Living In: Hawthorne, N.J.: More Homey Than Polished

Living in

Hawthorne, N.J.: More Homey Than Polished

The Passaic County borough is old school in many ways, a front-porch community with a quaint business district and residents who tend to stay put.

By Jay Levin

When their daughter turned 5, Virginia Toledo, an interior designer, and Jhovanny Hernandez, who works in banking, decided to trade their apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, for a house in the suburbs. But Ms. Toledo had one nonnegotiable requirement: an old-fashioned front porch.

That limited the couple’s tristate search, but led them to Hawthorne, a northern New Jersey borough with a Dutch lineage, early 20th-century homes, a quaint business district and a citizenry that tends to stay put. Some families have been there for generations.

In 2013, Ms. Toledo and Mr. Hernandez, now 37 and 39, paid $400,000 for the first house they looked at in town: a century-old, three-bedroom American foursquare opposite a county park. The wide porch had been enclosed, so they restored it to its original appearance.




1 mile











n.j. transit



Glen Rock










Goffle Brook

Hawthorne station


Passaic R.

By The New York Times

“When we’re on the porch, we look out at the park,” Ms. Toledo said. “I drink my coffee there. Spring and summer, we’re out there with friends. It’s such a draw.”

The porch makes a convivial place feel even more so. “Within a month or two, I knew everyone on the street — and that struck a chord, because in Forest Hills, we didn’t know a lot of the neighbors,” Ms. Toledo said.

Around 20 miles from Times Square, on Passaic County’s eastern fringe, Hawthorne is more homey than polished. “You get the warmth of yesteryear and the small-town feel of being able to walk to the library, the movie theater, the coffee shop,” said Anthony J. Cali, of ERA A.J. Cali Real Estate, in Hawthorne. “You’re not getting lost in a big town, like Wayne,” he said, referring to the sprawling and pricier township farther west in Passaic County.

Front porches, like these on Arlington Avenue, are a common feature of houses in Hawthorne.CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

But west of the borough center, beyond the serpentine county park that clings to either bank of Goffle Brook, the terrain rises sharply, and Hawthorne’s character changes. Newer homes on spacious lots, some with Manhattan views, dot a mountainside where quarries once operated. “We refer to it as ‘living on the hill,’” said Richard S. Goldberg, the mayor, who lives there.

Those on the hill coexist with wildlife and occasionally deal with their own weather. “It could be snowing at my house,” Mr. Goldberg said, “and by the time I get to downtown, it isn’t.”

Janice and Eric Johannesen, who previously lived in the Salt Lake City area, wound up on the hill last year after Mr. Johannesen, 46, took a technology job with an investment firm in New Jersey. They had thought of returning to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where they lived before moving out West, but were drawn to Hawthorne by a private Christian school similar to the one their three children attended in Utah.

The Johannesens paid $649,900 for a four-bedroom, four-bathroom raised ranch on a half acre bordering woods, in a neighborhood without sidewalks. “To afford something that big in Bay Ridge was not an option,” said Ms. Johannesen, 43, a health coach. “We knew we wanted the suburbs.”

They have found their new town to be low-key and friendly. Ms. Johannesen pointed to the youth sports programs, the farmers’ market in the library parking lot and summer concerts at the bandshell next to the community pool. The family’s Christmas tree came via the volunteer fire department’s fund-raiser. “Hey, we figured let’s buy a Christmas tree and support our community at the same time,” Ms. Johannesen said.


89 MAZUR PLACE | A four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom house, built in 1987 on 0.47 acre, listed for $599,999. 732-549-9500CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

With a population of 19,000 in a little more than three square miles, Hawthorne borders seven other municipalities, including urban Paterson and the upscale Bergen County communities of Wyckoff, Glen Rock and Ridgewood. Relatively few New Yorkers buy in Hawthorne, although it has rail service and is accessible to highways, including Route 208, which cuts through town and leads to Route 4 and the George Washington Bridge.

“Most of the New York City crowd filters into Bergen,” said Robert J. Lucibello, a broker associate with Van Orden Realty in Hawthorne and a lifelong resident of Hawthorne. “We’re a Passaic town.”

The housing stock has a bit of everything: older colonials, multifamily dwellings, a neighborhood of squat Cape Cods without basements and, in the hills, Highview at Hawthorne, a 1980s-era private community of single-family homes and townhouses.

Rentals are plentiful. Forest Mill is a turn-of-the-20th-century hosiery factory converted into 21 apartments; nearby Hawthorne Square was recently built from scratch, with 140 units. Royal Quarters, a high-end complex of 27 apartments, is scheduled to break ground in the spring.


119 OLD ORCHARD DRIVE | A four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom house, built in the 1970s on 0.44 acre, listed for $499,000. 201-848-4002CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

Unusual for northern New Jersey, Hawthorne has no supermarket; no Starbucks; no McDonald’s, Burger King or Wendy’s; and more independent drugstores (two) than chain drugstores (one, a Rite Aid). “We’re a mom-and-pop type of place,” said Robert Meier, president of the chamber of commerce.

“You can go anywhere from a starter home, such as a small Cape for $250,000 to $300,000, to a more modern home on a larger piece of property in the hills, for $600,000 to $700,000,” said Mr. Lucibello of Van Orden Realty.

From April 1, 2018, to Jan. 31, 2019, 132 single-family houses sold at a median price of $355,000, virtually unchanged from a year earlier, according to the New Jersey Multiple Listing Service.

On Feb. 14, the listing service’s website showed 23 single-family houses priced from $249,900 to $599,999. Listed at a shade below the median was a four-bedroom, two-bathroom Cape on a corner lot on Alexandria Avenue, with annual property taxes of $9,092. At the higher end, listed at $529,900, was a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom Mountain Avenue contemporary house with Manhattan skyline views and property taxes of $14,377.


123 CENTRAL AVENUE | A three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom house, built in 1939 on 0.13 acre, listed for $389,000. 973-773-4000 CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

The close-knit borough holds a fall festival with pony rides and a petting zoo. Christmastime brings a Santa parade and a toy drive centered around a historic train station, headquarters of a volunteer railroaders group. The Hawthorne Caballeros, a drum-and-bugle corps sponsored by the American Legion, has been winning national competitions for decades. Curbside signs boasting about the Caballeros greet motorists at the borough’s borders.

“Hawthorne’s old school in a lot of ways, but it’s becoming hipper,” said Ms. Toledo, the Forest Hills transplant.


Bella Fig, on Lincoln Avenue, serves modern Italian cuisine.CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

By that she means the food scene. There is a gluten-free bakeshop, a sub shop owned by a fine-dining chef and a new Irish pub steps from a movie theater with a vintage marquee. Especially popular are the Front Porch, a rustic watering hole (with a front porch, naturally) that serves Asian-fusion fare; Bella Fig and Justin’s Ristorante, for Italian cuisine; and Kirker’s Inn, a German spot known for its thin-crust pizza.

The Hawthorne public school district has about 2,300 students, roughly 60 percent white and one-third Hispanic. Three elementary schools serve kindergarten through fifth grade, and the lone middle school serves sixth through eighth grades.

Hawthorne High School enrolls 690 students. Average SAT scores in 2016-17 (the most recent available from the state) were 526 in reading and writing and 508 in math, versus 551 and 552 statewide. Of the 2017 graduates, 72 percent went to college that fall, just above the state average.

The borough has two private schools: Hawthorne Christian Academy, affiliated with Hawthorne Gospel Church, for kindergarten through 12th grade, and St. Anthony School, affiliated with the local Catholic parish, for kindergarten through eighth grade.

The Boys and Girls Club of Hawthorne offers after-school programs.

The Hawthorne train station is on New Jersey Transit’s Main Line. The ride to Penn Station in Manhattan, which requires a transfer at Secaucus, takes 50 minutes to an hour; the fare is $8.50 one way or $254 a month. An annual $2 sticker allows residents to park near the station. Bus service to Manhattan is limited.


The house at 868 Goffle Road, opposite Goffle Brook Park, looms large in Hawthorne history. It was the site of the Jan. 9, 1850, murders of Judge John S. Van Winkle and his wife, Jane. The assailant, the Van Winkles’ former farmhand, was put to death — the first person executed in Passaic County.CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

Troops led by the Marquis de Lafayette, the French officer who joined the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War, encamped along Goffle Brook in the autumn of 1780. Lafayette Avenue, the borough’s main drag, recalls the aristocratic general.

The origin of the name Hawthorne is less clear: It pays homage either to a profusion of thorny hawthorn bushes or to the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, a New Englander. The borough of Hawthorne was incorporated in 1898.

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.


Published at Wed, 20 Feb 2019 10:01:24 +0000