The only thing more exciting than living in one of the best neighborhoods in New York is sharing Greenpoint with visitors. With Tom Delgado, you get the best of both worlds: a seasoned Greenpointer who lived here for six years, and an enthusiastic tourist taking his virtual audience on a detailed tour of the neighborhood.
The Brooklyn-based actor and comedian has been spending much of quarantine exploring every nook and cranny of New York City, taking his trusted cameraman Phil with him for deep-dives into the histories and cultures of the Big Apple’s most prominent neighborhoods. This month, Tom braved the snow to walk around Greenpoint, pointing out local landmarks and popping into various stores. Even those who have lived here for years will find his 34-minute video an enthralling ode to Brooklyn’s northernmost hub.
Tom starts in Transmitter Park and periodically name drops some of the stars who helped put Greenpoint on the map: “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” singer Pat Benatar, Goodnight, Moon and children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown, and screen icon Mae West all hail from Greenpoint. Tom understands the community’s history goes back way farther than these modern celebrities.
Exploring the ancestral land of the Keskachauge, a sub-tribe of the Lenape, Dirck Volckertszen is often recognized as one of the first colonizers of Greenpoint. Settling in the 1630s, Volckertszen built a legacy for himself controlling much of the land (per Tom, Norman Street is named after him as that anglicized word cribs on Dirck’s Norwegian heritage). He came to own hundreds of acres, some of which was then sold to the wealthy Meserole family, another namesake for a Greenpoint street.
Weaving in and around Manhattan Avenue, McCarren Park, and McGolrick Park, Tom jumps ahead in time to the Industrial Revolution, which brought many factories and Polish immigrants to Greenpoint. He points out the contributions of Polish Americans, including Casimir Pulaski (namesake of the Pulaski Bridge and a well known veteran) and Tadeusz Kościuszko (who fought alongside the Americans in the American Revolutionary War and lent his name to the Kościuszko Bridge).
Speaking of the neighborhood’s commercial growth, Tom shares that the Astral Apartments were originally commissioned to be built by oil baron Charles Pratt, founder of Astral Oil Works, who wanted his employees to have an affordable place to live. Original amenities of the building included a settlement house, library, and kindergarten. Per Tom, this was all established “back when people had a heart.”
Times have changed: Tom knowingly notes that higher rent prices and gentrification have impacted small businesses and pushed Polish American residents farther away from the waterfront, where expensive high-rises block Manhattan’s cityscape. To get a sense of the changing culture, Tom speaks with Victoria Cambranes, who is running for City Council. “I’m not actually a politician, I decided to move back home to fight for what I could change, which is my own little piece of neighborhood,” she shares. “We are going to be a growing city, and we don’t want to stop that, but it has to be done responsibly and it has to deliver for the community. We’re a tight-knit space with neighbors who really care about each other.”
Through changing times, activism, a community-oriented spirit, and local character remains, Tom acknowledges the beauty and success of many of the neighborhood’s edifices and businesses, from St. Anthony of Padua Church (862 Manhattan Ave.) to Frankel’s Deli (631 Manhattan Ave.) and Paulie Gee’s (60 Greenpoint Ave.). He stops into local shops, including Greenpoint Toys (738 Manhattan Ave.) and Faruque’s Gift Shop (927 Manhattan Ave.). At the latter establishment, Tom speaks with owner Arif, whose family immigrated to New York from Bangladesh.
Arif used to live in Greenpoint, but rising rents pushed him out to the Bronx; he now commutes an hour each way to get to his store. “We’ve been here for many years and let’s keep it going,” he said. “There’s no place like Greenpoint and Brooklyn.”