Make like a tourist and ride the NYC Ferry
Spring's here, so you won't freeze your face off
Spring has finally arrived after the Winter Of Our Discontent.
(Forgive me. That Shakespeare line comes to mind every March.)
The NYC Ferry is Brooklyn’s best entertainment bargain once temperatures rise above 50 degrees. A ride costs $2.75, just like a subway fare.
When it’s colder than that, the wind on the boat’s upstairs deck – which is where you must sit for a clear view of the scenery – makes your face hurt and numbs your fingers.
Once it’s spring, it’s time to make like a tourist and cruise the East River. The best choice of the many routes the ferry service offers is the one from DUMBO to Greenpoint.
It’s a thrilling experience every time you take this ride. There are so many iconic North Brooklyn buildings to see, with a world-famous bridge thrown in for good measure.
The ferry ride from DUMBO to Bay Ridge is terrific too. But unless you have a camera with a telephoto lens, the beautiful buildings on this stretch of the waterfront are hard to photograph.
So. The best way to see everything on the shoreline between DUMBO and Greenpoint is by getting on the ferry a stop early, over in Manhattan on Wall Street’s Pier 11.
To amp up your experience, you should walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to get to Pier 11. This will give you aerial views of the East River before you head down onto the water.
To avoid crowding on the bridge you can stroll it at sunrise – a bucket-list experience I highly recommend.
All along the Watchtower
There are three reasons to start your ferry trip on the Manhattan side of the East River.
Reason #1 is the spectacular view you see from the ferry’s deck of the famous Brooklyn Bridge with the World Trade Center rising beside it.
This view will always call to mind the lives lost in the 9/11 terror attack that destroyed the Twin Towers. A good look at the new World Trade Center tower is also a reminder that New Yorkers are resilient.
Reason #2 is a superb panoramic view of Brooklyn Heights, which only looks like this from out on the water.
Reason # 3 is the glimpse you get of the old Watchtower headquarters as the ferry pulls into Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 1. The pale-blue building with the time-and-temperature sign on top was the world headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for nearly a half-century.
The religious organization had a blazing red electric sign on top of 30 Columbia Heights that said “WATCHTOWER” in capital letters. Last year, current owner Columbia Heights Associates, which is converting the property to an office, retail and cultural complex, successfully challenged a city Buildings Department decision that forbade it from replacing the 15-foot-tall sign letters.
The new letters have not yet been put up. I can’t wait to see what they say.
Sugar crystals on the facade
After the ferry stops at Pier 1 it cruises past Jane’s Carousel, the historic merry-go-round in Brooklyn Bridge Park. At the edge of the park the 19th-century coffee warehouse complex called Empire Stores stands in all its landmarked, red-brick glory.
Manhattan Bridge looms overhead, with the DUMBO Clocktower Building standing close by at 1 Main St.
Manufacturer/real estate developer Robert Gair constructed the concrete building in 1914. The many industrial properties he built in the neighborhood a century ago are referred to as “Gairville,” as history lovers know.
When you’re back on dry land you can read about Gairville in a report the city Landmarks Preservation Commission wrote about the DUMBO Historic District.
Once the ferry passes the Manhattan Bridge there’s a pair of buildings. The new one, which you’ll see first, is a condo property whose address is 1 John St.
The second one you’ll see, 10 Jay St., is a landmarked office building with a new glass facade on its river-facing side. The glass panels are shaped like sugar crystals because long ago the building was the Arbuckle Brothers’ sugar refinery.
Towers by the ferry docks
You’ll see another, more famous sugar refinery in a couple minutes. But first the boat will make a stop at the South Williamsburg ferry dock. Spitzer Enterprises is constructing a glittering glass apartment complex there, right at the water’s edge. The development’s address is 420 Kent Ave.
After the ferry passes beneath the Williamsburg Bridge, you get an eyeful of the landmarked 19th-century Domino Sugar Refinery. Two Trees Management is converting it into an office and retail complex.
There’s lots of great stuff in Domino Park, which surrounds the refinery, but it’s hard to see from your vantage point on the river. You should walk down to this park from Greenpoint after you’ve strolled around the neighborhood’s shops and historic houses.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to our ferry ride.
Glassy high-rises will catch your eye long before the boat gets to the North Williamsburg dock. Alongside them, there’s a low-rise building made of white reinforced concrete. It’s Austin Nichols House, designed by architect Cass Gilbert and built for a wholesale grocer in 1914 and 1915. Now it’s a condo property.
Gilbert’s most famous design was the Woolworth Building in lower Manhattan.
The Manhattan views are epic at this point in the ferry ride. The Empire State Building, the United Nations and the Chrysler Building are there for you to see when you turn your gaze to the East River’s opposite shore.
After picking up passengers in North Williamsburg the ferry heads for Greenpoint.
A high-rise looming up ahead is called the Greenpoint. It stands at the end of the neighborhood’s ferry dock.
The newly constructed tower, whose address is 21 India St., is partly a condo property and partly a rental-apartment building.
When you disembark at the Greenpoint dock, here’s a thought: A number of nearby restaurants and bars put out sidewalk seating if the weather’s warm enough.
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