Forgotten Greenpoint: Keramos Hall On Manhattan Ave

This article made possible by a donation to our Writer’s Fund Raffle by Human@Ease.

As Preservation Greenpoint reported last week, Keramos Hall at 857-861 Manhattan Avenue just won a Lucy G. Moses Award from the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

What is Keramos Hall you say? Our thoughts exactly. Which is why we decided to devote a lil’ bit of research to this. Like us, you might have been surprised recently when the scaffolding came down from Milton St and Manhattan Ave, revealing a whimsical half-timbered Swiss Chalet confection where before was a drab vinyl-covered building. Where did this slice of Switzerland come from? Read on to be illuminated on a piece of forgotten Greenpoint architecture.

Keramos Hall was built in 1887 by Thomas C. Smith, who owned Union Porcelain Works on Eckford St. Union Porcelain was apparently one of the most famous porcelain manufacturers in the country and highly-regarded on both sides of the Atlantic (who knew?). Greenpoint was one of the world’s centers of ceramic manufacturing, just one of the many industries that thrived here.

One of the pieces shown by Union Porcelain at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876 was the Keramos Vase, which commemorated Longfellow’s poem of the same name and was embellished with raised designs depicting the history of ceramics. Their ceramics are such hot commodities that the Met holds some pieces in their collection. But no need to cross the East River, you can see some of their work here in Greenpoint; the risers of the front steps of Keramos Hall are faced with Union Porcelain tiles from Smith’s factory.

Soon after exhibiting the Keramos Vase, Smith constructed Keramos Hall as a commercial building with space for civic organizations (Greenpoint Hebrew Civic Club, the Progress Club, the Young Mens Republican Club, Greenpoint Taxpayers and Citizens’ Association, etc.) and professional trades such as attorneys and engineers. We all love a good historic photograph and according to this one the building also held a 10 cent store and a hat shop. (Check out all those sweet hats!) Where have all the good hat shops gone?

Apparently Keramos Hall fell on hard times and at some point it was reclad in vinyl (ah, Greenpoint vinyl). Nevertheless it was still included in the Greenpoint Historic District, a lucky turn of fate as otherwise the building would likely never have been returned to its original historic character. Kamen Tall Architects were hired for the recent restoration, and they undertook historic research and extensive documentation of the building fabric. The scope of façade work included removal of the vinyl siding; rehabilitation of the exterior wood siding; recreation of the missing tower, pediments, brackets, and window crowns; window replacement and rehabilitation;  and the installation of weather/water proofing for the exterior cladding. Additional work included façade lighting, bird proofing, and roof repairs.

Now Keramos Hall lives again, a testament to the rich history of Greenpoint. Major props to Kamen Tall Architects, the building owner, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy for undertaking and celebrating this restoration. Greenpoint thanks you!

10 Comments

  1. Chris says:

    That really is an amazing piece of historical restoration. I believe that owners usually don’t have to replace what was already removed (but not 100%). Either way, that was a pretty penny. Well done.

    Reply
  2. Andrew says:

    So interesting. Can you please start doing more articles like this on the history of Greenpoint?

    Reply
    • Matthew says:

      Thanks, Andrew! My team at Preservation Greenpoint plan to do more posts like this one…any recommendations on buildings to focus on are welcome.

      Reply
      • Daniel says:

        Right across the street…875-77 Manhattan Ave! Greenpoint’s art deco masterpiece. Built in 1931, as a bank, it now houses a city-run community health center. It has a landmark status according to records. This one, Matthew!

        Reply
        • Jamie says:

          If you look in the window of the TD Bank on Manhattan and Meserole an entire wall has a floor to ceiling street scene of Manhattan Avenue from an old photo as it once was and the Art deco bank can be seen there. It has an interesting metal structure, maybe a flag pole, bending out towards the street. Its best to look at night because they light it up so nicely and the photo has been colorized, you almost feel like your there!

          Reply
          • MatthewC says:

            We love that Art Deco bank as well! Really not a lot of Art Deco in Greenpoint. It is a protected landmark (thankfully) but we don’t know much about it. Will definitely add it to our list!

      • Andrew says:

        Well I was thinking it would be nice to see articles like this that rediscover the lost history of Greenpoint. Like seeing how many of the buildings on this map still have its historic decor (http://www.rotatingcorpse.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/gptmapbig.jpg) or featuring a link to this, a history of Greenpoint from 1919 (http://archive.org/stream/historicgreenpoi00felt#page/4/mode/2up)

        In my opinion, to really embrace a place as “your community” one really should know the importance of its history.

        Reply
      • Jamie says:

        The architect of the Keramos Hall, Thomas C Smith, lived and designed the Mansion currently the Reformed Church on Milton Street. Recently four industrial looking bright night lights were attached to the church’s facade which ruins the beauty of the building especially at night. Maintaining Landmarks is so often, understandably, a financial burden for many. Anyone know if there is some sort of financial assistance to help those that can’t afford it?

        Reply
  3. Pingback: Preservation Watch: Drab Greenpoint Building Restored To Fanciful 1887 Design – insiderater.com

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