Do The Time Warp: Greenpoint Real Estate, Circa 1919

Rendering of the Astral; Courtesy of the Brooklyn Department of Buildings
Rendering of the Astral; Courtesy of the Brooklyn Department of Buildings

In 1919, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle devoted some glowing coverage to Greenpoint, calling our slice of North Brooklyn “the first manufacturing center of the Empire State,” where “the smokestack is as sacred as the steeple,” and “public spirit…is not surpassed in any district in the City of New York.”

Our intrepid content manager, Megan, found the article earlier this week, and we thought the paper gave such a detailed view of life in Greenpoint 100 years ago, we’d do a series on life in the ‘nabe back in the day.

So, Welcome to our first installment of Do The Time Warp, when we look back on life in Greenpoint 100 years ago. In today’s post, we’ll check out Greenpoint’s housing market circa 1919, and delve into what life was like for people who lived here.

It seems that some of the same advantages that draw New Yorkers to Greenpoint today, exerted a similar pull 100 years ago. For example, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “the close proximity of this district to the center of business life in Manhattan has been fully recognized by the far-seeing manufacturers of the metropolis,” and by homeowners alike.

In fact, homeownership was common in Greenpoint. The paper maintains, “Housing conditions have been remarkably good, and despite the fact that Greenpoint is generally known as a manufacturing district, a large percentage of the dwellings are owned by persons who live on the premises and are employed in or near Greenpoint.” Happily, this seems to have kept Greenpoint “particularly free from that class of undesirable citizens known as ‘rent profiteers’.” 

Greenpoint’s housing was so desirable that George J. Bringham, president of the Sloan Agency, a real estate firm, told the Eagle, “we have never seen anything like the demand for houses in the Greenpoint section. We have sold an average of three private houses a week for the past four months. We have never seen anything like it before for the 30 years we have been in business.” President George Felter, of the Greenpoint Savings Bank, agreed. He said, “we have never before loaned out so much money on mortgages in Greenpoint…there was never so much home buying.”

Much of the housing being built at the time was constructed, then owned, by employees of Greenpoint’s major manufacturing firms. The paper explains that the thinking was, “If the large manufacturing interests of the community would organize on a business basis and erect 500 to 1,000 houses and sell to employees upon a plan whereby the purchaser could maintain his self-respect, and increasingly become anchored in the community, it would serve the best interests of the employer and the employee and would be of vast benefit to the community at large.”

Because Greenpoint residents were so anchored in their community, Greenpoint boasted “a public spirit…not surpassed in any district in the city of New York,” and enjoyed top notch municipal services and “fine” public amenities.

For example, the paper touts Greenpoint’s “splendid fire and police protection,” and notes that the neighborhood boasts four fire houses. As for the police, The Eagle makes special mention of Captain Lee, the commander of the local precinct, explaining that he “seems to have grasped the fundamental ideas of the proper relation of the police force to the community. During the few years he has been in charge, he has co-operated with every force for good in the community, to make a better place in which to live and work.”

If you lived and worked here, you could choose to keep your money in the care of one of Greenpoint’s “four flourishing banks,” and your soul in the care of a whopping 18 churches and 2 synagogues.

Residents showed their civic spirit by helping to build the Greenpoint YMCA, which was funded by popular subscription, and which “could not be duplicated today for $200,000.”

Other priceless civic monuments included a Carnegie Library (where the new Greenpoint Library will stand), and Charles Pratt’s Astral Building, now landmarked, which at the time housed a branch of the Pratt Institute and offered “various educational activities.”

Not only that, the paper had the inside scoop on one truly fabulous addition to the community: at the time of writing, plans had been prepared “for a large theater on the old Meserole property, between Merserole and Norman Ave., to extend way back to Lorimer St. It will seat 2,000.”

Stay tuned for our next post, when we look at Greenpoint’s robust manufacturing past, and find out how industry kept Greenpoint going.

About Lucie Levine

Lucie Levine is the founder of Archive on Parade, a local tour and event company that aims to take New York’s fascinating history out of the archives and into the streets. She’s a Native New Yorker, licensed New York City tour guide, and freelance writer with a passion for the city’s social, political and cultural history.

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