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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A History of Greenpoint in 25 Buildings: The Astral Apartments

The Astral - illustration by Aubrey Nolan
The Astral – illustration by Aubrey Nolan

Charles Pratt was the richest man in Brooklyn in the 1880s, but his conscience was bothering him. The founder of Astral Oil Works, the first modern oil refinery in the United States on the shores of Bushwick Creek, Pratt grew very rich by joining forces with John. D Rockefeller and sitting on the board of the country’s richest company—Standard Oil. But Pratt, a devout Baptist, had grown up poor in New England, and he felt he owed a debt to his workers and to Greenpoint. Aware that many of his workers and many other factory workers lived in squalid, crowded local tenements, Pratt decided to commission a model apartment house that would not only house his workers, but also show the world the definitive example of workers housing. Pratt addressed what The Brooklyn Daily Eagle described in 1886 as, “the problem of how to live decently and economically.” As local overcrowding became a serious issue, our area needed a better solution than squalid tenements. Influenced by philanthropists like London housing benefactor George Peabody, Pratt conceived of a building that would provide attractive, wholesome apartments for working people at an affordable price. Continue reading

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