Acting on inducement of the Dutch West India Company, in 1639 the Swedish sailor Jonas Bronck brought his new Dutch wife, Teuntie, to settle a square mile parcel of land bordered by the Hudson River on the west, Harlem River to the South and going east to the Achutung River which thereafter became known as The Bronck’s River. Bronck liked the proximity to the fledging company town of New Amsterdam on the island of Manhattan. He had the foresight of it becoming a great trading center to bring all the products of the new world back to Europe.
It wasn’t easy to farm the hilly and swampy land, but he found a fertile patch near the base of today’s Willis Avenue Bridge and called his farmhouse Emmaus. The first real estate purchase between Bronck and Native Chiefs Ranaqua and Tackamuck is portrayed in a mural hanging in The Bronx County Courthouse. The parcel is known today as Mott Haven.
It is unknown if Bronck’s death a few years later was related to skirmishes between the Natives and European settlers. His land changed hands a few times before being sold to the Morris family in 1670. Gouverneur Morris, who signed the Declaration of Independence, is buried along with other generations of that historic family in the yard of St Ann’s Church.
Jordan Mott purchased the land from the Morris family in 1828 and built an ironworks and a canal, which gave Mott Haven its name and launched The Bronx as the industrial center it remains today. Almost two centuries later, another transformation is taking place as thousands of luxury apartments are being built around the site of Jonas Bronck’s original farmhouse.
Luxury Living in The Bronx
The Bronx’s original luxury housing was built along Alexander Ave which became known as Doctor’s Row in the late 19th century. Similar brownstones were built on E. 134th St, east of Willis Ave. and became known as Judges’ Row. More development worked its way up north and in 1873 The Bronx became New York City’s second borough.
The land east of the Bronx River then joined New York City in 1895 and the expanded borough of The Bronx was established as New York State’s last county in 1914.
That was the golden age when The Bronx’s population ballooned several fold. Immigrant waves built The Grand Concourse north from Mott Haven into the “the Park Avenue of middle-class Bronx residents” according to a 1935 city guidebook. While that housing stock is serving lower income residents today, they live in the same ample sized apartments with brilliant light that comes from sitting atop one of the Bronx’s defining geological ridge lines.
Sitting like a bow atop Mott Haven at the confluence of Third Ave, 149th Street, Melrose Ave and Westchester Ave is The Hub. Old Bronxites reminisce about “going shopping downtown” when Vaudeville theaters, department stores and even The Bronx Opera House dominated The Bronx’s central square.
When Patterson Houses opened in 1950, the area became the center of New York City’s African American culture. Prominent athletes and artists came out of the world’s largest public housing complex and built today’s Boogie Down Bronx culture.
Unfortunately, the New York City Housing Authority never lived up to its promises and thousands of tenants had to live under some of the nation’s worst urban pathologies. Rising crime sent the shoppers away, then the merchants left and the South Bronx real estate decayed.
Co-Op City opened 15,372 apartments in the late Sixties and sucked the middle class out of the deteriorating southern neighborhoods, which then burned in the seventies and became gangland war zones in the eighties.
The South Bronx was left as the prototypical example of poverty in America.
The Brooklynization of The Bronx
The Nineties boom drove much of the artist community out of Brooklyn and up to The Bronx where the decrepit old piano factories of Mott Haven provided the low rents and large spaces they could afford. Nobody noticed it, but that was the beginning of the Brooklynization of The Bronx.
Artists brought hipster credibility to the area where hip hop was taking root alongside a vibrant Puerto Rican music and arts scene. Getting rid of the neighborhood squeegee men was the beginning of taking New York City back from decades of crime that plagued nowhere worse than the South Bronx.
The juxtaposition of ultra-wealthy Manhattan across the Harlem River from America’s poorest neighborhood couldn’t last. Most of Mott Haven has been designated an Opportunity Zone creating an inducement like the one that brought Jonas Bronck here almost 400 years ago. Developers eyed the unused waterfront land as the next pot of gold, just a subway stop further from Manhattan.
Dispatching arguments against gentrification, the new developments have units allocated to lower income residents and waterfront promenades will be available to the general public. Not even the Dutch West Indian Company could rival the capital that is currently flowing into Mott Haven bringing parks and recreation to the old “Asthma Alley”.
The reconstruction of the St Mary’s Park Recreation Center is another major development with an indoor pool, gym, fitness center and extensive activities for neighborhood residents. The project has been delayed by covid and is currently in process.
Although it remains among America’s poorest neighborhoods, the South Bronx has New York City’s lowest vacancy rate. Apartments.com doesn’t show any Mott Haven monthly rents under $2,000 and they rise to $4,000 in the new developments where most units rent in the threes with some advertised with a two handle.
Those new towers have delivered more than 1,000 units since 2020 and the projects pictured above this post will bring another 3,000 in the coming months. All that new luxury housing has brought cafes and restaurants to Alexander Ave which is looking more like Brooklyn every day.
Mott Haven's Current Market
Bronx shoppers like to Boogie Down to The Hub again where retail rents range around our Gold benchmark levels on the main Third Ave stretch. Better rates can be found to the east surrounding the less dense residential areas around St. Mary’s Park, the cultural center for area residents. The renovation of the recreation center promises to make that more of a Bronx destination, so lock in the low rent while you can.
Mott Haven office space also varies widely with top rents in the mid fifties at the newer buildings near the subways. Moving further away gets down to the low twenties and bargains can be found in the new developments if you don’t mind going to work in a construction zone for the next year or two.
Industrial leases can be had anywhere from the low teens to the mid twenties depending on quality and location.
Investors have a wide selection of active sale listings to choose from too. Dense zoning attracts investment capital which is spreading beyond the banks of the Harlem River. High rises are sprouting up along Park and Third Avenues where industrial spaces are selling around our benchmark levels.
Fresh Direct locked in their half million square foot distribution center at the end of St Ann’s Ave for under $100/sf in 2017. Prices like that are history now as neighborhood comps sold this year above $300/sf. The wide assortment of real estate that defines Mott Haven is all thriving in the current neighborhood renaissance.
With properties spanning all asset classes and quality levels, Mott Haven is a microcosm of The Bronx in general. As the Brooklynization of The Bronx advances, it’s hipster cred hasn’t been priced out yet. If Mott Haven fits your plans, there is plenty of space available across asset classes and price levels. Please use our Contact function to find out more about current listings or to ask any questions.
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