Tag Archives: waterfront

The Brooklyn Historical Society’s stunning new museum in DUMBO

It just got a bit easier to access the glorious history of the Brooklyn waterfront.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the development of Brooklyn Bridge Park and its clever incorporation of industrial infrastructure into public spaces — the piers, the warehouses, the cobblestone streets. (I don’t love this so much but whatever.) But things feel so inexorably new and modern that one might have trouble understanding the area’s historical context.

The Brooklyn Historical Society has come to save the day. This spring they’ve opened up a new gallery in the revamped late 19th century Empire Stores, the formerly solemn brick warehouse facing into the harbor.

In another neighborhood, this warehouse might have been destroyed long ago or else hastily revamped into luxury condos, sharing the fate of other structures within the neighborhood of DUMBO.

In many ways the Empire Stores warehouse is the very essence of the downtown Brooklyn industrial district. The building once held coffee beans, sugar, nuts and other products from all over the world. Its curved door and window openings and iron shutters are a reminder of Brooklyn importance within 19th and 20th century global commerce.

Courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society

Today Empire Stores has been refitted for modern Brooklyn industry — those seeking sleek, state-of-the-art office environments — with plenty of spaces for the general public to enjoy. But the new second floor gallery of the Brooklyn Historical Society is (perhaps clearly) my favorite component, a permanent space where the history of the Brooklyn waterfront can be celebrated.

Currently on view is an photo exhibition Shifting Perspectives: Photographs of Brooklyn’s Waterfront, serving as almost a forward to a great project on the history of Brooklyn, displaying images of the waterfront, both past and present.

Waterfront properties in modern New York have completely different values than they did in the past. One need look only to the images in this exhibition, then visit the Empire Stores rooftop to gaze across the water at the rising glass condos of the Manhattan waterfront, to recognize that.

In images by Berenice Abbott and Rudy Burckhardt one sees a rugged, often unforgiving face to the industrial waterfront, the value of its views and its appeals to a family market virtually unknown.  A New Yorker’s enjoyment of waterfront vistas was relegated to pleasure centers like Coney Island.

In captivating modern images like Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao‘s look at the Gowanus Canal, we see the aftermath of decades of industrial use. And in others, like Mitch Epstein’s dreamlike Clouds #94, the harbor’s industrial life endures, albeit losing its foothold to the unstoppable natural world.

Shifting Perspectives: Photographs of Brooklyn’s Waterfront is on display until September 10, 2017


The Brooklyn Historical Society DUMBO is located at 55 Water St.

Starting on June 30, the gallery will be open until 9pm on Fridays. Visit their website for more information.

GOWANUS! Brooklyn’s Troubled Waters

PODCAST The history of the Gowanus Canal, at the heart of a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood today, once used to be quite beautiful and non-toxic.

Brooklyn’s Gowanus — both the creek and the canal — is one of the most mysterious and historically important waterways in New York City. By coincidence, it also happens to be among its most polluted, shrouded in frightening tales of dead animals (and a few unfortunate humans) floating along its canal shores. Its toxic mix is the stuff of urban legends (most of which are actually true).

But this was once the land of delicious oysters. This was the site of an important Revolutionary War battle. This was part of the property of the man who later developed Park Slope.

But, in current times, it ALSO happens to be one of New York City’s hottest neighborhoods for real estate development. How does a neighborhood go from a canal of deadly constitution to a Whole Foods, condos and shuffleboard courts?

With the  Gowanus’ many personalities (and with Tom gone this week) I needed a special guide for this fraught and twisted journey — writer and historian Joseph Alexiou, author of Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal, bringing his expertise to help me wade through the most toxic portion of the show.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #201: GOWANUS! Brooklyn’s Troubled Waters

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

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Further to that Lord of the Rings comparison, here’s a map from a 1909 history of the Old Stone House, documenting the moves of British troops in the summer of 1776.

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The view from Gowanus Heights, or the Heights of Guan. Print by Hermann Julius Meyer, 1840.

Courtesy Museum of the city of New York
Courtesy Museum of the city of New York

 

By 1910, the banks of the Gowanus were no more natural than the dankest tenement slum.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

The Carroll Street Bridge, pictured here in 1960, originally built in 1889. It’s one of only two retractable bridges in New York City.

Courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society
Courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society

 

National Packing Box Factory at Union and Nevins Streets, pictured here in 1960.

courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society
courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society

 

The site of the ‘flushing tunnel’ at Butler Street in 1960.

Brooklyn Historical Society
Brooklyn Historical Society

Here’s the view from the other side, looking south, taken last weekend:

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IMG_9018

 

The Gowanus at Smith and Ninth Street, 1978. (Photograph by Dinanda Nooney

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

 

Some views along the Gowanus from last weekend, admiring the glory of its dingy, busted architecture.
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Current residential construction, right along the Gowanus.

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I wasn’t joking about the doll parts. There’s a whole motley collection of weird junk around the Gowanus. Luckily, no deformed Gowanus rats in sight.

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Here’s a four legged fellow in the Gowanus — a table.

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A couple views of the Gowanus from the Bowery Boys Instagram page:

Out exploring in strange places for next week’s new podcast! #boweryboys

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on

 

Gowanus alleyway on Nevins Street. #boweryboys

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on


For more information on the happy, shiny of the Gowanus Canal, check out Alexiou’s new book Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal from NYU Press. Here’s the interview I did with Joseph on the blog a few weeks ago.

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Hell’s Kitchen: New York’s Wild West

PODCAST Hell’s Kitchen, on the far west side of Midtown Manhattan, is a neighborhood of many secrets. The unique history of this working class district veers into many tales of New York’s criminal underworld and violent riots which have shaken the streets for over 150 years.

This sprawling tenement area was home to some of the most notorious slums in the city, and sinister streets like Battle Row were frequent sites of vice and unrest. The streets were ruled by such gangs as the Gophers and the Westies, leaving their bloody fingerprints in subtle ways today in gentrified buildings which at one time contained the most infamous speakeasies and taverns.

We break down this rip-roaring history and try to get to the real reason for its unusual name!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #186: Hell’s Kitchen: New York’s Wild West

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

Starting this month, we are doubling our number of episodes per month. Now you’ll hear a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

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The mysteries begin over 200 years ago when ordered avenues and streets could scarcely be imagined, and the shoreline was a ragged coast.

The Dutch later called it the Great Kill District, for the creek which emptied into the Hudson River (North River) at 42nd Street. As you can see from this diagram the shore was evened out with landfill to create 12th Avenue although the inward dip at 43rd Street is still visible on a modern map.

map

 

A map (drawn by John Bute Holmes) of the original estate borders of Bloomingdale from the late 18th century.  The jagged shore line would later be filled in to make the blocks between 11th and 12th Avenues.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

The Ninth Avenue barricades made by rioters in the area of Hell’s Kitchen during the Civil War Draft Riots.

barricades

The Orange Riot of July 12 from Eighth Avenue south from 25th street, an 1871 image from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

orange

Bad boys:  Some Hell’s Kitchen ruffians show Jacob Riis how to rob people who have passed out.

Jacob Riis
Jacob Riis

 

An intriguing shot of 58th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

Jacob Riis’ photograph of the Hell’s Kitchen tenement and the remains of Sebastopol (the rocks), 1890

Photo by Jacob Riis
Photo by Jacob Riis

 

Street vendors under the 9th Avenue Elevated Railroad

Museum of City of New York
Museum of City of New York

 

The Hartley House, a settlement house for the Hell’s Kitchen community. on West 46th Street

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

 

At the recreation pier — a public swimming hole at West 51st Street and the Hudson River.

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

 

The later configuration of the Gophers. Owney Madden is on the back row, fourth from the left.  A very rough and dangerous gang, but don’t they clean up nice?

Courtesy of Garland County Historical Society and Butler Center Books
Courtesy of Garland County Historical Society and Butler Center Books

 

Owney Madden, the king of the Hell’s Kitchen speakeasy racket.

owney

 

A couple spectacular shots of 1938 slum clearance — eliminating the tenements of 37th Street.

Wurts Brothers. Museum of the City of New York
Wurts Brothers. Museum of the City of New York
Wurts Brothers. Museum of the City of New York
Wurts Brothers. Museum of the City of New York

 

Businesses on West 52nd Street, facing into DeWitt Clinton Park. It’s likely that William Hopper & Sons Truckmen at no. 626 probably traces itself back to the original Hopper land owners.  Photograph by Charles von Urban

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

The entrance to DeWitt Clinton Park (at 54th Street) in 1936

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

 

Most of the pressures faced by the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood came from its perimeter with dramatic changes to the waterfront to its west, Port Authority/Lincoln Tunnel to its south, Madison Square Garden/Times Square to its east and Lincoln Center/Columbus Circle to its north.

Below: The West Side Highway and piers 95-98, looking west from a roof on West 54th Street

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

The Port Authority Bus Terminal in 1950, at West 40th and 41st Streets and 8th Avenue.

Wurts Brothers, courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Wurts Brothers, courtesy Museum of the City of New York

The 8th Avenue Madison Square Garden, as seen in 1935.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

A mural from 1974 — “The Neighborhood Belongs to the People Not Big Business.”

Courtesy US National Archives
Courtesy US National Archives

 

Hey gang, let’s go down to the Recreation Pier!

The end of the 19th century saw many new ways to get people out of New York City’s over-crowded tenement districts, with trains to beach havens like Coney Island and Rockaway Beach and steamers making day-trips up the Hudson River and to spots in Long Island.

For those who didn’t have the luxury of a free afternoon,  some relief was provided in the form of new community parks such as Columbus Park (1897), Seward Park (1903) and DeWitt Clinton Park (1906).

But what if you wanted some fresh ocean breezes? The piers of the East River and the Hudson River were clotted with industry and hardly suitable for relaxation.   But the city did attempt to make the waterfront available with the introduction of so-called ‘recreation piers’.

There were a great many industrial piers redesigned in the 1890s for public use. By 1905, the New York Times reports recreation piers on the East River side (at Market Street, 3rd Street, 24th Street and 112th Street) and a couple facing the Hudson River (Christopher/Barrow Street and 50th Street).

Below: Mothers and their children on the Harlem pier, 1901

Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

By noon, during the summer months, the piers were packed with mothers and their babies, groups of young women off work, and scores of children darting through the crowds.

From the Times article: “The average for the pier at the East River and 24th Street alone is 10,000 persons a day. Almost directly across town, at 50th Street and the North River, which the police call the ‘mad dog’ pier, the daily attendance is nearly as large.”

An illustration from the New York Times, June 25, 1905:

times

 

The piers provided a well-policed safe space for poor families, abundant cross breezes, and floating pools and swimming holes for those looking to escape the heat. Many of them regularly provided food vendors, musicians and even street performers, allowing city dwellers to enjoy the illusion of a short vacation getaway.

While no liquor was sold at the pier, many did their best to smuggle it past the watchful eye of the police officers.  “Flirting and open love making are prohibited,” warned the Times, “Smoking is not. A youth may puff away on his cigarettes, and a man may smoke as vile a cigar as he pleases, anywhere he pleases.”

Below: Children on the Hell’s Kitchen pier, 1903

Courtesy Harvard Libraries
Courtesy Harvard Libraries

 

The Third Street pier provided immediate relief for residents of the Lower East Side.

“That long, low building jutting out into the water changed the ending of Third Street from a sandy, ugly refuge for crap playing boys into a breathing place for thousands of dwellers in the tall tenements all around.  It is still sandy and ugly, away from the pier itelf, but there is lots of fun going on, and when you are tired of looking shoreward there is the river, with its endless excitement.” [New  York Tribune, 1901]

Below: The Third Street pier. According to the signs over the door: “Dancing on this Pier for Children from 3 to 5pm Daily Except Sunday”

Department of Records
Department of Records

 

The piers were also popular spots for young lovers at night, the open air and the river traffic providing a bit of romance and mystery. The Harlem pier at 129th Street seems particularly enchanting as it was far from the center of the city and its bright, distracting lights.

“When the moon is shining the scene along this garden spot of the Hudson is not to be equaled anywhere around New York. There is nothing of the bustle of the city up here.” [source]

The city took advantage of the piers’ popularity with tenement dwellers in order to provide medical and social services. In 1912 ‘clean milk dispensaries’ provided mothers with free milk for their babies.  Below: a doctor inspects a young baby at the East 24th Street pier.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Not to be a buzzkill, however, but most of the piers were hardly secluded from the regular activities of the busy city. The Hell’s Kitchen pier, which opened in 1900, was perfumed with smells from the trash dump two piers away, not to mention flecks of filth from the neighboring ash dump. And crossing the busy avenue just to get to the pier was somewhat of a task.

Today’s network of waterfront spaces in New York City are certainly more accommodating and convenient than these old piers, but I can’t help but wish one or two were still around, especially if they looked like this:

Courtesy the Museum of the city of New York
Courtesy the Museum of the city of New York

 

 

Chelsea Piers: New York City
 in the Age of the Ocean Liner

PODCAST The Chelsea Piers were once New York City’s portal to the world, a series of long docks along the west side of Manhattan that accommodated some of the most luxurious ocean liners of the early 20th century.

1Passenger ocean travel became feasible in the mid 19th century due to innovations in steam transportation, allowing for both recreational voyages for the wealthy and a steep rise in immigration to the United States.

The Chelsea Piers were the finest along Manhattan’s busy waterfront, built by one of New York’s greatest architectural firms as a way to modernize the west side.  Both the tragic tales of the Titanic and the Lusitania are also tied to the original Chelsea Piers.

But changes in ocean travel and the financial fortunes of New York left the piers without a purpose by the late 20th century. How did this important site for transatlantic travel transform into one of New York’s leading modern sports complexes?

ALSO: The death of Thirteenth Avenue, an avenue you probably never knew New York City ever had!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #180: Chelsea Piers in the Age of the Ocean Liner

___________________________________________________________________________

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

Starting this month, we are doubling our number of episodes per month. Now you’ll hear a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

The offices of Steamship Row near Bowling Green and Battery Park. With the rise of ocean travel in the mid 19th century, passengers went to these buildings to make voyage accommodations.  These were later replaced with more lavish offices, many of which are still around in the neighborhood today.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

A jaunty song written for the Cunard ship Mauretania, sister ship of the Lusitania.
A jaunty song written for the Cunard ship Mauretania, sister ship of the Lusitania.

 

The crazy scene out in front of West Washington Market in 1905. The market was built well before the Chelsea Piers and helped preserve a bit of 13th Avenue when most of that street was eliminated for the Piers’ construction.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Construction of the Chelsea Piers complex in progress, looking northwest from 16th Street, 1910.

Courtesy New York Department of Records
Courtesy New York Department of Records
Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

The lavish Chelsea Piers headhouse, designed by Warren and Wetmore of Grand Central Terminal. This picture was taken in 1910 at their completion. It looks very calm on the street in front, a rarity!

Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

 

An insurance map from 1885, detailing the streets near the areas of waterfront along West Village and the Meat-Packing District.  Note the location of 13th Avenue along the water, running along the top from center to right. Most of this was removed for the construction of the piers.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

The arrival of the White Star ocean liner Olympic into New York harbor, 1911.

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

 

The Titanic on its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912. This was obviously taken from Southhampton where they had much more room for massive ocean vessels!

Titanic

 

Crowds gather at a location near Chelsea Piers awaiting the survivors of the Titanic disaster.

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

People gather in New York to await the arrival of survivors of the sinking of the RMS Titanic aboard the RMS Carpathia

The RMS Carpathia arrives at Pier 54 on April 18, 1912.  Reporters scurry to interview survivors of the Titanic.

Courtesy New York Times
Courtesy New York Times

The Lusitania in New York Harbor, and other with the Lusitania at Pier 54 (date unknown but obviously before the Chelsea Piers were completed)

lusitania

 

pier54cunardlusitania

This striking image (cleaned-up photography courtesy of Shorpy) shows the Chelsea Piers in context with the streets of Chelsea in front of it. 1920

Courtesy Shorpy
Courtesy Shorpy

 

An excellent image of the crazy pier situation in lower Manhattan. This picture is from 1931. Chelsea Piers would be in the upper left-hand corner.

Courtesy Internet Book Image Archives
Courtesy Internet Book Image Archives

 

There were of course other pier structures running down the Hudson shoreline, many of them quite imposing such as this one at Pier 20 and 21 for the Erie Railroad Company at the foot of Chambers Street, picture taken in 1930.

Wurts Brothers, courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Wurts Brothers, courtesy Museum of the City of New York

A photomechanical postcard of the piers further south of Chelsea Piers, 1916.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

The three largest ships in the world in 1940, all docked in mid-Manhattan, not Chelsea Piers because it could not accommodate their size.

The three largest ships in the world, all docked in mid-Manhattan, not Chelsea Piers because it could not accommodate their size (Courtesy State Library of New South Wales)
(Courtesy State Library of New South Wales)

 

This is what Pier 54 looked like in 1951 after Cunard and White Star merged to become a single transatlantic company.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

The piers of Washington Market in the 1970s. Most of the pier structures along the water had badly deteriorated by then.

Courtesy Andy Blair/Flickr
Courtesy Andy Blair/Flickr

The Elevated West Side Highway being torn down in front of Pier 62. The area looks quite different today. In fact Pier 62 is part of the Hudson River Park system.

Photo by Edmund V. Gillon, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Photo by Edmund V. Gillon, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

The Chelsea Piers sporting complex was constructed in the 1990s, saving a portion of the original Chelsea Piers from further deterioration. Although I think we can all agree the exterior could be a bit sexier.

chelsea

 

Meanwhile Pier 54 continues to find a variety of new uses.  Here’s a dance party deejayed by Paul Van Dyk from 2008.

Courtesy Rukes/Paul Van Dyk Fan Board
Courtesy Rukes/Paul Van Dyk Fan Board

 

And finally….

The complete words of Charles Dickens, describing his voyage over on the Cunard steamship Britannia to the United States in 1842 :

To say that she [the ship] is flung down on her side in the waves, with her masts dipping into them, and that, springing up again, she rolls over on the other side, until a heavy sea strikes her with the noise of a hundred great guns, and hurls her back — that she stops, and staggers, and shivers, as though stunned, and then, with a violent throbbing of her heart, darts onwards like a monster goaded into madness, to be beaten down, and battered, and crushed, and leaped on by the angry sea — that thunder, lightening, hail, and rain, and wind, are all in fierce contention for the pastry — that every plant has its grown, every nail its shriek, and every drop of water in the great ocean its howling voice — is nothing.  

To say that all is grand, and all appalling and horrible in the last degree is nothing. Words cannot express it. Thoughts cannot convey it. Only a dream can call it up again, in all its fury, rage and passion.

This is in describing his voyage to the United States. Horrible, to be sure.  But given the thousands of people who involuntarily traveled across the Atlantic in the decades earlier, and the wretched conditions they faced, it’s hard too be overly sympathetic to Mr. Dickens’ inconvenience!