MESEROLE AVENUE, Greenpoint

by Kevin Walsh

I can get to Greenpoint pretty easily from Little Neck. Surprisingly easily. All I do is get the LIRR to Woodside, take the #7 to Court Square, go downstairs to the G train and in 3 stops I’m there. Thus I have found myself in Greenpoint rather frequently of late. In the age of Covid I have been reluctant to get to far flung areas like the Bronx (though I have gotten rides to Spuyten Duyvil and Riverdale) and, for the first time since I have been working on Forgotten NY it appears now that an entire calendar year will go by without a Staten Island visit.

I have been “drilling down” in the neighborhoods I have been able to get to and as a result you may be seeing multiple posts on places like Greenpoint, Spuyten Duyvil and Riverdale, and also western Queens where I have been spending some time. I also took advantage of some mild weather for a walk in Brooklyn Heights and in the new Brooklyn Bridge park.

Today I wanted to walk a couple of streets I hadn’t spent much time on, Calyer Street and Meserole Avenue. East of Manhattan Avenue I found Calyer rather uninspiring (sorry, Calyer Street people) but I did find inspiration on Meserole; I may return to Calyer west of Manhattan Avenue which I’d have to think is more interesting. (I did so, on 12/7/20)

If you seem to remember the name “Meserole” that’s because I’ve covered Meserole Street before. It’s in East Williamsburg, a couple of miles south of Meserole Avenue. According to Leonard Benardo/Jennifer Weiss’ Brooklyn By Name, the streets are named for one of the original European settler families in Greenpoint, the Meseroles; patriarch Jan arrived first, purchasing land from his father-in-law, early Greenpoint settler Pieter Praa later passed on to Abraham’s sons, Jacob and Abraham. I’m not sure which Meserole each street is named for. However, the Department of Transportation occasionally gets confused and posts Avenue signs on the Street and vice versa.

Before talking about Meserole Avenue I can’t help taking care of a bit of business on Greenpoint Avenue. There’s a fascinating stretch on the main drag just off Manhattan Avenue. The former Polish catering hall Polonaise Terrace is certainly down on its luck these days. It was in operation in the former Crystal Palace Theater between 1968 and 2013; after it was closed, the Brooklyn Night Bazaar occupied it for awhile. It appeared it would be razed in favor of residential towers, but things seem to be in limbo these days, and graffiti vandals have arrived to do their inevitable work.

The Polish and Slavic Federal Credit Union, #140 Greenpoint, was founded in 1976 to aid recent immigrants to whom banks would not extend credit; this branch opened in 1981 in what had been the Greenpoint National Bank, constructed here in 1912. A series of mergers combined it with what is now J.P. Morgan Chase.

The building at #124 is still recognizable as the former Hook & Ladder 106. There had been a firehouse in this location (for the Brooklyn Fire Department) since 1856, but this rather spare-looking (in contrast to other firehouses of the period I’ve seen) limestone building went up in 1909. The fire company moved down the street to #205 Greenpoint Avenue (at McGuinness Boulevard) in 1972.

Next door at #122 Greenpoint Avenue is what had been Lee’s “Live Poultry Slaughter.” It’s not the name of a postpunk Greenpoint band, it was an actual slaughterhouse and, as a graffito says, “this place stinks.”

Under its current incarnation, the slaughterhouse is called New Lee’s Live Poultry Market. One recent morning, a man working there named John Chen stood outside the building in a white coat as another man loaded a cargo van with paper bags containing slaughtered birds bound for Chinatown. Pointing to the recently hosed-off sidewalk as evidence of the establishment’s cleanliness, Mr. Chen said of the long-established business, “You can’t expect you come in and we move out.” NYTimes

In The City in downtown London, England, there is an actual street called Poultry (just Poultry, not Poultry Street) probably named for a former preponderance of slaughterhouses there. This slaughterhouse had been there since 1913 and here’s now it looked in 1940.

It had been awhile since I was here and I was surprised to find this wall mural at the main Greenpoint crossroads of Greenpoint and Manhattan Avenues. The work, by Swede Ola Kalnins, is reminiscent of the work of Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra, noted for a Michael Jackson portrait in the East Village, David Bowie in Jersey City, and much more.

856 Manhattan Avenue is now Starhawk Design Studio, which is about as New Age as it gets; but this sign for a long-ago ice cream shoppe has been uncovered since at least 2014.

As alluded to earlier, I walked Calyer east as far as it goes, Russell Street, and then west on Meserole Avenue to its western end at Franklin. Looking north at Russell and Meserole we see some of the glassy residential towers in Hunters Point, Queens, as well as the NYC Department of Sanitation’s “digester eggs.”

At Meserole between Jewel and Moultrie is a lengthy, once story aquamarine-tiled building home to the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs Central Testing station. “Here, The DCA tests the accuracy of all weighing and measuring devices (i.e., scales) used by retail and service establishments such as supermarkets, bodegas, jewelry stores, and laundries. Businesses must schedule an appointment to have their scales inspected before using them.”

I’m a fan of small midblock church buildings, and Greenpoint has quite a few such as the Church of God, #128 Meserole between Leonard and Eckford, built as the Faith Gospel Church in 1900.

I liked the storefront next door at #124 Meserole, occupied by a pet daycare center. In 1940 it was a grocery store. Elements from 80 years ago have stayed the same, from the glass transoms to the tile checkerboard treatment.

I don’t hang around tattoo parlors (I don’t get the point of tattoos) but this is one of the nicer ones I’ve seen, at #147 Meserole at the corner of Leonard.

Greenpoint’s independent movie house, Film Noir Cinema, has been at #122 Meserole Avenue at Leonard since 2017. The 54-seat theater shows, sells and rents cult and underground films; on the bill for December is Into the Devil’s Den, a 2019 bio of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, and The Faceless Man, a 2019 Australian thriller.

A second midblock church is at #112 Meserole Avenue between Leonard Street and Manhattan Avenue, built as Greenpoint United Methodist in 1921; the congregation dated back to 1847. Presently it’s still a church, Polish-services Church of the Redeemer (Kościół Odkupiciela).

The Polish candy store, Słodycze Wedel, at the corner of Manhattan and Meserole has been closed since at least 2015. The building owner probably has a big ticket tenant like a bank or a Starbucks in mind for the seemingly prime location. E. Wedel is Poland’s most popular candy brand and was founded in Warsaw in 1851.

Directly opposite is a building completely coated in terra cotta that now hosts an ultramodern TD Bank. Quite a contrast. A 1929 map plate calls this the Ambassador Dance Hall.

Greenpoint’s Young Men’s Christian Association branch at #99 Meserole Avenue at Lorimer Street was constructed in 1906, but Greenpoint had lobbied the YMCA for a branch long before that, since 1869, and finally got one in Manhattan Avenue in the 1880s. The institution features fitness and swimming classes and daycare on a limited basis and “virtually” during the Covid crisis.

Greenpoint’s 94th NYPD Precinct was constructed in 1924 at Meserole and Lorimer Streets. As with most NYPD precincts, the doorway is flanked by a pair of lamps with green glass. The tradition of green lights dates back to colonial times. According to the NYPD website, “It is believed that the Rattle Watchmen, who patrolled New Amsterdam in the 1650’s, carried lanterns at night with green glass sides in them as a means of identification. When the Watchmen returned to the watch house after patrol, they hung their lantern on a hook by the front door to show people seeking the watchman that he was in the watch house. Today, green lights are hung outside the entrances of Police Precincts as a symbol that the “Watch” is present and vigilant.”

I was at first perplexed by the inscription, in gold leaf and chiseled, “Lexington Council” at this handsome brick edifice at the SW corner of Meserole Avenue and Lorimer. I later learned it housed the Catholic fraternal and service organization Knights of Columbus‘ Greenpoint branch, the Lexington Council, established in 1897 and named for the first Revolutionary war battle. The brick building was dedicated in 1922.

Constructed as PS 126 in 1900 on Meserole Avenue between Guernsey and Lorimer Streets, the school is now the Samuel Dupont School (PS 31). It as also been called the John Ericsson School; the naval engineer constructed America’s first ironclad warship, the Monitor, and launched it from Greenpoint. There is a monument to Ericsson in McGolrick Park on Greenpoint’s east side and a north-south street named for the ship. Like many schools built in the early 1900s, there are separate boys’ and girls’ entrances.

In nonviral times, Davey’s Ice Cream and its Guernsey Street mural are Meserole Avenue highlights.

I haven’t been inside the Greenpoint USPS office. I wonder if there are interesting murals in there. Occasionally post offices such as Flushing’s have very interesting historic artwork. There are also guards trained to be very suspicious of scruffy characters poking around and aiming cameras as free as a bird.

I like the Greenpoint PO’s metallic lettering on its sidewalk sign. It really isn’t duplicated elsewhere. I’m beginning to pay more attention to post office design (which usually disappoints) firehouses (some excellent ones) and police precincts (hit or miss).

Tool manufacturers have been moving away from New York City in recent years as rents rise. Tool and die makers produce jigs, fixtures, dies, molds, machine tools, cutting tools, gauges, and other tools used in manufacturing processes.

The painted sign for Pinquist Tool & Die can still be seen at #57 Meserole Avenue at Clifford Place. The sign isn’t all that old, however. While the company was founded by Alex Pinquist in 1946 as Pinquist-Willis Products Inc. on Baxter Street in Manhattan, the company moved to Wallabout Street on the Fort Greene-Williamsburg border in 1961 before settling on Meserole Avenue in 1981. That’s likely the date that this sign was painted here.

Pinquist is still in business, though it moved to Lynbrook, Nassau County, in 2016. The Indispensable Walter Grutchfield hones the Pinquist business and its painted sign to the minutest detail.

#35 Meserole, at Banker Street, is a stolid brick box now divided into apartments… but at one time…

…it was a box factory, as this 1940 Municipal Archives photo indicates. Greenpoint was once Brooklyn’s foremost manufacturing mecca, building ships, metal products, ceramics, and of course pencils; Eberhard Faber had its factories there. Its location alongside both the East River and Newtown Creek allowed products to be easily shipped and imported worldwide.

This telephone pole at Meserole and Banker once supported telephone and electric wires, but these days it supports traffic signs and a fire alarm.

Though so many of the importers and manufacturers along the East River have departed, Greenpoint still “works.” There is still light industry and manufacturing, and a bustling wholesale produce business. This sign is rendered in one of my favorite fonts, Egyptian Bold.

In one of those brick buildings formerly housing industry at Franklin and Meserole, a pop up clothing shop has appeared.

Next: Franklin Street.

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”

12/7/20

15 comments

Emi December 6, 2020 - 6:27 pm

For decades, the TD bank building was a huge Chinese restaurant with the best authentic food around called “New Garden.” It later became a dance club called Europa, I believe.

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Tom December 6, 2020 - 6:56 pm

Next time you’re in the area, I strongly advise a visit to Syrena Polish Bakery at 207 Norman Ave., just one block south of where Meserole Ave. begins at North Henry St. It’s baked goods are outrageous. Great place to fuel-up or wind down from a day of exploring Greenpoint.

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Kevin Walsh December 7, 2020 - 2:21 pm

Staying out of bakeries, me. 1) Once I get going on the sweets it’s hard to stop. 2) Blood sugar.

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Marie December 6, 2020 - 9:01 pm

Polish candy store was a diner, 122 a funeral home, 147 Bruno’s German Deli & 124 Chinese laundry. I don’t think the man spoke any English. I lived on Meserole Avenue 1952-1964. Love your pics

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Peter December 7, 2020 - 3:35 pm

Strange Polish factoid: even though they’re completely different languages Polish and Portuguese sound so much alike that a person who doesn’t speak either one often cannot tell the difference. Portuguese and Russian too.

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Punto December 6, 2020 - 9:25 pm

The terra cotta facade of the TD Bank that was Ambassador Dance Hall in 1929 makes it look as if it may have been a Childs Restaurant at some point.

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Ed Findlay December 7, 2020 - 10:49 am

Ladder 106’s quarters wasn’t able to have the beauty of others from that era, but it did have a deep building: it’s longer than it seems, likely twice as long as most other firehouses so was spacious. Even without space for horses in the rear, it was longer than normal.

Sadly, it was also narrow so eventually newer firetrucks weren’t able to use it thus the need to move to larger quarters. It lasted longer than a lot of other single-ladder companies so it had that going for it for years before time caught up with the company.

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Dennis December 7, 2020 - 12:58 pm

I’m surprised you didn’t comment on the abandoned looking house on the corner of Meserole and McGuinness. It’s in the middle of the mini forrest on the NE corner. I’ve wondered if anyone actually lives there almost my entire adult life.

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John S. Crain December 7, 2020 - 3:14 pm

Funny you say the building at Meserole and Manhattan was one a dance hall. I’m not sure if you knew, but it still houses a nightclub, Good Room. I wonder if it uses the old dance hall space.

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Anonymous December 7, 2020 - 4:34 pm

The tattoo parlor on the corner of merlo and leonard use to be Brunos grocery store

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CdB December 7, 2020 - 10:50 pm

Loved seeing my old neighborhood. Thanks for all the great history.

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Robert O'DONNELL December 8, 2020 - 4:09 pm

Hello I grew up in Greenpoint during the 1960’s, I remember
McGolrick Park was known as Winthrop park and ps 110 was known as the monitor school, but out of curiosity is the Chinese
restaurant New Garden still on the corner of Manhattan Ave
and Meserole St ?

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Bob December 8, 2020 - 4:56 pm

Pops popular clothing has been there for many years.

The Greenpoint PO had the friendliest clerks I ever dealt with in NYC.

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Alan December 9, 2020 - 10:27 am

I like the photos (present and past) of the former box factory at Meserole and Banker. I see the one-ways were already there in 1940, but it appears Meserole did NOT have a Stop sign then (but it does today). So Banker must have has a Stop sign in 1940 and it still does today (I saw in Google Street View).

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tom December 15, 2020 - 2:59 pm

I can remember the no name candy store on Kingsland avenue run by angelina and mike…what a trip that place was!

Reply

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