WEST STREET, Greenpoint, Part 2

CONTINUED FROM PART 1

I walked West Street in Greenpointin September 2015, and it may have been a propitious time to do so because the west end of Greenpoint is, by many accounts, about to see a lot of changes as money move$ in and the waterfront, previously given over to unloading and importing goods (like Java, or coffee, and goods arriving from India, both of which have Greenpoint streets named for them). Since manufacturing (based on shipbuilding and glass, pottery, printing and iron production and pencil manufacturing) moved out long ago, the Greenpoint waterfront has been mostly moribund except for a ferry here and there. The waterfront, though, has now been targeted in all NYC neighborhoods in which it is featured for the high rollers to come in, building tall towers, walling it off from the hoi polloi. Will this happen in Greenpoint? There are several indicators that it will. Thus, I walked along West Street (though I could not resist ducking into Franklin for a block or two) to record what may be a vestige of Old Greenpoint before irrevocable change comes. It might have been walking through Williamsburg from 1990-1995, before it was Manhattanized.

When I left off I had visited the end of Java Street, observing the Manhattan skyline. I decided to swing over to Franklin for a block or two. Franklin Street, along with Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City, were both part of a waterside express road developed by 1850s Greenpoint developer Neziah Bliss as the Ravenswood, Green-Point and Hallet’s Cove Turnpike.

 

Both India and Java Streets are outside Greenpoint’s Historic District, which covers parts of Kent, Milton and Noble Streets as well as Greenpoint Avenue (which at one time featured a Polish catering hall and a slaughterhouse labeled “Poultry Slaughter” on the same block; a jester covered the S in Slaughter). But this pair of two 4-story apartments on Java…

 

… and this similar grouping of four buildings on India between West and Franklin certainly deserve recognition of some kind.

For my next Greenpoint survey I want to take an in-depth look at the architecture on its side streets, which is rarely matched in NYC for variety and um, er, diversity, architecturally speaking.

If you’re in the area a glimpse at the Astral, which takes up the entire frontage of Franklin from India to Java, is almost mandatory (it’s amazing the the same laundromat I remember from the 1980s is still on the ground floor at Franklin and India!)

Van Morrison recorded an album I’ve never heard but which inevitably winds up on all the critics’ Top Ten, Astral Weeks, and a band I have heard, Nektar, had a minor hit with Astral Man in 1976, but  undoubtedly Brooklyn’s claim to Astral fame is this handsome, distinctive apartment building built in 1885 as living quarters by Charles Pratt for workers in his  Astral Oil Works. Astral Oil’s slogan was, “the holy lamps of Tibet are primed with Astral Oil.” Largess from the oil works was later used to create Pratt Institute, one of NYC’s most prestigious art schools, in Clinton Hill. Astral made Pratt a multimillionaire, but he later sold it to a bigger one, John Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. In 1911, Standard was found to be in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act; the shards of Standard became Esso (Exxon), Chevron, Mobil and other companies.

The Astral takes up the entire block and has nearly a hundred apartments. Its distinctive 3-sided bays, arched entrances and recessed arch reaching the 5th floor are rare features; a center courtyard admits air and light to all apartments that don’t have a front exposure. Author Kate Christensen’s novel The Astral took its name from the building, and she consulted Forgotten New York for some information on the neighborhood.

 

200 Franklin Street, at India, is a very unusual object: Greenpoint’s tallest tower (for now) was constructed in 2009 (Karl Fischer, arch.) and consists of an 8-story tower plopped into the center of a squarish two-story building. When completed, it was known as The Horror on Franklin Street and it does seem somewhat Godzilla-esque.

A handsome walkup apartment building on Franklin and Java boasts a pair of chiseled street signs that line up with the second story window lintels.

 

The block of Kent Street can boast not one but two distinctive Eberhard Faber pencil factory buildings, recognizable by the star-within-diamond logo (see Part 1 linked above for details on the Faber pencil empire). In 2007, this section of Greenpoint was awarded with a Historic District designation. This detailed description of the neighborhood also has much more information on the company. Most of the Faber buildings were constructed between 1890-1910 with the exception of the showroom/office building on Greenpoint and Franklin, which went up in the mid-1920s in an Art Deco style that featured yellow terra-cotta pencils!

A puzzler: #74 Kent, shown here, is being redeveloped (hollowed out seems more like it) and that must have gotten past the Landmarks law.

 

#59 Kent, near West, has already been restored nicely as a residential building.

 

A group of very old buildings line the east side of West between Kent and Greenpoint Avenue. These were constructed in the 1860s by area iron merchant Francis Gove, with the roof treatment and corbelling added in the 1880s. Faber acquired them in the 1870s.

I’d like to call this the Pencil District, but I doubt Greenpointers will dig that much.

 

West Street at Greenpoint Avenue, a road that runs from the East River into Sunnyside, Queens and then, as Roosevelt Avenue, into Flushing. You can see the “newest” Faber building further up the street.

 

One of Greenpoint’s landmarks–and mysteries–is its super-tall water tank between West, Milton, Franklin and Noble Streets, since I do not know what entity built it in the first place; a little digging for that may be necessary. For many years, it was inscribed with the words “Save the Palestine” on one side and the Polish flag on the other; its owner duly painted the inscriptions over in late 2014.

 

The West Street and Brooklyn Greenways — basically new bike lanes along Flushing and Kent Avenues and Franklin and West Streets — was originally approved for construction in 2012, but have been delayed for over three years.

Though Milton Street officially “begins” at West Street it. along with its partner streets Noble, Oak etc. originally began at the East River and their house numbering starts there. Here in the place of the old Greenpoint Terminal warehouse, whose rusted ghost can still be seen at West and Milton, is a training outfit for Hollywood stuntmen and -women, Pink Sparrow Scenic, which manufactures props for the showbiz industry, and a household masonry supplier.

At Milton Street and the East River is another Manhattan view and in season, the Brooklyn Barge Bar, which has been reviewed mostly favorably.

 

Looking east on Milton from the river. The two spires are St. John’s Lutheran and St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church, which are quite close to each other at Manhattan Avenue. A new building is going up on West Street to partially block the view.

 

A look at the water  tower and an industrial loft building on the east side of West Street.

 

Until 2015, this had been a very special sidewalk on the west side of West between Milton and Noble, since it was the only sidewalk paved with wood blocks embedded in turf. Who knows how long that condition had existed. The owner of the property, #67 West, or the Department of Transportation (which cares little for history) constructed a new sidewalk, forever replacing the wood blocks. They can be seen on this Google Street View from 2013, but they’ll have a new view before too long.

The thing about Greenpoint is that in a few short blocks you can take in gentility, gentrification and desolation and experience the three all over again. The gorgeous brownstone blocks of India, Java, Kent, Milton and Noble are not far away from the Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse on West Street between Milton and Oak, until 2006 a tangled, rusty mass of 19th Century industrial loft buildings bridges by rusting, deteriorating overpasses. A huge fire, which some still maintain was arson, destroyed some of those buildings and the metal overpasses.

In the footsteps of Aragorn: actor Viggo Mortensen, years before appearing in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, prepared for his role in A Perfect Murder by occupying a Greenpoint loft; an accomplished painter and photographer, Mortensen’s 1997 photo “From Greenpoint Terminal” gained national notice. The terminal area has often been used as a movie set; in 1994’s Romeo Is Bleeding, Lena Olin attempts to garrote Gary Oldman while they are driving past the Terminal: Oldman crashes the car and Olin squeezes through the front windshield and staggers away up West Street.

In a happier vein, the large brick warehouse building, 67-69 West Street, has been repointed and cleaned. It is currently home to greendesk.com, which leases temporary office spaces, and From the Source, which produces handsome wood furniture. I liked it that the building is looking so well, but I miss that wood block sidewalk, though I suppose it may have been considered a fire hazard. Speaking of which…

… after the fire-damaged industrial buildings were razed in 2006 the land they stood on, along with an adjoining truck rental yard at Calyer Street, have remained empty for the last decade. The south end of West Street does not have as many projects in the pipeline as the northern end, but there are a couple of them nearby.

 

This is the west end of Quay Street, between West Street and the East River. There is a proposal to build a new green space, USS Monitor Park, on the site where the Union ironclad was launched in 1862 to engage the Confederate ironclad, the Merrimac, at Hampton Roads in the first battle between iron ships in The Civil War. The Monitor was produced at Greenpoint’s Continental Iron Works here; its chief engineer, John Ericson, is honored by a monument in Monsignor McGolrick Park bounded by Russell and Monitor Streets and Nassau and Driggs Avenues several blocks to the east.

Quay Street (properly pronounced “key”) looking east to Franklin. The paper products distributor seen in the left foreground is slated to have a particularly ugly 6-story residential addition stacked on top of it, according to Curbed.

That leaves this handsome brick loft building, which seems to be residential. I liked the intricate arched brick window lintels, and especially the remaining Belgian block sidewalk in front.

 

Not being a millennial, I had no idea who Courtney Barrett is (an Australian singer; she must have been appearing here in September 2015), or why I should care that nobody cares.

I was now on the undefended border of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, and obtained several photos of this no-man’s land… which will wait for further installments.

3/13/16

 

 

 


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