A Good Look at Hoboken On the Waterfront

A Good Look at Hoboken

Hoboken is a city of about one square mile sandwiched between the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels that run under the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey. Once the butt of urban renewal jokes, the city has enjoyed a renaissance in the last quarter century as its proximity to Manhattan's Financial District has attracted more affluent tenants, pumping money into the local economy and reviving what was once a depressed town.

Back in the Day

The town's name, according to the Hoboken Historical Museum, is a corruption of the Dutch hoebuck, meaning "high bluff," or the Lenape Indian hopoghan hackigh, meaning, "Land of the Tobacco Pipe."

To date, Hoboken's main claim to fame is being the birthplace of Frank Sinatra. The pleasant road that traces the Hudson River is named for him, as is a newly renovated park built on the piers facing Manhattan's Greenwich Village. The first floor of City Hall is an unofficial Sinatra museum.

The first organized game of baseball was played in Hoboken in 1846, on land now occupied by 11th Street. In those days, the town was home to a resort called the Elysian Fields, a getaway for New Yorkers with means—among them John Jacob Astor, who maintained a summer home in Hoboken. Hoboken was also home to the first American brewery, the Tootsie Roll, and the dual miracles of soft-serve ice cream and that indispensable bit of everyday hardware, the zipper.

Notwithstanding its short-lived run as playground for the wealthy two centuries ago, Hoboken has historically been a community of immigrants drawn to the city by its proximity to Ellis Island, its readily available blue-collar jobs, and affordable rents. Two waves of immigration on either side of the First World War brought Germans, Irish, Italians, Slavs, Latinos and Indians to Hoboken. All of these groups are still well represented here, most notably the Italians and Latinos.

The Port of Hoboken was the point of embarkation and return for some three million soldiers during the First World War. Hope of a speedy return from battle gave rise to the slogan, "Heaven, Hell or Hoboken—by Christmas," and the liminal reputation of the place—not quite New York, not quite New Jersey—still endures.

Maps and Legends

Hoboken maintains some of the character of the factory town it once was. There are still manufacturing facilities along the outer areas, especially at the Jersey City border. High rents in an expanding residential area make operating a factory here prohibitively expensive.

Aside from a few fraternity houses at Stevens Technical Institute, there are few freestanding houses in Hoboken. Most of the dwellings are attached row houses and town homes, some built in the 19th century. The push for modernization in the 1960s and '70s bypassed Hoboken, when a severe economic depression brought on by containerization of ship cargo—shipping goods in enormous containers that lay directly on truck beds—made its old warehouses obsolete. The upside to the ravages of the depression is the fact that much of Hoboken's original industrial architecture has been preserved.

In the late 1970s, gentrification began in Hoboken, with artists—and later white-collar professionals—supplanting blue-collar workers as principal tenants and owners. Recently, modern high-rise condo buildings have gone up near Frank Sinatra Park to house the insurgent throngs of young urban professionals, but Hoboken's overall look suggests neighborhoods more like Park Slope, Brooklyn, and Astoria, Queens.

Daily Life

The some 28,000 residents living in such a small space make Hoboken one of the most densely populated cities in the United States. Many of those Hobokenites work in Manhattan's Financial District; the city was hit hard by the World Trade Center tragedy, losing at least 39 residents, according to polls by The New York Times and The Associated Press.

Its small size makes Hoboken easy to police. Beat cops are constantly on patrol, contributing to an overall feeling of safety and security.

"I really do feel safe here," says Hilary Lantz, an editorial producer who has lived in Hoboken for 15 years. "Hoboken is still very much a community," she explains. "The people who live here tend to know each other, hang out socially, and mind what's going on around them…It makes me feel very comforted that my son can walk home from school, and that there are people who recognize him and say hi to him every day."

Christine Allen, a software market manager and former Hobokenite recalled that the safe, well-lit streets and a sense of community made her feel secure, though she did remember that parking was a bit of a problem—"non-existent" is how she described it—as there are few driveways in the city, though numerous lots offer monthly rates.

There are also a number of parks in the city to give Hobokenites a taste of the green, including Sinatra Park, whose view of Manhattan rivals the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights.

To-Do List

Aside from affordable places to live, Hoboken, it is said, has more bars per capita than any city in the United States, a fact that draws many locals and outsiders to the city. Hoboken is also home to a panoply of great restaurants, ranging from New York-caliber jacket-and-tie places to the fabled Clam Broth House, to Benny Tudino's, which serves—to quote numerous residents and visitors—"the best pizza ever."

The Real Estate Landscape

But not everybody sets their watch by a town's nightlife and dining options. Quiet, safety, and reasonably sane housing and rental prices continue to attract newcomers. According to one local realtor, the median home purchase cost in Hoboken is $192,000, compared with $201,000 in Astoria, Queens and $268,000 in Park Slope, Brooklyn. That number is slightly skewed, however, because the freestanding houses available in Queens and Brooklyn do not exist in Hoboken.

Most of the homes in Hoboken generally fall into one of three classifications: townhouses, apartment complexes owned by a single landlord or condos managed by individual condominium associations. Jeff Quinlan, a local real estate agent and developer, estimates the split is 60/40, apartment to condo. There are very few co-ops in Hoboken.

Real estate prices in Hoboken have steadily increased since the initial boom in the late 1980s. In 1995, for example, a two-bedroom condominium on Park Avenue sold for $127,000. Four years later, the price was up to $160,000. Today, the same space might go for around $300,000. One-bedrooms list at about $200,000.

Numbers like these seem like a bargain compared to what one might pay in Manhattan, but if you insist on shelling out the mega-bucks, there are new condo and townhouse developments going up all over Hoboken, thanks in part to its quality of life and easy accessibility from Manhattan via PATH or the ferry.

It's that synergy that is fueling a number of new construction and conversion projects all over Hoboken; residents are just now moving into the brand-new condo units at 701 Monroe Street, which range from 860 square feet to over 1,300 square feet with prices between $325,000 and $480,000. At 1023 Clinton Street, a converted loft building just off the waterfront and Frank Sinatra Park, residents have moved into sixteen condo units, most over 1,000 square feet and selling for around $500,000. Another interesting development at 70 Adams Street—called The Oz—contains condo units ranging from around 700 square feet to upwards of 1,300 square feet, and are selling briskly at between a quarter and nearly a half-million dollars.

Along Hoboken's northern waterfront, we find The Shipyard, a mixed-use community being built by Applied Development Company. When completed, the community will feature 1,165 luxury apartments, loft residences and market-rate condominiums, 65,000 square feet of retail space and a new public waterfront promenade. Some of the residences and condominiums will be for sale; a portion will be rental. The first four phases of The Shipyard are already built out. The first phase, The Vanguard features rental apartments and 43,000 square feet of upscale retail shops and conveniences in two adjoining 11-story towers. The Constitution features a 13-story building with 170 condominium residences and another adjacent complex of rental apartments. The buildings are attached by a four-story, enclosed parking garage with a rooftop landscaped park. The most recent phase was The Independence, which contains 335 luxury rentals including a number of triplex riverfront town homes. The community's next phase will break ground next year.

A one-acre waterfront park is already built and open to the public, as is the Shipyard Marina—the first full-service marina in Hoboken—which offers 80 slips plus a waterfront boathouse. Retail services include King's Grocery Store, Rite Aid Pharmacy, Hollywood Video, Starbucks and Sparrow Wine store. A pre-built ferry terminal provides N.Y. Waterways ferry service on the site.

Other new developments are Maxwell Place on the Hudson, and 800 Monroe Street, which is the first residential building to rise within the highly-anticipated Monroe Center Transit Village in Hoboken. The 13-story building will feature 123 luxury condominium residences, 17,000 square feet of ground floor retail space and 386 parking spaces. Monroe Center as a whole, once completed, will feature 435 condominium homes, 125,000 square feet of new retail space, 200 artist and small business workspaces, 1,120 parking spaces and expansive public areas.

Designed by architect Richard DeMarco of Montroy Andersen Design Group, Inc., and design architect Vijay Kale of Vijay Kale Architects, 800 Monroe will feature a distinctive offering of one-, two- and three-bedroom floorplans with well-designed living areas and large open kitchens complimented by a wide array of designer finishes and appointments. Available service will include a 24-hour attended lobby, a concierge and a state-of-the-art fitness center. Home prices are expected to range from $450,000 to $1.5 million, with initial occupancy slated for summer of 2007.

Maxwell Place, on the Hudson River with spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline, is being built on the old Maxwell House coffee manufacturing facility site and part of the site will encompass the landmark Elysian Fields. The community will include a combination of 832 high-rise and mid-rise luxury condominiums, approximately 1,524 parking spaces and approximately 206,000 square feet of commercial space. Maxwell Place on the Hudson features a number of top-notch amenities, including spectacular direct views of Manhattan, a residents' club, rooftop pool, full-service fitness center and 24-hour concierge service. Renowned architect Michael Graves, builder and designer of some of the world's most respected and celebrated buildings and notable product designs, is responsible for designing Maxwell Place's lobbies, elevators, and hallways, as well as the condominiums' living and dining areas.

Locals have noticed the new developments—and the higher asking prices that come with discovery of a community or neighborhood. "I moved here eight years ago, out of college," Quinlan says. "Back then, things were stagnant - but it's exploded since then."

That said - Hoboken is still less expensive than New York City, and there are other real estate benefits to living in Hoboken. Taxes are lower, apartments tend to be larger, and real estate brokers are easier to deal with.

According to Quinlan, the market has slowed somewhat due to the economy, the 9/11 tragedy, and the natural slowdown at the holiday season, "But," he explains, "it's not going down—it's getting more realistic. People buy houses and think they'll be worth a million dollars in a few years, and they're not worth a million dollars."


There is plenty to like about Hoboken: the safety, the quiet, the architecture, the history, the sense of community—the lower state income tax. Some of the town's appeal lies in its unique, not-quite-New-York-but-not-quite- Jersey status.

That in-between-ness doesn't appeal to everyone, however. As much as they appreciated the easier day-to-day life and the more reasonable cost of living, Allen has since left Hoboken for greener pastures. When asked why he moved from Hoboken to the upper West Side, longtime resident and book editor Chris Keeslar explained, "Everyone moves out of Hoboken."

While some view Hoboken as a temporary step between big city living and suburban bliss, however, thousands of new residents are opting to make the mile-square city their home. Some come to raise families, others to get a breather from the merciless grind of life in Manhattan. Thanks to the influx—and all the new development going up to accommodate it—Hoboken will most certainly continue to grow and prosper, rivaling official boroughs like Queens and Brooklyn and living up to it's nickname, "The Sixth Borough."

Greg Olear is a freelance writer. He lived in Hoboken for four years.

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