Stories of Staten Island

Here I am standing in the middle of Richmond Avenue in Staten Island, as a young, brash real estate salesman showing prospective developers the potential of this mid-island real estate. There was the Baxavanis, Xarchos, Chrampanis truck farms, the Richmond Airport, the Drive-ln movie and farmers market, and let us not forget Al Deppe’s hot dog and fries on Richmond Avenue and Arthur Kill Road. Not much traffic on Richmond Avenue but the location of the real estate is prime and deserves the developer/investors attention. I informed the developers standing with me at this location that the price of land in the area is competitive and worth the investment. Staten Island is growing and there will be a need for shopping centers and residential homes in this up and coming neighborhood. And the price of the acreage was only $3,000 per acre. They laughed at me and told me that the land in this area was not worth $3,000 per acre as they can remember only a few years ago when they could have purchased land in this same location for less then $1,500 per acre.

“You are a young fella and we don’t want to hurt your feelings, but we think that the price of this property is out of the question,” they said to me. Of course, that was in 1960 and low and behold almost 60 years later the price of this same acreage is astronomical in value. I believe that the laughter they had for me, a ‘newby” in the business, has changed.

In those days my family raised horses of our own and boarded other people’s horses at our stable in Willowbrook. When I tell people that in the middle of winter, with the temperature in the 20’s and the snowing piling up on the ground, that I would hitch up a team of horses, put my children in a sleigh covered with horsehair blankets and with red kerosene lanterns hanging from the sleigh would ride down Richmond Avenue taking the children for a ride. The sound of the hoof beats and the laughter of the children still echo in my memory. Even today when I tell stories like this, people find it hard to believe that we were actually in the City of New York.

Ichabod Crane is a fictional character and the protagonist n Washington Irvin’s short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” first published in 1820. There were two spinster sisters who owned a large home on Victory Boulevard in Travis that I was in the process of selling to a group of purchasers and I was packaging several adjoining large land parcels as well. As I sat with the two sisters one afternoon have a cool drink and cookies sitting in white wicker furniture on their front porch they mentioned during our conversation that the house once belong to Ichabod Crane. Of course, I had to hide my laughter because I always related Ichabod as the character in the Washington Irvings story. “No, its true” said one of the sisters’. With that she rose from the chair on the front porch, excused herself and opened the green screen door, which squeaked at its opening and disappeared into the house. I sat chatting with the other sister and a short time later, the other sister appeared from inside the house and proceeded to sit beside me. She had in her hand a leather portfolio which she carefully opened. She sifted through some papers in the portfolio and pulled out a folded paper. She handed me the paper which was unusually thick and I commenced to open the document. There is hand written script was a deed to the house showing the name of Ichabod Bennett Crane. I was also informed by the sisters that Ichabod Crane was a career military officer for 48 years and that he had owned the home and the was buried in New Springville on October 5th, 1857. In fact they imparted on me was that fact that General Santa Anna from Mexico was a guest of Mr. Crane for several weeks at his home. It was then that I realized that the property that I was selling from the two sisters was located on Victory Boulevard and “Crane” Avenue. How about that.

Where the Park Hill apartments are in Fox Hills along Vanderbilt Avenue and Osgood was once a golf course back in the 1900’s. My grandfather, Jim Smith ( I am named after my grandfather), as a young man was offered a unique job. He was paid $5.00 a day, which was a lot of money those days, to dress up as an painted indian warrior on horseback and ride back and forth in front of the cameras that were shooting silent movies in those days. Could have been Pearl Buck silent movies. Full grown men were getting paid $6.00 a week, working 6 days a week, in those days, so $5.00 a day was surely a lot of money. The golf course eventually became the Fox Hills Army Barracks installation with one of the first roller skating rinks on Staten Island.