Save Brooklyn's Industrial Heritage
The Municipal Art Society of New York

Greenpoint and Williamsburg neighborhoods

On May 11, 2005, the New York City Council approved the rezoning proposal for the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront. The scale of the rezoning plan is immense - covering 180 blocks and allowing for up to 40-story residential buildings to be constructed along the waterfront. Upland blocks that were zoned for manufacturing are now mixed-use, which has already caused a widespread conversion to residential uses and the demolition of manufacturing buildings to make way for new residential buildings.

Both Greenpoint and Williamsburg have a long and venerable past and there remains a wealth of buildings related to that history. In the 1850s, Williamsburg was the third-largest city in the region, filled with worker’s housing and rowhouses and manufacturing buildings interspersed with historic banks, schools, churches and synagogues. From the 1840s to the 1870s, Greenpoint was an important center for shipbuilding and the great ironclad Civil War ship, USS Monitor, was built on its shores. The legacy of shipbuilders is evident in Greenpoint as 90% of the existing housing stock was built before World War II, much of it constructed by the 19th century ship-builders who worked on the nearby docks. Some of the oldest churches in Brooklyn are in the neighborhood, as are significant examples of public works, like McCarren Park Pool. The historic buildings in the neighborhood, which bear witness to the rich and venerable history of the neighborhoods, were ignored in the rezoning.

The Environmental Impact Statement for the rezoning identified only 18 historic buildings and one historic district in the 180 blocks. The Municipal Art Society and community members surveyed the same area and identified 264 buildings that should have been included. (click here to read more). The city failed to make any changes to protect the buildings endangered by the rezoning.

Photo Credits:
Left: Joe Darragh

Landmark Status: Since the Brooklyn Industrial Waterfront was named to the 11 Most Endangered List, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has designated the Domino Sugar Refinery (three buildings) and the Eberhard Pencil Factory Historic District. The Waterfront Preservation Alliance has a link to other buildings and districts they believe should be designated as landmarks.

Threat: Since the rezoning there have been two striking losses of historic industrial buildings, the Old Dutch Mustard building and the Greenpoint Terminal Market (link to obituary). Most at risk in the neighborhood are the Austin, Nichols and Co. Warehouse and the unprotected buildings at the Domino Sugar site. And with intense development pressures throughout the neighborhoods, many of the manufacturing and warehouse buildings that shape their character. The Preservation League of New York State named the industrial architecture of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood to the nonprofit group’s 2006 list of New York’s most threatened historic resources, Seven to Save.

What you can do: Sign up to receive updates Greenpoint and Williamsburg preservation issues from the Waterfront Preservation Alliance. Follow their links to write to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

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