GREENPOINT, Brooklyn

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Greenpoint Savings Bank, Manhattan Avenue and Calyer St.

 

KNOWN as the “garden spot of Brooklyn”, an eponym bestowed by theBrooklyn Eagle many years ago, Greenpoint is Brooklyn’s northernmost neighborhood, separated from Long Island City by Newtown Creek. It is the place where the country’s first ironsided warship, the Monitor, was built, the land of Mae West’s birth, and the place where your webmaster once rented an apartment for two weeks.

Let’s take a look at this Polish-Hispanic enclave from north to south.

The big building at Manhattan Avenue and Commercial Street is the former Chelsea Fiber Mills Building, now the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center. GMDC rehabilitates vacant maunfacturing buildings for use by small companies.

Tank on Commercial Street west of Franklin Street, that just might have been the original model for the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden, perhaps?

Don’t know what Harte & Company actually does but I enjoy its national headquarters at Franklin and Commercial, especially that wraparound window, made up with multiple glass panels.

The other side of Franklin and Commercial Streets features a somewhat desolate playground, oddly placed in this über-indüstrial area. Commercial Street itself faces a terrific view of mid-Manhattan, which, as usual in Brooklyn waterfront areas, is off limits to most, behind barbed wire.

The King of All Buildings can be seen spectacularly from Greenpoint, as well as from southern Queens communities just to the north. Directly in front of the ESB is 3 Park Avenue, a building turned at a diagonal to the street grid, completed in 1976. I’ve visited offices on the 38th floor which provide spectacular all-around views.

This swing bridge, constructed in the 1800s, connected Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint with Vernon Avenue in Long Island City over Newtown Creek. It was replaced in 1954 by the massive Pulaski Bridge a block to the east.

Street art at the northern end of Manhattan Avenue oppoite the Manufacturing and Design Center.

Two buildings, Franklin and Eagle Streets. Franklin Street was the original road from Greenpoint to Long Island City, opening in 1839 as a toll road. It was built by industrialist, shipbuilder, and real estate speculator Neziah Bliss.

Eberhard Faber, the scion of a Bavarian pencil producing family, arrived in the USA from Germany in 1848, and after his first USA pencil factory on Manhattan’s east side burned down in 1861, he relocated to Greenpoint in 1872. His son Eberhard II (he had changed his name from John) took over the company, which remained in Greenpoint until 1956 when it decamped to Wilkes-Barre, PA. Faber is recalled by a large sign facing the East River painted on its original 1872 building at 37 Greenpoint Avenue at West Street, and by the huge yellow terra cotta pencils on its old Art Deco building next door at Franklin. The pencil factory itself, on Franklin Street near Java, is recognizable by a distinctive yellow star-in-diamond symbol.

Pierce Steam Laundry, off West Street; ”Syrup of Figs” sign on Greenpoint near Franklin. “Syrup of figs” was not a dessert as I had originally imagined but rather, a laxative mixture, rather similar to Fletcher’s Castoria. As a matter of fact, syrup of figs is still used as a laxative.

Brooklyn has a Manhattan Avenue, but can you imagine Manhattan with a Brooklyn Avenue? I didn’t think so. The northern end of Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint’s spine, has many Forgotten relics. I found the hotel with mattresses piled in the windows intriguing, as well as the building which, except for the four small windows, has not one opening that is the same.

Don’t know the history of J. Joseph and sons, but they have quite the little empire on Manhattan Ave., with a full block worth of shops, and an ancient neon sign.

Might the Norwood, at 960 Manhattan, have been a hotel originally? The abandoned JK Restaurant Supplies, next door, is an example of the dual nature of Greenpoint, with some pockets stubbornly resisting a comeback. Everything is broken, as Dylan says.

I arrived in Greenpoint in 1982, on the news that it was on the verge of a comeback. It took about 20 years for the comeback, if you can call it that, to happen, spurred from nearby Williamsburg, where trendies from the East Village had arrived and spilled northward, to a degree. The reality was that Greenpoint was never necessarily in need of a comeback. It’s been a remarkably stable area of Polish and Hispanic emigres for most of the 20th Century and on into the 21st.

My apartment, however, on Green Street, was in need of a comeback. There was a bathtub in the kitchen and a single electrical outlet to suffice for two and a half rooms. I got out of the lease and obtained an apartment in Bay Ridge, where I remained for the next 8 years before being ousted because the super needed the room “for his daughter.” What their real purpose was, was to renovate the place and invite me back in at a much higher rent, which I refused. But back to Manhattan Avenue.

I’m fascinated by stopped clocks on the street; most exterior clocks are no longer maintained.

I believe Halpern-Perlow was a men’s clothing store.

When you’ve got a good sign, you don’t need to ever replace it. The old school phone number, probably EVergreen, is still there too.

I’m fascinated by the detail on the old Meserole Theater, now an Eckerd durgstore. It was built in the 1920s where the old Meserole family farm had stood. Might that be why there are cattle skulls as part of the decor?

Some of the interior detail of the Meserole has been preserved on the drugstore ceiling. Photo: Chris Sattler

Greenpoint Savings Bank, on Manhattan and Calyer. It was built in 1908 by Helmle and Huberty. The bank itself was established in 1869. RIGHT: ad for R&G Corsets above another partially obscured ancient ad.

BELOW: Dunne’s Polemost Liquors, shot from a bus window. This name strikes me as incredibly corny, given that this is a Polish neighborhood, but that’s Greenpoint.

If Manhattan Avenue forms Greenpoint’s Y axis, Greenpoint Avenue makes the X. It was laid out in 1852 as a means of bringing Manhattanites to the new Calvary Cemetery in Maspeth. It has been previously called L, and then Lincoln, Street. If you follow it eastward, it reaches Sunnyside, Queens, changes its name to Roosevelt Avenue, and plunges into Woodside, Corona and ultimately, Flushing.

Walsh’s Shoe Factory and the gorgeous 1895 Mechanics and Traders Bank Building at Franklin Street, now the offices of the Polish newspaper Novy Dziennik (“New Day”) are near the avenue’s western end.

Photo: bridgeandtunnelclub

f you have a wedding or a Confirmation to get to at the Polonnaise catering hall, you have to make your way down Greenpoint Avenue past the old stables and the poultry slaughtering joint.

It looks like Frank Gehry dropped in on this Greenpoint Ave doorway east of Manhattan Avenue. Old-school Greenpoint reasserts itself a few doors down.

Terra cotta griffin detail, building on Greenpoint Avenue near McGuinness Boulevard

The rusting industrial area on West Street, the western end of Greenpoint, has been the location for dozens of motion picture scenes where a desolated area is in the script. In Romeo Is Bleeding, Lena Olin attempts to garrote Gary Oldman, who crashes his car here to avoid getting killed. Lena squeezes out of the smashed windshield and hobbles down West Street in her underwear, which she appears in for most of the movie. Oakum is manufactured for plumbers and used for packing around steel pipe fittings or caulking lead joints.

A water tower on Noble near West Street is inscribed with the Polish flag on one side and “Save the Palestine” on the other.

Parts of West Street are lined with what I have never seen in other parts of NYC: sidewalks made up of cut wooden blocks.

Landmarked Milton St., a block south of Greenpoint Avenue, is among the area’s finest residential areas. The street is marked by two tall spires, belonging to St. John’s Lutheran Church (1892), a remnant of Greenpoint’s now-departed German population, and the red brick-white limestone 240-foot tall St. Anthony of Padua, a Catholic church built in 1875.

Walking on Guernsey north of Calyer (noting the distinctive 2-story brick building on the corner) produces one of Greenpoint’s most pleasant surprises: a bend in the road turns into Oak Street. On the left is a house where a friend lived in the 1980s; he had the top floor bay window, from which we could see the picturesque scene. A back window afforded a view of the King of All Buildings. Partially shown on the right is a building once known as Greenpoint Home for the Aged, set considerably back from the street. It was built in 1887.

Greenpoint is the birthplace of Brooklyn’s longest street, Bedford Avenue, which begins at Manhattan Avenue a little north of Nassau and runs southwest, southeast and south through Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Flatbush, Midwood, and Sheepshead Bay to Emmons Avenue. In Williamsburg, Bedford Avenue was called 4th Street until about 1890.

Monsignor McGolrick Park, bounded by Russell and Monitor Streets and Nassau and Driggs Avenues, was originally named Winthrop Park and renamed in 1941 for a beloved pastor of nearby St. Cecilia’s Church, Msgr. Edward McGolrick. The park contains a triumphant crescent-shaped shelter pavilion designed in 1910 by famed architectural firm Helmle and Huberty.

The John Ericsson (Monitor and Merrimac) Monument by sculptor Antonio de Filippo was dedicated in 1938. Engineer Ericsson built the Monitor, the USA’s first ironclad warship, at Greenpoint’s Continental Iron Works in 1861, and engaged the Confederate States’Merrimac at Hampton Roads in 1862. Less than a decade after the battle, William Street was renamed for the famed vessel.

PS 110, 124 Monitor Street, built 1895

St. Stanislaus Kostka, Driggs Avenue & Humboldt Street. Former Polish president Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul II have each visited.

St. Cecilia, just below the southern Greenpoint border at Herbert Street and North Henry Street, is recognizable for miles by its illuminated green dome.

More Greenpoint:

Greenpoint’s Enchanted Villages
McCarren Park Pool
Bridge and Tunnel Club in Greenpoint

Sources: Big Onion Guide to Brooklyn, Seth Kamil and Eric Wakin, NYU Press 2005
BUY this book at Amazon.COM

Your webmaster shot these images in August and December 2004 and wrote the page on April 30-May 1st, 2005.

 





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11 Responses to GREENPOINT, Brooklyn

  1. john malmfelt says:

    Many Brooklyn memories conjured up by these photos. Although I was born in Brooklyn Hospital, I lived in Queens near the Brooklyn/Queens border. Traveled by “el” and by subway to my grade sachool -Blessed Sacrament in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn and then to Brooklyn Prep in the Crown Heights section (Nostrand Ave. and Carroll St.) As to Greenpoint- my grandparents lived in a tiny red brick row house on Monitor Street opposite Monsignor McGolrick Park and a “stone’s throw” from the John Ericsson Monitor Monument. Many Sunday afternoons were spent with my cousins in the park and somedays in a movie with a bright yellow facade that I recall was at the corner of Driggs Ave and Russel St. opposite the park. However, I can’t remember the movie’s name . My dad attended PS 110 and as a young man,sang in St. Cecilia’s choir. Greenpoint at that time (19 20s-1950s), had large Irish as well as Polish enclaves .Thanks for the memories and for keeping the old Greenpoint alive !

  2. paul beissel says:

    It’s Josephs not singular! I am 64 and lived in Greenpoint since 1965 but knew it since 1955…and
    my family goes back to 1900.

    As far as I know (and Josephs great grand son who is 40) told me that the first Josephs established
    the store in 1894….It was the Macy’s of Greenpoint for many yrs…

    The fourth generation Josephs still runs a skeleton of the store and is 75….The son would love
    to sell and build a 7 store half block hipster condo.

  3. Gloria says:

    Great post, great photos. I lived on Manhattan Avenue and then India Street when I was younger. I’m now in CT and I miss Greenpt. so much. You brought back great memories… Thanks!
    Best,
    Gloria

  4. Rudy says:

    …you being an early 1980′s immigrant to Greenpoint, it is laudable you have put together this “historical”/archival/trivia collection of photos and a job well done for the most part, but your basic knowledge of the area and its ethnic history is lacking and obviously not well researched and at times inaccurate..historically back through the decades of the 20th century, Greenpoint was NEVER predominantly a neighborhood of Polish decent inhabitants or Polish immigrants..it was a mixed population w/ a majority of Irish ethnic descent , a mixing of some Polish, some Italian , and from the 1920′s though the depression era 30′s even a concentration of some Scottish Catholic immigrants, further back in early 20th/ late 19th cent were German immigrants as well..the “hispanic” refernce you make. well it was strictly familes from Pueto Rico for a long time and concentrated in certain scattered pockets, the way things developed in those days, with a huge Puerto Rican community in the south side of Williamsburg , now overrun by the “hipster invasion”..(some of which was VERY positive esp in the mid- late 80′s, the early struggling artists converting abandoned commercial buildings into flourishing communities and bringing a great flair of new activity.. ..when you arrived in 1982, the concentration of Polish speaking immigrants you encountered had occurred in the early to mid-1970′s, when U.S. immigration quotas were relaxed and increased for immigration from Poland and that occurred at a rapid rate in those years in the 70′s and the neighborhood took on it’s “little Poland” aspect..and was a welcome phenomenon and transformation, but there was some assimilation issues on the streets with the youth in the late 60′s into the early 70′s…. i was there… there was always a scattering of pockets of longer generational Polish families that spoke polish in the family through the generations.. the largest catholic parish on Manhattan Ave, St. Anthony’s , an architectural fixture since its building in 1875, til present day, as you note well, & its elementary school on Leonard St., was overwhelmingly Irish descent in its congregation right through into the 1980′s..the Polish catholic congregation was concentrated in the Polish language speaking St. Stanislaus at Driggs Ave and Humboldt st., and its elementary school on Newel St.. you are not alone by any means in making this basic historical error, even the N.Y. Times real estate section has started describing Greenpoint as”always” predominantly Polish in ethnicity..wrong….this jumped put at me when you describe w/ humor the name of “Dunne’s Liquor Store” as being “incredibly corny”, ..this description REEKS of a lack of knowledge or a real interested pursuit of accurate history.. i was born in Greenpoint at the now gone , small St Catherine’s Hospital where all the working class families went in the 1950′s, i am 1st generation SCOTTISH american, my father coming there as a young child in the mid 1920′s, with an influx of poor working class Scottish catholics along with the Irish in those days.. in early 1950′s thru 60′s grew up there, went to school there lived there until 2001…WORKED along with some buddies at that liquor store in the early 1970′s when a college kid ( the stories that occured there could be a blue collar MEMOIR!)..it was “Dunne’s Liquor Store” ‘ for decades, owned by a somewhat notorious Irish family of the hood, ,..there were family political connections back to the end of Prohibition days, .. Gerry Dunne was the owner in my day, who was widely known including for some , well you might say, “colorful” reasons..haha..i worked for him and got to know him very well, and he had grown up and knew my parents in the 30′s-the 40′s WW2 days, ..it was a VERY successful retail liquor business, with loyal customers coming from outside the neighborhood all along, particularly Italian descent from the Italian sections on the Northside of Williamsburg and the Italian enclave along Graham ave on the other side of McCarren Park and the BQE split.. ..reason for that was connected to Gerry Dunne’s eh, well, side- business activities….he sat in back of that store thru the late 1970′s and finally sold the biz to a chain operation called Foremost w/ the stipulation of keeping the Dunne name and i do believe a continued business investment interest… as the hood became more and more Polish dominant and Polish speaking, do believe it was sold to Polish owners , name becoming “Polemost,” but , again, smart in keeping the old and somewhat known Irish name, Dunne’s..i am indeed surprised that the name is still in use, but it is in no way just a” corny” misplaced name..much of your work here is excellent and i learned some things myself about many of the still “there” historical factoids..i live in a very far away place now and at times in a state of memory- tweaking melancholy search up websites on the PERNT as we called it, and found yours with its great fotos…..thank you for that.., “Rudy” Robertson

    • Don Dwyer says:

      Your post was so interesting. My father ,William Dwyer ,grew up on Leonard St and went
      to school and church at St Anthony’s in the1930′s. He lived there , except for WW2, until about 1956. I was born there in 1953.. We moved in 1956 to Long Island.. AT age 60 I live in Buffalo NY .. My dad is gone. My father always described Leonard Street and the area as Polish. Of course we are Irish and I am surprised to hear the area was Irish.

  5. Ben says:

    The ”Syrup of Figs” sign was painted for the filming of “Donnie Brasco”, it’s a fake!

  6. Ken says:

    Wow, thanks for posting the photos of Greenpoint. I was born and raised on India st. off west. I grew up playing on the docks along West st. and remember that ships bringing in lumber for shipment. We used to ‘borrow’ lumber to make club houses in the rear yards along India and Java. I attended St. Alphonsus church and school there also. I left in the early 70′s and returned some years later after my career with the military only to find out some of the families I had known as a child were still there. I recalled playing ‘stoop’ ball, Johnny on the pony and a game we called skully with bottle caps and a chalk board drawn on the streets. I recalled almost all of the photos you posted on this site. Thank you for doing so. Brought back many good memories of a time gone by and let this soldier forget if only for awhile the horrors of war.

  7. Howard H says:

    Harte & company had 2 locations one in Green Point the other located in Mountaintop, PA Harte & Co was a manufacturer of vinyl products. My father business Wearever Shower Curtain Corp. bought form Harte & Co vinyl material for the manufacture of shower curtains that were heat sealed. Harte also manufactured vinyl car mats among there menu of products. Their showroom was on E 34th Street. My fathers company went out of business around 1987, and have no idea when Harte finally went out or sold out. Should you require and further info please feel free to write I generally check my emails approx 3 to 4 times daily. Regards, Howard H

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  9. KEN says:

    WENT TO SAINT CYRIL AND METHODIUS SCHOOL ON DUPONT STREET CLASS OF 1960
    ITS NOW A CONDO LOTS OF MEMORIES.WISH YOU HAD A PICTURE OF IT. KEN T.

  10. Ken Foulks says:

    Interesting to see old buildings and familiar names. My great-great grandfather, William D. Foulks was a partner in the shipbuilding firm of Lawrence and Foulks, located in the Greenpoint section of the City. Also, he was a director and vice-president of the Greenpoint Savings and Loan Bank. Any additional information you could provide would be appreciated.

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