The Hills Are Alive in Baristaville: Maplewood, Millburn, South Orange and Montclair

By mark-slade March 9, 2011

The Hills Are Alive in Baristaville

BY  |  Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011 9:01am  |  COMMENTS (0)

My Room with a View

I grew up on Long Island, which is as flat as a pancake, and spent my young adult years in New York City.  When I moved to the SOMA area nearly fifteen years ago, I got my first taste of life in a hilly environment.   
From the start, I preferred the look and feel of Baristaville’s undulating terrain to the flat lands I had come from.  But the topography here poses certain undeniable challenges. 
For instance, when I walk back home from downtown South Orange, I brace myself before ascending my steeply inclined street.  Though we’re only a few houses from the bottom, by the time I get to my front door I am panting and my heart is racing.
When we moved to this house a few years ago we weren’t thrilled with the hill, but eventually we came to see its virtues.  Heck, I can see SOPAC (or at least its neon sign) from my living room window.  It may not be Sarah Palin’s view of Russia, but I think it’s kind of neat.
The hill also affords us a pleasant feeling of space between us and our neighbors.  On the down side, it is nearly impossible for our kids to ride their bikes on our block (although the sidewalk sledding is pretty fantastic).  And driving up our street this snowy winter required a certain steely fortitude and good snow tires. Four-wheel drive doesn’t hurt, either.
“Flat streets are just easier to deal with all around,” said Robin Seidon, an agent with Keller Williams NJ Metro Group in Montclair.  “I have clients who say ‘Don’t show me any houses on a hill.’” 

High Above South Orange

On the other hand, “there are some buyers that put a premium on having a view of the hills or of New York City,” said Mark Slade, of Keller Williams Midtown Direct Realty in Maplewood.  “But there are far fewer of these buyers than those who would discount hilly properties.”  Realtor Deborah Lebow of Coldwell Banker also noted that how a house is situated in relation to the hill can make a difference.  “Houses that are perpendicular to the slope may have a more level yard than one that is parallel to it,” she said.
There are those who are drawn to the hills for reasons other than the view.  “When I lived in New York City, I used to come to Maplewood to ride in South Mountain Reservation,” said John Profaci, amateur cyclist and sponsor of Team Colavita cycling team.  “It was a paradise for riders with its wonderful, varied terrain and long trails.”
Profaci said the great biking was one of the main reasons he and his wife moved here in the early nineties.  Although the park was later closed to bikers because of trail erosion, Profaci and his teammates learned to make the most of Maplewood’s topography for their training.  Their preferred route, which they call the “Wyoming Rack,” entails pedaling up the short, “ridiculously steep” hills off Wyoming Avenue near the reservation and then recovering on the way back down.
In real estate, prime vistas are always a plus – and that usually means homes located high up.  When I power-walk up the hills in my neighborhood and reach the summit, the view of New York City is breathtaking.
In the Victorian era, the area’s hills served as a bucolic retreat for city folk.  Frank Gerard Godlewski, curator of the Angel Orensanz Foundation, said, “Before developing into the beautiful First Mountain residential communities of South Orange, Maplewood, West Orange and Montclair, the Orange Mountains were a destination point for healthy mountaintop resorts of the Victorian Era.
Godlewski noted that trolleys would carry visitors from nearby urban areas up to attractions like Eagle Rock, Silver Lake and Flat Rock, where they would relax in hotels with panoramic views.
Where do you stand on hills?  Do you like a house with a view, or would you prefer a flat street any day?
Similarly, according to the Montrose Historic Society, the air currents coming down from the hills and the air currents coming in from the ocean (going back when the area was mostly rural) created such a temperate and enjoyable climate, thus becoming the destination for the Mountain top Resorts of the era.

Mark Slade