Historical Greenpoint

Greenpoint Monitor Museum Site Visit + Public Info Session (6/9 & 6/13)

Greenpoint Monitor Museum

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

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Bask in the History of Greenpoint’s Basque Club

Greenpoint's Basque Club 307 Eckford
Greenpoint’s Basque Club at 307 Eckford

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

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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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Historic Union Baptist Church Reopens its Doors This Weekend (5/6)

Union Baptist Church. Photo: Megan Penmann

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.

More info on Facebook.

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Williamsburg’s Cocaine Bar of the 90’s, Kokies is Back—and it’s Fitting

photo via Kokie's
photo via Kokie’s on Bigcartel

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

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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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Gangs of New York: North Brooklyn Edition

Map of North Brooklyn Gangs 1974
Map of North Brooklyn Gangs 1974 via The New York Times

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

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North Brooklyn Then & Now: _missing_the_point_’s Amazing Instagram Account

Frost Street / Union Ave by _missing_the_point_ on Instagram
Frost Street / Union Ave 2005 vs 2017, by _missing_the_point_ on Instagram

There’s no doubt that North Brooklyn’s skyline has rapidly changed in the last decade plus. In place of one-story bombed out warehouses, high rises stand tall. An old sludge tank in Greenpoint has been seemingly effortlessly replaced by luxury apartments. Those who lived in the neighborhood before “the change” began probably remember a slightly different vibe: the area was rougher, with locals playing the role of war-torn veterans. The hip coffee shops and restaurants were fewer and farther between, and the pioneers that were there had worn yet comfy thrift store furniture instead of the minimalist high design stuff you might see today. Piles of trash and industrial waste have disappeared and been replaced with waterfront parks and bike racks. Still, there was something special about North Brooklyn back then in its less polished state. It was way more punk rock.

An Instagram account with the handle _missing_the_point_ has been quietly posting side-by-side comparison photos of North Brooklyn from “then” (most of them about 13 years ago) and “now”. Greenpoint native and amateur photographer Jack Olszewski says, “I’d be walking around my own neighborhood and certain blocks had become completely unrecognizable to me. I’d think, ‘Wait… what used to be here?’. That led me to revisit my old photos. I thought it might be something other Greenpointers could relate to, which led to me start  _missing_the_point_ .”

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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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Before L-pocalypse: A History of Transit in North BK

B.R.C.C. Crosstown Trolley, Via the Transit Museum
B.C.R.R. Crosstown Trolley, Via the New York Transit Museum

As the MTA’s planned 15-month suspension of L train service between Brooklyn and Manhattan draws near, all 200,000 daily riders of the L-pocalypse have been asking the same question: how will we get across the river? Brooklynites have been asking that question for generations, and personal ingenuity, along with municipal planning, has yielded several answers. All we can say for sure is that this is not the first time aggrieved Greenpointers have been up in arms over inadequate inter-borough transit. I’m just glad we don’t have to take a rowboat.

The rowboat commute was the first in a line increasingly efficient methods of getting from Greenpoint to Manhattan that includes horsecars, trollies, ferry services, elevated trains, and the dawn and growth of the subway. Step in, stand clear and read on for a history of transit in North Brooklyn.   Continue reading

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