by ellen shaughnessy, broker of free bridge realty
As you may know – Easton is set up into 4 main neighborhoods: College Hill (Lafayette College, to the north), South Easton, West Ward and Downtown… which has been getting a lot of attention lately. The Farmers’ Market is more alive and kicking than ever, since it enjoyed a great resuscitation about a decade ago. A good deal of public and private investment is helping to move the downtown forward. There are great walking trails, a super restaurant scene and now many exciting new businesses are joining in the renaissance …walkable downtown maybe five years ago felt quite ghostly – now you notice a much more vibrant urban retail scene.
But what’s happening beyond 6th street? There are headlines in the Express-Times every time some new idiot wants to solve something with a gun and unfortunately these seem to be the stories that stick in people’s minds. So is this a ‘bad neighborhood’? Quite a few beg to differ.
Ex-Brooklyner blazes westward:
Ken Jones Jr has lived in the West Ward since 2006. Why did you move here, Ken?
“My husband and I were living in Brooklyn and we felt it was time to hunker down and get a house but we needed an affordable one, which was just not happening there. So we looked around in upstate NY and someone mentioned we should check out Easton. It was January when basically no place looks good – we borrowed a friends’ car and when we saw this town we completely fell in love… I wanted to be kind of walkable to the NY bus.
The West Ward had many options at a great price point and Easton is a nice magic distance to NYC. I heard Spanish music playing in the background; we noticed the diversity not only in race and income levels but also in a nice range of ages in this neighborhood. By early February we were moving in!
At first it was basically a crash-pad; we were commuting into NY a lot and came here to sleep… As we started fixing up our house and spending more time outside, we met many neighbors. Over the years we have noticed others working more on their properties too. Since we first moved, we now see more porch lights on at night, and neighbors seem to be enjoying sitting on their porches more. I come from an urban lifestyle and the West Ward is so unique – I’ve never felt unsafe and there is such beauty in its diversity. Not everyone can appreciate that, but in my book it’s just a treasure.”
Through the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership which is run by CACLV.org, Ken and his partner were able to secure a facade grant to tackle the front of their home – check it out!
Project Coordinator Lynne Holden with WW Neighborhood Parnership is spearheading WW physical improvement projects such as facades, new sidewalks, tree planting etc… I asked what’s one of her fave recent projects and here’s what Lynne said:
“The Lot Spot was an amazing transformation of an ugly lot in the 600-block of Northampton into an urban sanctuary. The neighborhood has embraced it with open arms. Soon there will be chess boards and we hope to get tournaments going. That was our vision and our project!”
Bushwick-er, bit by the bug
Ex-Bushwick resident Julie Zando-Dennis stumbled upon the West Ward when she was looking for an alternative to the over-priced Hudson Valley. There is some evidence of addiction, now that she has a third target in her sites for another West Ward property rehab. She showed me an example of one that she and her partner Ghen just finished near 10th and Lehigh sts. Here are a few shots of the lovely renovation:
Me: I’m guessing Julie that you are pretty handy?
“No. I’m good with a sledgehammer and that’s about it – we hire local contractors to help, once we identify a good candidate at around $40-50,000.”
Here’s an except from Julie’s partner / West Ward resident Ghen Dennis, that will soon appear in the exciting new eastOnpop magazine’s August/Sept issue.
“Eastonians can get into Manhattan faster than our friends who live in Ridgewood, Bay Ridge, and Sunset Park. In Easton’s urban and historic West Ward neighborhood, you can buy a two-story Victorian-era house – with a basement, attic, and garden – for $50k. Put a little muscle into restoring the home’s original historic integrity and you will live in a charming place to call your own, with a mortgage that is a fraction of NYC rents. If you are priced out of the Hudson Valley, or were too late to jump on Asbury Park, check out this charming, affordable neighborhood.
“Walkable and loaded with canal towpaths and great green space, Easton is 68 miles due west of the Holland Tunnel, equidistant between New York and Philadelphia, with easy access to Bucks County and the Poconos. The West Ward is edgy, diverse, and still affordable for artists and dreamers. The opportunity to make something happen in a creative atmosphere, in an historic, colonial town close to the city is yours.” ~look for editor-in-chief Jaqueline Grandstaff’s West Ward piece in eastOnpop magazine august/sept. 2014 article.
Yes, its gritty.
OK so it’s not all sunshine and rainbows… I spoke with another West Ward resident, spotted sitting on his porch. Mr D has been living here for 20 years in two West Ward locations. He told me that people are playing their car music too loud on this block, and that the street here is pretty ‘active’. A group of folks passed by as we chatted, and smiled and said hello. This resident has had some bad luck lately; he was robbed. Not sure of all the circumstances, but he continues to still live here despite that. As we spoke, another neighbor popped out to take her trash can in, across the street – she smiled and waved… well maybe this particular block or two has a little way to go yet, but Mr D continues to live here and I was witness to a few friendly smiles that seem to help get him through the rough patches.
And now a quick look at some police dept WW crime stats over the years… Lt. John Remaley noted that the West Ward neighborhood has some areas that are more densely populated with low-middle income families that are really struggling in this economy. “Unfortunately it sometimes leads to bad/desperate choices.” He shared some crime stats with me from 2010-2014 and while some categories seem steady (there are continued drug convictions) – over these years, the homicide and rape incidents are down. Despite some street recent pre-4th of July ‘fireworks’ by yet another gun owner that doesn’t know how to responsibly handle one – so far there are 0 homicides in 2014; lets hope this remains the number.
WW Stats, from the WW Neighborhood Partnership:
Median Household Income: $54,559,00
Population: 7,323 total for Easton 14,212
Median Rent: $791.00
July 2014 WW residential inventory prices: $19,900-299,000
2014 West Ward residential property sales: 38 – average price? $52,724.
prices ranged from $14,k-132,900 (i threw out the $257,k anomaly – these last two stats. are from lvarmls.com/ellen shaughnessy)
Micro-bursting: Weed & Seed Coordinator, Laura Accetta
I bumped into this particular West Ward shining star at the June Hump Day street fair: Laura was donning her ubiquitous summer uniform, the ‘WELCOME TO FABULOUS EASTON’ tee. The tees are a $10.00 fundraiser for the Community Center (and well, they ARE fabulous – drop by the community center at 901 washington st to buy yours).
Weed & Seed is a federal program run on local neighborhood levels. It is geared towards making a change in denser urban areas; after-school programs, feeding kids that could use an extra meal, getting families engaged in the community, and keeping children out of trouble.
How did you get involved in West Ward’s Weed & Seed, Laura?
“In 2000 I was to Mentor Coordinator for the Adopt-A-Class program (Communities That Care) inside the Easton School District, then I became familiar with and an advocate for the West Ward neighborhood – the families and the students especially. It was apparent that they were not afforded the same opportunities as their more affluent counterparts due to financial or transportation challenges, language barriers and even education barriers like applying for college.
I’ve been the W&S Coordinator since 2009 and have noticed changes in the West Ward landscape. The community gardens are a tremendous asset in the neighborhood [thank you, Urban Agriculture Coordinator with West Ward Neighborhood Partnership, Sophia Feller!]. I have also noticed that access to resources has become better. For example the Farmers market now addresses issues that are challenging to West Ward families like partnering with Weed and Seed on the voucher program.”
Laura spends 12 hour days at the community center organizing activities and programs in the summer. Laura, WHY?
“I do my best to take a break in the afternoon if I can. The thing that drives me, I suppose is that it is just the right thing to do. I’ve seen what a difference having faith in someone can have and what connecting someone to resources that they did not know existed can do. It changes lives, including mine. I was raised by a struggling single mother that instilled in my brother, sister and I that hard work never killed anyone and that an education was the key to success. I hope to pass that along.
||<–before, and…. taaaaaa-daaaah!!
We feed approximately 100 children each night and 50 adults. Anyone qualifies that lives in the city. it is an open site meaning open to anyone, no registration or cost. You can come every night or once.
One of my favorite success stories (and I have many), is about a family that now gives back to the community.Both the mother and father were incarcerated and the 3 children were in foster care. The father actually wrote me a letter from the Northampton County jail and soon afterward came to meet with me one night during Summer Nights saying that he wanted to change and that he wanted to be better for his family.
Soon afterward he began volunteering and then when his wife was released from state prison she too began volunteering.They participated in numerous opportunities through our reentry program and regained custody of their children. The children are exceptionally well adjusted, smart and also volunteer alongside their parents. They are shining examples that being at the bottom means there is only one way to go…up! Hard work pays off and what seems impossible is not; it IS possible if you want to make a change.
Dipped a toe before diving in: the Summers…
“We were New Yorker’s who wanted to live in a quiet lazy farm town away from the hustle of the city. In 1989, we bought a small 200 year old farmhouse with a small adjacent barn to be used as a painting studio and office in Sergeantsville NJ. We loved it for a while. Friends visited us from NY each weekend. The novelty wore off and we had less visitors. It was difficult to make friends in this tiny hamlet where the same families lived for generations. We were lonely. We craved stimulation. We craved diversity. We dreamed of the city.
A realtor rang our doorbell one Saturday morning. He asked if we were interested in selling our house. He had a buyer in the car and this is exactly what he was looking for. We invited them in. In two weeks we had a sale. The catch was that we only had eight weeks to find a place to live. A photographer friend suggested we check out Easton PA. He knew a sculptor whom he referred to as the Godfather of the Easton art scene. Karl Stirner gave us a tour of his studio and art collection, he took us to Pearly Baker’s for an al fresco lunch where we fell in love with downtown. But this time, we decided that we would try before we buy. Did the Lehigh Valley have what we wanted? Only one way to find out.
We rented a recently renovated quadruplex apartment that wrapped around the Ahlum Gallery on Fourth Street. The rooms were small, but it would give us a good sense of community. We found it. We met artists, writers, musicians, street people. We got a full and positive feeling for Easton. Then-Mayor, Phil Mitman invited me to put together an arts council that would investigate ways to attract more arts oriented people to visit and live in Easton. We put together a think tank and came up with suggestions.
During this time, Wendy was finishing her MSW in Social Work at Rutgers. I was looking to rent a studio. We heard that a couple of NY artists bought a building on Sitgreaves Street with were live in loft studios. We lived and worked there for two years. We had become Eastonians. We knew we could live here. It was time to buy as much space as we could afford.
Local entrepreneur Peter Koehler was renovating an abandoned warehouse into condominiums. Before we knew it, we were owners of the top floor: three thousand feet of space. The former elevator shaft has been transformed into an office with a 27 feet ceiling with a window that provides astounding light. My studio is at one end of the great room. We have been in the loft since 2004. Our loft condo is in a residential neighborhood in the West Ward. It is kind of an oasis in an evolving working class neighborhood. If you are interested in loft living, you are not likely to find it in an upper class suburban neighborhood.
The West Ward is what you make of it. Get active in the community. Meet your neighbors. I walked my dog three or four times every day. We would take different routes. We knew no one. But I tried to make eye contact with those sitting on their porches. First there were smiles of recognition. I know many of my neighbors. We nod to each other. We stop and chat. It is a melting pot and reminds me of New York on a much smaller scale. We have never felt anything but safe.”
The Summers’ loft at 11th & Spruce is currently listed for sale. His advice on West Ward living? “Get involved in your community. Join neighborhood organizations. Get a dog. :o) Make conversation with your neighbors. Be adventuresome. I hope you love it as much as we do.”
West Ward residents Elizabeth Johnson & Matthew Crain enjoy the neighborhood’s walkability to the farmers’ market, cozy pubs, and proximity to the Karl Stirner Sculpture Trail. “The Easton hills and views remind us of San Francisco (where they moved from 4 years ago) – now if only we could walk to a decent cup of drip coffee, then it would be just perfect!”
for more info about the West Ward Neighborhood:
– www.thewestword.org – neighborhood news with a neat history of the WW article, by leonard buschemi
– west ward neighborhood partnership
– weed & seed community group
– reHab Lab ~ how to secure an affordable renovation loan for a local fixer. next free seminar coming, this fall. and/or follow @freebridgereal on twitter: #fixer
– eastOnpop magazine, august issue launching soon!
hash-tag #WestWardWonderful for any great west ward shots you post/comments
starter set here: