City Island is the least known gem of NYC. This a small island is about a mile and a half long by a half mile wide. The population is approximately five thousand residents living on about 253 acres.
This charming and quaint Island is located at the extreme western end of long Island Sound, just south of Pelham Bay and east of Eastchester Bay.
The body of water between City Island and the even smaller (and uninhabited) Hart Island to the east is known as City Island Harbor. The small island adjacent to the northeast is High Island. Stepping Stones Lighthouse, marking the main shipping channel into New York, is off the southern tip of the island, near the Long Island shore. It is part of the Pelham Islands, a group of islands originally belonging to Thomas Pell.
City Island was created by glacial deposits at the end of the last ice age. There is a layer of bedrock and then a thick layer of red clay topped with sand, with topsoil above that. The southern end has deposits of rare blue clay. The area is strewn with glacial erratic boulders. Local bedrock is Manhattan schist with glacial striations.
City Island is an urbanized area, reminiscent of a small New England town. The forms of animal life on the island are typical of such an environment: raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, skunk, and occasional deer. Coyotes and turkeys have also been sighted.
The real diversity of wildlife on and around City Island is among birds, especially aquatic species. There are many varieties of ducks, including mallards, and cormorants. Canada geese are also common, as are mute swans, great blue herons, great white egrets, and many types of seagull. A small protected wetlands area on west Ditmars Street is home to many of these species. Of course, no list of urban wildlife would be complete without New York's feral pigeon.
Surprisingly, bright green parrots monk parakeets, originally imported from South America as pets, have adapted to the climate and breed in the wild in New York. They are a common sight on City Island and in nearby Pelham Bay Park. Flocks of wild turkeys also are often seen in the park. A herd of five or more deer live in Pelham Bay Park, but one deer made a couple of short visits to City Island by crossing the bridge.
Another surprising resident of the island is the brown or De Kay's snake. This small serpent has adapted superbly to life amongst the island's growing community. Natives often tell stories of encounters with these snakes while gardening.
Originally inhabited by the Siwanoy band of Lenape Indians, City Island later was settled by Europeans as part of property and estate bought by English nobleman, Thomas Pell, in 1654. Prior to that, English settlers led by Anne Hutchinson (seeking religious freedom) settled in an area nearby on the river (now known as the Hutchinson River) in 1642.
After changing hands several times, in 1761 the Island (at that time known as Minefer's Island), was bought by Benjamin Palmer of New York. Up to this point the island had been inhabited by only a few homes and farms. It had a population of about 1000 people, who tended farms and livestock. Palmer had the vision of developing the island into a port, which could rival that of New York. He knew that ships heading north and south passed City Island using Long Island Sound as a safe inshore waterway. He envisioned shipyards, and stores that could cater to the ships. He went as far as to have the island mapped out in different plots designated as shipyards, docks, business, farms, homes, schools, and houses of worship, along with streets, paths, and access routes. Benjamin Palmer appealed to the British Crown and received letters patent that covered the ownership of waterfront properties 400' out from the high tide mark under water and around the perimeter of the Island. This patent, known as the "Palmer Grant" is unique to City Island; it has been contested in courts since, but has always been upheld.
Palmer also is responsible for changing the name from Minefer's Island to City Island in anticipation of things to come. Palmer's vision never fully materialized, however, as the timing just before the American Revolution halted all progress, and the war depleted the capital of Palmer and his investors. It would be another sixty years before the island again started to be developed when oyster-men, Hell-Gate pilots, and eventually shipbuilders arrived and introduced these industries.
The history of the island has been chronicled in Tales Of The Clamdiggers by Alice Payne (ISBN 0-9747823-1-9) and City Island and Orchard Beach (Images Of America) by Catherine A Scott (ISBN 0-7385-3546-X). According to local tradition, anyone actually born on the island is known as a "clamdigger". A City Island resident not born on the island is known as a "musselsucker."
The two oldest places of worship on City Island are Trinity Methodist and Grace Episcopal Church.
City Island has the look and feel of a small New England fishing village, with no spot more than a few minutes' walking distance to the water. Most businesses are clustered along the central City Island Avenue. There are two small supermarkets, a gas station, a pharmacy, a bank, a hardware store, and a variety of other small shops. The island is most famous for its numerous seafood restaurants and antique stores, which line both sides of the avenue.
Government services include the City Island Station post office (10464) and a FDNY firehouse (Engine 70, Ladder 53). The New York City Police Department presence (mostly traffic control on summer weekends) is provided by the 45th Precinct, located in the mainland Bronx. The City Island Branch is possibly the smallest of the New York Public Library system, even after the recent expansion which doubled the size of the building.
Houses of worship are Saint Mary's Star of the Sea Holy Roman Catholic Church, Trinity United Methodist Church, Grace Episcopal Church, and Temple Beth El.
Local news outlets include The Island Current is printed ten times a year, and chronicles past community issues and City Island Images, which for the past couple of years has successfully published world, national, regional and local news for free and online 24/7, as well as streaming live video of midtown City Island from Focal Point Gallery. You may also follow City Island Images' Twitter feeds: @CIMAGES
P.S. 175 City Island School, located on City Island Avenue, serves grades K-8 for the island. The former Public School 17 houses the City Island Historical Society and Nautical Museum, City Island Community Center and it also serves as permanent headquarters for City Island Images. This highest elevation building is located in the middle of the island on Fordham Street and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Starting in 1760, a small ferry powered by a rope between Rodman's Neck and City Island was used to transport people and supplies between the mainland and City Island. It was not until 1873 that a bridge was built by a syndicate of City Island businessmen including G.W. Horton, Ben Hedgeman, and David Carll. Then, in 1901, City Island became connected to the mainland by a new, steel three-lane City Island Bridge. There is another small, private bridge on the northeastern end of City Island which connects it to High Island, site of the radio transmitter for New York stations WFAN (660 AM) and WCBS (880 AM); a security gate prevents access to High Island, even though at low tides a sandbar that can be walked across is exposed adjacent to the bridge. Some locals go on the island (via the sandbar) as there are suitable spots for fishing available; however, it is illegal to trespass on the island.
In the early 1900s, the Pelham Park and City Island Railroad provided rail service to the island. Now, Bus transportation consists of the Bx29 local bus to Bay Plaza via the Pelham Bay Park subway station and the two rush-hour extended roundtrips of the BxM8 express bus to Manhattan, both run by the MTA. There is also the City Island Seaside Trolley run, which is organized by Bronx Tourism Council.
In 1960 City Island became the last community in New York City to get dial telephone service. Until then City Island 8 operators in a private home on Schofield Street connected all calls. The dial exchange began as TUlip 5, aka 885. Long time Islanders who share their home phone numbers usually only mention the last four digits. City Island Images is 1607
The island is famous for its seafood restaurants, with lobster being a common specialty. Sammy Chernin owns several restaurants, which total over thirty eating establishments who compete for business, ranging from fast food Seafood City, Tony's and Johnny's , to The Lobster Box, to the French Bistro SK, and a popular spot . The Snug is an Irish pub connected to the City Island Diner. While a few of the restaurants close during the winter months, most are open year round.
Local shops include Focal Point Gallery (a gallery of photography), Starving Artist Cafe and Gallery (featuring musical talents), Kaleidoscope Gallery (a gift store selling jewelry items, incense, and locally-made honey), Early Ruth's Antiques, Midtown Antiques, My Dolls And Things, Calico Juno Designs, which features jewelry items handcrafted while you watch. It is worth noting that the stores are mostly local; the only two businesses that could be considered chain or franchise are the Dunkin Donuts/Baskin-Robbins, and the Chase Bank.
The City Island Nautical Museum displays maritime artifacts and antiques. It is located at 190 Fordham Street and is open only on Saturday and Sunday afternoons (other times by appointment). Admission is free and there is a small gift shop. The building was PS17 in its prior life.
The Island has several nearby landmarks like Samuel Pell Mansion on City Island Avenue near St. Mary Star of the Sea Church. It is where Arsenic and Old Lace was filmed for TV in 1969; there are a number of old Victorian mansions located throughout City Island, mostly on the Sound side, complete with tall pointy spires and gables with gazebos, such as Delmours Point on Tier Street.
City Island Theater Group is the local community theater that produces entertaining shows year round, Pilot Cove is City Island's only retirement home.
The island has four yacht clubs, all situated on the Eastchester Bay side of the island. They are, from north to south, the Harlem Yacht Club, Stuyvesant Yacht Club, City Island Yacht Club, and Morris Yacht and Beach Club. The Touring Kayak Club is on the west side of the island. There are two active sail lofts (UK-Halsey and Doyle). The island also has several commercial marinas.
The island has what are called "special anchorages" where boats of all sizes are freely moored or anchored, and there are many docks with boat slips for mooring boats in a secure and restricted way. There are also many large piers around the island that can receive large ships.
The island is home to the Columbia University Sailing Team, whose fleet of dinghies is docked at City Island Yacht Club. The team comes from Manhattan four times a week to practice off the western shore of City Island. Fordham University's Sailing Team sails out of Morris Yacht and Beach Club.
In the novel Bluebeard, by Kurt Vonnegut, the character Dan Gregory states that his 80-foot (24 m) yacht, the Ararat, was dry-docked on City Island.
Many of the boats which competed and won in the America's Cup in years past were built in The Minneford Boat Yard on City Island. The Eastchester Bay Yacht Racing Association is the major organizer for sailboat races in the area. J/24 sailboats are the active one design racing fleet on the island.
A small fleet of head boats take paying passengers on fishing trips to Long Island Sound. Smaller boats are also available for rent by the day. The sail and power boating industry has been declining in recent years as boatyards are being sold and being turned into condominiums.
Numerous films, television shows, and commercials have been filmed on City Island. Films include Butterfield 8 starring Elizabeth Taylor; Long Day's Journey Into Night, with (Katharine Hepburn); Awakenings, with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams; Love Is All There Is, with Lainie Kazan and Angelina Jolie; and A Bronx Tale, with De Niro and Chazz Palminteri, which featured the City Island Bridge and one scene filmed in the parking lot of Johnny's Reef Restaurant. Michael Douglas filmed Don't Say a Word at the Hart Island Ferry and Hart Island. Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums was filmed at Delmours Point, which is the mansion where Long Days Journey Into Night was filmed.
The movie City Island, starring Andy García and Julianna Margulies, is set on City Island and also was partially shot here. The film won the Audience Favorite Award at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. City Island was also the setting for the 2006 film The Groomsmen, which was directed by Edward Burns; filming took place at many locations on City Island.
In 2006, Margot at the Wedding starring Nicole Kidman and Ciarán Hinds was filmed on City Island Avenue and other locations on the island.
In 2008, actor Michael Douglas returned to City Island with actor Danny DeVito to film Solitary Man (2009) in the City Island Diner and Jessica Alba was filmed in An Invisible Sign of My Own (2009) there as well.
A very early film shot in a City Island studio was Richard III, made in 1912.
Television series that were filmed on the island include the classic Coronet Blue,Naked City,Car 54, Where Are You? and, more recently, an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent called "Sound Bodies" which was based on a real-life story of several local teenagers who drowned in Long Island Sound near City Island. The fictional city of Hyde in the series finale of the US version of Life on Mars was filmed on City Island. Also the Law and Order episode "Maritime" showed the City Island bridge. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld visited City Island Diner on the island with Ricky Gervais in one of the webisodes of his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
Some of the major motion pictures which have been partially filmed on City Island include:
Cruise of the Gladys
Keeper of the Light
Paying the Price
Arsenic & Old Lace
Long Day’s Journey into Night
A Bronx Tale
Love is All There is
The Object of My Affection
Don’t Say a Word
Riding in Cars with Boys
The Royal Tannenbaums
Margot at The Wedding
An Invisible Sign
Since 1997, Imaginus Media has been doing business from City Island's Fordham Street.
www.imaginus.biz offers full range of global media consulting and production services.
2002, the film production company Harrington Talents has had its studio offices also on Fordham street.