March 28, 2015
Westerleigh, S.I., Built on Temperance
Living In By VERA HALLER [NEW YORK TIMES] APRIL 8, 2014
Followers of the temperance movement late in the 19th century created a place called National Prohibition Park, where they could escape the stresses and bad influences of the city. The community, on Staten Island’s North Shore, is now known as Westerleigh.
In many ways, Westerleigh has retained the air of its origins. It is a wholesome place where residents enjoy a peaceful existence in contrast to the hectic nature of much of New York. With most commerce relegated to its periphery, Westerleigh has a residential core that reflects pure, old-fashioned Americana.
Here, you find tree-lined streets, well-kept historic homes, a Little League field and a central park where the whole neighborhood gathers on the last Sunday in June to hear a brass band play patriotic tunes from a gazebo.
Residents praise the neighborhood for its tight-knit, neighborly atmosphere. Many city workers — police officers, bus drivers, sanitation workers — live here.
Often people who grew up in the neighborhood choose to settle in Westerleigh to raise their own families.
Jennifer Dooley, a nurse at Staten Island Hospital, used to come to Westerleigh as a child to visit her aunt. Several years ago, when her aunt’s home was for sale, she and her husband, Bill Clark, bought it. They are now expecting their first child.
Ms. Dooley said Westerleigh was the only place on Staten Island where her husband, originally from Rockland County, would live because he liked the neighborhood’s sense of community. “If we stay on Staten Island, we stay in Westerleigh,” she said.
The sentiment, that once in Westerleigh, always in Westerleigh, is shared by other residents. Scott Dobrin, an associate broker with Re/Max Metro, said he is representing sellers of a ranch-style Westerleigh home. The family wanted more space, but they did not want to leave the neighborhood. So they are building a larger house on a lot a few doors down.
“Westerleigh is small-town America,” Mr. Dobrin said. “People stay for a long time. They buy and stay forever.”
Maintaining the small-town feel of the neighborhood has been a priority for the Westerleigh Improvement Society, a civic group. Michael Morrell, the society’s president, said the group successfully fought for more stringent zoning regulations in 2008.
He said the society’s push for zoning changes began in 2005 after older houses on Jewett Avenue were razed and replaced with two-family homes.
“We wanted to preserve the basic footprint of the neighborhood,” Mr. Morrell said. “Residents felt that tear-downs were the wrong direction.” He said the new rules allowed only single-family, fully detached homes in a large section of the roughly two-square-mile neighborhood.
Certainly, the historic character of the neighborhood has been preserved and vestiges of its temperance-era origins remain.
Many streets are named after former Prohibition Party politicians and temperance leaders. Neal Dow Avenue commemorates a former governor of Maine who was the Prohibition Party’s candidate for president in 1880, and Livermore Avenue recalls Mary A. Livermore, an author and temperance leader.
WHAT YOU’LL FIND
Some ornate Queen Anne-style Victorian homes built for the temperance movement’s leaders still exist along Jewett Avenue and a short but grandly named thoroughfare, the Boulevard. One of these homes, “the Bluestone,” a seven-bedroom five-bath mansion, has been on the market for several months, listed at $1.099 million, the highest priced property in Westerleigh.
Most of the housing stock in the neighborhood, however, is more modest: smaller homes on smaller lots. A grid of narrow streets that once housed tents where visitors to Prohibition Park could stay was later developed with houses. Now, the grid is made up of charming one-way streets with closely spaced homes in a variety of styles.
Pockets of newer development do exist, like a townhouse community on Vogel Loop built in the late 1980s before the zoning changes.
According to a recent check of the Staten Island Board of Realtors website, about 60 properties were listed for sale in Westerleigh. Tom Crimmins, a broker and owner of Tom Crimmins Realty, said most homes become available when older couples downsize or families move away because they need more space.
Often, however, homeowners in Westerleigh find ways to make their current homes work because they do not want to leave the area, Mr. Crimmins said. “That’s why we will see roof raises. Families are growing but they like the neighborhood so much they look to expand rather than move.”
Those looking to buy in Westerleigh are almost exclusively from other parts of Staten Island, Mr. Crimmins said.
“Usually, they are upgrading from other areas of the Island; they were renters and are buying a home for the first time,” he said.
WHAT YOU’LL PAY
Mr. Crimmins said the average price for a home in Westerleigh was about $425,000. This middle ground is made up mainly of single-family, three-bedroom colonial, Tudor and some Dutch colonial-style houses.
Higher-end houses — larger buildings on bigger lots — sell in the $700,000s and the lower-end homes, usually townhouses, sell in the $300,000s, he said.
Mr. Crimmins said home prices were higher before the economic downturn, when a home now selling for $425,000 would have sold in the low $500,000s.
He added, however, that because the neighborhood is so stable, its real estate market suffered less than other areas. Now, when a home comes on the market and it is priced reasonably, he receives multiple offers.
WHAT TO DO
Neighborhood activity centers around Westerleigh Park, a small rectangle of green with towering old trees, paved paths, benches and the gazebo. The community’s annual Patriotic Sunday is held there in June. An active Little League operates out of Westerleigh’s Northerleigh Park. Residents also frequent nearby Clove Lakes Park.
The Westerleigh Tennis Club on College Avenue is a small private club founded in 1910.
The original building of Public School 30, the Westerleigh was constructed in 1905 on the site of the former Park Hotel, a grand inn. The school has 815 students in prekindergarten through Grade 5. The neighborhood is served by Susan E. Wagner High School and Port Richmond High School. According to the city Department of Education, average SAT scores in 2013 for Wagner High were 469 in critical reading, 484 in math and 466 in writing, compared with citywide scores of 437, 463 and 433. Port Richmond High’s scores were 431 in critical reading, 440 in math and 419 in writing.
Live in Westerleigh and you will likely own a car. Most residents drive when doing errands or going to jobs elsewhere on Staten Island. For commuting into Manhattan, express buses are popular. Residents can pick up these buses along the main commercial thoroughfares. The X42 bus, for example, leaving the intersection of Watchogue Road and Livermore Avenue at 7 a.m. would arrive at East 57th Street and Madison Avenue in about 70 minutes.
National Prohibition Park opened as a summer retreat on July 4, 1888. According to a history of the neighborhood, “Westerleigh: the Town that Temperance Built,” published by the Westerleigh Improvement Society, 60,000 people visited the park its first summer season. In the early 1900s when leaders of the National Prohibition Park Company began selling lots, they made an effort to impose their temperance beliefs on the new owners. Land deeds contained a provision that alcohol could not be consumed, stored or manufactured on the properties.
Correction: April 9, 2014
An earlier version of this article misstated the price of “the Bluestone” mansion. It is listed at $1.099 million, not $1,099 million.
Correction: April 10, 2014
An earlier version also misstated the highest grade level at Public School 30. It is Grade 5, not Grade 8.