City Island, at 230 acres, population a little under 4,500 according to the most recent census, is adjacent to the woods of Pelham Bay and Orchard Beach, the borough’s only public beach, and to the rest of the Bronx to the west and Westchester to the north. Photographer Chris Mottalini and I are exploring New York City’s boroughs through its blocks, one each in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, because we’re interested in how these blocks form their own micro-universes, and how those micro-universes fit into their boroughs.
We were drawn to City Island partly for the contrasts embedded in its name—both city and island, it is part of the Bronx and apart from it. And we landed on this particular block because it seemed to represent City Island as a whole, inhabited by artists, writers, eccentrics, scientists, lawyers, curators, art handlers, fishmongers, bus drivers, teachers, and electricians, many of whom traded rising rents in Brooklyn and Manhattan for a small town that is tethered to New York City but fairly remote, with wetlands that resemble a compressed wilderness, a place with proudly worn nautical roots, and the sense of nostalgia that seems to hover over almost all beach towns.
Along City Island Avenue, which runs the length of the island, hints of those past shipbuilders remain, along with seafood restaurants that draw in weekend crowds and markers of small town life: the City Island Diner, the upscale restaurant the Black Whale, the grocery, an ice cream parlor called Lickety Split, a public library, a junk shop that specializes in pop-culture ephemera, and a local photographer who will print your picture on a brick.
Additionally, there are quite a few enjoyable photos to peak at while reading Bengal’s article, so give it a read.