Clifton, N.J.: Where a Lot of Little Worlds Commingle

Clifton, N.J.: Where a Lot of Little Worlds Commingle

“There are a lot of little worlds, religiously, ethnically and locational-ly, that thrive in Clifton, yet they’re all happy to be part of the total picture,” said Ernest J. Scheidemann, a local real estate and insurance agent and lifelong resident. The spirit of acceptance was famously demonstrated three years ago when the Clifton High School senior class selected a Muslim student who wore a hijab as its best-dressed female student.


94 NORMANDY ROAD A three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom house in the Montclair Heights section, listed at $465,000. 973-779-1900

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

For residents, the ethnic diversity is a selling point, even if some were initially unaware of it. Jason Chuon, who bought a $380,000 expanded Cape Cod after being uprooted from Staten Island by Hurricane Sandy, said he was worried that his Asian-American family might stand out. That was not the case in a town with vibrant Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Asian and Eastern European communities.

“We have friends here who are Muslim, Hispanic, you name it,” said Mr. Chuon, a 38-year-old online marketer. “There’s a Colombian guy on one side of me, a Polish lady on the other. Everyone’s trying to just make a living and better themselves. I tell my friends and family in New York, ‘You’ve got to check out this place.’”

What You’ll Find

Wrapping like a horseshoe around Passaic, Clifton is adjacent to 10 other municipalities, including struggling Paterson, in Passaic County, and Montclair, Bloomfield and Nutley in Essex County. The city, which takes up five ZIP codes, is defined by its distinct neighborhoods, most with their own commercial districts, public elementary schools and parks. (Old-timers tend to say they’re from Athenia or Allwood or Botany Village rather than Clifton.)

What is called downtown Clifton is Main Avenue. Along this low-rise thoroughfare stretching between the Paterson and Passaic borders are Peruvian restaurants, hookah stores, Turkish markets — even a pierogi maker.

Among the neighborhoods, Allwood is known for its district of Tudor-style homes; Albion, in the shadow of the Garret Mountain Reservation, has street after street of tidy Cape Cods; Clifton Center, which includes Main Avenue, abounds with older, multifamily colonials on narrow lots. The most expensive properties are in Montclair Heights and Rosemawr.

Condominiums and rentals are in ample supply. Cambridge Crossings, a 15-year-old gated townhouse community on a former industrial tract, has several hundred homes, some for ages 55 and older. Country Club Towers, next to the Upper Montclair Country Club, has 476 rental apartments in a pair of 1960s-era high-rises.

Clifton’s largest development project in years is in the early stages. A medical school affiliated with Seton Hall University and Hackensack Meridian Health is expected to begin operating later this year at the former headquarters of pharmaceutical giant Roche, once Clifton’s largest taxpayer. The 116-acre site on Route 3, partly in Nutley, is being reimagined as a life sciences campus consisting of the medical school and ancillary businesses, including a hotel. New construction is planned for the Clifton portion. “Five years from now, we hope to be talking about hundreds of new jobs,” Mayor James Anzaldi said.


107 CHELSEA ROAD A three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom house in the Allwood section, listed at $359,000. 973-473-5800

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

What You’ll Pay

“At the low-end, you can pick up a small one-family house in the $250,000 to $300,000 range in areas bordering Paterson and Passaic, and at the high end, you might find a million-dollar home in Montclair Heights,” said Nicholas Tselepis, broker-owner of the Nicholas Real Estate Agency in Clifton. Mr. Tselepis noted that Clifton’s accessibility and relative affordability appeal to buyers from New York City.

On Mar. 8, the New Jersey Multiple Listing Service website showed 137 properties for sale, the majority of them single-family houses, with about 60 in the $300,000 to $400,000 range. A dozen listings were for $599,000 and up, with the most expensive a $1.19 million custom-built Cape with four bedrooms and four and a half baths, in Rosemawr.

From May 1, 2017, to Feb. 28, 2018, the median sale price for a single-family house was $336,000; for a condo or townhouse, $285,000; and for a two- to four-family house, $384,250, versus $308,000, $318,000 and $322,500 in the same period a year earlier, according to the Multiple Listing Service.

After the new federal tax law capped the property tax deduction at $10,000, a survey by the city found that about three-quarters of homeowners were already at or under the $10,000 threshold, Mr. Anzaldi said.

The Vibe

Residents of this suburban melting pot rally around their lone high school and its high-stepping Mustang Marching Band. Traditions like the Fourth of July picnic and fireworks show and the raising of a sea of American flags on patriotic holidays on the municipal complex grounds also bring people together.

Then there are the hot dogs. Aficionados debate the merits of a pair of Clifton institutions that have been around a combined 147 years. Rutt’s Hut is known for its “rippers,” deep-fried dogs slathered with the roadside joint’s sweet mustard relish. At the Hot Grill, chili sauce-topped Texas weiners are the specialty.

Another gastronomic landmark is the Tick Tock Diner, open 24 hours and beckoning Route 3 passers-by to “eat heavy.”

The Commute

Buses provide Clifton transit commuters the most direct way to Manhattan: From Route 3, it is a straight shot to the Lincoln Tunnel. From the Allwood Park & Ride, New Jersey Transit’s No. 192 bus gets to the Port Authority terminal in 35 minutes and costs $6 one way, or $167 monthly. Additionally, the private DeCamp Bus Lines serves Montclair Heights.

The city’s two rail stations are on New Jersey Transit’s Main Line. From the Clifton station in Athenia, the trip to Penn Station in Manhattan requires changing trains at Secaucus Junction and takes 45 minutes; the cost is $7.25 one way or $210 monthly. From the Delawanna station, it is five minutes shorter and costs $5.50 one way, or $170 monthly.

The Schools

The Clifton district has 14 numbered grade schools, most enrolling 200 to 500 students. Christopher Columbus and Woodrow Wilson middle schools, each enrolling about 1,200, serve grades 6 to 8.

Clifton High School, on Colfax Avenue, is one of New Jersey’s largest public high schools, with 2,924 students. Mean SAT schools for 2016-17 were 516 in reading and writing and 519 in math, versus 551 and 552 statewide. Sixty-one percent of the class of 2017 went on to college, versus 71 percent statewide.

The History

Voters of Acquackanonk township greenlighted incorporation as a city in 1917 and ditched the tongue-twisting Lenni Lenape name in favor of Clifton, a reference to a prominent local cliff.

Though a ways from Yankee Stadium, Clifton has Bronx Bomber connections. On April 29, 1923, Babe Ruth homered during an exhibition game against the semipro Doherty Silk Sox and had to be rescued from fans mobbing the field to congratulate him.

“The ball traveled so high that it almost became lost in the thick haze that hovered over the desert wastes of Clifton,” The Passaic Daily News rhapsodized. Decades later, the Yankee greats Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra would make their mark in Clifton — as owners of a bowling alley.

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