Forgotten Greenpoint: Keramos Hall On Manhattan Ave

This article made possible by a donation to our Writer’s Fund Raffle by [email protected].

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!