The Surprising Artistic History of Green Street

Appearances can be deceiving, especially on Green Street. It is hard to imagine that this stereotypical Greenpoint street, with its many wood frame houses and former factories ever contributed to American art, but art created on Green Street is on display in some of the major American museums.

Green Street and Manhattan Avenue circa 1929

At the East end of Greenpoint, 275 Green St. was home to the Roman Bronze Works until it was destroyed by fire in the 1920’s. The founder of the works created America’s only art foundry that employed the lost wax technique, and many of America’s most iconic bronze sculptures were cast there.

Fredric Remington entrusted the casting of many of his greatest sculptures to Italian born Riccardo Bertelli who employed the lost wax technique, discovered in his country during the Renaissance, and dozens of famous sculptures were cast there. So famous were the creations of the bronze foundry that President Theodore Roosevelt once came to Green Street to visit it.

Outside the former bronze foundry on Green Street

Today a massive crank sits outside the building where the foundry once stood. The building is one of the homes of Broadway stages, where a different type of artistic production takes place. I have no idea what industrial process the huge shaft was used in, but it sits as a reminder of the street’s industrial past.

At the corner of McGuinness Boulevard and Green, the Casanova restaurant has been serving Italian food for decades. A massive new apartment building is rising across the street from Casanova on the west side of the street.

Amazingly, bronze sculptures were not the only pieces of art created on Green Street. At 156 Green St. James Jensen operated the Empire China Works. Jensen, a Danish immigrant from a family of potters, initially worked for Charles Smith at the Union Porcelain Works on Eckford Street but was pressured by Smith to reveal the Jensen family pottery crafting secrets he had been taught by his father.

Refusing to divulge the secrets, Jensen opened his own works on Green Street in 1867 and thrived because he became the first American firm to create porcelain insulators that were demanded porcelain wiring devices.

A diagram for porcelain electrical conductors made at the Empire Porcelain Works

The Empire China Works also produced pitchers, bowls, doorknobs, cameos, and busts, which this company exhibited to acclaim at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

A Porcelain pitcher crafted on Green Street

On the corner of Franklin and Green Streets once stood one of the city’s top architectural iron firms. It built many of the iconic iron facades on famous New York buildings such as the old Grand Central Station and 109 Prince St.

109 Prince Street in Manhattan whose facade was built by Cheney and Hewlett

Today few streets in Greenpoint are as modern as Green Street. Much of the original housing was torn down to create the modern luxury apartments at 110 Green St. The sleek new all-glass façade perhaps represents the Greenpoint of the near future.

About Geoff Cobb

Geoffrey Cobb is a brooklyn high school history teacher and writer of the blog historicgreenpoint.wordpress.com. He has lived in Greenpoint for over twenty years and is the author of a history of the area Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past.

1 Comment

  1. paul says:

    Nice work, very interesting Geoff.

    Reply

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