Today (Tuesday, December 19th) marks the anniversary of the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903. The Bridge was opened on a Saturday and was one of the greatest celebrations the Newly formed city had ever witnessed. The air all around Williamsburg that brisk winter morning was electric and buzzing with excitement. After six long years of watching the construction of the bridge, the span would finally open. There was jubilation in the area, especially amongst property owners who knew that the bridge would dramatically increase the value of their properties. Continue reading
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, North Brooklyn was the largest place for refining sugar in the world and Brooklyn’s largest industry. Although Williamsburg refined far more sugar than Greenpoint, the Havemeyer refinery at 85 Commercial Street on Newtown Creek was one of the most important American sugar refineries and was the scene of a near riot when the refinery’s workers fought for better conditions in 1886.
The members of the Havemeyer family were the crown princes of sugar. Multi-millionaire Henry Havemeyer formed an illegal cartel of sugar refiners around the United States that blocked competition, colluded to lower the amount of sugar refined and raised the price to consumers, while making all the refiners in the cartel spectacularly rich. He used his vast sugar money to buy a thousand pieces of art, which later became the basis of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection. Continue reading
The Bedi-Makky building at 227 India Street looks like any other ordinary industrial Greenpoint building. However, it was here that the one of the largest bronze sculpture ever cast in human history was made; the famous Iwo Jima Memorial from Arlington National Cemetery was cast at the foundry, but it was no simple job.
Working six days a week for three years, seven local men constructed what was then the world’s largest bronze sculpture. This sculpture was huge: 78 feet high and over 100 tons, but the story of the birth of the iconic statue began many years before because of a legendary picture. Continue reading
Sometimes truth proves to be stranger than fiction. Not even the most ghoulish fiction writer could have created anything more macabre than the murder of William Simmons on January 26, 1876. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle observed that the Simmons killing was “As gruesome as anything ever imagined by Edgar Allen Poe.”
Two young boys were playing one Winter afternoon near a woodpile at the foot of Milton Street in the John Englis shipyard when they made a horrifying discovery- a severed human head wrapped in German language newspaper. Continue reading
Many famous people have lived on Milton Street. Former Governor of New York, Secretary of State and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Charles Evans Hughes once resided on the street. Thomas Smith, the man who ran the Union Porcelain Works became a millionaire by setting up the first financially viable porcelain factory in the United States, also lived on the street, but #118 has not one, but two famous residents: R.A. Blakelock, (1847-1891) the famous painter and Margaret Wise Brown (1910- 1952) who some claim invented the modern children’s book and whose books more than sixty five years after her death still sell millions of copies annually. Continue reading
Recently there was controversy about the naming rights to the McCarren Park Pool. A company offered money for the naming rights and many locals became angry about the proposed name change. Truth is, few people know anything about Patrick McCarren.
I have been researching McCarren for a book I am writing about Williamsburg . He was a fascinating, amazingly corrupt figure. In his day he was not just a powerful local boss, but was also powerful on the national level. Born in 1849 in Massachusetts, he grew up locally. Too poor to afford higher education, McCarren started life in the local sugar mills, but was ambitious. Politics in the eighteen seventies was almost the only way a humble man could acquire wealth and power. Continue reading
Mae West was a renowned stage actress, director, playwright and film star whose career spanned over seven decades. Born on Herbert Street in 1893 to a German mother, Tillie Doelger, with a voluptuous figure and to an Irish American boxer Battlin’ Jack West, she would’ve turned 122 years old today. From her mother she inherited her great figure and from her father she inherited his pluck and self-confidence and a penchant for wise cracks. Continue reading
The Astral is undoubtedly one of Greenpoint’s most iconic edifices. So much so, it even inspired it’s own novel. It sure is a purdy old pile o’ bricks, straight out of Victorian London, and with a great history to boot. While you may not know the fascinating story of the Astral, you’ve likely been inside the building while brunching at Brooklyn Label, or maybe you have noticed its picturesque brickwork while exiting Dandelion Wine shop, bottle (or two) in hand. So what makes this historic building distinctive enough to be designated both a city and a national landmark? Well, as mama always told you, it’s what’s on the inside that really counts. Continue reading
Who listens to radio these days? I enjoy some WNYC action from time to time (when they are not doing a pledge-drive, of course), and my neighbor across the airshaft seems to enjoy sports radio at elevated volume levels around 7 a.m., so there are at least two of us. But after some research I discovered that, much to my surprise, my neighbor and I are not the only radio listening New Yorkers. There are millions of us!
I also learned that WNYC, my favorite radio station (see above), transmitted from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, for over 50 years, sited in what is now the aptly named WNYC Transmitter Park. The park—located where Greenpoint Avenue hits the East River—was opened in 2012 after a two-year, $12 million redevelopment project. The final product is lovely, with natural wetland landscaping, a pedestrian bridge and pier, killer views of Manhattan, and a nautically-themed children’s play area that reflects the site’s waterfront context. Continue reading