Take a winter walk through Brooklyn Bridge Park
Eye on Real Estate: Brooklyn Bridge Park is so popular that it’s easy to forget how new it is.
The park first opened just 10 years ago — and at that time, Pier 1 and Pier 6 were the only places that were built. But the 85-acre waterfront recreation area became an instant visitor draw thanks to its innovative design by landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and its stunning location.
The park stretches for 1.3 miles along the East River shoreline at the edge of Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO. The views of Manhattan skyscrapers are dazzling, and you get up-close looks at both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge.
A stroll through Brooklyn Bridge Park will soothe your winter-saddened soul. I promise. I’ll tell you the park’s origin story while we walk.
It doesn’t much matter what the weather’s like — the scenery’s going to look great anyway. For instance, I was in the park two years ago when fog rolled down the river and wrapped around the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a spectacular sight.
A Port Authority facility
If you don’t live within walking distance of Pier 6, which is at the foot of Atlantic Avenue at the edge of Brooklyn Heights, the NYC Ferry is a good way to get there. Various ferry routes include stops at Pier 6.
In warm weather, people flock to this pier to play volleyball on courts made of sand and drink on the roof of pizza maker Fornino, which has an outpost here.
In winter, you can spend time on the pier’s vast lawn, which is green and inviting and affords a stellar view of the skyscrapers lining the tip of Lower Manhattan. And at the edge of Pier 6, there are benches where you can sit and watch the river flow (yes, that’s a line from a Bob Dylan song).
This would be a good moment to explain why this section of Brooklyn Bridge Park is composed of piers. They were part of a cargo-ship facility the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey operated until 1984.
It took years for the fate of the shut-down shipping center to be decided. Henrik Krogius, the late editor of the Brooklyn Heights Press, co-wrote a book about the process with Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp. Director Joanne Witty. “Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Dying Waterfront Transformed” was published in 2016.
Initially, the Port Authority wanted to sell the piers for private development. The Brooklyn Heights Association mustered opposition to this proposal, and promoted the idea of a “harbor park,” Krogius told my colleague Mary Frost in 2013.
A sound attenuating berm
Now, back to our walk. Pier 5 comes next.
It’s got a dazzling expanse of artificial turf that’s divided into multiple fields for soccer and other sports such as lacrosse.
Once again, the water-facing view is of Lower Manhattan’s mighty skyscrapers. When you face inland, you see the backs of Brooklyn Heights brownstones and apartment houses that line the Promenade above the BQE.
At the water’s edge on Pier 5, there are coin-operated binoculars if you want a closer look at Lower Manhattan’s skyline.
A marina that’s adjacent to Pier 5 is nearly empty of boats this time of year. But along the shore, there’s a Picnic Peninsula with weather-resistant umbrellas that remain standing year-round.
On the Pier 5 uplands, there are hillside lawns ringed with trees. A grassy ridge was constructed as a “sound attenuating berm,” which is what Brooklyn Bridge Park’s website calls it. The berm dampens the noise of vehicular traffic on adjacent Furman Street and the BQE.
At every turn on your walk, there are spots that will tempt you to sit and soak up the serenity. Just remember the days are short this time of year. If you want to see the entire park before sunset, you might want to walk first and return to your favorite spots afterwards.
Walk this way
When you come back down from Pier 5’s hillside, take a minute to watch seagulls swimming beside the sandy shoreline of Pier 4 Beach.
This beach serves as a boat launch for kayaks and other non-motorized vessels.
Nearby Pier 3 is lovely and calm. On the edge of its vast lawn, there’s a labyrinth with mirrors and salvaged artifacts such as bollards and bits of railroad tracks.
When I took my stroll, the labyrinth was closed. It had just snowed the day before. I imagine the ground was soggy.
At the water’s edge on this pier, when you turn your head to the right, you get a good view of the Brooklyn Bridge.
When you head for terra firma, inviting paths lead you through the Pier 3 uplands. Seeing all this greenery in the middle of winter will lift your spirits.
Open-air basketball courts
As you walk towards Pier 2, I’ll tell you a bit more about Brooklyn Bridge Park’s origin story.
Pro-park advocates coalesced into an organization called the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. It now produces the park’s programming and cultivates the support of volunteers and philanthropists.
The public planning process for Brooklyn Bridge Park started in 1998. In 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki signed off on city and state funding for park construction and created the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation to oversee it, the park’s website says. The park’s groundbreaking took place in 2008.
Pier 2 is covered with roofs that keep the rain off five acres of basketball courts and other open-air sports facilities.
A sidewalk on this pier’s perimeter affords an excellent view of Pierhouse, the condo and hotel complex Toll Brothers and Starwood Capital Group constructed at the edge of the park.
Back on dry land, you’ll notice that new grass berms have sprung up near Pierhouse. These ridges are enclosed by a chain-link fence, so you can get a good look at them even though you can’t stroll on them quite yet.
If you need coffee or tea at this point, there’s a cafe at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, which is part of the Pierhouse complex.
As you approach Pier 1, you’ll notice a “pile field,” which consists of rows and rows of wood posts that stand like silent sentinels in the water. The World Trade Center and other Lower Manhattan towers form a backdrop for the pile field.
The pile field draws a lot of photographers — especially at sunset.
The Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy uses one of Pier 1’s lawns for its summer free-film series, Movies With A View.
Another Pier 1 lawn is periodically used to display artworks. For instance, it’s where British artist Anish Kapoor installed “Descension,” which was a whirlpool, in 2017. This lawn is near NYC Ferry’s Pier 1 dock.
Visitors congregate on a promenade near the dock because it’s an excellent place to take photos of the Brooklyn Bridge and the World Trade Center.
The dock that NYC Ferry uses floats alongside the historic Fulton Ferry Landing. The latter was the site of ferry service that launched in 1642.
In the 1800s, before the Brooklyn Bridge was built, steam-powered boats shuttled passengers, and horses and wagons as well, to and from Manhattan via Fulton Ferry Landing.
Glammed-up tobacco and coffee warehouses
To get from Pier 1 to the DUMBO side of Brooklyn Bridge Park, you leave the park and walk down Water Street beneath the Brooklyn Bridge.
After Water Street hooks right, you will find St. Ann’s Warehouse, a 700-seat theater at 45 Water St. Until its redesign by Marvel Architects, this theater was the landmarked Tobacco Warehouse, which was constructed in the 1860s.
Dead-end streets on either side of the theater lead you into Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Across from St. Ann’s, there’s a section of the park that’s referred to as Brooklyn Bridge Plaza. It’s going to be reconstructed.
In 2018, a community engagement workshop was held to gather input from Fulton Ferry Landing and DUMBO residents about what design elements they hope will be included in the rebuilt plaza.
The next landmarked property you’ll see in Brooklyn Bridge Park is Empire Stores. A joint venture led by Midtown Equities has restored this 19th-century coffee warehouse complex for office, retail and restaurant use.
I’m not going to step inside Empire Stores just yet because I plan to return after I’ve reached the edge of Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Empire Stores’ neighbor is the DUMBO Clocktower Building at 1 Main St., which is across the street from Brooklyn Bridge Park. This century-old Industrial Neo-Classical landmark is made of reinforced concrete.
A prime place to stand when you want to photograph Empire Stores, the clocktower, the Brooklyn Bridge or the World Trade Center is Pebble Beach. It’s located in the park near the Manhattan Bridge.
Pebble Beach is also a hot spot for taking sunset snapshots.
It’s got a stone amphitheater — but make sure there’s no melting snow on it before you sit down.
When you’re ready to resume your walk, follow the path beneath the Manhattan Bridge that leads you to the section of the park that’s located alongside condo tower One John St.
There’s a tidal salt marsh here — and a lawn that affords a vantage point for photographing the Manhattan Bridge.
Paths through this part of the park continue on past 10 Jay St., a former 1890s sugar refinery that now houses commercial tenants. The side of the building that faces Brooklyn Bridge Park is covered with a glass and metal curtain wall whose design was inspired by sugar crystals.
Brooklyn Bridge Park ends at the bottom of Jay Street.
I’m going to retrace my steps through the park to get back to Empire Stores. Because I spent an obsessive amount of time taking pictures, I’m running a little short on daylight.
If you walk through DUMBO’s streets to get there, of course you should stop at the intersection of Washington Street and Water Street. This is the spot where crowds gather to take pictures. Red-brick buildings frame a view of the Manhattan Bridge — and in the void between the bridge supports, you can see the Empire State Building.
By the way, Empire Stores’ street address is 55 Water St. if you want to look it up on your phone.
I’m going up to its rooftop park. The views are really something.
Empire Stores is actually a cluster of warehouses constructed between 1869 and 1885. John and Charles Arbuckle stored unroasted coffee beans there.
Its red-brick exterior walls are two feet thick. How’s that for a fine piece of architectural-history trivia?
Walk through its entrance doors and into an open-air atrium to find the stairs to the roof.
Time Out Market has a building on the roof with restaurants and bars in it — and outdoor tables, too. This time of year, the tables are enclosed in transparent igloos, so there’s no fear of frostbite.
As for the views, you can see the Brooklyn Bridge, the World Trade Center and the setting sun when you look towards Manhattan, and see the Manhattan Bridge and the Williamsburg Bridge when you look towards Williamsburg.
And when you look straight down, you see Jane’s Carousel, a restored 1920s merry-go-round that originally stood in Youngstown, Ohio.
The renovated carousel was David and Jane Walentas’s gift to Brooklyn Bridge Park. High-profile architect Jean Nouvel designed its protective pavilion, which is made of acrylic panels.
If the light’s just right, the pavilion takes on an otherworldly glow before sunset.
Eye on Real Estate is veteran reporter Lore Croghan’s weekly column on Brooklyn’s built environment. Whether it’s old as Abraham Lincoln or so new it hasn’t topped out yet, if a building is eye-catching, Eye will show it to you.
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