Cobble Hill

Check out this homage to Obama and other Columbia Street Waterfront District sights

Eye on Real Estate

March 28, 2018 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Shout-out to Barack Obama from the Columbia Street Waterfront District. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan
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Does all the agita in America make you miss President Obama?

If so, there’s a place in the Columbia Street Waterfront District that will soothe your soul just a little bit.

Right by the shoreline along the popular Brooklyn Greenway bike and jogging path, a mural displays gigantic letters that spell out Barack Obama’s last name — and a giant red heart.

The mural has been there for years. We don’t remember exactly how long, but we’re sure its existence predates Donald Trump’s election to the presidency.

If you want to make a pilgrimage to this place where Obama — or his name, at least — still looms large, go south on the Greenway from Atlantic Avenue. This is the waterfront side of Columbia Street.

The Greenway swings right along Degraw Street to follow the shoreline. Then a couple blocks further away, the scenic pathway moves onto Van Brunt Street.

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On the inland side of the street you’ll see his name on that building, standing like a silent beacon in the Trump Era.

We were wondering. Will posting this photo of the Obama mural work like the Batman signal Gotham City flashes at night when the Caped Crusader is needed?

The building’s address is 62 Degraw St. We looked it up in city Finance Department records, which indicate it belongs to Elizabeth Magnus. We hereby thank her for displaying Obama’s name on it.


Need to repair your Vespa?

Just a short stretch of Van Brunt Street is located within the Columbia Street Waterfront District.

Nevertheless, there’s other interesting stuff to see on it in addition to the Obama mural.

For instance, there are usually Vespas parked in front of the picturesque blue-painted stucco and metal building at 65 Union St., which is on the corner of Van Brunt Street.

This is Scooter Bottega. Its specialty is vintage Vespa, Lambretta and Piaggio scooter repairs.

Further down Van Brunt Street, there’s a building with a gigantic lower-case letter “g” formed with clinging vines. It’s the initial for the name of the business that’s beside it, Gowanus Nursery.

Once warm weather arrives in earnest, the vines will sprout green leaves. And the “g” will be more photogenic than it was on the wintry day we snapped a photo.

The nursery occupies a corner property whose address is 9 Carroll St.

Remember South Brooklyn?

Usually when we’re in this part of Brooklyn, we spend so much time on the Greenway that we give short shrift to the rest of the Columbia Street Waterfront District.

To remedy this inattentiveness to the rest of the neighborhood, we recently spent a day photographing buildings there.

The 22-block Columbia Street Waterfront District is a mix of classic brick rowhouses, low-rise factories — some converted to residential use — and newer mid-rise apartment houses.

Walk with us up Union Street and we’ll show you around.

There are charming old-fashioned rowhouses on Union Street with shops and restaurants on their ground floors.

We’re heading this way first because it’s one of the few streets in the neighborhood that has a bridge over the vast abyss known as the BQE.

We’re crossing it so we can stand on the east side of Hicks Street, which is a good vantage point from which to take photographs.  

Once upon a time, the Columbia Street Waterfront District was part of the same neighborhood as Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill. Then the BQE came along and split them asunder.

They were part of South Brooklyn. Remember South Brooklyn?

It also included present-day Boerum Hill, Gowanus and Red Hook.

In the 1950s, a deep trench was dug into Hicks Street for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Gee thanks, Robert Moses.

The Power Broker, as biographer Robert Caro famously called him, was responsible for isolating Columbia Street, Van Brunt Street and a slew of waterfront-adjacent side streets from the rest of the Cobble Hill-Carroll Gardens area.


David Hamberger’s holiday-display factory

Back to the present day. When we stand on the Hicks Street sidewalk on the east side of the BQE, we notice a big brick and stone residential building that extends from the corner of Warren Street to the corner of Baltic Street.

It stands on the site of David Hamberger Inc.’s factory, which made holiday displays there from 1934 to 1996.

The building that stands there now is called Columbia Commons if you’re referring to the condo portion of it and Columbia Hicks if you’re talking about its mixed-income rental apartments.

Addresses that can be seen on the building’s facades are 414 Hicks St. and 105 Baltic St.

Ron Moelis’ L+M Development Partners built the complex a few years ago. According to Finance Department records, it’s located in the Columbia Street Urban Renewal Area.

The City of New York owned part of the site, which it sold to the developer for two dollars in 2008, Finance Department records indicate.

The developer bought part of the site for $1,668,900 in 2007 from Cobble Hill Novelty Co. Inc., whose president was Jerome Hamberger, Finance Department records say.


Do you know the way to Tiffany Place?

Another thing that catches our eye on Hicks Street is a fading pink mural that says American Beauty Pasta. It’s on the side of a corner building whose address is 153 Union St.

A pedestrian bridge over the BQE that connects the different sides of Summit Street is enclosed by a chain-link fence that is covered with love locks.

Before we walk over the bridge, we should point out another residential building with a Hicks Street facade. It is located on the corner of Kane Street.

When we cross the BQE for a closer look, we find this fortress-like property’s front entrance is at 1 Tiffany Place.

When condos in the building get put up for sale, brokers’ descriptions of the property often say it had been famed stained-glass maker Louis Comfort Tiffany’s factory.

But a 2011 posting on the blog Lost City says that’s wrong — and that the building was the 19th-century home of “fancy papers” manufacturer Walther and Company.  

We confess we don’t really know what “fancy papers” are.

Tiffany Place is a short street that runs between Kane and Degraw streets and is parallel to Hicks Street. Numerous Tiffany Place industrial buildings have been converted to residential use. It’s paved with cobblestones, which adds to its charm.


Picturesque porticoes and a marvelous mural

Because the Columbia Street Waterfront District is small, you can walk up and down every block in a single visit.

There are so many picturesque spots.

One of our favorites is Summit Street between Hicks and Columbia streets. Numerous old-fashioned brick rowhouses have porticoes made of lacy-looking black metal filigree.

We also like President Street at the corner of Hicks Street, where the brick rowhouses are beautiful.

Many blocks of Columbia Street are oh so picturesque — all the way down to the end of the neighborhood, where 323 Columbia St. curves around onto super-busy Hamilton Avenue.

A good spot to snap selfies is in front of a mural on Hicks Street near the corner of Union Street. It was painted by artist Magda Love and is called “My Head Is A Jungle x2.”   



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