IF YOU'RE THINKING OF LIVING
IN | GARDEN CITY
A Model Village With a
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.
By JOHN RATHER
Published: February 22,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
2004 The New York Times Company