Park Hill, Yonkers, N.Y.: A ‘Secret Neighborhood’ Overlooking the Bronx


Park Hill, an upland section of the city of Yonkers whose serpentine roads loop past Victorian gems, is only a few hundred feet from the Bronx, but it can elicit feelings of not being in New York anymore.

The land of Oz? Not quite — although there are yellow bricks peeking out from beneath the asphalt on Overcliff Street.

“It’s like stumbling upon some secret neighborhood,” said Sandra Cardona, a vice president of a hotel company, who landed there in 2014 with her partner, Guillermo Garita, an architect.

Previously, the couple rented a loft in the financial district of Manhattan. But Ms. Cardona, who enjoys painting at home, was feeling cramped in her live-create situation. Familiar with Yonkers from a brief stint in a rental more than a decade before, she thought it might have what she was looking for. And it did, in the form of a 1929 red-brick house, with four bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, hardwood floors and an unusual Georgian-meets-Tudor facade, that cost in the “low $700,000s,” she said.

The house, which the couple shares with their rescue dog, Zaha (as in the late architect Zaha Hadid), has plenty of room to spare, allowing Ms. Cardona to commandeer a bedroom for that long-sought dedicated space for art.

The surrounding landscape, which crests at more than 250 feet, can also provide inspiration, as when ice storms leave a glistening sheen on the neighborhood’s many mature trees. “You just want to grab a camera and photograph everything,” Ms. Cardona said. “It’s really magical.”

If the views from above, which sweep across the Hudson River, are heavenly, the reality below can be grittier. The blocks beyond Park Hill’s borders are some of the most impoverished in Yonkers, the state’s fourth most populous city. The contrasts, between resplendent mansions and ragged multifamily homes, can be stark.

Growing up in Brooklyn, Karl Danticat, 43, knew of Yonkers’s less-polished side from hip-hop artists like DMX, who grew up in the “Y-O,” as he raps on “Yonkers Anthem.”

So Mr. Danticat, a business manager for a Manhattan public school, was leery about looking for a home there. “I thought it would be tough, but maybe even scary for children,” said Mr. Danticat, who has a son and daughter, and a wife, Mia, a teacher in Manhattan.

They were living in a two-family rowhouse in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and were eager to move. After buying the house in 2011, the Danticats watched gentrification spread as developers swallowed up almost every empty lot on their block. The increase in population that followed fueled tension, said Mr. Danticat, who grimly recalled a drawn-out battle with a neighbor over a parking spot. “Brooklyn just got too small,” he said.

Morris Park, in the Bronx, where they first looked, seemed equally crowded. But Park Hill offered room to breathe and impressive period homes, like the five-bedroom colonial with crown molding and shutter-lined windows that the Danticats bought for $573,000 in 2018.

Along the way, Mr. Danticat has become more forgiving of grit. “It’s the whole nature of city life,” he said, to have great blocks and not-so-great blocks. “New York is like that, too.”

While online maps define Park Hill broadly, many locals — and the Park Hill Residents’ Association, which represents some 600 residents in a neighborhood of about 1,000 houses — use the narrower boundaries of South Broadway, McLean Avenue, the Saw Mill River Parkway and Spruce Street.

Single-family houses, many constructed between 1890 and 1930, are dominant, and care seems to have been taken to make each one stand apart, with Queen Anne, Mediterranean and Shingle styles alternating. Many structures are angled in distinctive ways toward the street.

Turrets are plentiful, many topped with flattened cones, as at 28 Lewis Parkway. And stone is a common flourish, as at 244 Park Hill Avenue, where it surrounds many of the windows.

Over the years, buildings have burned down and estates have been carved up, allowing modest ranches and colonials to squeeze in, like those on prized Alta Avenue, helping give Park Hill a socioeconomic mix.

Attempts to create historic districts, which could protect older homes, have gone nowhere, said Mary Hoar, a past president of the Yonkers Historical Society, who lives in the four-bedroom Dutch colonial-style house in Park Hill that her parents bought in 1942 for $15,000.

Some homeowners expressed concern about replacing expensive slate roofs, Ms. Hoar said, adding, “The meetings were full of yelling and screaming and carrying on.”

But in an enclave that resembles a scaled-down Newport, many renovations seem respectful all the same.

Because many houses in Park Hill stay in families for generations, turnover is limited, and so is inventory. Properties listed on the market earlier this month were fairly typical, brokers said: Twelve houses, from $475,000 to $800,000, were for sale, while 10 others, from $370,000 to $825,000, were in contract.

Divining trends from a small sample is difficult. But prices appear steady, even as those in other parts of Westchester County have softened. In 2019, 29 houses sold for an average of $540,000, said Jane McAfee, an associate broker with Houlihan Lawrence, while in 2018, 22 sold for an average of $576,000; in 2017, there were 35 sales, at an average of $534,000.

Also appealing, brokers pointed out, is that property taxes can be a third of those for comparable homes in places like neighboring Hastings-on-Hudson.

As for rentals, two-bedrooms at 153 Park Hill Avenue, a Tudor-style building that is among the neighborhood’s few large multifamily properties, run about $1,800 a month.

Apart from the 8.5-acre Leslie Sutherland Park, a cliff-side escape on the grounds of a former hotel, and the 10.3-acre Pelton Park, where there are sports fields, densely settled Park Hill is not awash in open space. But a bridge over the Saw Mill River Parkway connects to the 161-acre Tibbetts Brook Park nearby.

The Racquet Club on Park Hill, which dates to 1892, has tennis courts, a bowling alley and a bar. Recent events included trivia nights, yoga lessons and a screening of “Jaws” by the pool.

On the busy but basic retail strips of McLean and Broadway, restaurants are scattered, although Pizza Barn serves wedges (or what Westchester calls hero sandwiches).

Yonkers does not zone for schools, but lets students choose. Three are in or near Park Hill: Scholastic Academy for Academic Excellence, School 23 and School 13, which offer prekindergarten through eighth grade. On last year’s state exams, all three performed below the state averages in English and math.

Talented students often opt to attend PEARLS Hawthorne School, just west in the neighborhood of Ludlow, for prekindergarten through eighth grade. But admission requires an exam.

Yonkers Middle High School, in Park Hill, has about 1,800 students and offers an international baccalaureate program. The high school’s graduation rate last year was 92 percent, above the state’s 83 percent rate. On last year’s SATs, students averaged 535 in evidence-based reading and writing, and 530 in math, compared with 531 and 533 statewide.

Most Park Hill residents who work in Manhattan seem to drive, taking the Saw Mill River Parkway, at the end of Rumsey Road, and arriving in Midtown in about 20 minutes on clear roads.

Metro-North’s Hudson Line stops near Park Hill, at Ludlow, which offers four trains between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. on weekdays, with 33- to 37-minute trips. Slightly farther away, in the downtown area, is the Yonkers stop, which has seven trains between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., with 28- to 39-minute trips. Monthly fares for both are $248.

Despite being a sylvan summit, Park Hill actually got its name from Robert Parkhill Getty, a New York executive who owned a 25-acre estate on South Broadway. In 1888, Getty sold the land to Andrew S. Brownell, a founder of the American Real Estate Company, which sought to create an A-lister getaway. Trains would carry visitors to a station on what is now known as Undercliff Street. Passengers would then hop on a funicular railway that would whisk them upward. The funicular’s two station buildings have survived: One, a stone-and-stucco structure at 32 Undercliff, contains apartments; the other, at 83 Alta, is a child-care facility.

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