Mott Haven on Earth
Will gentrification -- call it SoBro? -- cross the Harlem River and bring brownstone-lovers to Mott Haven's historic district?
"I wanted to move to Harlem so badly," says Yonette Davis, a 32-year-old Manhattan doctor who spent two years searching. "Harlem's prices weren't too high, but I was really disappointed with what I saw. Some of the mantels on the fireplaces were stolen." Then one day earlier this year, she found an ad in the Times for a "Harlem alternative": a house in Mott Haven -- that would be in the South Bronx -- with original details. "I said, 'Why not?'"
Is the South Bronx the new Harlem? Can brokers coax brownstone-loving New Yorkers to put aside decades of Fort Apache, the Bronx images of danger and squalor? Davis did: She paid $200,000 for a restored Victorian on East 140th Street that came complete with a Federal stairwell and five working fireplaces. So did Sue Mardirosian, a middle-school teacher who left her $1,250-a-month one-bedroom in Boerum Hill for a $750-a-month apartment in a brownstone on 138th Street.
"People don't even know this neighborhood exists," says Sid Miller, Mardirosian's landlord and head of the Haven Heights Group. Mott Haven's three small historic districts -- tucked between 133rd and 144th Streets, off Alexander and Brook Avenues -- comprise about 250 turn-of-the-century, single-family townhouses. They're the survivors; a good number ended up torched or torn down. The area "reminds me of Fort Greene in 1982," says Corcoran Group's Jerry Minsky, who sold the house to Davis.
It's not just a bad rep that keeps home prices in the $175,000-to-$250,000 range. The area's still surrounded by extreme blight, so many aren't convinced that it's fertile ground for gentrification. "Harlem is still part of Manhattan," says Equity Realty and Consulting Corporation's Michael Schwartz. "On the opposite side of the river, there's no place to go."
But the newcomers are hopeful. "This is the last ungentrified neighborhood that's relatively close to Manhattan," says Mardirosian. "I can literally be on 86th Street in twelve minutes -- that's good for me."
Don't Even Think of Park . . .
Lisa Gastineau's luck with apartments doesn't seem any better than her luck with men. The ex-model was married to New York Jet Mark Gastineau, who went to jail for beating her. Then she hooked up with John Gotti. None of this made the condo board at a Park Avenue-in-the-Sixties prewar sympathize with her, though. After selling her swanky, gilded three-bedroom at the St. James Tower on East 54th Street for over $1 million, she picked out the $5,000-a-month one-bedroom on Park. She agreed to pay the owner of the 1,000-square-foot place (with high ceilings and a fireplace) a year up front. But the board had the right of first refusal and could rent it itself. After the board held off, extending the 30-day approval period, the owner and Gastineau decided to let the deal swim with the fishes. (Douglas Elliman's Michael Shvo found an investment banker to rent it.)
Upper East Side
401 East 60th Street
3-bed, 31/2-bath, 2,000-square-foot condo. Ask: $2.16 million. Sell: $2.175 million. Charges and taxes: $2,014. Four weeks on market.
Stepping off the elevator in the new Bridge Tower condo, this buyer took a wrong turn and, before her broker, Douglas Elliman's Tristan Harper, could stop her, wandered into a $2.16 million apartment instead of the $1.6 million space Harper had intended to show her. Despite her firmly stated budget ($1.5 million) and geographical requirements (East Eighties), she decided she just couldn't settle for less. "That's never happened to me before!" reports Harper. Maybe he should have this kind of accident more often.
420 Riverside Drive
1-bed, 1-bath, 700-square-foot co-op. Ask: $225,000. Sell: $217,000. Maintenance: $326. Twenty-six weeks on market.
After showing this apartment to more than 120 people, Corcoran's Rachel Melniker feared she might have a lemon on her hands. The layout was "somewhat challenging," she concedes: Split off from an eight-room apartment years ago, it has a bedroom that had originally been a maid's room in the larger spread. In addition, "the apartment had not been terribly well cared for." Finally, along came a Columbia grad in the Internet business. She already loved the neighborhood, and her mom, an interior decorator, will help make lemonade out of the place.