Culture

The Lasting Gifts to Greenpoint From the Man Cheated out of the U.S. Presidency

Samuel Tilden

Looking for a great local trivia question? Which two men associated with Greenpoint ran for president of the United States? The answer: Samuel Tilden who was cheated in the election of 1876 and Charles Evans Hughes, who lived on Milton Street, who lost in 1916.

If you are a Brooklynite you might have heard of Tilden High School, but few people know anything about this important figure in local and state history. Although he is a forgotten figure today, few men did more to help New York State. Tilden was first elected to the New York State Assembly in 1846, and few legislators in state history did more good. He used his position to expose corruption in state government, most notably through the impeachment of New York State Supreme Court Justices George G. Barnard, Albert Cardozo, and John H. McCunn.

His exposure of corruption within the U.S. Customs House was soon overshadowed by his most famous political achievement: the exposure and prosecution of the Tweed Ring, led by William M. “Boss” Tweed whose name lives down through the ages as a symbol of Tammany Hall Corruption. Tweed introduced a new city charter, which would further consolidate his corrupt hold on power, but Tilden, as chairman of the Democratic State Committee, denounced him and began a pitched battle to disable the Ring and end Tweed’s corrupt practices. Tilden’s successful prosecution of the Tweed Ring paved the way for his election as Governor in 1874. Two years later, Tilden became the Democratic nominee for president and probably won the election, but his own party sold him out in the corrupt bargain of 1876 that ended Reconstruction.

National Democratic chart in 1876 with candidates Samuel J. Tilden, and Thomas A. Hendricks (via PICRYL)

In the 1850s Tilden became one of the most successful corporate lawyers in America and a rich man. He also invested in Greenpoint real estate. The piece of land Tilden bought covered an area from Oak Street to Noble Street and ran from the river to Leonard Street. Tilden helped Greenpoint and increased the value of his real estate through his efforts in Albany supporting the bill allowing Neziah Bliss to open a ferry to Manhattan.
Tilden sold off his holdings piece by piece in the 1870s and he must have profited massively from these sales. He sold a piece at the top of Milton Street to Thomas Smith, the millionaire ceramicist whose home became the Greenpoint Reformed Church.

Union Baptist Church (via Google Maps)

However, today we remember Tilden more for his charity than for his wealth. He was one of the founders of the New York Public Library System, but his charity had many positive local effects too. He believed that Greenpoint should have churches. He gave a cut-rate price to the congregation of the Noble Street Baptist Church (known as Union Baptist Church), allowing them in 1860 to build their landmarked red brick home. He also owned the land on which St. Anthony of Padua sits. Although not a Catholic himself, he gave Bishop Loughlin a sweetheart deal, charging the church for only one of five lots they purchased on Manhattan Avenue and Leonard Street. The stately church was built in 1874.

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Meet Undefeated Heavyweight Contender Adam ‘Babyface’ Kownacki Tuesday (1/15)

Adam “Babyface”Kownacki

Greenpointer and undefeated heavyweight contender Adam ‘Babyface’ Kownacki (18-0, 14 KOs) faces former title challenger Gerald Washington (19-2, 12 KOs) in the co-main event taking place at Barclays Center on Jan. 26.
You’re invited to the pre-fight meet and greet on Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 6.p.m. at Greenpoint’s Amber Steakhouse (119 Nassau Ave.).

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Greenpoints’ In God We Trust To Close Saturday 1/12

In God We Trust, Greenpoint (via Yelp)

Over the past 10 years, In God We Trust (70 Greenpoint Ave.) has been a neighborhood staple for unique jewelry at the end of Greenpoint Avenue. Its final day in Greenpoint will be Saturday 1/12, but the IGWT Williamsburg store at 132 Bedford Ave. will remain open.

The Greenpoint store was one of the first handmade jewelers in the area and helped to set the tone for craftsmanship with their engraved necklaces that have a timeless aesthetic.

 

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IGWT is leaving Greenpoint. After 10 amazing years in our beloved store / studio the time has come to say goodbye. This is the last week the shop in Greenpoint will be open. Saturday the 12th is our last day of regular shop hours. I can’t even begin to relate all the amazing experiences this location has brought myself and the opportunities it presented the company. I will take away from this experience the amazing friendships, community and support that helped me grow and have forever changed my life. Thank you to all that have been a part of this journey. I will forever be grateful @catjanefreeman @bbackman @jules_and_binoculars @lam.a.lam @annielchan @rebecca_mapes @alieatoric @3133 @jukeboxcowgirl @pollizabeth @brimc__ @alexamaas @noelledowning @myraflynn @spfreedman @homecoming @thekarcher ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Art By Daan Spanjers

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Greenpoint’s Vaudeville Era Theaters: Still Hiding in Plain Sight

Drawing of RKO Greenpoint Theater (Courtesy of Julia Wertz)

It is almost inconceivable today, but in the 1920s Greenpoint had as many as eight Vaudeville theaters. Some of the buildings still survive, but with other uses.

In the days before most homes had a radio, Vaudeville theaters provided cheap non-stop entertainment with shows lasting for up to 15-hour stretches. In those days families were often larger in size with people crammed into their tiny dwellings like sardines. Vaudeville theaters provided an escape from these overcrowded apartments.

By 1911, records show a theatre at 153 Green St. It shows up in later records as a 400-seat theater either called the Arcade Theater or The Greenpoint Arcade Theater, but it did not last.

RKO Greenpoint’s interior (via cinematreasures.org)

Starting in 1927 with the arrival of the first talkie moving pictures, many of the Vaudeville theaters also served as movie houses. The largest theater was the RKO Greenpoint Theater on the corner of Calyer and Manhattan Avenue, which seated more than 1600 people and resembled an opera house with boxes, arches murals and terracotta designs on the ceilings. There were three levels of boxed seats on either side of the stage, and two balconies. The RKO hosted first-run double features after becoming a movie house.

RKO Greenpoint (Via cinematreasures.org)

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Food and Booze! Winter Warmer Comes to Brooklyn Expo Center on 2/2

Food, glorious food! Celebrate everything you love about winter in one delicious festival. Join Cannonball Productions on February 2 at the Brooklyn Expo Center (75 Noble Street) for its Winter Warmer. Enjoy boozy drinks, comfort eats, and cozy vibes on a wintry Saturday!

There’ll be unlimited spiked drinks, craft beer, and free-flowing bubbly. Top local chefs will be onsite serving up your favorite winter comfort foods — including, but not limited to, truffle mac n’ cheese. Music, games, and seasonal comfort foods will serve just-off-the-slopes vibes without all the windburn.

General admission ticket holders can choose between afternoon and evening sessions at 1:30 PM or 5:30 PM, respectively. General admission includes a commemorative tasting glass for craft beer, spirits, and wine tastings. Top local restaurants will be there selling an array of comfort food like chili, grilled cheese, waffles, and more. The boozy wonderland will feature games, live music, and plenty of festive antics too. For more information and tickets visit here!

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VENDOR CALL!! Greenpointers Vintage Rose Valentine’s Market (February 10th)

Poster designed by Open Sea

Calling all creative crafters, makers of food, art, crafts, jewelry, pottery, etc!! Get nostalgic with us at our vintage rose themed Valentine’s Market inside the historic Greenpoint Loft on Sunday, February 10, 2018 (1-7PM)!

Fill out this form to apply!

We will be kicking off our first market of the year with a full day of free fun activities, live music, and rosewater cocktails.

NOTE: Vendor spaces are reserved for local independent makers and small businesses. If you don’t meet this criteria, email [email protected] to learn about sponsorship opportunities and help support local!

Questions? Email Yuka at [email protected] or Jenna at [email protected]

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Legendary Urbanist Jane Jacobs’ Prophetic Warning to Greenpoint

Jane Jacobs in 1961 (Library of Congress.)

The name Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) is legendary in urban planning and in the last year of her life, Jacobs had a prescient warning about the future of our waterfront in Brooklyn. Her 2005 letter about plans to develop the local waterfront is so timely that it seems like it could have been written today.Jacobs was a revolutionary urbanist and activist whose groundbreaking writings championed a community-based approach to urban development and renewal. Although She had no formal training as a planner, her seminal 1961 work “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” is considered something of a bible amongst urbanists. In the book, Jacobs proposed novel ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail, that were groundbreaking then, but today seem obvious to generations of architects, urban planners, politicians and activists. Once a year in May, her contributions to cities are recalled on Jane’s Day when people around the world organize walks in cities.

In 2005, shortly before her own death, the legendary urbanist weighed in on the renewal of the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront in a letter addressed to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. She advocated for the adoption of a community-sponsored development plan that was ultimately not adopted. In her letter, she warned that developers outside the community would take advantage of the rezoning of the East River waterfront to serve their own interests by building high rises and by gentrifying the area so that working class people would be pushed out. Jacobs’ letter contrasted the local community’s plan for the area versus the developer-friendly rezoning that ultimately was adopted. 13 years later her warnings have proven valid. It is amazing how timely Jacobs’ letter still feels today. Continue reading

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The Neglected Abstract Masterpieces of the Williamsburg Houses

 

The Williamsburg Houses in 1941

For years brilliant avant-guarde murals lay hidden inside a local housing project, but thanks to an intrepid art history detective they were rediscovered and everyone today can enjoy their genius. It is a local story worth recounting. In 1936, America was suffering the effects of the Great Depression. No one was harder hit by the depression than artists who watched the market for their work shrivel and completely dry up, but Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal offered artists a lifeline.

Their art would be used to beautify the massive building campaign that was at the heart of Roosevelt’s recovery plan, called the Works Progress Administration or WPA. One of the buildings that artists would beautify would be the Williamsburg Houses (164 Ten Eyck St.), which contain 20 buildings in an area around Leonard and Scholes streets. The chief architect of the project was Richmond Shreve, and the design team of nine other architects was led by the pioneering Swiss-American modernist William Lescaze, whose Philadelphia Saving Fund Society building of 1928-32 was one of the first major International Style buildings in the United States.

The design of the buildings was bold, daring and futuristic for the time and the design team wanted to decorate the interior of the complex with art that was equally bold. The four-story houses Lescaze designed included basement community rooms decorated with murals in “abstract and stimulating patterns” designed to aid relaxation.

Abstract Mural by Albert Swinden

The Federal Art Project (FAP) commissioned a series of murals, to be painted in the community rooms at the Williamsburg Houses. The head of the New York Murals of the FAP division in 1937 was Burgoyne Diller, who bravely decided to commission a series of abstract murals from avant-garde, relatively unknown artists. Abstract paintings, like those in the murals, were hard for the general public to appreciate. The artists who painted murals in the Williamsburg Houses eventually won recognition as giants in the field of abstract painting. The painters were Paul Kelpe (1902-85), Ilya Bolotowsky (1907-81), Balcomb Greene (1904-90), and Albert Swinden (1901-61). Diller, an abstract artist himself, put his own art career on hold in order to promote the abstract style in murals before it was accepted in the United States. Diller faced criticism and had to justify every abstract mural he placed in the houses, but he won and the art was installed. Continue reading

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The Abandoned Subway Tunnel Teasing Williamsburg

The shell of the never completed subway tunnel above the G Line ( courtesy of secondavenuesagas.com)

Imagine how much easier it would be for alternative transportation with the L train apocalypse if there was a parallel subway line from Williamsburg providing another route to Manhattan!

In 1929, such a godsend of a line was not only planned but began construction; the plans did not get very far. The city dug out a tunnel that still sits under Williamsburg at S. 4th Street. Subway historian Benjamin Kabak described the tantalizing phantom subway line in his blog Second Avenue Sagas.

Kabak revealed the existence of the huge subway shell as part of his underbelly project. He claims that the envisioned subway tunnel was intended to accommodate four subway lines, which would have made it one of the largest stations in the city. Cruelly, the partially excavated tunnel sits just above the Broadway stop on the G line. The plans were tragically visionary: According to Kabak, both the Sixth Avenue and Eighth Avenue lines would have passed through this station, bound for multiple points east, south and north.

Map of intended subway line from 1929.

In September 1929, the Board of Transportation announced a subway expansion plan called the Second System, which is documented in Joseph Raskin’s book The Routes Not Taken, a Trip Through New York City’s Unbuilt Subways. Continue reading

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Serpico’s North Brooklyn Connections to the Iconic Tale of an Honest Cop

(Courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Arguably one of the greatest films ever made about New York City, the film “Serpico” and the eponymous biography by author Peter Mass, which sold over three million copies, is also a story of North Brooklyn. If you have never seen Al Pacino’s depiction of the honest New York City cop, then you are missing one of the most tremendous film performances of the last 50 years. Pacino won a Golden Globe for his portrayal in 1974 and was also nominated for an Oscar for best actor in the same year.

The film, set in the late 60s and early 70s in Brooklyn and the Bronx, shines a light on a dark era of New York City history, accurately portraying parts of Williamsburg as a drug infested, dangerous den of crime. Locals will recognize many of the buildings and streets in the film.

Frank Serpico

In the late 1960s, New York City police officers were massively underpaid, which led to corruption on a massive scale. According to the book, large numbers of cops were taking bribes and turning a blind eye to a number of crimes from prostitution to gambling. Frank Serpico, however, was that rare person at that time, an honest cop who could not be bought. Serpico, born in South Brooklyn in 1936, served in Korea, before joining the force in 1959. When Serpico was a child his parents were store owners who were shaken down for payoffs by local police and the payoffs were a real financial burden to the struggling family. Serpico, recalling the hardship the payoffs placed on the family, vowed never to accept bribes. Continue reading

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