Bed-Stuy in Our Eye

Brookyln’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood is one of the oldest places in America.

The Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood is one of the earliest settled locations in America. The town of New Bedford was formed in 1662 by Dutch settlers, who were the first Europeans to arrive here, well before any Englishmen. It was at the intersection of two early cartwBrooklyn_brownstones_in_Stuyvesant_Heights_built_between_1870-1899 Cr. Vaguynnyays that settlers and natives alike used to travel up and down and the length of Long Island. The north-south road ran along what is now Bedford Avenue from Mespat, later called Newtown (now parts of Elmhurst, Maspeth, and all of Long Island City and Astoria), through New Bedford to the town of Flatbush and beyond. The east/west road started at the East River and ran generally along what is now Fulton Street through Jamaica and on out to Montauk.

Because of its location at this crossroads, the New Bedford was of strategic importance during the Revolution, and the British captured it early in the Battle of Brooklyn and held it to the war’s end. The town was incorporated into the greater city of Brooklyn in 1854. The area first began to grow with the opening of the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad in 1836. This line connected Bedford with the East River ferries and made getting to and from Manhattan a relatively easy trek. Much of the area remained empty, however, until the 1880s, when a construction boom lasting into the next decade built up ninety percent of the current row houses.  

As in other areas of Brownstone Brooklyn, the styles of Renaissance and Roman revival, Queen Anne, and neo-Grec abound, including single-family, two-family, and many multi-family homes of four and five stories. Some well-to-do New Yorkers moved into the southern part of Bedford in the 1890s and early twentieth century, perhaps most notably, F.W. Woolworth, and built mansions and large townhouses along and near Stuyvesant Avenue. Feeling somewhat elevated in status vs. the surrounding area and wanting their section to sound more elegant, they called their little corner of the world Stuyvesant Heights.

In the period between the World Wars, the large stock of affordable housing in Bedford began attracting middle class residents in higher numbers. It was in the early 1930s that the entire neighborhood came to be known as Bedford-Stuyvesant. Then another transit improvement brought a new influx of residents. In 1936, the IND subway lines opened along Fulton Street, providing easy, cheap and fast access to and from Manhattan. The new arrivals included many African-Americans, some from overcrowded and expensive areas of Harlem and others coming north in the early days of the Great Migration. Unfortunately for manyStuyvesant Hts Historic District copy of these newcomers, a lack of skills and/or opportunities kept them from procuring good-paying jobs. By the mid-1950s, the area had become blighted and riddled with crime, anger, and despair, a volatile combination that exploded into several conflagrations during the fight for civil rights in the ’60s and again during the famous New York City blackout in the ’70s.

About the only thing that stays the same in New York City is the high speed at which things change, and Bed-Stuy today is a beehive of real estate activity. The huge stock of brownstone townhouses and brick multi-family housing there has caught the eyes and dollars of young professionals who, like those who came before them, can’t afford the price of homes in Manhattan or elsewhere in Brooklyn. Investors, too, are following the scent, and area housing prices have seen a big upswing in the last decade. In just the last four years, home values have skyrocketed. In the first half of 2013, the median sale price (msp) of one- and two-family homes in Bed-Stuy (within a half-mile radius of Quincy St. and Malcolm X Blvd.) was $555,000, and the average price per square foot (ppsf) was $236.  By the same period in 2017, the figures had almost doubled, to $1,024,995 msp and $438 ppsf, each class of property almost doubling in value. For three- and four-family buildings, the prices were $591,650 (msp 2013) and $1,367,500 (msp 2017) and $192 (ppsf 2013) and $427 (ppsf 2017), each figure more than doubling in four years. This has been a boon to long-time resident homeowners who now have an asset worth much more than they ever might have expected. It is also the source of some friction, as many renters in those multi-family buildings feel vulnerable to sudden, unaffordable rent increases, the very roof over their heads 724-macon-street-6 sml copyunder threat.

 You know you’re living in a hot spot when you’re now buying your morning bagel at a coffee roaster rather than a bodega, or when it’s no longer strange to see a loaded double-decker tour bus glide down the avenue, and Bed-Stuy residents are experiencing both of these phenomena. Despite a legacy feeling of uncertainty for some, without question, these days Bed-Stuy is riding high.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard: The Before, During, and After

Brooklyn Navy Yard from the Air Kris Arnold  

The Brooklyn Navy Yard* area has played many critical parts in the history of the Borough, the city, and the country, dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War.

The yard sits on the edge of Wallabout Bay, a large cove in the East River between Williamsburg and Vinegar Hill. President John Adams, believing in the necessity of a strong Navy, in 1801 ordered the building of six navy yards in the new country, and Wallabout Bay was chosen as one of the sites. The yard was decommissioned in 1966. When it closed, it was the oldest industrial facility in New York State.

Before

The bay played a horrific part in the American Revolution. Having captured more rebels during the Battle of Brooklyn and in the roundups afterward than they could manage on land, the British loaded prisoners onto ships anchored or groNavy Yard hms-jersey-interiorunded in the East River. The biggest and most notorious of these was the HMS Jersey**. Built as a warship and later converted to a hospital ship, in 1780 it sat grounded and rotting in Wallabout Bay. Estimates put the deaths on this boat alone at perhaps eight thousand. (By comparison, approximately 4,500 rebels died in combat in the entire war.) It was called “The Hell Afloat.” The men who died in the squalid conditions in the hold of the ship were either simply thrown overboard or buried in mass “graves” in the mud of the bay’s floor during low tide. Many were later removed to a mass grave in Fort Greene Park, but bodies and bones have been exposed during various dredgings and excavations ever since.

During

In the final days of the Adams administration in 1801, Naval Secretary Benjamin Stoddert purchased an existing shipyard in Brooklyn from a private shipbuilder who had been working for the navy and other commercial interests. Stoddert had long wanted to bring shipbuilding in-house rather than pay private contractors, who often overcharged the goverNavy Yard dry-dock-1nment for their services. (Apparently, the $400 hammer has a lo-o-o-ng history.) Jefferson, who had been elected as the next President months before the deal was made, was not keen on increasing the size of the navy, and so the new navy yard was at first used for repairs and for conversions of local commercial ships to naval vessels rather than building new ones. Years after Jefferson’s presidency, the first ship to be built in Brooklyn, the USS Ohio, was begun in 1817 and launched in 1820.

The yard served the navy continuously from then until 1966, scoring several firsts along the way, including the first combat steamship, the USS Fulton II in 1837, and the navy’s first battleship, the USS Maine, launched in 1889. The Maine was blown up in Havana harbor in 1898, precipitating the Spanish-American War.

Other notable events from navy yard history are the establishment of the Naval Lyceum (1833, the precursor to the Naval Academy now at Annapolis, MD) by Commodore Matthew Perry, the development of ether anesthesia (1852) by naval doctor E.R. Squibb at the yard’s naval hospital (opened in 1838), and the launch of the USS Arizona (1915), famously sunk in the Pearl Harbor sneak attack (1941) that brought the U.S. into World War II. In addition, the first song ever sung on the radio was broadcast from the Navy Yard in 1907 to test a radio system newly installed on a ship docked at the yard. The song was “I love you truly,” sung by Eugenia Farrar, an opera singer.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard was decommissioned and closed in 1966, along with about ninety other military bases across the country. More than 9,000 jobs were lost with it.

After                          

When its history as a naval facility ended, the shipyard remained open as a private venture, rented to Seatrain Shipbuilding. The city converted the old navy office and quarters buildings to an industrial and office complex. The shipyard closed in 1979, and after another bumpy two deNavy Yard Bldg92cades, the city again stepped in, modernizing the infrastructure within the complex in 2001. That attracted the interest of bigger players, and in 2004 Steiner Studios opened its humongous TV and Film production sound stages, giving the yard a huge boost, including added jobs within the studio and attracting support services and related industries. Today approximately 400 tenants large and small are renting and operational, and numerous buildings remain to be refurbished. On the west side of the complex, a Wegman’s superstore is due to open in 2018.

The area south of the bay is still referred to by some few as Wallabout, though almost all Brooklynites consider it the northern end of Fort Greene. It’s surrounded by subway lines, though none run through the area. Five bus lines stop at or very near the various gates into the yard and serve the immediate neighborhood. And, should the BQX trolley line ever come to be built, it would run either by or through the yard. Housing prices in this area, as in all of Brooklyn, are on an upward trend. The Wegman’s opening should be an added attraction.

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*Opening photo of Navy Yard by  Kris Arnold, New York, USA – Brooklyn, Manhattan, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2027855  

** Photo is of an engraving of conditions on the HMS Jersey. (From the Library of Congress, in the Navy Yard’s BLDG 92 collection)

Industry City: The Rise, the Fall, the Resurrection

During the last decade of the 19th century, Irving T. Bush built a massive warehousing complex along the Gowanus Bay on land inherited from his father. The Bush family had owned an oil refinery, which Irving’s father sold to Standard Oil, and when he died, Irving received a huge inheritance. He bought the land back from Standard and began building warehouses to store the many products that were coming into and out of New York Harbor at the time. He soon built addition800px-Bush_Terminal_Fairfield_North_aerial_-_1958 resized w captional larger buildings and rented space to companies that needed it and added huge piers, each of which could accommodate the docking of four large cargo vessels and all the cargo they unloaded.

 After some years of success, Irving expanded his operation to include shipping the products he and his tenants were storing, adding more buildings and a network of railroad tracks, including a huge rail yard, and was soon loading and unloading products and materials to and from at least eight regional railroads, including the Baltimore & Ohio, the Erie-Lackawanna, the NY Central and others. He even had his own railroad company, the Bush Terminal Railroad (BTRR). Bush built a line of tracks from the terminal to existing Pennsylvania railroad tracks. At least two of the terminal railroad tracks curved past the warehouses and ended right at the water, where groups of entire cars were pushed onto car floats that were then guided across the harbor by tugboats to New Jersey, from where they carried their goods across the country.

 By the end of World War I, the terminal spread over twenty city blocks, has seven piers along more than 3,000 feet of waterfront and held more than 100 warehouse and manufacturing buildings, its own railroad, and upwards of 25,000 workers.

 Irving Bush died in 1948, and soIC Mini Golf w captionon after, external factors led to a fall-off in the shipping portion of the Bush Terminal Company’s business. Bush Terminal Company sold the buildings in 1963. The port remained active until 1974, while the buildings remained almost fully occupied by a rotating series of tenants through the 1990s.

 In 1956, a huge explosion rocked the entire neighborhood. Sparks from ironworkers making repairs in one of the pier sheds ignited materials below and the fire soon moved to coils of fuse material that exploded. The blast was felt miles away. Ten people were killed and hundreds injured.

The complex changed hands more than once, and finally sold in 1983 to a group that changed the name to Industry City. Today, Bush Terminal’s physical plant has been resurrected. Industry City is a sparkling wonder, with hundreds of tenants that include artists, design, media, retail, manufacturing, and technology companies, along with government agencies, non-profits, and of course, warehouse space. It’s also an entertainment venue, with such events as the Brooklyn Crush Wine and Artisanal Food Festival and Rock and Roll Playhouse, a free summer concert series, a brew festival, Table Tennis Tuesday, and many other events throughout the year.RR Car in IC captioned

That said, much of Industry City is currently empty or underused. The current owners have recently begun the process of rezoning the complex and its immediate area to allow for additional businesses to come in, to convert up to 272,000 square feet to hotel space, and renovating 387,000 square feet for academic use, 900,000 square feet for retail space, and 43,000 square feet for event space. The entire process up to the beginning of the work could take eighteen months or more.

For now, the area retains its industrial flavor, and the railroad tracks remain embedded along First Avenue, curving every block into one of the docks built between the wings of Bush’s original buildings.

 

 

Brooklyn’s Original Coffee Roasters

It seems like you can’t walk two blocks in Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods without passing a coffee roaster shop. In our Carroll Gardens area, D’Amico’s is the original, dating from long, long before anyone ever heard of Starbuck’s. Now we also have East One, a few blocks down Court Street, and there are so many others dotting the landscape throughout Brooklyn. Java Joe in Park Slope is a long-time fixture in that neighborhood, and all over the Borough, there’s Brooklyn Roasting Company, Uptown Roasters, BKG, Anchor Coffee, Cocoa Grinder, Supercrown, Sey Coffee, Kings Coffee Roasters, and on and on.Arbuckles-Coffee-Mills-and-Sugar-Refinery-1908 (1)

Most of us think of Brooklyn coffee roasters as a new millennial phenomenon, but in fact, at the turn of the last century, New York Harbor was the entry point for almost ninety percent of the coffee entering the country, and about two thirds of that was off-loaded onto the Brooklyn waterfront. Coffee beans filled the Empire Stores, a block-long warehouse on Water Street in DUMBO that has recently reopened as an office/retail/eating complex. The Arbuckle Coffee Company, which began operations in 1871, became the first to roast, bagEmpire Stores water side, and ship nationwide from the company’s factory on John Street at the foot of Adams Street, right at the river’s edge. This allowed the Arbuckle factory to receive and process boatloads of coffee from all over Central and South America. Brothers John and Charlie Arbuckle invented a production machine that did the roasting and grinding, and funneled the grinds into one-pound packages, then sealed and labeled the bags all in one operation. The bags were shipped via railroad and truck across the country. For a time, the Arbuckle factory was the most prolific coffee roaster and distributor in the world, and John Arbuckle was known as the coffee king. The company’s Arbuckle Ariosa was the first branded packaged coffee in the United States, and became known as “the coffee that won the west.” Empire Stores Then

John Arbuckle died in 1912. The Arbuckle coffee factory remained in operation in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge through the 1930s. The company was sold to General Foods in 1937.

So, the next time you stop into or simply pass a neighborhood coffee roaster, know that these new millennium companies are following a long tradition of making great coffee in Brooklyn.

BAM: Brooklyn’s Gold- Standard Venue

The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), at the edge of Downtown Brooklyn in Fort Greene, is the oldest continuously operating performance arts center in the country. It is a world-class institution with venues in multiple buildings, presenting programs of theatre, dance, music, opera, and movies by highly regarded, internationally known performing artists and companies, attracting audiences from around the world.

The original academy, opened in 1861,BAM Concert Hall 1908 w caption 400w
stood on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, now the site of a mid-rise apartment building (180 Montague Street). Built for the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, it had a 2,000-seat theatre and a smaller concert hall. Contemporary luminaries including Edwin Booth and Ellen Terry performed there, and music and theatre productions professional and amateur filled its stages for over forty years.

In 1903, an early morning fire destroyed the Academy and a good portion of the block. It had become a major institution by that time, and a push to build a new structure began immediately. The architectural firm of Herts & Tallant, which had designed the New Amsterdam and Longacre theatres in Manhattan, won the contract to design the Academy, and the current building opened in 1908 with a performance of the Metropolitan Opera starring Enrico Caruso and Geraldine Farrar.

The new Academy had a Beaux Arts façade and two side-by-side main theatres, the Concert Hall and the Opera House with one grand lobby across the front of both. In addition, a gBAM Opera House A Hughes 400wrand ballroom graced the second floor. The institution thrived until World War II, when all attention and resources were given to the war effort. Afterward, the entire Borough experienced a decline as the returning soldiers married and moved out of the city to the new suburbs in Long Island and New Jersey. Attendance and programming at the Academy declined.

That ended in 1967 with the appointment of a new executive director, Harvey Lichtenstein. Under his leadership, the Academy slowly but surely returned to city-wide, national, and international prominence. The concert hall was reoutfitted as a full-fledged theatre and renamed the Helen Carey Playhouse, and in 1983, the annual fall Next Wave Festival began. This world-renown series features contemporary and cutting-edge theatre, dance, and music from around the world, featuring the likes of Peter Brook, Steven Reich, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Pina Bausch, Robert Wilson, and literally hundreds of other first-class artists.

The physical plant has blossomed, as well. The ballroom was converted to a black box theatre in the 70s, and then to its current use, the BAMcafé, in 1997. The playhouse received a BAM Harvey Theatremakeover into a multi-screen movie house, the Rose Cinemas, also in 1997.  The 874-seat Harvey Theatre (Formerly the Majestic, renamed for Lichtenstein) on Fulton Street debuted in 1999, and the BAM Fisher theatre on Ashland Place opened its doors in 2012.  A brand-new space, the BAM Karen, is under construction as part of a new 31-story tall residential complex at 300 Ashland Place, across the street from the main building, which is now known as the Peter Jay Sharp building.

The rejuvenation of the Academy has spawned a growth or arts and arts-related organizations in the immediately surrounding area, and this section of downtown and Fort Greene is now an arts mecca, which in turn has attracted more people and other support businesses, including many restaurants and other stores. The entire area is in full-flowered renaissance, in no small part because of this great institution.

 

There’s Life Anew in [the] Gowanus

Gowanus. For many old-time South Brooklyn natives, the very name draws a chuckle and a shake of the head. For them, Gowanus isn’t a neighborhood, it’s a canal, and a foul-smelling, gag-inducing one. But that was the old days.  Today, it’s the canal, still dirty but no longer the fetid deadwater it was fifty years ago, and the neighborhood covering two blocks on either side of it on the north end and two blocks on the east side further south. And like many other once-written-off areas of Brooklyn, it is fast on the rise, with new businesses, increased residential development (and corresponding rising housing prices), and lots of places to go and things to do.

The Gowanus area in colonial times was a wide saltwater tidal marsh. The Native Americans living there when the Europeans first arrived, the Lenape, sold the area surrounding Gowanus Bay to the Dutch in 1636, and the new owners immediately built several thriving industries in the area, the largest being oyster growing, milling, and farming. The names of the early settlers now grace numerous streets in the area, including Luquer, Denton, Cole, Boerum, and Bergen. The earlier settlers, the Lenape, had a leader named Gouwane, and the Dutch perhaps named the area for him. In any case, the name Gowanus dates from the earliest European settlement of the region.

The area played an important part in the Revolutionary War. During the Battle of Brooklyn, near the Old Stone House a regiment of Maryland troops fended off the British army long enough for the Continental Army to retreat to Manhattan and avoid being destroyed. Many of those Maryland troops are buried in a mass grave next to the FVW post on Ninth Street near Third Avenue, where a wall plaque marks the site. The Old Stone House behind the playground at Fifth Avenue between Third and Fourth Streets is a reconstruction of the original. The commander of those brave Maryland men was William Alexander, whose name is the official moniker of M.S. 51 in the next block across Fourth Street.

In the early 1800s, as Brooklyn grew and industry increased on the Gowanus creek, the need to accommodate large vessels and people to work the docks resulted in the building of the canal and the filling in of the marshland for urbanization of the area. The chosen design for the canal was the cheapest of all those proposed, and the finished waterway was open only at the harbor end, and there was no way to flush the water and keep it clean. Built for its times, the canal soon attracted more industry, and the surrounding new neighborhoods quickly filled with workers and stores. Those neighborhoods were constructed in a way that the sewage from those areas flushed into the canal. That combined with the waste dumpings from the oil refineries, mills, cement factories, and other toxin-producing industries lining the canal quickly fouled the waterway.

By the 1950s and ‘60s, the construction of the BQE/Gowanus Expressway and then the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge obviated the need for water shipping for many of the companies along the canal, and the economic decline in the city during the ‘60s and ‘70s drove many companies away or out of business, and many of the empty spaces were claimed by small-scale artisans and artists for use as studios and small manufacturing. There is a large number of these types of tenancies remaining in the area, and they attract a large contingent of visitors during periodic Open Studio events.

Today, Massive cleanup efforts for the canal are well underway, a flushing tunnel that was first built in the early 1900s has been refurbished and now pumps water from Buttermilk Channel in the harbor into the canal to move the water downstream,  on-and-off dredging operations take place, and rezoning has led to residential building once again, this time large apartment complexes like 365 Bond Street, which sits directly on the canal at Second Street, and others along Bond Street and Fourth Avenue. It’s even possible now to go canoeing on the canal, with the reopening of the Gowanus Dredger’s Club launch site at the foot of Second Street on the East side of the canal.

The neighborhood today is garnering attention for its relative low rents in the older buildings, and its growing hip (not hipster) vibe. With the general influx of younger, more affluent residents, support businesses have sprung up faster than one can keep track of. Newcomers such as Taheni, Dinosaur BBQ, Pig Beach, and Ample Hills Ice Cream are all along Union Street, and microbreweries with attached beer gardens flourish on President and Douglass Streets between Third and Fourth Avenues. There’s also Whole Foods at Third Avenue and Third Street. These and many others complement less recent and older, established places such as 2 Toms, Monte’s, Runner and Stone, Little Neck, and the Bell House. There’s plenty to do and plenty to eat and drink. That’s a neighborhood worth living in!

Prospect Park: Brooklyn’s Outdoor Treasure

DSCN9039If you live in Brooklyn, you know Prospect Park. You’ve been there to run, bike, play ball, whether baseball, football, basketball, soccer, tennis, pétanque, or extreme Frisbee (okay, that’s not ball), lay out in the sun, take the kids to the myriad playgrounds, ride horses, build a snowman, work out, hike the ravine, go to a summer evening concert, paddleboat in the lake, see fall colors, go to the zoo, sit on a bench and read, cross-country ski, ride the carousel, watch birds, watch fireflies, play chess, take your pup to the dog pool, have a picnic, collect leaves, play in or listen to conga jams, ice skate, visit a museum in a colonial house, feed the ducks, go sledding, throw a party, have a barbeque, or even, on a summer night, walk into the trees and listen to the amazing cacophony of a million singing bugs.

Prospect Park is a draw not only for Brooklynites. Even if you don’t yet live in Brooklyn, there’s a chance you’ve been to our crown jewel of leisure. Designed by Olmsted and Vaux, the same team that created Manhattan’s Central Park, Prospect Park is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Like all of the city, the park has been through cycles of highs and lows through the years, and at this time is riding as high as it’s ever been. Fueled by support systems including the Prospect Park Alliance, The Friends of Prospect Park, and the rangers of the National Park Service, the park in many areas within its 526-acres has been refreshed, renewed, and, when necessary, restored, with a wide range of clean-up/fix-up projects completed, many others ongoing, and more big ideas in the planning and development stages.

Access to the park is easy, with the 2, 3, 4, 5, B, Q, F, G, and Franklin Avenue Shuttle trains all stopping within a block or two from a park entrance, so whether you live in Greenpoint or Brighton Beach you can get there with one train ride. With all that the park offers, it’s no wonder that many people moving to Brooklyn, especially those in Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Prospect Heights, and Crown Heights, were sold on the area because of Prospect Park. And that’s not to mention the nearby Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, all lined up next to each other along Eastern Parkway just across Flatbush Avenue from the park.

If you’re moving to or within New York City, we know you’ll be looking at Brooklyn. If you’ve never been to Prospect Park, you must spend a day or two getting to know Prospect Park. There are a million great reasons to move to Brooklyn. Prospect Park and the areas around it hold many of them. Check it out.