway. Midtown is about half an hour away at rush hour; the financial district takes 45 minutes.


Riverside Drive’s winding inland course between 155th and 158th Streets was the result of political maneuvering by the Grinnell family, who by 1897 owned most of Audubon Park and worked with other property owners to have the boulevard run past their front door to increase their property values, Mr. Spady said.

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Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company. Reprinted with Permission.  Photos should be credited as follows: Chang W. Lee, The New York Times