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Mott Haven, the Bronx, in Transition

Author: C. J. Hughes



Parisa Azadi for The New York Times

Mott Haven, in the South Bronx, has heard it all before: It’s dangerous, barren and a place to pass through en route to somewhere else. But the neighborhood, a waterfront enclave with a mix of industrial and residential properties, is no longer defined by those old stereotypes. It is undergoing a gradual reinvention, with restaurants opening, scruffy buildings getting spiffed up and apartments being built on gap-toothed lots. Plans are in motion for hundreds of rental units along a stretch of the Harlem River where Jordan L. Mott, for whom the area was named, once made iron stoves and other items.

“I said, never, ever, over my dead body, would I ever live in the Bronx; it just had such a stigma about it,” said Rachael Lyon, 42, who works in public relations and moved in September from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, to a one-bedroom in the Clock Tower, a converted piano-factory building. “But everybody is so cool, and so laid back, and it has everything you want in a neighborhood,” she said, citing the apartment stock, transportation and ease of parking.

Renewal has been promised before, only to fizzle, and the area still faces enduring challenges. More than 40 percent of families in Mott Haven live in poverty, according to recent census figures, compared with about 18 percent citywide and 28 percent for the Bronx as a whole.

“I really hope it happens and is not just the real estate market creating an artificial bubble,” said Linda Ortiz, who owns a four-story multifamily home in the neighborhood. Her 1888 Queen Anne-style building had served as single-room-occupancy housing, cost $338,000 in 2012 and needed extensive work, she said.

While some transitioning areas resist gentrification, Mott Haven should embrace it, she said. “I say, the more, the merrier,” said Ms. Ortiz, who does mediation work for the United States Department of Justice and also serves on Bronx Community Board 1, which includes the area.

Judged by crime statistics, things are looking up. The 40th Precinct, which covers a larger area, had 70 murders in 1993 and 27 in 2001 but 7 in 2014, according to police data. Assaults and robberies have declined significantly, too.

Traffic, on the other hand, is almost a fact of life. Pulaski Park, by the Willis Avenue Bridge, is practically surrounded by elevated roads but still is a popular site for basketball games. Vehicle pollution contributes to the neighborhood’s high asthma rates, according to residents who oppose the construction of a new headquarters in the area by FreshDirect, the grocery delivery service with a fleet of trucks. Others, though, say the jobs the company will bring are welcome.

Of the neighborhood’s 58,000 residents, 72 percent are Hispanic, according to the 2010 census, many with Puerto Rican, Dominican and Mexican heritage.

The neighborhood is “amazingly multicultural,” said Linda Cunningham, an artist and resident. A decade ago, Ms. Cunningham, who had been living in SoHo, was part of a development team that converted an industrial building into an 11-unit condo. Today, she lives and works there.

“Everybody knows everybody here,” she said, as she greeted people on the sidewalk. “It feels like home.”

What You’ll Find

Mott Haven is bordered by East 149th Street, the Harlem River, the Bronx Kill and the Bruckner Expressway, according to maps and residents.

Monolithic city housing projects line the landscape, like Mott Haven, J. P. Mitchel, Patterson and Mill Brook, which account for about 14,000 residents. Sharply juxtaposed against them on nearby blocks are 19th-century brick buildings that are among the borough’s most attractive. In all, Mott Haven contains three of the Bronx’s 11 historic districts.

The developer Pinnacle Real Estate Ventures rehabbed three buildings on Alexander Avenue and rented all six three-bedroom units at market rate. When available, they start at $2,400 a month, said Joshua Dardashtian, the company’s president.

Most new development, meanwhile, has sprouted around Bruckner Boulevard, a largely industrial area that was rezoned twice, in 1997 and 2005. There, in 2002, the Clock Tower opened with 95 apartments in the former piano factory at Bruckner and Lincoln Avenue owned by Carnegie Management; studios start at $950 a month. Next door, Carnegie plans to break ground this summer on a 130-unit rental building with an indoor pool, said Isaac Jacobs, the company’s vice president. The JCAL Development Group plans to start construction this spring on two side-by-side rental buildings, with 15 units, on Alexander Avenue, near Bruckner, said Joshua Weissman, JCAL’s president.

What You’ll Pay

632 MORRIS AVENUE A building, center left, in nearby Melrose, with three apartments, listed at $800,000. (917) 239-3488 Credit Parisa Azadi for The New York Times

With few apartments for sale, people who want to own often buy two-family or multifamily buildings, living on one floor and renting out others. Such buildings can range from $200,000 to $1 million, based on size, condition and whether they are in foreclosure, brokers say.

In 2014, 39 properties sold in Mott Haven, 36 of which were buildings; they averaged $455,000, according to That compares with 50 properties traded in 2010, 41 of them buildings, at an average of $618,000. As of mid-March this year, there were 10 sales, 7 of them buildings, at an average of $456,000, the data show.

The drop in average price may reflect some foreclosure properties hitting the market now after moving through the system, said Juliet Silfvast, an agent with Rutenberg Realty. But she said the average price per square foot paid for buildings — now about $220, she says — is climbing.

Rents for market-rate apartments start at around $1,500 a month for one-bedrooms, developers say.

What to Do

Some residents shop for groceries at a Western Beef Supermarket on Morris Avenue or at a seasonal farmer’s market that started last year on East 138th Street. Across the street is a bustling strip of Mexican-owned businesses selling flowers, fruit and tacos.

On Willis Avenue, La Morada Restaurant is a modest, well-regarded place run by a family from the state of Oaxaca in Mexico.

457 EAST 143RD STREET A four-bedroom three-bath single-family rowhouse needing renovation, listed at $325,000. (212) 317-7882 Credit Parisa Azadi for The New York Times

Charlie’s Bar and Kitchen, which opened in the Clock Tower building in 2012, features framed photos of famous Charlies — Sheen, Chaplin, Tuna. Nearby, at 39 Bruckner, is Wallworks New York, an art gallery that opened last fall.

Hilly St. Mary’s Park, around 35 acres, is among the area’s largest green swaths. But this summer, a long-delayed pathway for pedestrians and cyclists over the Bronx Kill is scheduled to open, connecting East 132nd Street in Port Morris with Randalls Island and its acres of athletic fields.

The Schools

Public schools in the area face challenges. Some residents of Bruckner Boulevard, arguably the center of the neighborhood, are zoned for Public School 154, the Jonathan D. Hyatt School, which runs through fifth grade. Last school year, 7 percent of students there met standards on state exams in English, versus 30 percent citywide; 13 percent did in math, versus 39 percent citywide, according to city data.

At Success Academy Charter School on Morris Avenue, which teaches kindergarten to fourth grade, 60 percent met standards in English, and 93 percent did in math. The same building houses fifth grade (and next fall, sixth).

The Commute

The 4, 5, 6 and 2 trains all serve the neighborhood, some part time. Some commuters in the Bruckner Boulevard area take the 6 train from Third Avenue-138th Street, then transfer to either the 4 or 5 express train at 125th Street, arriving in Midtown in 20 minutes.

The History

Mott Haven was once a piano district, though most of the early businesses are long gone. Beethoven Pianos, which repairs, stores and sells pianos in its warehouse by the Third Avenue Bridge — it also has a showroom in Manhattan — came later, in the 1980s. It has strong ties to the past: Its five-story brick building was part of Mott’s original iron works, said Carl Demler, Beethoven’s owner.

DMU Timestamp: July 13, 2015 12:10

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