(Not)Forgotten Greenpoint

Do the Time Warp: When Slow Commutes Made Greenpoint Feel Like a “Municipal Step-Child”

Trolley tracks at the corner of Bedford and Manhattan Avenues, 1928. Via the New York Transit Museum

Welcome to our  final installment of “Do the Time Warp,” when we check in with life in Greenpoint 100 years ago. In our previous two sections, we visited Greenpoint circa 1919, and saw how the ‘nabe was one of the nation’s largest manufacturing centers, with a real estate market booming as fast as its factories.

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

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Do The Time Warp: Greenpoint Real Estate, Circa 1919

Rendering of the Astral; Courtesy of the Brooklyn Department of Buildings
Rendering of the Astral; Courtesy of the Brooklyn Department of Buildings

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

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Greenpoint History Walking Tour to Benefit the Park Church Co-op Saturday (7/7)

Historical Map of Greenpoint courtesy of Dennis Ward

Beloved neighborhood worship/art space, the Park Church Co-op (129 Russell St.) has put out a fundraising call to the community. Ace local historian, and Greenpointers contributor, Geoff Cobb has answered that call in a fantastically innovative way! He’ll lead a donation-based historical walking tour of Greenpoint on Saturday, July 7th from 10-11am, and donate all proceeds to the Park Church Co-op.

The tour will meet at the corner of Calyer and Franklin. All are welcome! RSVP here.

What: Walking Tour with Geoff Cobb on Behalf of the Park Church Co-op
When: Saturday, July 7, at 10am.
Where: Franklin and Calyer
Who: Everyone!

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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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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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Julia Wertz’s Triumphant Illustrated History of New York City

Full disclosure—I have been a fan of Julia Wertz‘s amazing graphic work long before the publication of her recent smash hit entitled Tenements, Towers and Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City, so let’s forget objectivity. I discovered Julia’s prodigious talent through her work in the New Yorker. Although I have never met Julia we have exchanged emails and we are kindred spirits, bonded by our mutual love for New York City and its rich past.

Perhaps the biggest gulf separating us as writers is Julia’s prodigious talent as an illustrator, which makes her book such a joy to read from beginning to end. (My drawings make my students either laugh in ridicule or cringe.) It is not just how she sketches, but what she draws that makes her book so close to my heart. She has done excellent renderings of many of the quirky places in New York that I love and teaches me things about those places I never knew. Continue reading

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An Ode to the Manhattan Avenue Holiday Lights

We were inspired to make this video after reading the wonderful story of the Manhattan Avenue businesses’ commitment to reignite the holiday lights this year here on Greenpointers.com (check out the article here). Having relocated to Greenpoint ourselves just under two years ago, it is truly an inspiration to move into a community that not only supports its new residents, but strives so adamantly to maintain connections to its rich history. We felt that the business owners of Manhattan Ave. and other contributors deserve a sincere thank you for all their hard work this year. This is our way of giving back to them by telling their story. Our hope is to inspire more people to participate next year and keep the tradition alive for a new generation.

We hope you enjoy, and Happy Holidays.

Coolburns & Co.

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How Much Greenpoint History Do You Know? Take This Quiz!

1851 view of Brooklyn Navy Yard looking north towards Greenpoint
1851 view of Brooklyn Navy Yard looking north towards Greenpoint

Our little neighborhood of Greenpoint has some very rich history, and we’ve posted about a lot of it. But how much do you really know about this small patch of earth you rest your head on? Take our quiz and find out! Answers after the jump (no peeking!).

1) Dirck Volckertszen was the first European to live in Greenpoint. Where was he from?

2) Greenpoint once was called by another name that today is a popular Manhattan Avenue Restaurant. What was the name of that point?

3) There were five ancestral families in Greenpoint that gave their names to streets. Name two of the three.

4) What local group of Native Americans used Greenpoint as their hunting ground and gave their name to a Queens neighborhood?

5) Who is considered the founder of Greenpoint?

6) What American Vice-President once visited Greenpoint on a romantic tryst?

7) What was Greenpoint’s first industry? (Hint: a local hill was named for it).

8) What part of Greeenpoint did the British Army use as a staging area to attack Manhattan during the Revolution?

9) What industry dominated the local waterfront in the 1850’s?

10) What famous ship was built in 1861 on Quay Street?

11) Charles Pratt became rich refining oil. What was his refinery called?

12) A Greenpoint baseball team won the national championship twice? What was the team called?

13) Local boxer Jake Kilrain lost the last bare knuckled heavyweight boxing championship in 1889 to what boxing legend?

14) What Greenpoint-born writer is credited with inventing the modern children’s book?

15) What Hollywood sex symbol was born on Herbert Street?

16) What nickname did Pete McGuinness give Greenpoint?

17) What iconic American statue was cast on India Street?

18) What Greenpointer lost the 1916 presidential election to Woodrow Wilson?

19) What local school is the oldest continually-used public school in New York City?

20) What was Oakland Street renamed?

Continue reading

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Theobald Engelhardt: Iconic North Brooklyn Architect

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-1-59-00-pm
St. John’s Lutheran Church on Milton Street is one of Engelhardt’s most recognizable buildings in Greenpoint.

You certainly know his buildings, but probably do not know his name. Theobald Engelhardt played a huge role in shaping our local architectural heritage. His buildings are local landmarks and some of our most gorgeous buildings are his handiwork, yet few people today realize his important local legacy.

Timing can mean the difference between success and failure, and Engelhardt began his career just as a local building boom was hitting Greeenpoint. Born in Williamsburg in 1851, Engelhardt—a German-American—came of age just as German influence in this area was at its peak. Engelhardt became one of Brooklyn’s most prolific architects, designing hundreds of structures that include a range of buildings from factories and churches to stores and homes. Continue reading

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When Greenpoint Won the World Series (Well, Sort Of)

screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-4-53-13-pmIt’s late October and all the baseball fans will be glued to the World Series. Homer Murray and other Cubs fans will go nuts if the Cubs finally win the world Series, but even many of the most passionate Greenpoint baseball fans are aware that a local team, the Eckford Club was the best team in America before the organization of professional baseball.

Organized in 1855, the Eckford Club won the national championship in 1862 and 1863 in the days when baseball was still an amateur sport. The players were shipwrights who worked in the shipyard of Eckford Webb, at the foot of Milton Street. Although they had little time to practice on account of the sixty-hour weeks they worked, the Eckford players succeeded nevertheless because shipbuilding made them incredibly fit and strong. Continue reading

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