At Home in City Island
Mary Prenon | October 2018
Anyone who has ever ventured across the City Island Bridge in the Bronx knows that a quaint little seaside community awaits on the other side. A world of seafood restaurants, marinas and boutiques line the 1.5 mile-long island located at the western end of Long Island Sound.
City Island was once inhabited by the Siwanoy band of Lenape Indians, but was settled in 1654 by Europeans as part of the estate of English nobleman Thomas Pell. More than a century later, in 1761, the island was purchased by Benjamin Palmer of New York. At the time, it was known as Minefer’s Island.
Inhabited by only a few homes and farms, the island’s population was barely more than 1,000. However, Palmer’s vision was to develop the island into a port. He was also responsible for changing the name to City Island. But the Revolutionary War took its toll on Palmer’s and his investors’ capital, so his plans never developed. In fact, it took almost 60 years before the island started to thrive when oystermen and shipbuilders arrived.
By 1887, the southern end of the island—Belden Point—housed an amusement park. The site was named for developer William Belden. In the early 20th century, Belden Point was a favorite recreation spot for wealthy businessmen such as Vincent Astor, J.P. Morgan and William Randolph Hearst.
Fast forward to 1960, City Island became the last community in New York City to get dial telephone service. Until then, eight operators in a private home on Schofield Street connected all calls.
Today, City Island is famous for its seafood restaurants and boasts more than 30 eateries, including popular spots like the Sea Shore, Sammy’s Fish Box, The Lobster Box, City Island Lobster House, Johnny’s Reef, The Black Whale, and The Snug an Irish pub connected to the City Island Diner.
The island is also home to three yacht clubs, as well as a kayak club. Private boats offer fishing trips or sight-seeing tours around Long Island Sound, and smaller boats are also available for rent by the day. In addition, the City Island Nautical Museum features maritime artifacts and antiques. “It’s the only nautical historic community in New York City,” explained Paul Klein, vice president of the City Island Chamber of Commerce.
City Island’s other claim to fame is its old Victorian mansions. The landmark Samuel Pell Mansion was actually the setting for the 1969 film “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Scenes from other movies like “Long Day’s Journey into Night” with Katherine Hepburn and “Solitary Man,” with Michael Douglas and Susan Sarandon were also filmed on City Island. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld even made an appearance there with his Netflix series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”
Most of its retail businesses are located along City Island Avenue, the main street running the length of the island. In the summer, Klein noted that the population can swell to 45,000 people on busy weekends. “We get visitors from everywhere—New York City and the suburbs to as far away as Australia,” he said. “City Island is known as the place where ships were built, including everything from PT boats and mine sweepers during World War II, to America’s Cup sailing yachts.”
The City Island Chamber of Commerce has some 75 members and stores are open year round. Klein owns the Kaleidoscope Gallery that offers unique collections of artwork and jewelry. “It’s a great place to live and you learn when to travel and when not to. You don’t go out on a summer Friday evening and expect to get back any time soon,” he quipped.
Anette Triano, a real estate salesperson with McClellan Sotheby’s International Realty in Pelham, knows that all too well. Triano has lived on City Island for the past three years and is a consultant on a new luxury waterfront condo project coming to the island. She also lists and sells a mix of older and updated homes. “No two houses are identical on City Island,” she said. “There’s a lot of charm in these homes.”
The majority of her clientele are from Westchester and Long Island. “Some people are looking to downsize and some are young families,” she explained. “Taxes are low and the average home is in the $450,000 to $650,000 range.”
Triano herself is a transplant from the Poconos in Pennsylvania, where she also enjoyed a real estate career. When her husband had an opportunity to develop properties in New York, she had no qualms about relocating “When he asked me how I’d feel about living on an island, I immediately thought about the Caribbean,” she recalled. “I didn’t even know an island existed here! Who knew?!”
When she came to City Island, she fell in love with it right away. “It has a small town feel, and you can walk everywhere. It’s unique, but still part of New York City and easily accessible to everything.” Many islanders commute to Manhattan via the Pelham Bay subway station, or others drive to the Pelham Metro-North station.
City Island has its own post office, firehouse, and library and New York City’s 45th Precinct in the Bronx serves the island. The City Island Theater Group is the local community theater that produces shows year-round.
City Island has been named the ‘Nantucket of the Bronx’ by Curbed New York, or by locals as “Martha’s Vineyard with a Bronx Accent.” According to another local tradition, anyone actually born on the island is known as a “clamdigger”. A City Island resident not born on the island is known as a “musselsucker.”
Despite possibly being deemed a “musselsucker,” Triano said she’s found her perfect place. “Being able to live on the water in New York City is so great, and I’ve met so many wonderful friends here,” she added.