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Pelham Bay, Bronx: City Living among family

Most New Yorkers are familiar with the unpredictable housing market and the neighborhood gentrification raging across the city. But as tumultuous as those changes have gotten, a small area in the Northeast Bronx has managed to weather the worst of it so far.

Pelham Bay, the veritable picture of residential stability, has a character and appearance that has remained relatively unchanged for the last 40 years. And while the recipe for such coveted equilibrium is rarely reproduced in surrounding neighborhoods, those who live here simply chalk it up to family.

"It's all middle-class families here," said Michelangelo Cipollone, 60, who was spending the afternoon in Pelham Bay Park with two of his neighbors. "And if a family moves out, their kids or their cousins or somebody they know moves right in."

In fact, it's such a family affair in Pelham Bay that residents looking to sell their homes usually ask around the neighborhood before putting the property on the open market, Cipollone said. The unwritten rule is that families get dibs.

With plenty of homegrown shops and restaurants along major commercial roads like Westchester Avenue and East Tremont Avenue, Pelham Bay acts as a sort of self-sustaining mini city with little reliance on big box stores and strip malls, though some of those exist.

"There's a little bit of everything and it's all right here," Cipollone said. "I can't complain and no one that lives here really does. If they don't like it, they can go, in other words."

This is not to say that the area is completely stagnant however. Change just happens more slowly and in particular places -- making it predictable and traceable. With such stability at a premium, property values tend to stay high and any open space that does become available is eaten up as soon as it's put on the market.

"Whenever there's a big empty piece of land, a year later there's a house there," said resident Anthony Villani, 22. His case in point was a development called the Waterbury Estates at the corner of Jarvis Avenue and the Bruckner Expressway., a farm of two-family homes built on the site of the former Smithsonian Museum.

"It would have been nice to see something for kids go there," he said. "There's definitely a lack of afterschool activities for teenagers, so they end up out in the streets at night."

To be sure, Villani, an Iona College student, said he enjoyed growing up in the neighborhood with access to the city and a close-knit community to fall back on, but he recognizes the slow shift in his hometown and he actually plans to leave once he finishes school.

And with a median age of 45, according to census data, and smaller families than these houses are used to seeing, maybe Pelham Bay's not immune to the changing cityscape after all.

Find it: Pelham Bay is bounded by Pelham Parkway to the north, the Bruckner Expressway to the east and south and the Hutchinson River Parkway to the west.

The basics: Transportation There are plenty of public transportation options in Pelham Bay, though it's especially easy to get to by car since it's bounded by several major thoroughfares. If highways are arteries, then Pelham Bay is the heart of the Bronx with the Bruckner Expressway, the Hutchinson River Parkway, the Throgs Neck Expressway and the Bronx and Pelham parkways providing access to the neighborhood. Nondrivers can also take the No. 6 train to one of the last three stops on the line or hop on a number of buses, including the Bx5, 8, 14, 40 and 42, plus the BxM7 and the QBx1.

Police station The 45th Precinct covers the neighborhoods of Pelham Bay, Country Club, Co-op City and City Island, an area that includes more than 6 square miles of parkland and about 10 miles of waterfront in the Northeast Bronx.

Crime Stats In 2007, there were six murders, 12 rapes, 253 burglaries, 194 felony assaults and 447 grand larcenies in the 45th Precinct.

Schools P.S. 71 Rose E. Scala School, 3040 Roberts Ave., (718) 822-5351; Herbert H. Lehman Educational Campus, 3000 E. Tremont Ave., (718) 904-4200; P.S. 014 Senator John Calandra, 3041 Bruckner Blvd., (718) 822-5341; St. Theresa Schoolý, 2872 Saint Theresa Ave., (718) 892-1900; Our Lady-Assumption Schoolý, 1617 Parkview Ave., (718) 829-1706ý; Villa Maria Academy-Elementary Schoolý, 3335 Country Club Rd., (718) 824-3260ý;

Libraries Pelham Bay Branch, 3060 Middletown Rd., (718) 792-6744

Post offices Pilgrim Office, 1545 Crosby Ave., (800) ASK-USPS

Highlight Pelham Bay Park -- Covering 2,700 acres of beautiful Bronx real estate, Pelham Bay Park is by far the city's largest park. While it's almost three times bigger (and ten times quieter) than Central Park, the majority of the land lies just northeast of Pelham Bay's residential concentration. At almost any time of the day, big groups of people can be found biking the flat, winding paths, playing a fierce game of bocce ball or barbecuing with friends. It is also host to a variety of wildlife habitats, nature trails and both public and private beaches, which make the park both a recreational and environmental oasis.

To eat The food in Pelham Bay is reliably good according to most residents, but the majority of favorite eateries lie just outside the primarily residential neighborhood's borders. There isn't an overwhelming presence of fast food chains, a fact the locals tend to like, and family-run delis and grocery stores are on almost every block of the main commercial strips, especially along the No. 6 train that runs up Westchester Avenue.

Pelham Bay Diner -- "It's just diner food," the well-dressed man behind the counter said when asked about his menu. Well, the locals seem to disagree. The Pelham Bay Diner comes as one the most highly recommended places to eat in the area with fresh food, a spacious and inviting interior and a particularly humble staff. 1920 E. Gun Hill Rd., (718) 379-4130

Yvonne's Southern Cuisine Restaurant -- A taste of the South is only a 10-minute drive north. BBQ ribs, smothered pork chops and fried catfish are a few of the favorite entrees, all served with two sides -- such deliciously ubiquitous options such as fried plantains and black eyed peas -- plus a golden piece of cornbread. They do catering and private parties as well. Fifth Ave., (914) 738-2005

Frankie and Johnny's Pine Tavern Restaurant -- Just west of the Hutchinson River Parkway. is one of the Bronx's most famous Italian restaurants. With big portions of classic dishes, some highly recommended entrees include the eggplant rollatini, baked clams and filet mignon. 1913 Bronxdale Ave., (718) 792-5956

Honey's Thai Pavilion -- Mere feet from the No. 6 train, Honey's is evidence of the area's cultural diversification in recent years. They offer an assortment of noodles, salads and curries but the special dishes are where this restaurant shines. Grilled lemongrass chicken, Thai style grilled pork chops and Honey's special lamb are worth checking out. 3036 Westchester Ave., (718) 792-2803

The Black Whale -- Just across the water, smack dab in the middle of City Island is this charming and romantic hot spot for American cuisine. Though the menu is not incredibly lengthy, they offer a good selection of dishes from land, sea and air and wherever pasta roams. 279 City Island Ave., (718) 885-3657

Pelham Bay Bake Shop and Cafe -- There's no way around it: Don't come to this bakery unless you're prepared to eat half a dozen amazing pastries. The Pelham Bay Bake Shop and Cafe makes great pies like apple, pumpkin and lemon meringue, some top-notch Italian pastries and fresh-bakes doughnuts and cakes. Also noteworthy are the reasonable prices for almost everything in the shop. 1650 Crosby Ave., (718) 822-7537

To shop: The shopping in Pelham Bay is pretty standard for the Bronx. The neighborhood has a few streets that are block after block of small, family-run stores and every so often a strip mall or shopping center pops up, usually by the highways. Big box stores exist, but they tend to be off the more residential roads due primarily to space requirements. What Pelham Bay ends up with is a modest commercial presence run mostly by local families.

Bay Plaza Shopping Center -- At the intersection of I-95 and Hutchinson River Parkway is the area's largest shopping center with almost every amenity imaginable. There are stores for electronics, furniture and clothes plus a number of restaurants and fast food joints and even some grocers. Its convenient location makes it a popular weekend destination for the younger residents of Pelham Bay and the Bronx proper. Exit 4N off the Hutchinson River Parkway.

Pelham Bay Toy Shop -- From the Buhre Avenue stop on the No. 6 train, you can pop in tothis cute family-run shop for all the typical toys tots enjoy. Games, figurines and video games are just some of the items on sale. The prices here are typically a bit higher than you would find at a place like Toys R Us, but they tend to have big-sellers in stock long after the chains have sold out. 2940 Westchester Ave., (718) 822-5333

Unique to Antique -- Though small, cramped and a little dusty, Unique to Antique has an amazing selection of collectibles like flatware, statuettes and vases. They also have some small antique furniture and a variety of adorable trinkets that refuse to be classified. 3000 Middletown Rd., (718) 829-8807

To do: If you're an active New Yorker, there's plenty to do in Pelham Bay during the day. With Pelham Bay Park and the waterfront a few minutes' walk away, most activities tend to be relaxing, outdoors affairs, though the area has a few bars and lounges that are worth visiting. Let's just say that Pelham Bay isn't known for it's thriving nightlife.

Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum -- This is a New York City landmark and just an all-around beautiful place to visit in Pelham Bay. On the edge of Pelham Bay Park, the picturesque 170-year-old mansion stands as an elegant postcard from the Civil War era. The city offers seasonal tours and educational programs, though the grounds are open daily. 895 Shore Rd., (718) 885-1461

Bronx Equestrian Center -- Believe it or not, horses for all occasions and levels of experience can be found in this small corner of the Bronx. Open year round, the Equestrian Center offers trail riding, pony rides and both Western and English style riding lessons. They also rent horse drawn carriages and, if a particular animal strikes your fancy, you can take one home for a modest price! 9 Shore Rd., (718) 885-0551

Pelham/Split Rock Golf Course -- Originally opened in 1901, this Scottish links style course has been a golfing hot spot for decades. The par 71 public course offers vast fairways, gorgeous vistas and a number of tricky putting greens to keep it all interesting. 870 Shore Rd., (718) 885-1258

Q & A Like many Pelham Bay residents, George Trovato, 52, has lived in this part of the Bronx his entire life. It's a safe, green and friendly neighborhood where his family and friends live -- and he has no intention of leaving anytime soon.

Q: What has kept you here all these years? A: Definitely the family dynamic and the sense of community have kept me here. It's a clean neighborhood, the schools are good, taxes are reasonable, crime is low what else? There's one of the nicest public parks right here but you still have the option of privacy since all your neighbors are pretty considerate and friendly. Why would I leave?

Q: What's the real estate situation like? A: Well, it's very stable actually since they ran out of places to build. What you see is what you got and it's kind of nice that way. Most homes are single or double families -- almost entirely middle-class families -- and you'll see if you go down any of the streets that there's not a ton of construction.

Q: Who lives in Pelham Bay? A: It's predominantly Italian but there has been a growing number of other groups moving into the area, which has been really nice. In the last 10 years or so, the Hispanic population especially has jumped but there's all different kinds of people from all over. The change has been quicker on the west side of the Bruckner Expressway since that's where most of the apartments are.

Q: What kind of effect has that had on the area? A: Some of the restaurants have changed, which has been interesting, but now it's just a more diverse middle-class [area] than it was years ago. Since most families stay here for generations, the change has been slow so you might not realize it right away, but it's there. Different cultures and customs definitely make it more interesting, and I think it's been for the better.

Q: What are the drawbacks? A: I can't really think of anything particularly negative except that there's not much parking space. But that's just New York, right? You're not going to say it's luxurious, but it's convenient. Everything you need here is at your fingertips.

Real estate: Most of Pelham Bay is single- and two-family homes of various styles, though semi-attached brick and pre-war designs tend to dominate the short, quiet streets. There are some apartment buildings and co-ops as well, though they are typically relegated to neighboring Co-op City and Throgs Neck.

"There's just about a 50-50 split of renters and home owners," said Cathy Tonti, an agent with Coldwell Banker Gumbo, the company's only Bronx office. "Pelham Bay's a pretty big area so it includes some very different parts. But if a house is on sale, it usually sells pretty quickly."

"I think it's because people want to be close to the transportation since it's not far from the city here with the No. 6 train and the express buses," Tonti said. "Plus they love the park, the taxes are low and it's a middle-class area that's considered one of the nicest parts of the Bronx."

To Buy: -2013 Colonial Ave. -- Part of an 11-unit condo, newly built, one bedroom, one bathroom with 9-foot ceilings, granite counter tops, access to a fitness center and rooftop terrace: $399,000

-1730 Edison Ave. -- A three bedroom, one and a half bathroom home for one family built in 1935 with a backyard patio and a driveway: $439,000

-1627 Pilgrim Ave. -- A three bedroom, one bathroom single-family colonial with a living room, formal dining room, covered patio and a backyard with a swimming pool: $460,000

Recently sold: -1927 Edison Ave. -- A single family colonial built in 1940 with 2-stories, a spacious backyard and a driveway: $350,000

-1737 Hobart Ave. -- Multi-family brick building with five bedrooms and two bathrooms on a quiet one-way street: $625,000

-1725 Edison Ave. -- A one bedroom, one bathroom 490 square foot condo built in 1965: $85,000

To rent: -A three-story walk up minutes from the park and five blocks from the 6 train, utilities included but no laundry facilities: $825/mo.

A one bedroom, one bathroom five-story walk up with hardwood floors, laundry facilities and heat, water and internet included: $1,100/mo.

Less than five blocks from the park, the train and the buses, a two bedroom, one bathroom walk up of three stories: $1,250/mo.

Contact: Cathy Tonti of Coldwell Banker Gumbo, 917-579-4979

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