by Kevin Walsh

WHEN the NYC Department of Purchase Building, at Water and New Dock Streets under the Brooklyn Bridge, was demolished in 2008, it wasn’t without protest from preservationists who wanted to preserve a rare example of Modernist architecture from 1936. The building served as a warehouse for the NYC Department of Purchase (now known as the NYC Department of Finance) and also as headquarters for other agencies, including the Office of Emergency Management following 9/11/01.

Though the building itself came down in 2008, it took until 2021 for its replacement, an extension of Brooklyn Bridge Park called Emily Roebling Plaza, to take its place. I wonder why it took so long for NYC Parks to connect the two pieces of Brooklyn Bridge Park. I imagine it was because there may have been some complicated negotiations for what had previously been private property. Nevertheless, this spot beneath the Brooklyn Bridge has been a favored spot for outdoor photo shoots for wedding parties. It didn’t involve a lot of construction as it’s basically a large windswept plaza that involved the closure of New Dock Street.

Emily Roebling (1843-1903), wife of Washington Roebling, assisted in the Bridge’s construction when her husband Washington (who had taken over the project from his father John, who had died of tetanus when his foot was crushed during construction) was himself struck down from caisson disease acquired when he was working beneath the East River bed and nitrogen entered his blood vessels. He then observed construction from the Roebling’s house with a spyglass and had Emily relay instructions to the construction workers. From her close association with her husband’s work as well as her own education, she knew engineering principles and with his help, she was able to explain his instructions to engineers. When bridge trustees wished to replace Washington Roebling a year before the bridge opened, her powers of persuasion were instrumental in keeping him on. She was on the first carriage to cross the Bridge when it formally opened in 1883.

Today the only reminder of the Purchase Building is its lintel, the structural horizontal support above the main doorway. It features extraordinarily stylized Machine-Age lettering that reads: Purchase Department, City of New York.” I had to stare at it for awhile before I was able to read it.

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Peter March 18, 2023 - 11:03 am

“I wonder why it took so long for NYC Parks to connect the two pieces of Brooklyn Bridge Park.”

Typical New York Incompetence. I should trademark that term.

Andy March 18, 2023 - 12:39 pm

I remember that building very well. Did not realize that the building had been razed.

In my earlier career I served as LIRR representative at NYC Office of Emergency Management, and thus was inside that building many times. It was difficult to reach on foot from the A/C and 2/3 subway stations, because it was at the bottom of a steep hill. Often had to take the B41 bus for the final leg, especially if it was during a snowstorm.

In December 2005 I was there during the NYC transit strike. Since the subways weren’t running and I worked there overnight, I had to drive.

Believe the NYC OEM is now located in the former Red Cross building adjacent to the High Street A/C IND station.

therealguyfaux March 18, 2023 - 5:27 pm

I mentioned the other day, in the comments to the article on the church being replaced by generic apartment buikdings, that given enough time, someone would want to preserve them too? That’s pretty much what I feel about the Purchase building– nothing remarkable about it to MY eye, but it lasted long enough that its well-out-of-date design seemed quaint enough that some wanted to preserve it.

chris March 18, 2023 - 7:20 pm

That area was the greatest place when we were kids.On weekends it was closed and we would
climb over the wall and play with all manner of junk stuff.Old machine tools,hospital equipment,
discarded dental chairs,barber chairs,electrical panels from some factory with all manner of scopes
and gauges.One time there was about 200 ice skates from a skating rink that went out of business.
Then about once a month a barge would dock under the bridge and all that stuff would be loaded
onto it later to be dumped at sea.We loved smashing anything we could and chase each other with
old gurneys or wheelchairs.Yes,they used to dump garbage into the ocean.Somewhere out there
within the three mile limit are the old Brooklyn porcelain street signs,now probably worth a lot of
money.Rust in peace in Davey Jones locker

Tim Farrell March 18, 2023 - 7:59 pm

I haven’t been there in a while, but I think the last vestige is the building’s power plant house and chimney. They trussed it up when they tore down the building and over the course of a few years, renovated the furnace building. Last I looked on Google, there was a food stand in it.

Andrew Porter March 19, 2023 - 9:10 am

What happened to my comment I made yesterday? This:

A gorgeous Art-Deco Building, now lamented for its destruction. The yards around the building were a depository for all the stuff NYC didn’t want, including old X-Ray machines, office furniture (beautiful mahogany desks, etc.), mimeographs, street signs; all sorts of things. I remember pieces of an NYPD helicopter. The go-to place for artists looking for pieces they could use. It was used for sorting through debris after 9/11, looking for pieces of bodies. After demolition, the space was a staging area for equipment and stuff used in the renovation of the Brooklyn Bridge above. Initial plans called for the area to become an ice-skating rink, but that didn’t happen.


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