Recently, when the host of WNYC’s “New Sounds” radio show made casual reference to Derek Bermel, a world-class composer, clarinetist, conductor and New Rochelle native, my fond memories of the Glenwood Lake neighborhood in New Rochelle, where Bermel grew up and where I lived for a decade, got me reminiscing.
Glenwood Lake is one of the best neighborhoods in New Rochelle in which to live. It is conveniently located in the heart of the city yet on the border of Pelham, making it a very easy and pleasant walk to the Pelham train station. It also has easy access to the Hutch and I-95.
Glenwood Lake is a mini-nature preserve. The lake from which the neighborhood derives its name is a magnet for a wide-assortment of ducks, herons, the occasional swan or two, and many other birds.
I remember residents of Glenwood Lake as friendly and involved with their neighbors’ lives without being in their face. They are concerned about issues that will impact not only their property value but that of all of the local community. For example, the Clark sisters moved to Glenwood Lake with their parents in 1956. They were already both working professionals, Audrey, now 86, was a social worker; Geraldine, now 85, worked as a librarian. Their memories of Glenwood Lake over the years are fond and their desire to remain active in the community is unfaltering. During a recent visit, they shared with me memories about the neighborhood that I never knew, even though I served as the neighborhood association president for two years. For example, Glenwood Lake was once home to two giant families in retailing, the Altmans and the Wannamakers.
The sisters recalled a time when they could see the lake from their Lincoln Avenue backyard. First settled in the 1920s, the neighborhood has since built up to about 300 houses of mostly Normandy Tutors, English cottages and center hall colonials. Their home is an interesting blend of formal furnishings and eclectic art. Whether it’s their delicate antique settee decorated with gold leaf or their collection of African, African American, European, American and Caribbean artwork, the Clarks can quickly and fondly recall how each piece of furniture, knickknack, or piece of art came into their possession.
The neighborhood’s voluntary homeowners association has annual dues of $25. It covers the cost of the monthly neighborhood newsletter, The Backfence, which keeps residents informed of their neighbors’ good fortune and occasional misfortune, neighborhood social activities which include a winter holiday party, spring lake clean-up and summer picnic, and who will be the featured keynote speaker at the next monthly meeting.
Growing up in an apartment a few blocks south of here, Glenwood Lake was always on the radar screen of Joanne Starapoli.
“I was in awe of the architecture,” she said.
When pregnant with her first child, she and her husband, Patsy, also a native New Rochellean, needed a bigger house.
“We knew that we wanted to live in this neighborhood and have our child attend Webster School,” she says. “The house was on the market for one day, we made an offer, and we got it.”
Now 27-years later, she reflects on her time in Glenwood Lake.
“My life in the neighborhood hasn’t changed because my neighbors haven’t changed. Its greatest strength, for me, is the people. The people I am involved with here share the same feelings about wanting to live in a neighborhood that has a history of accepting all people. My neighbors are as close to me as my family. I know that whatever I need I can get from my neighbors.”
Starapoli goes so far as to say that Glenwood Lake residents get a better feel of what the world is all about from living here.
Newcomer Becky Miller agrees. She moved here five years ago from a small country town in Central New York, one of the more homogenous regions of New York State. Now, she says, her best friends are her neighbors and they are from every walk of life, ethnic group and spiritual orientation.
For Miller, the neighborhood’s primary appeal is the people.
“They are so warm and friendly. They care about their neighbors, the older people in the neighborhood, the school,” echoing Starapoli.
And now that the oldest of her three youngest children has entered Webster School, she says she has discovered a whole new set of neighbors and friends. Williams encourages prospective homebuyers to “come and spend some time here. Come at the end of the school day and see the diversity, feel the energy and the vibe.”
Preserving the architectural character of the neighborhood is a passion of another neighborhood veteran and the immediate past-president of the neighborhood association, Don Swanson.
“We looked at more than 60 houses in Westchester, most had been remodeled,” practically a four-letter word for this conservationist at The Frick Collection museum in New York.
“This was about the only house we saw that has all the bones there. It was designed by a Madison Ave architect as his home,” said Swanson.
Over the years, Swanson and his wife have lovingly preserved or restored as much of the house’s architectural detail as possible, from its slate roof to its original leaded glass casement windows.
“Its greatest selling point is the families, historically strong families who have worked together regardless of their diversity,” said Swanson.
In the 1970s, there was discussion about tearing down what is now the neighborhood’s much revered arts and humanities magnet school, Daniel Webster Elementary. Enrollment was way down. But according to Swanson, Glenwood Lake residents, including the mother of Derek Bermel, rallied their neighbors to prevent this from happening. Who knows? Maybe she was clairvoyant and just knew that her son would discover his passion for music at Webster and grow up to be a world-renowned clarinetist virtuoso and a favorite artist of WNYC radio show hosts!
Rob Seitz is a real estate agent with Stetson Real Estate in Mamaroneck , as well as a freelance writer and public relations consultant. He welcomes recommendations of other New Rochelle neighborhoods to profile. Contact him at [email protected]