The History of Meserole Avenue
This post marks the first in a series of posts that will recount the history of different streets in Greenpoint. Meserole Avenue is named for the Meserole family who once had a gorgeous orchard that long ago disappeared. The orchard at one time was so beautiful that it was considered one of the “garden spots” of Brooklyn. Long after the orchard was just a memory, the name garden spot survived and was used ironically by Peter McGuinness and others to describe the highly industrial neighborhood.
The orchard, which extended from the River to Leonard Street, was planted after the revolution. During the British occupation all the trees of Greenpoint had been cut down by the British soldiers and the Meserole family replanted the area with its famous apple trees. In 1846, Adrian Meserole opened the Avenue, which ran only from the East River to what is now Guernsey Street to allow for construction of houses. It became the first proper street in Greenpoint when homes began to appear quickly along it. The avenue was soon lengthened, and bit by bit, the orchard disappeared and was quickly replaced by houses. Adrian Meserole became a wealthy landowner and died a millionaire.
Discussing the history of Meserole Avenue, one must mention Peter McGuinness, the most famous Greenpointer, who had his political club house on the corner of Meserole Avenue and Manhattan Avenue in the late nineteen twenties in a building called the Ambassador hotel, which is long since gone. At its height, the Peter J. McGuinness Regular People’s Democratic Club had ten thousand members and McGuinness became the beloved colorful leader of the area for thirty years.
Right across the street on the east corner of Manhattan Avenue was the club of McGuinness’ arch rival for control of Greenpoint James McQuade. McGuinness defeated McQuade for Democratic District Leader in 1922 and McQuade unsuccessfully contested many elections trying to regain the position. Often, fistfights would break out on Meserole Avenue between the McGuinnness and McQuade supporters. The feud between the two politicians became legendary.
Possibly the most famous arrest ever in Greenpoint history occurred in 1927 when the McGuinness club was raided by police who discovered a huge amount of cash in a McGuinness club safe. Pete was charged with book making, but four years later, as I described in my book about McGuinness, King of Greenpoint, he cleared his name in front of the Seabury Commission, which was investigating political corruption in New York City. His rival, McQuade, however was found to have $50,000 in money he could not explain and the damaging revelations led to the end of McQuade’s political career.
The Ambassador hotel was torn down and replaced by the present structure, which was a Chinese restaurant and later the Polish disco Europa, which was once burned down by the Russian mafia in the nineties. Today it is Good Room (98 Meserole Ave).
McGuinness made an interesting claim that I have never seen verified, that the famous Ragtime tune There’ll be Hot Time in The Old Town Tonight was composed by Theodore Metz on Meserole Avenue in the Ambassador.
When McGuinness was arrested he was led down the street to the newly built 94th Precinct (100 Meserole Ave), which still stands, an elegant old police station with gorgeous green lamps on its façade. Across the street from the police station is the YMCA (99 Meserole Ave), which dates back about a hundred years. Money to build the Y came from John D. Rockefeller who was a devout Baptist and supported the construction of Y’s across the country.
On the East side of Manhattan Avenue was the Methodist Church, which predates the Civil War. It was once a large vibrant congregation, but now has a tiny flock. Further down Meserole Avenue was one of the legendary dive bars of the area, The Pit Stop Bar (152 Meserole Ave), on the corner of McGuinness Boulevard, where a no-nonsense crowd of real Greenpointers used to party. Sadly, the owner of the building forced the Greenpoint institution to close.
Meserole Avenue is also home to Cafe Grumpy (193 Meserole Ave), one of the oldest of the now ubiquitous coffee shops that dot Greenpoint. Grumpy’s opened way back in 2005 and marked the start of the hipster transition, which is still redefining Greenpoint.
An ironic note is that Meserole Avenue is often confused with Meserole Street in Williamsburg. The Brooklyn Historical society even published a picture of a church on Meserole Street in Williamsburg in its guide to Greenpoint! An egregious error! Anyway, enjoy a stroll sometime down Greenpoint’s oldest street.