Perhaps other blocks in Greenpoint have more elegant houses or more imposing churches, but no block has more beautiful trees than Guernsey Street, which runs parallel to the river between McCarren Park, on its southern end, and Oak Street at its northern tip. The block between Meserole and Norman Avenues has the most dramatic tree canopy in our area. The street is towered over by forest-scaled locust trees that create a leafy roof – a delightful respite from the blazing sun on steamy summer days.
The area was once home to the Meserole orchard, where fruit trees thrived in the rich wet soil that has also allowed these atmospheric locusts to create a tunnel of leaves, whose shade makes entering the block feel like stepping indoors from outdoors. The green ceiling of the locusts alters the light and tricks you into believing that you have stepped indoors. The west side of the street in particular, with its high flat brick buildings, creates the perfect backdrop for the magic of the subdued light, which gives the block its surreal, indoor quality.
In March of 2003, a New York Times reporter filed a story on the residents of the street and perfectly captured the block’s unique verdant beauty:
“In a landscape of warehouses and factories, this block of Brooklyn seems to appear out of nowhere like a magical wood in a fairytale. Graceful 19th-century apartment buildings, some with bay windows are guarded by towering honey locust trees that in a few weeks will form a lush green canopy.”
The trees are so atmospheric that it is hard to imagine that they were not always there, but people who grew up in the 1960s on the block and returned decades later are often shocked by the change the locusts have made. Artist Tim Doyle perfectly captured the feel of the green shade trees in the painting below:
The Times correspondent also called Guernsey Street “the archetypical American block,” but I disagree because there is nothing else locally quite like it and the street also has a unique history. The Southside of the street was a for many years open land, known to locals as “Paddy Floods lots.” The Eckford baseball team practiced there for a time before the Civil War, but the area’s development forced them out. When Grover Cleveland ran for president, his likeness was outlined in fireworks and ignited, much to the delight of local Democrats. A trestle once ran from these lots to the Southside, but it was long ago demolished. Around the 1920s, tawdry clapboard wood-frame four-story apartments were built, their flimsiness standing in marked contrast to the solid brick structures just across the street.
If I had to pick one house in Greenpoint to set a horror movie in it would be the big old house set back off the street at the corner of Oak and Guernsey. The red brick facade, spooky wooden double doors, cast iron railings at the building’s entrance, as well as the iron fence and gate at lawn’s edge all are original, dating to the house’s construction in 1887.
The house has a fascinating history and it is connected to an equally fascinating man who had the presidency of the United States stolen from him in 1876: Samuel Tilden. Tilden is probably one of the people who gets the least credit for making Greenpoint great. Tilden was an absolutely brilliant corporate lawyer who knew a good investment when he saw one. He bought a huge piece of land before the Civil War in Greenpoint that covered an area from Calyer Street to Milton and east to Leonard Street including the land that St. Anthony’s church now sits on. Tilden did a lot for our state. He broke the corrupt Boss Tweed ring and helped write our state Constitution. In 1876 he really should have been elected president, but lost when his party, the Democrats, cut a dirty back room deal that ended reconstruction and sold him out.Continue reading →
Last night I wandered my way over to the newly established “Holiday Bizaar,” a wholly unique space that calls itself a “hybrid gallery, shop, event space, and studio” located on 82 Oak St. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Currently it is a large room displaying curios, artworks, natural articles, cans, and clothing that is all for sale and leisurely observing.
Holiday Bizaar is quite the definition of a community space. It was the brainchild of four friends who wanted to create a kind of place that challenges the creativity not only of themselves but also of those around them. Plans are still in the works regarding organized events, but it sounds as if the Bizaar is setting out to create holiday-themed movie nights (Miracle on 34th St. and Nightmare Before Christmas were mentioned), along with Wednesday “Drink and Draw” night where fellow Greenpointers (and any one!) can bring in materials and drinks of any sort and join in a communal creation of art.
What’s cool about this new place is the how open to ideas the creators are. If you have something you would like to sell in the space, please feel free to email the Holiday Bizaar ([email protected]). They are also doing a take on the traditional holiday can drive. Having a set of cans as part of an art instillation, visitors to the space are asked buy a can coloring card (for $1) and add it next to the piece. They then plan to donate the cans to the Greenpoint Reform Church on Milton St.
It seems that the Holiday Bizaar is to be an awesome new destination spot, constantly evolving and completely accepting to your ideas. They are open to customers/visitors Wednesday – Sunday, 1 pm to 8 pm from now until December 24th. As the space plans to constantly evolve, I would recommend stopping several times from now until the 24th during their moment on Oak Street.
Just in time for the shopping season, Oak Street is going to be home to Holiday Bizaar. On Sunday they had a sneak peek but on Wednesday it’s open to everyone.
On November 17th, Holiday Bizaar: A Gentle Initiation unfurls as a hybrid gallery, shop, event space and studio at 82 Oak Street in West Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Nestled on a waterfront block, this shape-shifting space will transform daily with fine hewn goods, workshops and gatherings. The aesthetic celebrates wintry descent – an urban black forest where branch dens grow from crisp white walls. Laced clogs, marbled books, gelatin silver prints and other curiosities burrow into the timbered environs.
The fundamental concept behind Holiday Bizaar is to challenge the notion of traditional retail concepts, and to assemble artists and designers from New York and further afield.
The space, housed within Greenpoint View, will be open to customers Wednesday through Sunday from 1PM – 8PM through December 24. A selection of art presentations, film screenings and nighttime gatherings will accent the multidimensional nature of this project.
Please join us Sunday the 14th from 7pm – 11pm for a celebratory birth of the Bizaar.