GCHS 1961
If you're thinking of living in GC...


Garden City, L.I.: A Village Planned by a Merchant Prince

FOUNDED in 1869 by Alexander T. Stewart, an authentic 19th century merchant prince, the Village of Garden City has from the outset been one of Nassau County's most prized addresses.

Stewart, a department store magnate who was among the richest men of his time, envisioned late in life a lavishly appointed, planned community on more than 10,000 acres he bought in what was then the grassy, deserted core of the Hempstead Plains.

He and another merchant, Conrad Poppenhusen, built a railroad from College Point, Queens, to Garden City. And Stewart planted trees and landscaped and erected a luxury hotel, the Garden City Hotel, whose third successor (two burned, the latest was razed) today occupies the original site.

Residents have toiled ever since to maintain Stewart's legacy, and recall him with a bust near one of five Long Island Rail Road stations that make the village singularly well-endowed with commuter rail service.

When Stewart died in 1876 at the age of 73, his widow, Cornelia, built the Cathedral of the Incarnation in his memory. The floriated Gothic church, with its marbled interior and exterior flying buttresses, pinnacles and crockets, is one of the most remarkable structures on Long Island and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Mrs. Stewart added a boys' school, St. Paul's, a girl's school, St. Mary's, and a rectory to lure the headquarters of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island from Brooklyn to the village, where it still remains, the inheritor of her largesse. The diocese closed the schools in the early 1990's. The 500-room St. Paul's, which was purchased by the village, is soon to become an assisted-living facility for the elderly. St. Mary's will be razed to make way for new
single-family housing.

In 1893, Stewart heirs created the Garden City Company, which controlled early development until 1919, when the village incorporated. The village combined three distinct sections -- Estates, East and Central. A fourth, Garden City West, joined in 1931. Early in the 20th century Garden City was well-established as an upper-crust community of large homes. The earliest residents, said Vincent F. Seyfried, the village historian, were "very upper class, very Anglo-Saxon, what we call Wasps."

After World War II newer, smaller ranches and Capes were built, many in the eastern section of the village.

The overwhelmingly white village abuts the predominantly black and Hispanic Village of Hempstead.

Garden City housing prices are high, ranging above $3 million for some of the grand, well-maintained houses along broad streets in the village's more venerable parts, but smaller houses selling in the mid-$300,000's can still be found.

Residences within village boundaries are also within the Garden City school district. This assures children entrance into a top-rank public school system that has long attracted young families to the area.

Extensive recreational offerings, another attraction for young families, include a village pool complex with two large pools, one with a water slide, and a wading pool for children. Seasonal pool membership is $330 for families and $240 for couples. For the elderly the fees are $150 for singles and $210 for couples.

EARBY is a miniature golf course, platform tennis courts and playing fields used for a full schedule of sports and local teams. Four village tennis courts are bubbled over for cold or inclement weather play.

Three private, 18-hole golf clubs -- the Garden City Golf Club, the Garden City Country Club and the Cherry Valley Club -- are within a mile of one another in the landlocked village, which is situated roughly in the middle of Nassau County, in the Town of Hempstead.

An early artificial pond, once called Lake Cornelia but later dubbed Hubbell's Pond in honor of a prominent village family that lived by it, serves as an ice-skating rink when it freezes.

Real estate brokers say prices are upward bound as Wall Street professionals, looking for a rock-solid refuge from the suddenly perilous stock market, rush in to bid up the local housing market.

"Right now, Garden City is a much better investment than the stock market," said John G. McMahon, an owner and broker of a Garden City real-estate company that bears his name.

Many who grew up here speak of fighting as adults to return for their offsprings' sake. "It's just such a wonderful place to raise kids," said JoAnn Wildermuth, who moved back with her husband, Bruce. Both grew up in the village.

If there is a soft spot it has been the Franklin Avenue shopping district, called variously Long Island's Fifth Avenue, for its tony department stores, and Long Island's Wall Street, for its brokerage houses.

More recently the avenue has suffered because of competition from strip malls and the nearby Roosevelt Field regional shopping mall.

One result has been an increase in the proportion of village taxes paid by residential property owners. The Village Administrator, Robert L. Schoelle Jr., said businesses pay 35 percent of village taxes, down from 38 percent five years ago.

In general, however, property taxes are low to moderate, thanks to Nassau's antiquated and often attacked assessment system, when compared to the high home values.

But improvements on Franklin Avenue are planned by a company called Renaissance Development, whose partners are Castagna Realty Company of Manhasset, the developer of the Americana at Manhasset shopping center, and Albanese Development of Garden City. For its part, the village recently earmarked $2.2 million for street improvements.

Renaissance is seeking to attract upper-end stores and shops. But this effort was dealt a blow earlier this month when Saks Fifth Avenue announced that it would close its Franklin Avenue store and move into Roosevelt Field.

In addition to its 6,584 single-family homes, the village has 567 co-op and rental units and 520 condominium units. At the Wyndham condominium complex, which has slightly more than 300 units, a two-bedroom apartment was on the market for $495,000.

Brokers link high housing prices to the excellence of Garden City public school system. "It's in direct proportion," said Fred Stutzmann of Stutzmann Realt.y

Nearly all of the school system's 3,500 students go on to college. Average S.A.T. scores last year were 557 in verbal and 560 in math. Both scores are about 50 points higher than state and national averages. In September, five seniors in the 232-member class of 1999 were named National Merit Semifinalists, and 47 students were named AP scholars by the College Board for high scores in Advanced Placement exams. Honors courses are offered in
English, math, science, social studies, foreign languages and art.

In addition to the four-year high school, The district has three primary schools for kindergarten and first grade, two elementary schools for grades one to five, and a middle school for grades 6 to 8.

The 75-acre campus of Adelphi University, a private, four-year institution with 2,500 full and part-time students, is also n the village.

There are also two Roman Catholic schools -- St. Joseph's and St. Anne's, both for pre-k to grade 8 -- and a private day school, the Waldorf School of Garden City, for pre-k to grade 12.

Garden City also holds within its borders the Nassau County seat, a complex of government and court buildings often said to be in Mineola because of their proximity to the Mineola train station.

HE village holds its annual October homecoming fair next Saturday and will light a village Christmas tree in December. There is also a spring festival on Seventh Street and summertime concerts at a gazebo on the village green adjacent to the village hall.

"The community is very tight," said John Ellis Kordes, a professional photographer and local historian who was born and raised in the village. "Nothing slips by without the residents responding. There is no apathy here, none."

Prospective buyers who want chapter and verse of village history can purchase "A. T. Stewart's Garden City," a video by Mr. Kordes. It is available for $39.95 at the Garden City Library or Gerry Anne's Card Store at Riesterer's Bakery on Seventh Street.

The video recounts an abiding mystery over whether A. T. Stewart's remains share a crypt with his wife's in the Cathedral of the Incarnation.

What is known is that in 1878, while the cathedral was under construction, grave robbers took Stewart's remains from a family vault at St. Mark's-in-the-Bowery Church at Second Avenue and East 10th Street in Manhattan and held them for ransom. In one version, ransom negotiations broke down and the remains were never recovered.

In the version preferred locally, the Stewart family eventually paid a $20,000 ransom in secret -- so as not to encourage more grave robbing of the rich and famous -- and quietly transported the remains to the cathedral in a shipment of marble. "You can't make this stuff up," Mr. Kordes said.

October 18, 1998
Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company



A Model Village With a Rare Squabble

Kirk Condyles for The New York Times
Hilton Street in Garden City, founded by Alexander T. Stewart, who bought 10,000 acres to create elite village.


Published: February 22, 2004

VERBAL brickbats are flying in the village of Garden City over what to do with the former St. Paul's School, a 500-room massively imposing national landmark that the village acquired in 1993 from the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.

There is a tentative plan to relocate the village library there as part of a $27 million renovation, which would cost an average taxpayer $257 annually. But others think the property should be sold to a private developer, and at least a few think the building is a fading relic that should be demolished.

The battle may become a defining moment for this upper-income community of tall-tree avenues in central Nassau County.

Garden City is known for premier homes, including handsome slate-roofed Tudors; a strong public school system; myriad activities for children; and an easy commute to Midtown from any of five Long Island Rail Road stations. Home prices have steadily increased over the past five years to a current median asking price for a single-family house of nearly $800,000.

Currently, the fate of St. Paul's seems a consuming issue in the village, which is in the town of Hempstead. The school, built in 1883, is part of the legacy of the village's founder, the merchant Alexander Turney Stewart, and of his wife, Cornelia, who erected the building in her husband's memory. He died in 1876 before fully realizing a late-in-life vision of a planned elite village rising from 10,000 acres of the Hempstead Plains that he had purchased in 1869.

A group of residents organized as the Committee to Save St. Paul's School has vowed that no more of the Stewart legacy will be lost, as happened in the 1970's when the old Garden City Hotel, designed by McKim, Mead & White, fell to a wrecking ball, making way for a new hotel.

"We will never allow a mistake like that to be made again," said Robert M. Alvey, a committee member. "It would be a crushing blow if this historic and beautiful school isn't restored and used as the centerpiece of this village."

RESIDENTS trying to save the school — closed in 1991 because of declining enrollment and now slipping toward dereliction even as an adjoining field house and the relatively vast playing fields provide for village recreation — have attracted outside support from preservationists.

The Preservation League of New York State has placed St. Paul's on its "Seven to Save" list of the most endangered historic places in the state. The league describes the school building as an irreplaceable High Victorian Gothic masterpiece.

Another bloc of residents derides the idea of moving the library into the former school as extravagant and ludicrous; they support turning the building over to private development. In a runoff election for village trustee on Feb. 3, the incumbent trustee John L. Mauk, who favors development, defeated George Pappas, who opposed it, in a hotly contested race.

Some find the prospect of selling unconscionable. "Would the people of New York sell a part of Central Park to resolve an issue?" said Edward Keating, a member of the Save St. Paul's committee. But others would go in another direction. "Rip it down, blow it up, get rid of it," wrote Dominick S. Basile in one of a sheaf of residents' letters posted on the Internet by The Garden City News, a weekly newspaper.

Ed Norris, the co-publisher with his wife, Meg Morgan Norris, said that despite the ardor of the participants, there would be no lasting scars from the debate. "It's been a little strong and some of the rhetoric has been regrettable," said Mr. Norris, who grew up in the village. "But these very same sharply divided neighbors will get together and work very hard together on some other issue next week, next month or next year."

The controversy and the possibility that its resolution may result in higher village taxes have apparently had little impact on the real estate market, where buyers seem most attuned to schools, the convenient commute and the panache of a Garden City address. "I always say that on a scale of 10, Garden City is a 10," said Stephanie H. Cullum, the manager of Coach, Hubbell & Klapper, Fennessy Associates.

John G. McMahon, the owner of McMahon Realty in Garden City, said he was finding the same strong interest in houses priced at $1.1 million that he found for houses in the $700,000 to $800,000 range five years ago. He said a large ranch listed at $1.1 million brought many calls.

Rental houses, which occupy a small niche in the market, go for $3,200 to $4,000 a month for three or four bedrooms and two or three baths, according to estimates from real estate brokers. These houses would sell in the $800,000's, Mr. McMahon said.

There are seven co-op and three condominium complexes and three rental apartment developments. Two-bedroom co-ops sell for about $275,000 to $300,000, while two-bedroom apartments rent for $2,000 to $2,500, according to estimates from real estate brokers. The census listed median gross rent in the village as $1,604 in 2000.

Condominiums vary in price from a high of $725,000 for a two-bedroom at the Wyndham development down to about $350,000 for a two-bedroom walk-up unit in a complex on Seventh Street.

Single-family houses account for more than 83 percent of the village's 7,555 total housing units, according to the 2000 census. Of these houses, 50 percent were built from 1940 to 1989, and almost 37 percent were built in 1939 and earlier, the figures show. The head count declined by about 1,300 from 1980 to 2000, a reflection of Nassau County's aging population.

Garden City is a center of Nassau County government. Stores on its Franklin Avenue, a major shopping area, include Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Sears. Roosevelt Field, a regional shopping mall, is just east of the village and minutes away.

The village is entirely within the Garden City Union Free School District, which has a current enrollment of 4,148 in kindergarten through 12th grade. The district's seven schools include three K-2 schools, two elementary schools for Grades 2 to 5, a middle school for Grades 6 to 8 and Garden City High School.

Of the 272 graduates in the high school class of 2003, 89 percent went on to four-year colleges and universities and 9 percent continued at two-year colleges. Last year the high school had nine National Merit Scholar finalists and nine semifinalists. The high school offers 18 advanced placement courses. Some 83 percent of graduates last year received Regents diplomas. Average scores on the SAT reasoning tests were 550 in verbal and 570 in math last year, substantially above the state and national averages.

Stephen I. Leitman, the superintendent, said the district was completing a $38 million program for infrastructure improvements and new classroom space that voters approved in August 1999. Voters had rejected an initial $50 million bonding proposal.

The district has 1,200 computers in labs and classrooms and multiple computers in most classrooms, Dr. Leitman said. He said Internet use was controlled. "We block all materials we don't want students to get their hands on," he said. "We are not showing reviews of Janet Jackson either."

Dr. Leitman said reassessment had raised school taxes for some residents but lowered them for others. "It was almost a wash," he said.

There are two Roman Catholic elementary schools in the village. St. Joseph's School has an enrollment of 427 students in a early childhood program, prekindergarten, kindergarten and Grades 1 through 8. Tuition is $3,280 in kindergarten through eighth grade. Early childhood tuition is $1,280 to $3,125, and is based on the number of days attended weekly. St. Anne's School has 525 students in prekindergarten through Grade 8. Tuition is $3,700 in K-8.

The Waldorf School, a college preparatory school also located in the village, has 353 students in prekindergarten through Grade 12. Tuition ranges from $4,200 for a two-day nursery program to $14,250 for students in Grades 8 through 12.

WHILE it does not fit the model of a college town filled with apartments for students, Garden City is also the site of Adelphi University, which has 7,950 undergraduate students. Tuition is $17,800. Originally in Brooklyn, the university relocated in 1928 to Garden City, when building of its current campus began. Its presence fulfills Stewart's vision of a university within the village boundaries.

Nassau Community College, a two-year college just beyond the village's boundary, enrolled 20,980 students last fall. Tuition is $1,325 a semester, or $111 a credit.

The village has its own police, highway, recreation and building departments. Half of its fire department members are paid professionals, unusual for Long Island, where all-volunteer departments are the rule.

In addition to village-organized programs, residents also arrange their own activities. One is the Garden City Community Theater. Founded by local residents seven years ago, it stages an original musical comedy yearly.

The village has an unusual way of governing itself. A document referred to as the Community Agreement, adopted in 1919, devises a system designed to assure equal representation for all parts of the village. Four property-owner associations — East, Central, Estates and West — each elect two village trustees, and one of them serves as mayor. The mayor comes from a different association every two years under a rotating schedule.

The landless are not disenfranchised. Voters must live in the village, but need not own property there.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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