North Brooklyn Border Wars: Do You Really Live in Greenpoint?
Recently I wrote a piece for Greenpointers about Bamonte’s Restaurant on Withers Street. A number of people reprimanded me and posted that the famous eatery was not in Greenpoint, but was really in Williamsburg. The argument over the location of the iconic Italian restaurant raises a larger,very controversial question: What is the exact borderline between Williamsburg and Greenpoint?
Ask ten people in North Brooklyn and you will get at least eleven different answers. Some borders are not in dispute. Newtown Creek separates us from Queens to the north and from Maspeth to the East. The East River clearly forms our western border. Now, when we talk about the southern boundary, the border disputes begin.
However, before we talk about borders, let’s discuss a time when separation of the two neighborhoods was a lot clearer (we posted some historical maps a couple years ago if you want to look in more detail). At one time, a large body of water called Bushwick Creek divided the two areas. Greenpointers often traveled to Williamsburg by skiff over Bushwick Creek. The tiny Bushwick Inlet is all that remains of the creek, which once covered most of McCarren Park and whose headwaters almost reached the corner of Bedford Avenue and Nassau Avenue. The only land bridge that existed ran along the present day Driggs Avenue through McCarren Park. In the 1850s and 1860s the need for land for shipyards dramatically changed the area. Huge amounts of landfill were dumped to fill in the swampy area and water that once covered the area from Meserole Avenue and Franklin to North 10th Street.
By the early 1870s, Greenpoint, which had once been isolated from the rest of Brooklyn by Bushwick Creek, now touched Williamsburg. Quickly, there was conflict between the boys of the two areas, which featured large, pitched battles of rock-throwing children. Around 1901 McCarren Park began to take shape as buildings between the two areas were condemned to create the park. For some, the southern end of the park—bounded by North 12th Street and Bayard Street—became the border of the two areas, but others disputed this demarcation claiming that Greenpoint ran further south.
Some claim that Meeker Avenue and The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which was built between the Kosciuszko Bridge and Williamsburg in 1950, serve as neighborhood dividers, but others disagree. They point out that Greenpoint icon Mae West was born on Herbert Street, south of the Meeker Avenue divide and that celebrated Williamsburg author Henry Miller talked about walking to Devoe Street in Greenpoint to visit the house of a young woman there he had fallen in love with, even though almost everyone today calls Devoe Street Williamsburg. People also point out that notorious Mafioso Sonny Black Napolitano called himself a Greenpointer, though he lived on Withers Street, on the south side of the BQE.
Gentrification has also helped to muddy the border picture. Many newer Greenpoint residents identify their residences as Wiliamsburg because they perceive that area to be hipper than Greenpoint. Just to make things absolutely confusing, Google Maps entered the dispute with a map showing an area east of McCarren Park, including Lorimer Street, Manhattan Avenue and Leonard as part of Williamsburg, while also showing that Greenpoint extends to North 10th street in Williamsburg. Some Greenpointers were outraged by the 2014 Google Map and saw it as an evil omen of the domination and rapid spread of hipster Williamsburg. As we all know, real estate agents are redrawing many borders in New York City to boost their commissions, so in the end who is right?
Examining the controversy there is no clear answer where the boundaries between the two areas lie. Even born and raised Greenpointers will argue about the area’s borders without agreement. My final answer; it just depends on whom you ask.