By C. J. HUGHES
Published: July 6, 2008
AFTER seeing Jimi Hendrix play a 1969 concert at the Fillmore East, a few blocks from her building in the East Village, and living in the same tenement as the poet Allen Ginsberg, Elena Abrahams became enamored of her artsy, walkable neighborhood.
So in 1977, when her husband, Michael, suggested they move to Greenwich, Conn., where the counterculture was perhaps less obvious, she bristled. "I thought it might just be all green and pink ladies," Ms. Abrahams said. "And I thought I might want to kill myself."
But in Old Greenwich, a distinct section on Long Island Sound in the town's easternmost corner, about 35 miles from Midtown, she found neighbors who, in addition to being transplanted New Yorkers, were writers, painters and musicians.
Further, both the pint-sized business district, known as "the village," and a Metro-North train station, were just a short stroll from her front door, evoking the East Village of her younger days. "I thought, this is a really good, progressive place to be," said Ms. Abrahams, who works as a substitute teacher.
But not many musicians, or at least the struggling variety, could afford the prices today, with single-family homes starting at around $500,000.
Indeed, Ms. Abrahams's home, a four-bedroom 1929 colonial, with flower-pot cutouts in the shutters, cost $300,000 in 1984; she estimates it could sell for $2 million today, based on listings on her block.
A better bet for a starter home might be one of the neighborhood's 400 condominiums, like the alcove studio bought in April by Laura Bennett, who runs a family jewelry store that has been in the village since 1945.
The unit, with 650 square feet and a terrace through sliding glass doors, cost $325,000, she said.
Next-door Stamford, where she also looked, didn't have nearly the charm of Old Greenwich's "quaint old-style street," with many longtime merchants, said Ms. Bennett.
That street, Sound Beach Avenue, evokes an island resort town envisioned by Norman Rockwell, despite afternoon traffic that can snarl 20 cars deep in both directions. It has an ice cream parlor and an open-air restaurant, a barbershop with a checkered linoleum floor and a toy store with trucks in the window.
With the exception of a pharmacy, "we don't have any chain stores," Ms. Bennett said, "and we don't want them."
WHAT YOU'LL FIND
Measuring just over two square miles, with about 10,000 people, Old Greenwich is split in half by a one-two punch of Route 1 and Interstate 95.
Houses north of that noisy dividing line, which tend toward colonials, raised ranches and brick Capes, are about half the price of ones south of it, and smaller, too. Many examples are found in Havemeyer Park, a 1940s subdivision partly developed by the boxer Gene Tunney, where streets like MacArthur Drive, Halsey Drive and Nimitz Place, bear the names of World War II military leaders, apparently in a bid to appeal to returning soldiers.
The more coveted homes sit south, on Old Greenwich's nearly eight miles of winding coastline, which encompasses coves, ponds and rocky points, close to named microenclaves like Lucas Point, Tomac and Shorelands.
Here, among traces of a late 1800s summer colony, sit hulking shingles and ornate Mediterraneans and eyebrow-dormered colonials; some seem to have been "Victorianized" with porches, fish-scale shingles and additions.
Along prestigious Shore Road, there is evidence of teardowns behind boxwood hedges, where builders have maximized what's allowed under generally quarter-acre zoning.
Also, because this section is prone to flooding in severe northeasters, many homes have had to prop themselves up in recent years under federal law.
Condos, meanwhile, are scattered, though most are found in two complexes: Old Greenwich Gables, from the 1990s, and the Commons, from the 1970s, each with about 180 units, brokers say. Rental housing, few and far between, usually consists of sublet condos.
In general, the narrow, twisting roads of Old Greenwich are tough enough to navigate by joggers and bicyclists. But dozens of others, marked private, are made almost impassable by sections of fence, alternated like gates on a giant slalom ski course.
Yet house hunting by car might be a moot point anyway. Greenwich bans all for-sale signs, stuck in the lawn or otherwise.
WHAT YOU'LL PAY
The median price of a home in Old Greenwich in late June, when 76 properties were on the market, was $2.2 million, according to the Greenwich MLXchange, a multiple listing service.
For that price, buyers can typically pick up a 1950s colonial, with 3,500 square feet of space, in move-in condition, according to Rose Revel, a sales associate with William Raveis Real Estate in its Old Greenwich office.
Occasionally, homes trade above $8 million, especially if they're newly built, with a dock, pool and 6,000 square feet of space, she added.
The prices of these homes are comparable to next-door Riverside, which also has its own train station, but are about half those found in Belle Haven, a gated community with one-acre zoning to the west, brokers say.
Those prices have also held steady in the last two years, while other markets softened, though this spring there has been a dip in prices of about 5 percent, Ms. Revel said. "But it's usually the overpriced houses that drop," she said, "especially if the seller is under duress and needs to sell."
WHAT TO DO
The 24-acre Binney Park, tucked on the western flank of Old Greenwich, has four tennis courts, a pair of band shells and ponds ringed by rhododendrons and hemlocks.
The bigger jewel, though, is Greenwich Point Park, whose 147 acres sweep across about an eighth of the neighborhood. On the beach-lined spit, great egrets pick their way through sea grass while joggers pound paths.
Since 2001, out-of-towners can use the park, after the State Supreme Court ruled in their favor to end a six-year legal battle. But they must pay $25 a day to do so, which is about what locals pay for the season. Only about 3,000 nonresidents took advantage last year -- a fraction of the 500,000 total park visitors -- possibly rebutting the argument that it would be inundated.
"There was never the deluge that people expected," said Fred Walters, parks superintendent.
In terms of test scores and reputation, the neighborhood's schools rank among the state's best.
The Old Greenwich School, which teaches kindergarten through fifth grade in a stately two-story brick building close to the village, enrolled 413 students last year.
On the 2007 Connecticut Mastery Test, 96 percent of fourth graders at the school met standards in math, while 90 percent did so in reading and 96 percent in writing. Statewide, those numbers were 81 percent in math, 71 percent in reading and 84 percent in writing.
From there, students head to Eastern Middle School, in neighboring Riverside, for Grades 6 through 8. Eastern enrolled 726 students last year. On the mastery tests, 98 percent of eighth graders met standards in math, as 95 percent did in reading and 99 percent in writing; statewide, those numbers were 81 percent, 76 percent and 83 percent.
Greenwich High School offers seven languages, including Mandarin Chinese, and more than three dozen varsity-level sports. Last year, it enrolled 2,712 students, and of the 667-student graduating class, 23 were National Merit Scholarship semifinalists and 43 others received letters of commendation.
On last year's SAT's, the average scores were 564 in math, 558 in reading and 563 in writing, compared with statewide scores of 504 in math, 502 in reading and 503 in writing.
Situated on Metro-North's New Haven line, Old Greenwich has weekday morning rush-hour trains from a red slope-roofed National Register structure about every 20 minutes; they take 53 to 72 minutes to arrive at Grand Central Terminal. Monthly passes cost $237 in person and $232.26 online.
Near the station, there are 524 reserved parking spaces; permits cost $242 a year. There is a waiting list of 120 names, or a wait of about a year, said Allen Corry, the town's parking services director.
When the railroad arrived in 1872, it gave the station in Greenwich Old Town, where European settlers came ashore in 1640, the name Sound Beach, to avoid confusion with the main Greenwich station down the line, according to Megan McWhorter, an administrator at Greenwich's historical society.
That name stuck until 1931, when the railroad switched to Old Greenwich. The fire department, however, retains the name Sound Beach.