Take a winter walk through landmarked Greenpoint
Eye on Real Estate: Come see where shipbuilders lived.
Nineteenth-century Greenpoint was a hotbed of industry. China, porcelain and glass production were big business back then, as was oil refining and shipbuilding.
Now high-rise apartment towers sprout on the shoreline of this waterfront Brooklyn neighborhood. But there’s a historic district where shipyard workers and owners once lived, and a magnificent apartment building Charles Pratt constructed in 1886 as model housing for employees of his refinery, which was called Astral Oil Works.
Also, Greenpoint’s got an unusual city-designated landmark — a street clock on Manhattan Avenue.
Zip up your quilted coat and bring your fingerless mittens. It’s time for a winter walk through historic Greenpoint.
Three cheers for the shoreline
The most entertaining way to get to Greenpoint for this walk I’ve devised is the NYC Ferry.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no point in visiting any of Brooklyn’s waterfront neighborhoods unless you get at least one good look at the shoreline.
The ferry pier stands beside a new combination condo-rental apartment tower at 21 India St. called The Greenpoint. Mack Real Estate and Palin Enterprises co-developed The Greenpoint in conjunction with Urban Development Partners.
Outside the tower, there’s waterfront public space that belongs to the city Parks Department. It’s open from dawn to dusk.
Have a seat for a second — there are 312 linear feet of benches — and take in the view of the Empire State Building and the United Nations on the East River’s far shore.
The waterfront recreation area has a 275-foot promenade as well, plus playground equipment and a large lawn.
Have you seen KAWS’s sculpture?
When you’ve had a good long look at the river, turn toward The Greenpoint’s entrance. Right alongside it, there’s a monumental-scale sculpture that consists of two figures dressed like a greyscale Mickey Mouse with X’s for eyes. In a manner of speaking, they’re cross-eyed.
The sculpture, which is called “Waiting,” was installed in October. It’s the work of popular artist KAWS, whose real name is Brian Donnelly.
Other characters in his sculptures and paintings are inspired by the Smurfs, Cookie Monster or SpongeBob SquarePants.
One of KAWS’s paintings sold for $14.8 million in May at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong. The price was about 15 times higher than the pre-auction estimate, Bloomberg.com reported.
KAWS lived a few blocks from The Greenpoint when he was commissioned to make a sculpture for the property. “My wife was often taking the ferry, and I was imagining going to wait for her to arrive,” he told Architectural Digest in October.
Once you’ve had a good look at “Waiting,” head down India Street and turn onto West Street.
Some other time, you should walk all the way up West Street, where you’ll find other waterfront green spaces such as Newtown Barge Park. Or head in the other direction down West Street to find WNYC Transmitter Park. Both locations’ East River views are inspirational.
Today, though, I want to see Greenpoint’s historic district.
Thank you, Charles Pratt
Turn on Green Street, where the brick rowhouses on the corner are pretty enough to be on a landmarked block, though they aren’t. Turn again onto Franklin Street, where the buildings’ ground floors are populated with shops and restaurants.
You’ll find Charles Pratt’s majestic 1880s housing development, the Astral Apartments, at 180 Franklin St. It stretches the length of the block between India and Java streets. By the way, the refinery where its original residents worked was located in Williamsburgh. (The neighborhood’s name had an “h” on the end in that era.)
Architecture firm Lamb & Rich designed the Queen Anne-style red brick and terracotta building, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about it says.
The report lists numerous features that were considered innovative for working class housing of that era. These included toilets in each apartment, rear courtyards that increased the amount of light and air in the apartments’ back ends, fireproof stairwells with removable windows for fresh-air circulation in warm weather months and a lecture room with books and newspapers.
In the basement, there were bathrooms with tubs for bathing.
Pratt of course founded the Pratt Institute. Lamb & Rich designed the school’s Romanesque Revival-style Main Building, which was also constructed in the 1880s. It is located on Ryerson Walk.
Pratt’s Main Building is also an individual city landmark.
The Greenpoint Historic District begins on the opposite side of Java Street from the Astral Apartments. Properties on the east side of Franklin Street are included; those on the west side of Franklin Street are not.
Walk down Franklin Street and turn onto Kent Street. Houses built by people from the neighborhood’s shipbuilding industry can be found on this block.
A shipwright named John A. Connolly built the Italianate brick rowhouse at 101 Kent St. in 1867 and the similarly styled home at 99 Kent St. in 1870, the LPC’s designation report about the Greenpoint Historic District says.
Jeremiah Foulks constructed the Italianate rowhouse at 109 Kent St. in 1863. He became a partner in shipbuilding firm Lawrence & Foulks, the designation report notes.
A cheesebox on a raft
Further down the block, the Episcopal Church of the Ascension at 127 Kent St. is being renovated. While Ascension is being rehabbed, its congregation is holding Sunday worship services at St. John’s Lutheran Church at 155 Milton St.
Henry Dudley designed Ascension, which was built in 1866, the church’s website says. The stone edifice’s architectural style is Early English Gothic.
The benefactors who donated money for Ascension’s construction were J.W. Valentine and Thomas Fitch Rowland, the website says. Rowland owned Continental Iron Works.
That was the Greenpoint shipyard that built and launched the USS Monitor, the Union’s ironclad Civil War ship nicknamed “a cheesebox on a raft.” One of its significant innovations was its revolving turret.
The Monitor famously fought the Confederacy’s CSS Virginia to a draw in Hampton Roads, VA in 1862.
If your recollection is that the Monitor battled the USS Merrimack on that historic occasion, your memory is not playing tricks on you. The Merrimack was a Union frigate that Union forces burned and sank when they evacuated a Navy shipyard in Virginia. The Confederates salvaged its hull and constructed an ironclad warship on top of it.
Pre-Civil War rowhouses
Back to our walk. Stroll to the end of the block and turn onto Manhattan Avenue, which is another boundary of the historic district.
Actually, on Kent Street the historic district ends before you get to the corner. The rowhouses and shops on this part of Manhattan Avenue are eye-catching even though they aren’t landmarked.
Turn onto Greenpoint Avenue. The corner deli at 903 Manhattan Ave. has an eye-popping mural. This building is also outside the historic district.
The landmarked properties on this block include a 21-building neo-Grec-style row from 123 Greenpoint Ave. down to 83 Greenpoint Ave. Architect E.B. Ackerly designed these homes for James R. Sparrow Jr. in 1885, the LPC’s designation report says.
The Sparrow family constructed homes in various parts of the historic district.
Turn onto Franklin Street. Have I mentioned that most of the buildings on this street’s landmarked blocks were constructed in the 1850s?
The wintry day I took my stroll, adventurous souls were sitting at sidewalk tables under an awning outside the Pencil Factory Bar at 142 Franklin St. This building is on the corner of Greenpoint Avenue, within the historic district.
The Prince of American Catholic Architects
Now, turn onto Milton Street, which has rowhouses with deep front lawns on part of the block.
A row of homes from 139 to 151 Milton St. was constructed in 1894, a bit later than most of the historic district. These brick Queen Anne houses have oriels — meaning cantilevered bay windows — on their facades, or a combination of oriels and loggias, which are arcades that are open to the air on one side.
This Milton Avenue block is a must-see because it ends at Manhattan Avenue where the landmarked St. Anthony-St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church stands. Attentive readers will notice that I mention this red brick, limestone-trimmed house of worship in almost every story I write about Greenpoint. That’s because it’s so beautiful, with its 240-foot spire. Sometimes I see this church in my dreams.
Patrick Charles Keely, nicknamed the Prince of American Catholic Architects, designed the Gothic Revival church at 862 Manhattan Ave. It opened in 1874, the church website says.
Keely was born in Ireland and lived in Brooklyn. He is said to have designed almost 700 religious buildings in the eastern United States and Canada.
Another one of his lovely local church designs is the 1870s-vintage Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church in Carroll Gardens. It looks a bit like St. Anthony-St. Alphonsus.
Beloved wooden houses
After you get an eyeful of St. Anthony-St. Alphonsus, walk down Manhattan Avenue and turn onto Noble Street. Some of my favorite Greenpoint wood-frame houses are on this block.
The LPC’s designation report calls shingle-covered, Italianate-style 107 Noble St. “one of the finest frame houses within the district,” and notes that it was constructed around 1853 and 1854. The houses on both sides of it are wood-frame beauties as well.
In February 2018, the LPC approved a plan to renovate and expand 111 Noble St., which had been a wood-frame house but was drastically altered over the years.
When you turn from Noble Street to Franklin Street, walk down to Calyer Street and head for the corner of Clifford Place. This tiny street has a lovely row of five neo-Grec houses from 2 to 10 Clifford Place that falls within the historic district. These brick homes were built in the early 1880s.
Unless you live in Greenpoint, it’s possible you’ve never heard of Clifford Place. I hadn’t until I took my walk, and it’s my job to know everything I possibly can about Brooklyn’s historic blocks.
Part of Guernsey Street is also included in the Greenpoint Historic District.
This walk through the historic district ends at the corner of Calyer Street and Manhattan Avenue. But there’s one more important thing to see: the landmarked cast iron street clock that stands on a pole on the sidewalk outside Greenpoint Vision Care at 733 Manhattan Ave.
It was manufactured by the E. Howard Clock Company, which was founded by Edward Howard in 1861, the LPC’s designation report about the street clock says. This company, which was successful in Massachusetts, had an office in Manhattan. It started making street clocks around 1870 and continued to do so into the 1960s.
Shop owners of yesteryear placed street clocks outside their businesses as forms of advertising — they put their names on the clocks. When they moved, they often took the clocks with them, the designation report said.
At the time of the Manhattan Avenue clock’s landmark designation in 1981, the name “Bomelsteins Jewelers” was inscribed on a frame around the two-faced timepiece. The clock has been renovated since then. The name on the frame is now “Greenpoint.”
When you’re looking for the beautiful clock, don’t be confused by online postings that say it stands outside 753 Manhattan Ave. You can’t blame the people who wrote these postings. This address appears several times in the designation report about the clock. If you read all the way to the end of the report, it gives Bomelsteins Jewelers’ address, just once, as 735 Manhattan Ave., which makes a lot more sense.
Also, online postings say this is the only street clock in Brooklyn. I imagine that was true when the designation report was written in 1981. But today, there are other street clocks in our borough. For instance, there’s one outside Century 21 on 86th Street in Bay Ridge and another in Ditmas Park, outside the Newkirk Plaza shops by the B and Q subway stop.
When you decide to wrap up your Greenpoint walk, Manhattan Avenue has lots of places to get coffee or a bite to eat. The Polka Dot Cafe, for instance, serves Polish food.
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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