Over-zealous waterfront development in Greenpoint is actually pretty old news. Scroll back the hands of time to the mid 1800’s and we’d find a very familiar scenario taking place on our shores. Before there were real estate moguls like George Klein and David Bistricer, there was Neziah Bliss–an entrepreneur that radically transformed the Greenpoint landscape forever.
Bliss, like his modern day compatriots, was a man of big ideas. He saw our expansive waterfront and could instantly hear the coins ringing.
There was no better place to launch his dream than Greenpoint’s shoreline. The water levels were so deep, even at low tide they reached to depths of 25 feet, it was infinitely easier to build his fleet here than anywhere else.
So in 1851, when two brothers from Boston–who failed miserably at building their own shipyard and foundry–put their 30 acre waterfront property on the market, Bliss seized the opportunity. He plunked down $100,000 dollars—a whopping $2.7 million in modern times—and snatched up the 10 lots of land.
Some things never change…
Because all great plans in Greenpoint deal with pesky transportation issues, Bliss’s first mission was to build a ferry line. The city granted him a permit, and before long, the East River finally had a ferry service with steady prices and reliable schedules. No longer did shipbuilders and iron workers have to cross the river in unreliable dingies and deal with fickle ferryman and their price fluctuations. The Greenpoint Avenue ferry to 10th Street in Manhattan was a hit. Soon other money-makers took note and more ferry lines appeared.
Greenpoint was officially a boom town, and in as little as 10 years, the population sky-rocketed from 15,000 to 30,000 residents–ironically, a number that has remained unchanged to this day, albeit not for long.
The waterfront was a wild new frontier that brought in deep-pocketed men with grand designs to revamp the place. What is now the monstrous Greenpoint Landing property, Bliss drew up his blueprints with imaginary streets and gave them pretty names like Pink, Blue and Bay. Where our famed blue digester eggs lay, another developer drew in more streets and named them things like Pequod and Duck—titled after Moby Dick’s whaleship and the nabe’s resident waterfoul.
Some thoroughfares managed to see the light of day. One such road was Bliss’s Ravenswood- Williamsburg Turnpike, which connected Greenpoint to LIC. Today the turnpike would’ve included parts of Franklin Street, Manhattan Avenue, and Vernon Boulevard. Bliss was so enchanted with himself he even created his own neighborhood on the other side of Newtown Creek which he lovingly named Blissville.
But like all massive land developments, developers got too big for their bridges, and some of their grand visions failed to actualize. By 1916, any semblance of Bliss’s strip of colorfully named streets on Greenpoint’s tip had vanished from the atlas maps. The dead end streets along Whale Creek disappeared with them.
In today’s current climate of cloud-scraping luxury towers, which continues to sprout up like mushrooms on steroids, I take comfort in these old ambitious plans. It grounds me in the inevitable truth about boom and bust cycles. If history repeats itself, as it is already proving, with some luck Greenpoint might be spared a tower or two.