Hoboken emerges from the shadow of Manhattan

Special To The Sun

HOBOKEN, N.J. -- There was a time when this nearly 150-year-old city on the Hudson was chiefly known for its proximity to Manhattan or as the birthplace of Frank Sinatra.

Today, Hoboken has come into its own. Thanks to a revitalization in the late '70s and early '80s, this one-time working-class, industrial hub of immigrants has morphed into a community that's hip, cultural and decidedly gentrified.

Waterfront development projects are creating excitement. Companies like Chase Manhattan Bank helped usher in some 4,000 new jobs. And real estate is booming: A one-bedroom condo near downtown can easily sell for $350,000 or more.

According to officials, Hoboken has even become a travel destination. "Hoboken has evolved as a tourist attraction," says Mayor David Roberts. "We're bringing in people from the greater New York metropolitan area and Manhattan."

The "Mile Square City," home to about 42,000 people, offers bars and restaurants as far as the eye can see, particularly along the area's bustling Washington Street.

"We have about 150 drinking and eating establishments, and there's so much nightlife," says Geraldine Fallo, the city's director of cultural affairs. "We've always been known as a music town. In the late '70s and '80s, rock clubs like Maxwell's were listed in music magazines. All the national acts wanted to play there."

And more big names have appeared at the town's biennial arts and music festivals, major events that draw upward of 75,000 people.

"Hoboken is a vibrant, dynamic place," says Fallo. "It's young and alive."

Some of that youthful energy is attributed to the 4,000 students who attend the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology, which opened in 1870 (and to women in 1971).

Named for a family whose roots in American engineering date back to the Industrial Revolution, the 55-acre campus is on land purchased from the state in 1784.

Besides its educational pedigree and innovations, Stevens' DeBaun Center for the Performing Arts has a full schedule of cultural programming open to the public.

"We are the largest cultural institution in town," says Patrick Berzinski, a Stevens spokesman. "At one time, Stevens was isolated from the town; it was kind of the big college on the hill. But as more young professionals move in, they are beginning to discover us."

The hill, Castle Point, overlooks the town and offers gorgeous views of the harbor. Hoboken's public spaces include Pier A Park, a popular summer spot for concerts and movies under the stars.

Baltimore native Robin Wright, a Stevens alumna who graduated in 1993, likens Hoboken to a village with small-town charm and big-city appeal.

"If you went back 20 years and told people you lived in Hoboken, they'd say, 'Ugh,'" says Wright, an environmental engineer who lives in nearby Jersey City. "But I love Hoboken, especially the diversity," she says. "You'll find commuters from New York, college kids, the locals and the yuppies. There's a good cross section. It's like a cleaner, smaller New York."

Speaking of New York, New York, while Francis Albert Sinatra immortalized that metropolis in song, most everyone knows he honed his chops in Hoboken. The town definitely hasn't forgotten him. One can motor along Sinatra Drive; stop by his boyhood home at 415 Monroe St.; or celebrate his birthday at an annual bash on Dec. 12.

Last but not least, you can hear the legend's granddaughter sing at the Gold Hawk bar and lounge. "I used to be in a bunch of local rock bands, but for now I'm singing jazz," says 30-year-old "A.J." Azzarto, who is Nancy Sinatra's daughter. Azzarto's husband is also a musician, part of a ska band not-so-coincidentally called "Skanatra," which jams Sinatra standards with a twist.

Today, they are happily living and working in Hoboken.

"I grew up in L.A.," says Azzarto, who relocated to New York in 1997, then to Hoboken two years later. "I decided to stay. I really like it here."

More to do

Texas Arizona (76 River St., 201-420-0304): Outdoor seating that's perfect for people watching; serves American fare like burgers and ribs.

East L.A. (508 Washington St., 201-798-0052): Described as a "chilled out" eatery known for tasty Mexican food and good margaritas.

Benny Tudinos (622 Washington St., 201-792-4132): Benny's pizzeria has been around since 1968 and is legendary for its large slices.

Piccolos' (92 Clinton St., 201-653-0564): This lunch spot is noted for its cheese steak subs and homemade soups. Check out the back room, where owner Pat Spaccavento honors Sinatra with photos and mementos.

Maxwell's (1039 Washington St., 201-798-0406): It's been here more than 25 years, serving food, drinks and live music.

Gold Hawk Bar and Lounge (936 Park Ave., 201-420-7989): Live music, cocktails and a chance to see the other "blue-eyed" singer, Frank Sinatra's granddaughter A.J. Azzarto.

Hoboken Historical Museum (1301 Hudson St., 201-656-2240): Artifacts, books, exhibits related to the city's history and culture. You can also get maps for the Sinatra walking tour.

HOB'ART (www.hob-art.com): A gallery run by artists whose roving exhibitions include painting, drawing, mixed media and photography. The next one is July 10 at Symposia Bookstore (201-963-0909).

Stevens Institute of Technology (Castle Point on Hudson, 201-216-5000): Take a campus tour (offered by appointment) and climb Castle Point hill. For public talks, symposia and exhibits, visit www.debaun.com.

Getting there

Take I-95 North to I-295, New Jersey Turnpike. Exit toward Delaware Memorial Bridge/New Jersey-New York. Continue on U.S. 40 East; continue on New Jersey Turnpike North, which becomes I-95 North. Take I-78 (U.S. 1) (U.S. 22)/14-14A-14B-14C exit. Continue toward 14A-14B-14C/Bayonne/Holland Tunnel/Jersey City. Merge onto I-78 East. Follow signs to Hoboken.

For more information

Contact the city of Hoboken at 201-420-2000 or visit www .hobokennj.org.

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