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.
Many Greenpointers know that Ferdinand De Lesseps famous Iwo Jima memorial was cast locally at Bedi Rassy Art foundry on India Street; however many people do not know the story of another sculpture cast there, which has become one of the most attacked statues in the world and a focal point of anti-American violence.
In 1963 De Lesseps cast a twelve-foot high bronze statue of Harry Truman. The statue is one of only eight statues of American presidents that stand outside of the United. States. The piece was commissioned by the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, a Greek-American group, to honor the Truman Doctrine, which gave $2 billion in economic and military aid to the Greek government to defeat communist guerrillas during the country’s civil war between 1946 and 1949. Continue reading →
Martynka Wawrzyniak, a Polish-born local artist driven by a creative vision, recently learned that local history eerily repeats itself. Researching Greenpoint history for her local site-specific artwork, she learned she was following in the footsteps of another Greenpoint Polish woman whose quest to create a local monument decades ago amazingly mirrored her own efforts.
Martynka is currently working on a community-engaged public art project, celebrating the disparate cultures comprising North Brooklyn. Her work titled Ziemia (which means earth in Polish), created in collaboration with local residents, invites locals to contribute soil from personally meaningful locations that symbolize their identity. Ziemia will take the form of a three-foot diameter ceramic orb sitting atop of a native plant meadow in McGolrick Park. Grenpoint clay will serve as the materials for the orb and the mix of soil contributed by residents will be used for the glaze. The piece will function as a collective community portrait, embodying the many Greenpoint homeland and migration stories. You can follow along with the sculpture’s progress on Instagram. Continue reading →
Starting this morning, the East River Ferry is no more—it’s transitioning into a new entity, NYC Ferry, to provide city-wide service. The good thing about the new city-subsidized service is that fares are being slashed to $2.75 for a one-way ticket (formerly up to $6). As Greenpoint’s waterfront transforms itself from industrial shoreline to “Dubai on the East River,” and greater numbers of people settle along the East River shore the importance of local ferry service becomes increasingly important. Let’s take a look at the history of the Greenpoint ferry. Continue reading →
Sadly, these days walls, and keeping people out of America, is an all too familiar topic of public discourse. Perhaps no people in the world feel as strongly about walls as Mexicans do, so it is entirely appropriate that Jorge Cruz, a talented local artist from Puebla, Mexico is planning an art installation that not only relates to the physical walls that some want to build across the southern border, but also the larger, and more troubling, spiritual, intellectual and moral walls that divide all people. It is hard to think of a more important topic for a conceptual art installation than these walls the show explores. Continue reading →
85 Calyer Street looks like many other frame houses in Greenpoint, but it was the home of the greatest mechanical genius to ever live in Greenpoint, Thomas Fitch Rowland, and one of the most important short conversations in American history took place in the parlor there. First, though, lets get a little background on the owner of the house, Thomas Fitch Rowland.
Rowland was born in Connecticut in 1831 and became a railroad engineer, quickly becoming one of the leading experts in the design and construction of steam engines. However, he decided to leave railroad engineering, switching to the construction of steam engines for sailing ships and also developing an expertise in metallurgy. He was soon invited to come to Greenpoint to build ships because of his twin areas of expertise. By 1859 he founded his own company, the legendary Continental Iron Works on Quay Street. Two years later, he would help make history when visionary Swedish naval engineer John Ericsson approached him about building a revolutionary ship in Greenpoint, the ironclad Monitor, which would revolutionize warfare making wooden ships obsolete. Continue reading →
I was raised Catholic, so before I lived in Greenpoint I knew nothing about the beautiful Polish Easter custom of Święconka (pronunciation: shi’ven-tson-kah), meaning “the blessing of the Easter baskets.” On Saturday thousands of well-dressed Polish families will walk to either St. Stanislaw Kostka church on Driggs Avenue or Sts. Cyril and Methodius on Dupont Street with baskets in hand for one of the most colorful Polish traditions.
The holiday probably predates Christianity in Poland. Its original form began in the seventh century and today’s form dates from the twelfth. The food in each family’s basket is full of symbolic meaning. Poles carry eggs, which symbolize both Jesus and life. They also carry horseradish, which reminds them of the bitter suffering of Jesus on the cross. In addition, they carry bread, which is also a symbol of Jesus. The basket also contains salt, representing purity, as well as ham or kielbasa, which is symbolic of bounty and good times.
Poles will arrive at the church and say prayers of thanksgiving. The highlight of the prayer service is when the priest sprinkles holy water on the baskets. There’s a festive and joyful attitude amongst Poles on Saturday and Święconka remains one of the most colorful and authentic celebrations that defines the Polish community in Greenpoint.
One of the oldest surviving local factory buildings is the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center located in the sprawling former factory building at 1155–1205 Manhattan Avenue. The factory dates from the days when Greenpoint was a center for shipbuilding. The factory was constructed as the Chelsea Fiber Mill in 1868 to make ropes for the neighboring shipyards. Shipbuilding died, but the rope making business thrived and grew. The jute mill produced marine rope from sisal, manila, jute, and hemp. By 1903 the factory had expanded to eight buildings, which were powered by a massive steam generator, which still survives today. The massive boilers that powered the generator are more than two stories tall and huge enough to fill a baseball diamond. The welded boilerplates on these boilers date from 1880. Old drawings also show a series of tracks, running across the rooftops of lower buildings, which workers used to move coal cars from waterfront loading areas to a huge chute on the mill’s roof. The coal was shoveled into furnaces that created heat and massive quantities of steam.
Creative minds make connections that most of us never make, and this is never truer than with sculptor Susan Pullman Brooks’ show, Sacred Luminosity, which opens this Friday, April 14th at Gallery AWA (61 Greenpoint Ave. #306). The exhibit explores the connections between the goddesses of Vedic Pantheon of India and Celtic deities. Brooks has a keen artistic vision, creating art that reflect the cycles of life and death and in forgotten remnants of culture. Brooks is extremely familiar with Indian culture not only because she has spent a lot of time in India, but also because her husband Douglas Brooks, a professor of religion at Rochester University, has devoted decades of his life studying Sanskrit and the Hindu faith. Continue reading →
Frederic Remington is perhaps the most iconic artist of the American West, and his bronze sculptures capture the essence of the American frontier. Remington’s figures of cowboys and horses seem to be light years from Green Street here in Greenpoint, but his most iconic sculptures were cast locally at the Roman Bronze Works and could never have been created without the help of Greenpointer Riccardo Bertelli. Continue reading →
The Brooklyn Bridge is a majestic span with its elegant gothic towers and roadway suspended above the East River. Today we take it for granted, but at the time it was built it was called “the eighth wonder of the world.” However, the bridge never would have been built without major contributions from a Greenpoint shipyard and an engineer from Kent Street.
The first step in building the towers for the mighty bridge was designing caissons, or huge metal boxes, that were to be sunk to the riverbed so that diggers could dig down and find bedrock to plant the towers on. John Roebling, the chief architect for the bridge, designed these massive caissons in 1868 and gave the demanding contract to assemble them to a shipbuilding firm located at the foot of Milton Street: Webb and Bell. Continue reading →