Just what are Riverdale’s boundaries? Community historians and residents have been trying to answer that question for decades.
A Fieldston School student who interviewed a Press reporter for a school project recently asked a heck of a question. He wanted to know where Riverdale was.
No, it wasn’t a dumb question. We all know our neighborhood’s western boundary, the Hudson River, and its northern boundary, the city line. But does Riverdale end where Spuyten Duyvil begins? If so, just where is that? And as you move down the hill, where is the eastern boundary, and the southern?
The newspaper itself is not immune to confusion. Last year The Press published a correction that read: “A real estate transaction listing in the Dec. 6 issue misidentified the neighborhood of an apartment that sold at 6485 Broadway. It is in North Riverdale, not Kingsbridge.”
Now 6485 Broadway is at David Sheridan Plaza just north of Mosholu Avenue and four blocks from the Yonkers city line. No doubt what misled the staff was the Broadway address, since Broadway forms the commercial spine of Kingsbridge.\
But where on Broadway do you cross from Riverdale to Kingsbridge? The businesses themselves are no help: many of them want the cache of our community’s tonier addresses. Fieldston Automotive is on Kingsbridge Avenue. In its ads, Loehmann’s insists it’s in Riverdale, and under the el you find Riverdale Jewelers on Broadway and West 232nd Street, while Broadway Riverdale Meat Market is at the crossroads of Kingsbridge, Broadway and West 231st Street.
To the United State Postal Service, the answer is simple: if your zip code is 10471, you live in Riverdale; if it’s 10463, you live in Kingsbridge.
In the early 1960s, residents rose up in protest when the post office tried to put that theory into practice by announcing it would stop delivering letters addressed “Riverdale, N.Y.” but sent to zone 63. And we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary this year of the Spuyten Duyvil Association’s successful campaign to name the Kappock Street post office — zip code 10463 — the Spuyten Duyvil station.
Palisade Avenue resident Tom Bird waged a similar battle with the phone company when it produced its first neighborhood phone book and called it the Riverdale-Kingsbridge Directory. Mr. Bird compiled a 33-page treatise of maps, essays and illustrations annotated by hand in red and black, and eventually Ma Bell renamed the little book: “SuperPages: Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Spuyten Duyvil.”
A syndicate of real estate developers coined the name “Riverdale” in 1852, bestowing it on five villas they built on what is now Independence Avenue. Four years later, another group laid out a development to the south of the first, and called it “The Park-Riverdale.”
In the ensuing century, the name spread across the map like ink on a blotter — much to the chagrin of the area’s pre-eminent historian, Rev. William Tieck. In his “Historical Epitome of the Northwest Bronx,” Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Spuyten Duyvil, Dr. Tieck rails against “this whole miserable business of confusing and misusing the names of the historical communities in our region.”
But the worthy historian is himself at a loss to place the precise boundaries of those communities.
Kingsbridge, Dr. Tieck says, is a “triangle with (roughly speaking) 230th Street at its base, 238th as its top,” leaving the perplexed to wonder whether the Riverdale Diner just off Broadway at West 238th Street and Kingsbridge Avenue is (roughly speaking) in Riverdale or in Kingsbridge, and whether students at John F. Kennedy High School attend classes in Kingsbridge or Marble Hill.
Dr. Tieck reckoned that Spuyten Duyvil begins at the Monument, but acknowledged that “Riverdale has some claim to the territory extending a very few blocks south and west of the tower.
Educators are no help. A very few blocks south and west of the Monument stands a school, once called JHS 141, the Riverdale School, then MS 141, the David A. Stein Riverdale School, and now the David A. Stein Riverdale-Kingsbridge Academy, MS/HS 141.
Half a century ago, when the school’s doors opened, residents quarreled over whether the name “Riverdale” belonged on a building on West 235th Street, cheek by jowl with the Spuyten Duyvil School, PS 24. Robert C. Weinberg took up the cudgels in the pages of The Riverdale Press. An architect and city planner who fought to keep the Henry Hudson Parkway from cutting the area in two, and whose family had deep roots here, Mr. Weinberg’s name (translated into French) is preserved in the housing development across the street from Neighborhood House. He boldly insisted, “You’re All Riverdalians, Whether You Like It Or Not.”
The neighborhood’s boundaries, he claimed, were the Hudson River, the city line, Broadway, “and the irregular borough line on the south.” With his taxonomy, no commentator before or since has agreed.
Many do agree, however, that, as Mr. Weinberg argued, “Riverdale” is an umbrella name under which a number of smaller neighborhoods shelter. They include Spuyten Duyvil, North Riverdale, Dodgewood and Fieldston, the only neighborhood with legal boundaries.
The fact is that in New York City, neighborhoods are a state of mind, not a statement of political geography. Insisting on neighborhood identity reflects a desire to live on a human scale. Neighborhood pride creates fellow-feeling in a vast city whose citizens might otherwise feel adrift from one another.