A Neighborhood of Contrasts

Living in Staten Island’s Tottenville Neighborhood

 

 

Tottenville, a self-contained enclave along Staten Island’s southwestern waterfront, can be rich in contrasts.

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Brightly painted wood-frame houses from the Civil War era sit near beige 21st-century stone mansions. Lines of cars snarl Amboy Road, but on wooded paths by Raritan Bay, a walker may have only cardinals for company.

And on a recent afternoon, along the industrial Arthur Kill waterway, tugboats sat marooned in a dirt lot, while next door at La Bella Marketplace, shoppers browsed the Italian delicacies.

“There is modern, there is old. There is large, there is small. But this is definitely a very quaint and quiet community,”

 

Some of the side-by-side juxtapositions in the neighborhood, which is about 22 miles as the gull flies from Midtown Manhattan, stem from the twin forces that have shaped the place in recent years — aggressive development and an often parallel effort to keep things looking the same.

 

A former oystering port turned bedroom community, Tottenville has experienced intense growth in the last couple of decades. From 1970 to 1990, the area’s population increased by about 20 percent, or to 8,000 from 6,600 residents, according to the Social Explorer census website. Yet from 1990 to 2010, the population grew almost 90 percent, or to 15,000 from 8,000 residents.

A backlash followed. Residents pushed for zoning changes to make it tougher to squeeze numerous residences onto lots.

Similarly, a city plan in the 1990s to build soccer fields in the 265-acre Conference House Park prompted an outcry about crowds and sparked the formation of the Tottenville Civic Association, which successfully blocked the proposal. Today, the thick forest of walnut and hackberry trees inside the park may have the association to thank for its existence.

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In recent years, a more immediate crisis gripped Tottenville: Hurricane Sandy, which flooded much of the area around Billop Avenue and claimed the lives of two residents.

 

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Still, many who live in Tottenville say the allure of being near the water outweighs the potential risks

What You’ll Find

Tottenville, occupying roughly the area covered by the 10307 ZIP code, is bordered mostly by water — the Arthur Kill and Raritan Bay — and also by Page Avenue and Richmond Valley Road, according to many residents, brokers and local officials. The neighborhood is often considered divided by Amboy Road into “old” and “new” sections, which refer to both the age of the housing stock and how long people have lived there.

The older part has Italianate, Greek Revival and Carpenter Gothic homes, some from the mid-1800s, though sometimes they have been modified to a point where just a few architectural flourishes remain. And their residents were often born and raised in the area, brokers say. The newer section, especially south of Hylan Boulevard, usually has far more recent construction.

 

What to Do

Shopping options are abundant. Tottenville is checkered with strip malls containing drugstores, dry cleaners and groceries. And other centers nearby offer national brands like Target, Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond.

Restaurants are also found in those settings, too, like Cabo, a Mexican place on Page Avenue that gets lively at night. Amboy Road has more casual mom-and-pop offerings, like pizzerias.

 

A huge converted warehouse on Richmond Valley Road offers the Fastbreak Basketball Center; Intoxx Fitness, with kickboxing and Pilates classes; and the RollerJam USA rink.

The Schools

Many students attend P.S. 1 the Tottenville School, with about 520 students from prekindergarten to fifth grade. On state tests last year, 49 percent of students met standards in English versus 30 percent citywide. In math, 47 percent met standards, versus 39 percent citywide, according to its Elementary School Quality Snapshot. The nearby Totten Intermediate School enrolls about 1,160 students for sixth to eighth grades and had a 93 percent attendance rate, its snapshot said.

It sends most of its students to nearby Tottenville High School, which enrolls about 4,000, 85 percent of whom graduate in four years, according to its snapshot. Last year’s SAT averages there were 467 reading, 487 math and 468 writing, compared with 441, 463 and 436 citywide.

The Commute

The Staten Island Railway, which runs to the St. George ferry terminal, has three stations in the neighborhood: Nassau, Atlantic and Tottenville. The fare is a MetroCard swipe. From Tottenville, the fastest rush-hour trains, making limited stops, take 34 minutes; regular trains take 42 minutes. Ferries from St. George to Lower Manhattan are free and take about 25 minutes.

But the lightly used Nassau and Atlantic stations will soon be combined into a new stop, Arthur Kill Station, located between them. The $15 million project is supposed to open late this year, with parking for 150 cars.

Express buses ($6) include the X22 and X22A, which loop around Hyland and Amboy, then run through New Jersey and reach Manhattan in a little over an hour, according to the schedule.

But cars still rule, and there are discounts for drivers using E-ZPass at bridges like the Verrazano-Narrows.

The History

Named for the Totten family, whose occupations included blacksmith, oysterman and sea captain, according to historical records, the area was renamed in the early 1900s by the post office to Bentley Manor. The decision was quickly reversed after opposition to the new name.

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