greenpoint history

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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Share Your Memories with Greenpoint Library’s Environmental Oral History Project

A rendering of the New Library and Environmental Education Center. Via BPL
A rendering of the New Library and Environmental Education Center. Via BPL

Greenpoint is getting a brand new Library and Environmental Center, and your memories can be part of its collection!

On June 23rd, the new library will begin the “Greenpoint Oral History and Community Scanning Project,” an initiative designed to highlight and document Greenpoint’s relationship with the natural environment. Anyone who has lived or worked in Greenpoint is welcome to share both memories and memorabilia related to local environmental history.

According to Acacia Thompson, Greenpoint Outreach Archivist for the Brooklyn Public Library, “People are welcome to bring in photos, documents, ephemera, and any physical item we can photograph and digitize that informs the history of Greenpoint’s environment. All manner of items are welcome – for example, flyers from environmental events from the 1990s, t-shirts and photos from marches, medical bills documenting asthma, and sustainability projects from area school children.” Additionally, you can schedule an oral history interview to share your experience with the local environment.  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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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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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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The Williamsburg Bridge Celebrates its Hundred and Fourteenth Birthday Today! (Dec 19th)

Via Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives

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

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Horrific History Lesson: Working Conditions at The Domino Sugar Refinery

Although the former Domino Sugar refinery on Kent Avenue does not lie in Greenpoint, the building and the firm that ran it, Havemeyer and Elder, cast a long shadow over local history. Having spent the summer researching the plant for my upcoming book The Rise and Fall of the Sugar King, it is hard to express how much suffering is associated with the refinery.

The plant, which was opened in 1858, employed thousands of Greenpointers over its almost a century-and-a-half of existence. Much of the reason that we have a Polish population today is because the refinery had a policy of hiring Slavic men, principally Polish, who could not recount to outsiders the misery that working in the plant entailed. They worked in horrendous conditions that we can scarcely imagine today. Continue reading

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Check out the Mary Fisher Home, Greenpoint’s 19th Century Artists’ Colony

Photo by Lucie Levine
Photo by Lucie Levine

Greenpoint’s industrial past is well known, and its emerging identity as an artist’s hub might seem like a 21st century phenomenon, but back in 1888, Greenpoint was sporting its very own artists’ colony. That year, Mary Fisher, of 71 Java Street, opened her home as the Home Hotel Association, a residence for elderly “Brain Workers.” According to the plaque marking the historic site, Fisher defined “Brain Workers” as men and women “who had labored in literature or art or any other brain profession.” The Home operated on Java Street until 1912, when it moved to two separate locations: one in Mount Vernon, NY, and another in Tenafly, New Jersey.

71 Java Street Today
71 Java Street Today

Mary Fisher was an Englishwoman inspired by the old age pensions which support the elderly in the UK. Social Security wasn’t established in the United States until 1935, so there was no public safety net for older people who had retired, or were out of work. In The Story of the Mary Fisher Home, published 1915, Fisher wrote, “I remembered that in Europe, pensions were often accorded to those who, during their lifetimes, had been of some benefit to the nation, and it seemed to me that in this country the people must do what the government failed to do, and I hoped that in time we might have a national fund for this purpose.”

Fisher appealed to notable New Yorkers for their in kind or financial support, and was well received by Fredrick Barnard, then the President of Columbia University. He introduced her to a variety of prominent and charitable New Yorkers, including Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, but not everybody believed that “brain workers” deserved philanthropic support. In fact, upon hearing the appeal, one woman said, “A home for old authors and artists! My! What a company of cranks! What will you do with them?”  Continue reading

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Community Visioning, Newtown Creek History, and Green Roof Tour at Kingsland Wildflowers this Saturday (6/3)

kingsland-wildflowers-greenpoint-visitors-photo-by-mpenmannThis Saturday (June 3rd), you can tour the beautiful rooftop at Kingsland Wildflowers (520 Kingsland Ave), learn about the future of Newtown Creek at a community visioning workshop, and take a look back to its industrial roots with local historian Mitch Waxman. These events are all free and open to the public.

Schedule of Events:

1-4pm   Community Visioning with Riverkeeper and NCA, RSVP

5-7pm   Lecture and Kingsland Wildflowers Green Roof Tour with Mitch Waxman, NCA Historian, RSVP

More Deets:

Join Riverkeeper and the Newtown Creek Alliance in creating a cohesive community vision for Newtown Creek. With a Superfund cleanup and long-term plan to control sewage overflows on the horizon, now is an opportune time to engage stakeholders in imagining and designing a future Newtown Creek that provides greater opportunities for restoration, remediation, recreation, and resilience. RSVP

Continue reading

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