After two decades of preservation effort, DUMBO gets its first historic marker
The very desirable and constantly changing neighborhood of DUMBO in Brooklyn is a living piece of New York City’s history, with soaring Manhattan Bridge archways, Belgium block roads and embedded train tracks from a not-so-long-ago industrial era.
Now, after a 21-year preservation effort, the neighborhood finally has its own historic district markers to promote and commemorate the DUMBO Historic District.
On Friday, in the midst of DOT crews digging up the street and building construction workers passing by in hard hats, the first of three markers was unveiled by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), the New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation (NYLPF) and the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance (DNA).
“I’m so excited to be here for the unveiling of the first historic district marker in DUMBO,” said Sarah Carroll, executive director of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Carroll pointed out that Brooklyn was the fourth largest manufacturing center in the entire country in the early 20th Century, and a “significant amount of this industrial output occurred right here in DUMBO.” The district was designated in 2007 for its “rich history and unique industrial streetscapes,” she said.
Councilmember Stephen Levin said he had been “eagerly anticipating this moment, and I’m proud to be here to celebrate this special occasion.”
“It’s really important that DUMBO’s historic heritage is commemorated, and the fact that it is a historic district is made clear to visitors and residents alike,” Levin said. He applauded Doreen Gallo, president of DNA, for her decades of non-stop effort to preserve the historic character of DUMBO.
Gallo jokingly apologized to Levin for her constant phone calls and emails, and was visibly moved as she spoke about her pride in the unveiling. She stressed the importance of “continuing to educate the public as to the growing need for historic preservation.”
DUMBO Still Fighting to Preserve Its Belgium Block
DUMBO is still struggling to preserve its iconic Belgium block streets, Gallo told the Brooklyn Eagle following the ceremony.
DOT is in Phase 2 of DUMBO’s street reconstruction, “and there’s been no provisions to restore all the Belgium block streets,” she said. “The three historic districts are actually hiring consultants because even just this week they took out all the Belgium block on the corner of Plymouth and Water Street… the block were carted off Monday night. That just happened.”
Pointing to a pile of Belgium block next to an excavator on Jay Street about 15 feet away, Gallo said, “Here, they’re putting in the pipes so they’re excavating the stones. Are they going to go back? So even though we’re landmark protected, we’re fighting the same battles.”
A report prepared for the Historic District Council last year outlined ways to restore and repair DUMBO’s deteriorating Belgian block streets while at the same time complying with the mandate that the roadways and sidewalks be made more accessible to the handicapped.
Preserving the Belgian block when crosswalks, sidewalks and curb ramps are made accessible will be challenging but well worth the effort, according to HDC.
Levin said that it was important to preserve the disappearing remnants of the past.
“As we’re looking at new construction and new buildings, the general progress of city life, we have to make sure, especially in neighborhoods like this, to keep that balance,” Levin told the Eagle. “And make sure that we’re not sacrificing the past for the future.”
After the marker was unveiled, Natalie Pierre-James, a visitor from Trinidad, stopped to congratulate the preservationists.
“Thank you for preserving this neighborhood,” she told DNA’s Gallo. “I was just walking by here and I thought, ‘Excellent!’ People like myself, we like art and we love your country as is. I love that you are preserving this kind of heritage for people like myself to see.”
The newly installed marker, a 19-by-36-inch terra cotta-colored sign, features a map on one side and a brief description and history of the district on the other. The text reads as follows:
“Located along the East River, DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is one of New York City’s most significant industrial waterfront neighborhoods. The historic district was home to important manufacturing businesses during the 19th and 20th centuries, employing thousands of local workers and immigrants to produce machinery, paint, sugar, coffee, packaged groceries, paper boxes, and shoes. Innovations in American industrial architecture and fireproof building technology are notably illustrated within the district, from slow-burning mill construction to steel-framing and some of the earliest large-scale reinforced-concrete factory buildings in the United States. Artists began to move into the neighborhood in the late 1970s, converting many of the industrial spaces into lofts. It was designated a Historic District in 2007.”
There are 143 historic districts in NYC.
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