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It looks like the Bronx -- but votes like Manhattan

By David W. Behrend, Staff Reporter

Why does a store in Manhattan have the words "Bronx Grocery" on it?

The store's sign, located at 225th Street and Broadway, reflects the confusion in Marble Hill since the northwest section of what looks like the Bronx was cut off from Manhattan a century ago.

The area now votes for Manhattan representatives, but receives city services from the Bronx.

"There is confusion among newer residents about whether they live in Manhattan or the Bronx," said Lloyd Ultan, former head of the Bronx County Historical Society.

About half of the neighborhood's 10,000 residents have moved in over the last 10 years, said Michael Picchardo, director of the Marble Hill Neighborhood Association.

The 52-acre area was once attached to northern Manhattan. Back then the Harlem River meandered north of its present course and became Spuyten Duyvil Creek, a channel shallow enough to wade across. The river then curved south, resuming its course toward the Hudson.

After an increase in ship traffic in the 1890s, the Army Corps of Engineers said that a canal was needed for shipping route between the Hudson and Harlem Rivers.

So in 1895 a work crew blasted through Manhattan, creating a navigable passage and leaving Marble Hill an artificial island. But in 1914 the creek was filled in, attaching Marble Hill to the mainland. The curve of 230th Street, the northern border of Marble Hill, follows the route of the old creek.

The controversy peaked in 1939, when Borough President James J. Lyons planted the Bronx flag atop Marble Hill and called it the borough's Sudetenland, referring to Hitler's annexation of part of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Today the Marble Hill Houses, an 11-building, 1,600-unit city housing project, dominate the eastern section. Four of the project's buildings are in the Bronx and seven are in Manhattan.

But project residents don't identify with Manhattan.

"Most of them consider themselves Bronxites," said Toby Goldstein, a bookkeeper at the Marble Hill Senior Center.

When the city built the projects in the 1950s, two buildings straddled the border. A judge ruled that one building would vote in each borough, Ultan said.

But residents aren't always happy with where their votes go.

"Sometimes people get angry," Picchardo said. "Who do you vote for? Some people want to vote for the Bronx representative, but they have to vote for Manhattan."

In the early 1970s Marble Hill started getting fire, police, sanitation and other services from the Bronx.

"It makes sense," Ultan said. "You don't have to go across the bridge to deliver services."

Marble Hill's addresses read "New York, New York," indicating Manhattan, followed by the zip code 10463, indicating the Bronx. Only Bronx zip codes begin with the numbers 1-0-4.

Residents have a 718 area code, but they are listed in both Bronx and Manhattan phone books.

But regardless of what the phone company and the post office think, or what the stores are called, the lines on city maps make its status clear.

"Politically it's part of Manhattan," Ultan said, "and physically it's attached to the mainland."

The Bronx Beat, March 13, 1995