Maybe it is just me, but I find McGuinness Boulevard ugly. Huge trucks and streams of traffic wiz by the four-laned, soulless traffic artery. The newer apartment buildings lack the quaint charm of many of Greenpoint’s other streets, but this was not always so.
Once McGuinness Boulevard was not a boulevard at all, it was named Oakland Street; a narrow charming cobblestoned lane lined by wood frame 19th-century homes typical of our area.
Oakland Street would become a victim to a vision of New York City as a city of cars and trucks. The destruction of Oakland Street was only a small piece in the grand scheme of Robert Moses who built the BQE, the Tri-borough Bridge, and the Cross-Bronx Expressway. Thousands of homes across the city fell victim to Moses’ vision.
Oakland Street was, unfortunately, the only north-south street, other than Manhattan Ave. that stretched to Newtown Creek. In the 1950s the city determined that the rickety old Vernon Blvd. Bridge, which Greenpointers called the Manhattan Avenue Bridge, was to be replaced. The north end of Oakland Street became the logical place to build a new span of the creek and the Pulaski Bridge was constructed as a new transportation artery.
When the new bridge first opened, Oakland Street was widened, but only as far south as Greenpoint Avenue – and gas stations to service the new motor vehicle traffic sprung up like spring mushrooms. The narrow section of Oakland Street remaining beyond Greenpoint Avenue survived, but created traffic jams, sealing the fate of the quaint cobblestone relic of an earlier era.
All of the houses on the east side of Oakland Street and all the houses from Driggs Ave to the BQE were condemned by the City to allow for the new grand boulevard. Some residents tried to fight but their utilities were cut off and resistance proved futile. Amazingly though, few people protested. They thought that losing their homes and the cobblestoned street was the price they had to pay for progress.
The only pushback by the community was a proposal for more gas stations on the boulevard south of Meserole Avenue. The community killed the idea and that is the only reason new housing was built on the thoroughfare at all.
In 1964, Salvatore Tortorici pressed his local alderman, Joe Sharkey to rename the new boulevard in honor of the greatest politician in local history: Peter J. McGuiness, who had passed away in 1948. The City Council passed the name change unanimously and Oakland Street was renamed McGuinness Boulevard. Soon, a new bar honoring McGuinness will open on the boulevard with a large image of McGuinness. The owners will call it Pete’s Tavern, even though McGuinness never drank. Some older residents still wistfully recall the charming cobblestoned street that was sacrificed in the name of progress.