historical

Patrick Keely, The Prolific Architect of Saint Anthony of Padua Church

Saint Anthony of Padua Church - image via Historic Districts Council
Saint Anthony of Padua Church. Photo via Historic Districts Council

For years I passed the graceful façade of Saint Anthony of Padua church (862 Manhattan Avenue) and admired its beauty, but never really thought much about the man who built it. Recently I researched the life of the amazing man who built this Greenpoint landmark and his story is every bit as amazing as the church he built.

Patrick Keely (1816-1896) was the most prolific church builder in American history, constructing, by some estimates, seven hundred churches stretching from Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico and from New England to Iowa. He built St. Anthony’s in 1876. It is like many of his churches built in the neo-gothic style. Keely’s prolific career is all the more shocking when we consider that he never received any formal training as an architect. 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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FREE Greenpoint Historical Tour This Thursday Night!

Historical GreenpointLed by Greenpointers writer and local historian Geoff Cobb, a historical walking tour of Greenpoint this Thursday evening will explore the northern part of the neighborhood with a focus on local ecology. If you’ve ever wondered what was there before the WNYC Transmitter towers, or why our area’s formerly pristine estuary and green section of Brooklyn became a center of heavy industry, this tour is for you. Considering our rapidly changing neighborhood, it’s important to honor elements of the old Greenpoint. The tour, is approximately 1 mile, and will last about 1.5 hrs.

The FREE tour will meet by the Greenpoint Avenue gate to Transmitter Park at 6:30pm and will walk to Greenpoint Playground. All participants will receive a map of the area with tour highlights, and enjoy complementary hot cider and gingerbreads. Bundle up!

More info can be found here.

 

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A History of Greenpoint in 25 Buildings: The Mechanics and Traders Bank

The Mechanics and Traders Bank, illustration by Aubrey Nolan
The Mechanics and Traders Bank, illustration by Aubrey Nolan

The stately red building at the corner of Franklin Street and Greenpoint Avenue has long been a Greenpoint icon. It has a quirky kind of dignity. It was once the Mechanics and Traders Bank, constructed in 1895 by architect Alonzo Jones in the Renaissance Revival style. The building features rough-cut brownstone at the base, somewhat mismatched with brick and red terra cotta on the upper floors. The structure makes the viewer look up to the attractive large gracefully arched bay windows, surrounded by terra-cotta trim and to the smaller round windows at their sides that give it its renaissance feel. Our eyes are also drawn to the second floor’s graceful columns topped with elegant Corinthian capitals. Separating the arched bays from the cornice is an ornate frieze. All these elements mesh together to create a beaux-arts gem of a building. 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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Historical Walking Tour of Greenpoint This Saturday!

greenpoint walking tourWHAT: Greenpoint Walking Tour
WHEN: Saturday, October 22, 2:00-4:30 pm

Join veteran Brooklyn tour guide Norman Oder on a briskly-paced, wide-ranging introduction to the neighborhood, including historic blocks, converted historic buildings, commercial corridors, religious institutions, parks, and civic buildings. The tour will touch on industrial history, immigration (notably Greenpoint’s enduring Polish presence), and the current (and future) signs of gentrification.

You should RSVP to [email protected] to reserve your spot! Continue reading

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Greenpoint’s Original Wave of Home Brewing and Distilling

Prohibition
Officials seizing booze during prohibition.

It’s great to see distillers like the Greenhook Ginsmiths on Dupont Street distilling high quality gin. It’s equally gratifying to know that Greenpoint is teeming with home brewing aficionados who make their own great beers, but this is actually nothing new to Greenpoint. During the era of Prohibition from 1920 to 1933, there was no place in the city that violated the anti-alcohol laws more often than the thirsty citizens of Greenpoint. Continue reading

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A History of Greenpoint in 25 Buildings: The Church of the Ascension

Church of The Ascension on Kent St. In Greenpoint. Illustration: Aubrey Nolan
Illustration: Aubrey Nolan

One of Greenpoint’s oldest buildings, the Episcopal Church of the Ascension (127 Kent St.), although beautiful, does not feel as if it belongs in Greenpoint. It feels more like a church from North London transported across the Atlantic and placed on Kent Street. It is also not hard to imagine the structure in some quaint English country town.

The British feel to the building is not an accident, as it was designed by Englishman Henry C. Dudley just at the end of the Civil War and dedicated in 1866. Dudley, a major American ecclesiastical architect who built in the English Gothic Revival style, designed a few churches so lovely that they were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Although Dudley built a number of American churches, Ascension is one of only four remaining Dudley churches in New York City and the only one in Brooklyn. Dudley is most famous for his buildings in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his partner Frank Wills designed the elegant Church of the Holy Trinity, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Continue reading

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Greenpoint Oysters: An Old Local Tradition Revived

It seems that Greenpoint is in the midst of an oyster invasion. The Bounty (131 Greenpoint Ave.) and other places now offer dollar oysters during happy hours. Northern Territory (12 Franklin St.) hosted an Oysterfest about a week ago. And The Brooklyn Barge (3 Milton St.) and Transmitter Pier is home to the Billion Oyster Project in the East River. But actually oysters are nothing new to New York or Greeenpoint. If you want the best history of this tasty mollusk read Mark Kurlansky’s book The Big Oyster. It seems before we polluted our New York waterways there were massive oyster beds. In 1860, 12 million oysters were sold in New York markets; by 1880, our oyster beds were producing a mind boggling 700 million mollusks a year!

Continue reading

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North Brooklyn Border Wars: Do You Really Live in Greenpoint?

Google Maps adds fuel to the fiery debate.
Google Maps adds fuel to the fiery debate.

Recently I wrote a piece for Greenpointers about Bamonte’s Restaurant on Withers Street. A number of people reprimanded me and posted that the famous eatery was not in Greenpoint, but was really in Williamsburg. The argument over the location of the iconic Italian restaurant raises a larger,very controversial question: What is the exact borderline between Williamsburg and Greenpoint?

Ask ten people in North Brooklyn and you will get at least eleven different answers. Some borders are not in dispute. Newtown Creek separates us from Queens to the north and from Maspeth to the East. The East River clearly forms our western border. Now, when we talk about the southern boundary, the border disputes begin. Continue reading

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