The Strangest Neighborhood In New York City

Last week, I was driving around in a southeastern area of the Bronx…

01

…when the road I was following came to an abrupt end, with a series of signs forcing me to turn right. I turned…

02

…and all of a sudden, it was like I was in a completely different world.

03

The streets had become insanely narrow, barely wide enough for a standard car width.

03a

Some even appeared to be in a state of abandonment, with overgrowth suggesting that it had been a long time since anyone had driven down them.

04

I continued exploring, expecting this to just be a fluke, but the next road was the same…

06

…and so was the next.

07

Meanwhile, the streets seemed to be uniformly lined with squat little houses, especially unusual for the Bronx.

08

Some appeared to be abandoned…

09

…though flowers continue to grow at this one:

10

Here’s another that seems to have been boarded up for a while.

11

Others were very nicely maintained…

12

…and in fact, if you were able to step back far enough, it all began to take on the feel a beachfront community.

13

As I was taking pictures and wondering what I’d stumbled onto, a woman came over to see what I was up to, and explained that I had found the curious neighborhood of Harding Park.

13a

Harding Park began its modern life in the early 1900s as a summer resort community for New Yorkers looking to escape the city. The primary land owner at the time was one Thomas Higgs, who owned an amusement park on the western side of the point. In the 1920s, he began dividing his land up and created a series of tightly packed bungalows for rental, many of which still exist today. These became permanent residences following World War II.

14

Some seem untouched from the days when a tourist would take the ferry over from College Point for an overnight stay away from the city:

15

Others have been updated in a variety of ways. For example, the neighbor I was speaking to had expanded her house to double the standard bungalow width.

16

Here’s a pretty extreme way of turning a bunglow into a larger house (you can still sort of see it in there).

17

Others still have only been moderately updated.

18

Driving around Harding Park feels like an otherworldly experience for more reasons than its narrow streets and miniature houses. For one thing, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a family of roosters walking openly on a New York City road.

19

Here’s another, hanging out on a fence.

20

Then, every twenty minutes or so, a plane heading into LaGuardia will fly over at ridiculously low altitudes.

21

And some of the neighbors have some pretty quirky items in their yards.

22

But please don’t take “strange” to be a negative in any sense. There’s something extremely charming about the Cape Cod-like feel of Harding Park.

23

The perimeter road offers gorgeous views of Manhattan…

24

…and some prime fishing spots as well.

25

Finally, as if to cap the unexpectedness of it all off, as I was heading out, I passed what I can only assume is the only desert in New York City.

27

Harding Park is a very unusual place.

-SCOUT

If you enjoyed reading this post, would you consider making a donation to help me make my first movie? The goal is $50,000, and to date, 1,701 Scouting NY readers have donated $35,874! Just $5 or $10 can make a difference - AND you get this snazzy Scouting NY sticker/magnet as a Thank-You gift! Click here to donate today!

try4

And hey, if you've made it this far, why not follow us via RSS, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr?

48 comments

  1. Great stuff. But I wouldn’t call that patch a desert (it still gets the usual NYC rainfall). It’s just a sand dune. Doesn’t Jamaica Bay have other dunes?

    As for strangest, you need to put together a top 10 list. I would vote for the Broad Channel area as being fairly odd.

    One of my favorite things to check out in NYC are all the tiny marinas – I see Harding Park has one. Most people know about the 79th Street Boat basin, but not the small, local ones on the Harlem River.

    Cheers,

    Richard

  2. Oh Lord I love the Bronx. This adds a rationale to my affection. 🙂

  3. Have you been up to Throggs Neck yet? There is a small community right on the river that you can only get to by foot path and it has an amazing view of the Whitestone Bridge and the city.

  4. these streets remind me of parts of miami and hialeah. the poultry wandering the streets adds to the effect.

  5. A family of roosters? Now that is unusual! Only in New York can roosters mate and have children.

    • Thanks to the Supreme Court, it’s now possible that all roosters in all states will soon have the right to mate and have children. 🙂

      Great post, Scout. I’ve been in that area a number of times, but must never have made the correct turn to actually visit this neighborhood.

  6. This made me think of Sea Gate down in Coney Island. But since it’s actually gated (and pretty poorly in some points too), I never got in to check it out. Maybe you’ll have better luck.

  7. I go here for Saturday afternoons in the summer, to escape mad Manhattan.

    Cape Cod? More like Ponce in Puerto Rico.

    Also, a great view of the Sound, where the Bronx River empties into it and the East River meets.

  8. Kate is right … there is a lovely community up in Throggs Neck. And if you head in that direction, you should also take the bridge over to City Island, a fishing community of small homes. It even has a Yacht Club.

  9. Wow…like the bungalow part of Brighton Beach, only in the Twilight Zone. Exceptionally cool.

  10. Another great post! I know you are allowed to keep up to 6 hens in NYC, but I thought roosters were a no-no? As to your “desert” description of the last picture; if you looked hard I am sure you might find a cactus known as Prickly Pear. While I am not familiar with where you were, I have seen Prickly Pear in Queens and Nassau Counties at beaches on Long Island Sound

  11. There used to be amusement parks and beach clubs just to the east of Harding Park at the end of Soundview Avenue. http://www.flickr.com/photos/30484128@N03/5041965237/in/pool-vanishingnewyork|30484128@N03

  12. You should always show a map of where the stuff is.

    Love your site. I even sent you money!

  13. I used to hang out there as a kid. we went swimming where those guys were fishing. That was back in the early 60s. I wonder if the volunteer fire house is still there.

  14. Reminds me of the movie “Quick Change”. My favorite bit in that movie is when they find the sign for San Francisco’s 49 Mile Scenic Drive.

  15. I believe they shot some scenes of “The Awakening” near this neighborhood.

  16. These houses reminded me that PBS did a documentary on bungalows in Rockaway.

  17. This is very similar to Silver Beach in the Bronx. My Aunt and Uncle had a bungalow there for years with fantastic views of the Whitestone Bridge.

  18. They call this area of Harding Park little Puerto Rico. The majority of families that live there are Puerto Rican. I had two friends growing up that lived there, you actually got her old house in one of your pictures. The Bronx is a great place, just be cautious about visiting places like this at night.

    • I came from literally one of the first P.R. families to live there. There was only one other family living there at the time. I spent most of my pre-teen and teen years there. It was a really good place to grow up. We had our own volunteer fire department and a beach club that provided some summer employment (for whites only), and some “free” car parts for others…LOL. There was only one candy/convenience store. Just outside of it’s boarders, we had a small supermarket a couple of bars, a pet store (for a few years) and a great doctor’s office, and both a public and Catholic school (PS69 and Holy Cross) While some of these pictures talk about the fishing, I believe the water at the time was to dirty to risk eating the fish. It may have changed since then.

      At the time it was a risk owning a house there, because you could own the house (under $10,000, in most cases), but not the land under it. This eventually changed adding value to the homes, especially if you made any renovations or expansions. When we first moved into our home, we had to convert it from coal to oil heating. Most of the homes didn’t even have a water heater back then. There weren’t even formal fencing to the properties, you sort of staked your claim and it was up to you to enforce the fuzzy property lines.

      I have many good memories of Harding Park

  19. Go to Gerritsen beach in bklyn.

  20. I love this blog, and most especially loved this post – thank you!

  21. I grew up in Clason Point in the 50’s 60’s. I had family and friends in Harding Park. It was great. My cousins lived right on the water. Great memories.

  22. We call this Little Puerto Rico, there is lady there that sells really good pasteles. I love this neighborhood, I wish it wasn’t so run down in some places.

  23. Someone already mentioned Silver Beach but also see Edgewater Park and the German Stadium section of the bronx (all just east-north-east of there). I guess to a lesser degree parts of Country Club as well.

    Someone else mentioned city Island. It USED to be a lovely little sea side community with yacht clubs and marinas at the end of every street (Minneford’s built 6 or 8 consecutive Americas defenders). Now it’s a just collection of sea food restaurants.

  24. That *is* a rooster on the fence about something, but that is hen chicken crossing the road with her (gender as yet unexpressed) offspring.

    Great post. I love that there is a neighborhood like this still in existence.

  25. Very interesting area! I ran to Google Maps to check it out, which made me wonder about how Harding Park fared during hurricane Sandy. I found this sad story as a result.
    http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx/tight-knit-bronx-waterfront-community-reeling-hurricane-sandy-article-1.1328246

  26. Very very cool, Scout! Those bungalows remind me of the tent houses in Ocean Grove NJ–some of those have weird extensions built out their backs as well.

    I love the stuff you introduce me to in my own town…

  27. I’ve lived in The Bronx my whole life and did not know about this little gem. Got a place to go tomorrow. You’re amazing, thanks for keeping your ears and eyes open for the rest of us 🙂

  28. I lived in Harding Park in the 50’s & 60’s. Great, great place to grow up in. Lots of kids to hang around with. most of us went to Holy Cross
    school. But we grew up and moved out. There is a website for us, called
    http://www.clasonpoint.org. Still have fond memories of the place.

  29. Grew up in clauses point in 5o’s went to ps 69 jr.high 123 had a blast shore haven gone replaced by high priced condos

  30. I think the Tour de Bronx bike ride took us past here. A great way to see the Bronx!

  31. I am so addicted to your site! I stayed up till 3am reading your posts!

  32. I am so addicted to your site! I stayed up till 3am reading your posts! You need to see The Ringling Museum Cat a zan! The house that John Ringling built! My favorite place to visit!

  33. I remember in the 50’s there was an area south of Linden Boulevard in Brooklyn extending to Spring Creek that was full of little farms and out near the Creek some rickety old buildings with a windmill that must have powered a well or maybe provided electricity-I never got out near there-there was a film called Blast of Silence that had its concluding scenes right there.
    There was also a few remnants of the old Pigtown but they were gone by the 60’s-Ilived in Pigtown from 62-66 just off Albany Avenue.

  34. I discovered this wonderful site when my genealogical researches led me here. My great grandmother’s little brother, a railroad clerk who lived in various places in East Harlem and the nearby Bronx in his long life, was living in Harding Park in 1925 with his wife and his two youngest (barely grown) children, when he was 71 years old. Anyway, the NY State Census for this place was weird — so many names listed under “Harding Park.” I thought, was this an old-style tenement? Unexpected, since he had previously lived a more working middle class life (and the old-style tenements were gone by then, no?). Well, I guess he and his family were living in one of these little bungalows. Still a bit of a mystery — a curious place to live, unless they were just vacationing there when the census-taker came around.

    • Keep in mind for most of it’s early years of Harding Park’s existence it was classified as a Co-op community. You owned the house but not the land it sat on. This I’m sure led to the census abnormalities.

  35. Family of roosters? Are these gay poultry?

  36. I am facinated with this place, I moved near Harding Park about 7 years ago. One summer day, I decided to take a walk in the neighborhood; I can not tell how astonished I was when I saw the family of roosters crossing the streets as well as how beautiful and charming the bungalos (houses) looked, specially in the summer when they dress in different colors as flowers bloom all over the place. I’ve heard of this place being referred as ” LITTLE PUERTO RICO” I am not Puerto Rican, but I can tell you that walking around this tiny and pictureque place transported me to my childhood days in El Salvador.

  37. I was born and raised in the bronx, now currently living on the other side of the Atlantic. Great contribution to the Bronx. To continue your exploring I must suggest Silver Beach. Indian Trail, Edgewater Park and German Stadium and the Bronx’s very own Strawberry Fields. There are grand mansions in country club, now converted into multi unit homes and many more hidden treasures waiting to rediscovered . I look forward to other posts from you and good luck on your film.

    J.

  38. My Parents owned a home on Harding Ave. before I was born (& I’m 77) it had a Yankee Basement that my Father didn’t like so he started a project to make it a Full size basement that could be enjoyed. Every Weekend my Dad went down to the basement and dug out the rest of the basement shovel by shovel and made a livable basement. They were just starting to enjoy it when the the Stock Markey collapsed. All the money they had in the Bank was lost and then the Bank of America called in their Mortage. After I was bored they moved back to Closson Point to Patterson Ave. this time they rented this home and my Dad would never buy another home again. He also hid his money in a place somewhere in the house. He never trust the Banks again.

  39. Just came across this site. I grew up in the early 50’s in harding park. We lived in the second row of houses close to the beach. The east river was’nt the greatest,but as a kid on a summer day, who cares. Plenty of fishing in those days. Mostly tide runner eels. I remember a traveling barber named sam who would cut our hair. He would walk around the area mostly on saturdays..i went to ps 69 and jhs 123 and then james monroe h.s. our house had a garage which my father converted into a bedroom for my brother and me. It was cold in the winter. Thanks for the memories.

  40. Jonathan Collins

    If you think the roosters are wacky, go to Staten Island University hospital North, across the street, there is a very unusual looking house that has many wild turkeys running around! Occasionally they will cross the street and take up residence in the hospital parking lot. An odd sight to be sure!

  41. Victoria Leavitt

    I lived there as a child in the 1960’s. It was a horrible slum at that time with a dead polluted East River. We left in 1968 and moved to Florida where life improved for me. I live near Seattle now and am a nurse educator. Had I stayed in Harding Park I shudder to think of what my life would be today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*