Thursday, November 04, 2010

Easy, Breezy (Port) Richmond Avenue

NE corner of Vreeland and Castelton, summer 1936

View Larger Map

I've been working on some elaborate posts using the 1874 maps of my neighborhood and some picture scans but I'm not getting it done. are some easy to slap together shots of the beautiful Port Richmond commercial and residential strip of the distant past versus its fairly rundown and sad looking present.

NW corner of Harrison and Richmond Avenue - 1929 - Perhaps the most iconic Port Richmond commercial image. In my youth this corner building was still in god shape. It's what still jumps to mind (alongside the Reformed Church) when I first think of Port Richmond.

View Larger Map

Like some many other long time Islanders I grew up shopping in Port Richmond on a regular basis. since we didn't drive we'd hop onto the #3 bus in front of SI Hospital at Castleton and Cebra and get off on Richmond Avenue. There were five a dime stores, discount stores, hobby stores, clothing stores and the Luggage Shoppe. The last was one of the first stores to move off of the Richmond Avenue strip. They moved to New Dorp Lane and only closed in the past year or so.

The Ritz Theater and neighboring shops - 1930 - The movie playing was "Sunny Side Up", a musical from 1929 starring Janet Gaynor.

View Larger Map

The JC Penney's Plaza on Forest Avenue went a long way to killing Port Richmond but the Mall's advent in 1973 spelled it's final death. It lingered on for the next two decades and some of the old stores actually remain (Merlino's Photo Studio, Brownies Hobby Shop, and the oft referenced Tirone's Shoes only just closed).

But the big discount and five and dimes closed up. There was an effort by the Port Richmond LDC to encourage furniture stores to move in to the vacant stores and that helped a little but the whole neighborhood of churches, apartments and nice homes fell into a slowly, grinding disrepair. Even today, with Mexican shops replacing the old ones, the shine has never been restored to the avenue. Beautiful facades have been covered up, windows are blocked up with cheap looking advertisements and trash flutters along down the sidewalks.

Richmond Avenue, south from Hatfield Place, c. 1910

View Larger Map

Today the beautiful home on the left corner is gone but behind trees the one to its left remains, obscured somewhat by trees.

Port Richmond was in the news a lot this past summer because of supposed racial incidents between the Mexican and black residents of the northern part of the neighborhood. While there's been longstanding tensions between the two communitiesnThe coverage in the news was woefully inadequate and often misleading.

A group called "Make the Road New York" claims the neighborhood is predominantly black and Hispanic and has an income level of around $19,000. This is only true is you restrict Port Richmond to the space between Heberton and Nicholas and Castelton and the Terrace. Most of the "racial" incidents were simple thuggery and thievery. Instead of simply addressing the straightforward law enforcement needs of the neighborhood it was turned into a circus for the likes of the Mexican consul to grandstand.


George K said...

I'd just like to point out that no section of Port Richmond, not even north of Castleton Avenue has a median income of $19,000. That's the type of income you see in the South Bronx, not in Staten Island.

If you zoom into this webpage (, you'll see that the median income north of Castleton Avenue is $39,457. The median per capita income in the area is $18,201, so the website is deliberately trying to make Port Richmond seem poorer than it is.

The Wasp said...

Well, there you go then. Thanks for the specific information. Of course if you were able to account for the low level of income day laborers make it would probably come down a bit. Still, Port Richmond is neither as poor or as non-white as the activists made it out to be.