But, despite the frenetic pace of development in Greenpoint 100 years ago, our slice of North Brooklyn remained isolated from the rest of the city, and was chafing under what it saw as “municipal neglect.”
In 1919, Greenpoint saw itself as a “municipal step-child,” “overlooked entirely in any scheme of transit development,” and at a steep disadvantage to its “sister community,” Long Island City, which boasted “two subways and a bridge, with several lines of railroad.” At the time, Greenpoint had none of those things, and was much aggrieved at “its only connection with the outside world being slow-moving trolley cars.”
The injustice did not end there: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle cried, “The whole district is suffering…under a handicap in that it is not directly connected by an all-rail line with the trunk railroad lines of the continent, and there are not railroad or steamship terminals within its borders. The raw materials for most of the factories have to be trucked to and from the railroad and steamship terminals in Williamsburg, in Long Island City, or in some cases as far as the Bush Terminal, in South Brooklyn.” Continue reading →
In 1919, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle devoted some glowing coverage to Greenpoint, calling our slice of North Brooklyn “the first manufacturing center of the Empire State,” where “the smokestack is as sacred as the steeple,” and “public spirit…is not surpassed in any district in the City of New York.”
Our intrepid content manager, Megan, found the article earlier this week, and we thought the paper gave such a detailed view of life in Greenpoint 100 years ago, we’d do a series on life in the ‘nabe back in the day.
So, Welcome to our first installment of Do The Time Warp, when we look back on life in Greenpoint 100 years ago. In today’s post, we’ll check out Greenpoint’s housing market circa 1919, and delve into what life was like for people who lived here.
It seems that some of the same advantages that draw New Yorkers to Greenpoint today, exerted a similar pull 100 years ago. For example, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “the close proximity of this district to the center of business life in Manhattan has been fully recognized by the far-seeing manufacturers of the metropolis,” and by homeowners alike.
In fact, homeownership was common in Greenpoint. The paper maintains, “Housing conditions have been remarkably good, and despite the fact that Greenpoint is generally known as a manufacturing district, a large percentage of the dwellings are owned by persons who live on the premises and are employed in or near Greenpoint.” Happily, this seems to have kept Greenpoint “particularly free from that class of undesirable citizens known as ‘rent profiteers’.” Continue reading →
If you are old enough and have lived in the ‘nabe long enough you might remember when McCarren Pool was a graffiti-ridden shell of its fully restored and aqueous splendor. From the 1980s through 2012 the pool sat vacant, unused with paint peeling. Those who lived in the neighborhood in the late 90s during the proto-hipster era might remember breaking into the pool to hang out and drink beers, light bottle rockets or do low-budget photo shoots. Then came the McCarren Pool Parties in the mid 2000s, presented by the now defunct party promotions company JellyNYC. The pool parties opened up the empty pool as a summertime venue, a low-budget outdoor hipster playground—complete with a slip n’ slide, ice cream man, dodgeball and a stage for bands to play. Continue reading →
The Greenpoint Monitor Museum received a grant three years ago from the GCEF to build a museum honoring the USS Monitor on the shores of developing Bushwick Inlet, where the great ship was constructed more than 150 years ago. The project requires a restoration of the ecological shoreline, and the museum has been working with design and engineering firm AECOM to make it happen.
This Saturday, June 9 from 12m to 2pm, the Monitor Museum will host a guided visit of the future museum site. Meet up with folks at 56 Quay Street (at Bushwick Inlet).
Next Wednesday, June 13th from 6:30-8pm the Museum will be hosting a public info meeting at the Community Room at Bushwick Inlet Park (86 Kent Ave). Continue reading →
Greenpoint is well known for its Polish herritage, but New York’s Basque community also calls Greenpoint home. Since 1973, Euzko-Etxea, the Basque Club of New York, has maintained its headquarters at 307 Eckford Street. The group’s mission is to preserve Basque culture in the lives of immigrants and their descendants, and to share Basque culture and heritage with the community at large. To that end, Euzko-Etxea and offers Basque language classes, traditional Basque dancing, and pintxos (or tapas) on special occasions at the converted two story church on Eckford Street. Continue reading →
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 →
The beautiful and landmarked Union Baptist Church (151 Noble Street) has been through a lot in its 170-year history. Having been shuttered by the city, faced demolition and surviving a leadership change and two years of renovations, the church is finally now ready to re-open its doors for rededication this weekend! This Sunday, May 6th at 11am, there will be special music, presentations and preaching from the Montoro Family of Astoria, Queens.
Depending how long you’ve lived in North Brooklyn, you may have heard tale of the legendary bar Kokie’s, which, about 20 years ago sat on the corner of Berry and North 3rd Street. In a true twist of hipster irony, the name Kokie’s really said it all—for $20 you could actually buy small baggies of cocaine out of a closet tucked away at the back of the bar. A longtime Williamsburg resident who wishes to remain anonymous says, “I heard about Kokie’s from friends. They filled me in on the protocol and a few times I was asked to tag along. I was kinda young and pretty intimidated by the place. So, I declined, preferring to rely on the bravery of friends. By the time I finally got up the nerve, it was gone.” The bar closed in 2001 after being raided by the cops, and then turned into a short-lived bar called Antique Lounge, and then the space became The Levee (212 Berry Street). Our anonymous source says, “A frito pie doesn’t compare to Kokie’s special. I heard a rumor that Luxx on Grand [where Trash Bar used to be and where Overthrow boxing gym is now] sorta picked up Kokie’s mantle. But that’s all heresay.” Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.
Martin Scorsese acquired the rights to Gangs of New York, Herbert Ashbery’s 1927 history of Gotham’s urban underworld, in 1979. The movie focuses on the murderous mayhem of mid-19th century Five Points, but 1970s New York City was itself a study in violence. Bloodshed was so prevalent here in North Brooklyn that Luis Garten Acosta, founder of the local outreach program El Puente, dubbed the area “The Killing Fields.”
Pre-eminent New York City History podcasters The Bowery Boys unearthed a map produced in 1974 by the New York Times which plots the territory of “youth gangs” in ’70s North Brooklyn. In all, reported the Times, the NYPD had identified 48 gangs in the area with a total membership of 2,500. The police also held that six of those gangs were “responsible for more than half of the criminal gang activity in Northern Brooklyn.” Greenpoint in particular was home turf for the Sinners, the Mad Caps and the Sons of Devils. Continue reading →