By Geoff Cobb

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.

Free Live Jazz in McGolrick Park Thursday 8/16

Musicians in McGolrick

There was a time not long ago when you had to travel to Manhattan jazz clubs and pay a cover just to listen to great jazz, but that is no longer true and great jazz has arrived locally in Greenpoint. Thursday, August 16 from 7pm-9pm in McGolrick Park some of the best local jazz musicians will show their virtuosity and their love of this unique art form, presented by OSA (The Open Space Alliance of North Brooklyn) at the location of the new Earth-shaped Ziemia sculpture in the middle of the park.

The driving force behind the emergence of local jazz is Jesse Lynch, a classical pianist who fell in love with jazz. He has amazing dexterity and a great left hand, suiting him to playing even the most demanding jazz melodies.

Lynch arrived in Greenpoint looking for a place to practice and play intimate local gigs with other highly talented musicians. These underground sessions evolved into what Lynch has named The Vortex, a monthly series in his private loft featuring rotating combinations of musicians playing jazz standards and original compositions in an intimate, casual setting. Though the musicians might change from session to session, the quality of the music does not and there is a unique vibe and energy to Lynch’s sessions that listeners will also hear in McGolrick Park on Thursday. Continue reading

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Your Guide To Watching The World Cup in Greenpoint

Facepaint and flag world cup
(2016) A Poland supporter walks down Nassau Avenue with facepaint and a Polish flag before the Poland-Portugal match. Photo: Erik Keithley

For the next month or so soccer fans in Greenpoint will be in the throes of World Cup mania. Normally placid people will dress head to toe in the uniforms of the nations they support, drape themselves in flags and even paint their faces. They will scream at the top of their lungs and experience either great joy or complete sadness before the final match in Russia brings the madness to a close on July fifteenth. Billions of people around the world watch the match and the thirty-two countries who are in the cup often grind to a halt when the national team plays. Sadly, the American Men’s National Team did not qualify, so American fans will have to support other nations.

One of the teams in the world cup this year is Poland and hundreds of locals will hit local bars decked in red and white, but local Mexicans, Germans, English, Koreans and other nationalities will turn up at local water holes to cheer their teams on. Here are some of the most popular venues to watch the match!

The scene at Keg & Lantern
(2016) Poland fans gather in numbers to watch the Poland vs. Portugal game, and to enjoy Keg and Lantern’s tasty handcrafted beers. Photo: Erik Keithley

KEG & LANTERN | 97 Nassau Ave
Keg and Lantern on Nassau Avenue has a great vibe. They have many screens and a great selection of beer and snacks. The only problem is that the place might be packed for some of the bigger matches. Continue reading

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An Upstart hopes for a Shocking Electoral Upset

Suraj Patel, via surajpatel.nyc
Suraj Patel addressing voters, via surajpatel.nyc

If elections were about enthusiasm and not counting votes Suraj Patel would probably defeat twelve-term incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in the June 26th Democratic primary for the twelfth congressional district, which includes Greenpoint. Visiting Patel’s campaign headquarters in Lower Manhattan, enthusiasm pervades the room, as a horde of young energetic people scurry about and electric buzz of youth and optimism fills the air.

The candidate, a millennial, enters, exuding the same enthusiasm. The thirty-four year-old Patel did his undergraduate work at Stanford and then went on to study Law at NYU, where Patel also is a professor of Business Ethics. An attorney, he received a scholarship at Cambridge where he earned a Masters in public policy. Continue reading

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Tom Gilbert, Greenpoint’s Prolific Baseball Historian

Playing First by Thomas W. Gilbert, book cover

It is richly ironic that Tom Gilbert’s home on North Henry Street lies in what was once the outfield of the Manor House, where Greenpoint’s legendary national championship team, the Eckford Club, once played. Gilbert—who was born and raised in North Carolina but has lived in Greenpoint since 1983—is passionate about baseball, especially its early history. He has written books about Roberto Clemente and Pete Rose, but I find his writing on early baseball most fascinating. Gilbert wrote an intriguing book about early baseball and its connections to Green-Wood Cemetery called Playing First. Many of the founders of baseball are buried in Green-Wood and reading Playing First makes a visit to Green-Wood so much more rewarding. Continue reading

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NYC’s Famed Gourmet Food Purveyor Balducci’s Began with a Pushcart in Greenpoint

The Balducci’s shop in the famed Greenwich Village location (via Baldor’s)

Last week Andrew Balducci, the man who built Balducci’s into the premier produce store in the city, died at ninety-two years of age. Balducci achieved his fame and fortune in Manhattan, but his family story starts here in Greenpoint in 1918 when a poor immigrant from Bari, Italy rented a pushcart in the neighborhood. Andy’s father Louis Balducci spoke little English and earned just five dollars a week working long days. He would travel to wholesale markets at dawn and buy fruits and vegetables, which he then peddled on local streets. The work was grueling and during the cold winters and on rainy days Louis must have longed for the warmth of the Italian sun. Peddlers like Louis were looked down on and were considered a nuisance. Already by 1904 there were attempts to license them and control their movements.

In 1925, Louis’s son Andrew was born in Greenpoint, but only two months later the family returned to Italy where Andrew stayed for fourteen years. Andrew returned to Brooklyn in 1939 and when World War II broke out he joined the Navy and was wounded in the Normandy landings. At the end of the war Andy joined his father in the grocery business. A family business from the start, Louis worked with his wife and daughter Grace, as well as a young family friend from Italy, Joe Doria. Grace married Joe in the late 1950’s and he became a partner in the original Balducci’s. The family worked around the clock, seven days a week, including holidays, to build Balducci’s into the finest produce market in the city.

They opened the first family store on Manhattan Avenue near St. Anthony of Padua church where they sold not only produce, but also fish and meat. One of my neighbors remembers his father’s heated conversations with Louis in Italian.

Site of the original Balducci’s in Greenpoint (image via Google)

The business began to thrive. They soon bought a truck to deliver ice and they opened a fruit and vegetable stand in Greenwich Village, which quickly became popular with discerning locals. In 1952, Andrew married Nina D’Amelio who quickly became part of the business. Sometime in the middle 1950s they closed their store in Greenpoint and concentrated on Manhattan retail.

In 1972, they opened a storefront at 6th Avenue and West 9th St where they would become a New York institution. The store began to change the tastes of New Yorkers. Food critic and author Julia della Croce said “Andy and Nina really taught New York how to eat and cook genuine Italian food at a time when it was perceived as little more than pizza and pasta covered with red sauce and gooey cheese,” “Theirs,” she said, “was a place where for the first time, New Yorkers found authentic Italian cooking and could buy the ingredients they would need to make it at home.” Manhattan’s best chefs flocked to the store and its fame grew.

Andrew Balducci (via NYT)

By 1999, the business was so famous and profitable that an investment group bought it up and Balduccis made 130 Million dollars that year. In 2003, the original Greenwich Village store closed marking the end of an era. Balduccis soon became a corporation with franchises around the country.

Balducci’s became synonymous with gourmet food and became the first market in the city to combine all the products of a butcher, fishmonger, delicatessen and greengrocer in one store. Gourmet stores all around the country have since modeled themselves on Balduccis. Food writer James Beard, a regular customer said that Balducci’s always sold “the best of the best, at the right price.” However, few of the devoted shoppers in Balducci’s knew that the roots of Manhattan’s most elegant gourmet food emporium reached back to a poor Italian immigrant. When Louis Balducci began pushing a cart through the streets of Greenpoint he could never have imagined that his family would grow rich and they would build the business into an empire.

 

 

 

 

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The Great Blizzard of 1888 in Greenpoint

Image courtesy of Brooklyn Children’s Museum

Monday, March 12th marks the hundred and thirtieth anniversary of the greatest storm ever to hit Greenpoint: The Great Blizzard of 1888. Snowfalls of 20–60 inches fell locally, and sustained winds of more than 45 miles per hour produced snowdrifts 50 feet high. Railroads were shut down and people were trapped in their houses for up to a week. This snowstorm became legendary, earning the nickname “The Great White Hurricane,” after it paralyzed the East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. Ships at sea sunk or were grounded, telegraph and telephone wires came down, cutting off communication between major cities. All transportation was immobilized. Continue reading

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A Stroll Down Historic Huron Street

Inside Archestratus— part cookbook shop, part cafe and part event space.
Inside Archestratus on Huron Street— part cookbook shop, part cafe and part event space.

Huron was originally just called H Street, but it was changed to Huron in the 1850s, possibly in honor of a locally built steamship the U.S.S Huron, or it could simply honor the New York state Native American people.

Huron Street was once famed for the beauty of its gardens. At one time Huron Street had two gardens that were so beautiful that they helped make Greenpoint “The Garden Spot of Brooklyn.” Cousin’s garden near Franklin Street was a show place of Greenpoint. The Provost House near Manhattan Avenue also had a beautiful garden with grapevines and was known as The Brass Castle. Number 119 seems to be one of the oldest buildings in Greenpoint and might have shared the street with the gorgeous gardens. The gardens vanished long ago, but the foodie bookstore/cafe Archestratus (160 Huron St), near where the Provost House once stood, is a garden of culinary delights.

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Oil, Philanthropy, The Astral and Art: The Mixed Local Legacy of Charles Pratt

Pratt Institute

Perhaps there is no person in the long history of Greenpoint who had a bigger effect on our area than Charles Pratt. Pratt’s legacy, though is a mixed one: a philanthropist, Pratt felt a duty to use his wealth to give back to the community, but he is also heavily responsible for the massive local pollution that is a result of his business in oil refining. One thing though is sure, more than a hundred and twenty years after his death; Pratt’s long shadow still hangs over Greenpoint. Continue reading

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The Fascinating and Tragic History of The Wythe Hotel

The Weidmann Cooperage before its renovation
The Weidmann Cooperage before its renovation

The Wythe Hotel at North 11th Street and Wythe Avenue is a symbol of cool in trendy Williamsburg. The building is a combination of old and new, with a three story sleek glass tower rising out of the remnants of a 1901 industrial building. The hotel’s L-shaped rooftop bar The Ides has stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, attracting people from around the world to the 72-room boutique hotel. People use words like chic, trendy and ultra-modern in describing the building, but it has a fascinating and tragic past that stretches back to the 1890’s—and that past is still evident in today’s hotel building.

The Wythe Hotel today, image via Morris Adjmi Architects
The Wythe Hotel today, image via Morris Adjmi Architects

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The Story Behind Brooklyn’s Iconic Water Tanks

Courtesy of Ted McGrath on Flickr.
Via Ted McGrath on Flickr.

PARIS has its world famous Eiffel Tower. Pisa, of course has its leaning tower and London has its ancient tower. What about New York? We have towers, too, but here, they hold water.
Although the skyline of New York city has changed dramatically over the years, one element has remained constant; the city’s romantic wooden water towers, which are every bit as iconic as the Empire State building or the Chrysler Building. There are more than 10,000 water towers around the city, which feature prominently in the works of famous New York artists Like Edward Hopper and the Ash Can School.

In the 1880s, steel was transforming the New York skyline, allowing buildings to reach above five stories, but also creating a design problem. As the buildings soared upwards, water pressure could only reach the fifth floor. Taller buildings needed water for the upper floors and that’s why the water towers were built. Water towers use gravity to help create pressure in pipes on the upper floors. These wooden towers are still the water source for many of the city’s buildings, and they also contain enough water to feed the sprinklers if there’s a fire.
With demand spiking for water towers in late nineteenth century New York, Brooklyn’s large barrel making industry was perfectly positioned to build the city’s water towers. One of the firms that achieved market dominance was the Rosenwach Water Tower Company, which for decades was located in the Northside.
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