Welcome to our final installment of “Do the Time Warp,” when we check in with life in Greenpoint 100 years ago. In our previous two sections, we visited Greenpoint circa 1919, and saw how the ‘nabe was one of the nation’s largest manufacturing centers, with a real estate market booming as fast as its factories.
But, despite the frenetic pace of development in Greenpoint 100 years ago, our slice of North Brooklyn remained isolated from the rest of the city, and was chafing under what it saw as “municipal neglect.”
In 1919, Greenpoint saw itself as a “municipal step-child,” “overlooked entirely in any scheme of transit development,” and at a steep disadvantage to its “sister community,” Long Island City, which boasted “two subways and a bridge, with several lines of railroad.” At the time, Greenpoint had none of those things, and was much aggrieved at “its only connection with the outside world being slow-moving trolley cars.”
The injustice did not end there: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle cried, “The whole district is suffering…under a handicap in that it is not directly connected by an all-rail line with the trunk railroad lines of the continent, and there are not railroad or steamship terminals within its borders. The raw materials for most of the factories have to be trucked to and from the railroad and steamship terminals in Williamsburg, in Long Island City, or in some cases as far as the Bush Terminal, in South Brooklyn.”
Without these facilities, Greenpoint was “largely shutout from the outside world,” and North Brooklynites had big plans to remedy the situation. In March, we published a history of Transit in North BK, and we know that getting across the river has been a hot topic in Greenpoint since at least 1840, but in 1919, transit-conscious Greenpointers were thinking way bigger than that.
The Eagle reported that the “universal demand” in town was “for a marginal railroad which shall extend all along the Brooklyn waterfront from Bay Ridge to Newtown Creek, with spurs into all the big factories.” Not only that, the paper continued, Greenpoint needed “a subway to Manhattan, and a direct subway or elevated railroad connection Central and South Brooklyn.” With these amenities, Greenpoint would finally be “on par” with Long Island City!
Greenpoint hoped the city would hear its plea, and that the Board of Estimate would “realize the crying need of this dense population.” There was reason for hope: The Mayor had heard the neighborhood’s cry personally. The Eagle reported, “Mayor Haylan has been a guest of the community on many occasions, and knows intimately the lack of transit facilities.”
But, living so long with such lack had given Greenpoint a steely pride: “we do seriously maintain,” said the residents of yore, “that Greenpoint’s phenomenal development and commercial prosperity is not due to any aid from the municipality, but has been achieved in spite of what many of us are pleased to term, ‘studied neglect.'”