info 05.2.12

Walking Off the Big Apple

You can see water from many vantage points in Greenpoint although there's not much access. That will change when the city creates 50 acres of parkland along the East River straddling Greenpoint and Williamsburg. The relative isolation (the nearest subway is the unloved G train) and the watery margin give the neighborhood a sense of enclave and account for many of its idiosyncratic charms. Streets are named in alphabetical order starting from the north—up to a point.

The Dutch find the Kesaechqueren Indians in residence here in 1638. After buying the land and renaming it, they farm the area for a couple of hundred years. In the mid-1800s, industry moved in and Greenpoint became a center for what were called the five black arts – printing, pottery, petroleum refining, glassmaking, and iron making. Charles Pratt, the founder of Pratt Institute, set up Pratt's Astral Oil Works, a refinery on the East River. The Continental Iron Works, once at the corner of West and Calyer Streets, is where the ironclad battleship Monitor was launched 150 years ago, in 1862. After its battle with the Merrimac, the Monitor sank near Cape Hatteras. The virtual Greenpoint Monitor Museum commemorates the event as does a monument in Monsignor McGolrick Park.

In the 1880s, one of the most visible characteristics of today's Greenpoint began when the first immigrants from Poland arrived. By the beginning of the 20th century, the Newtown Creek was, after the Mississippi, the second busiest waterway in the country. But in the latter part of the 20th century, a combination of industrial and sewage waste made it one of the most polluted. After WWII, heavy industry began to decline here and the refineries began to close, leaving behind a 17 million gallon oil spill (some estimates say even more than that).

The Greenpoint Historic District is bounded by Java, Calyer, Franklin Streets and Manhattan Avenue. The combination of funky and graceful, which typifies the neighborhood, is best seen on Java Street from Franklin to Manhattan. Many of the houses demonstrate the effectiveness of siding salesmen, but then you come upon 121 Java and three delightful Victorian row houses… Mae West and Pat Benatar are two of the area's most famous daughters.

Eat: Polish food at Karczma or contemporary American cooking at Anella.

Drink: Lots of good choices, including Pencil Factory Bar (where German pencil maker Eberhard Faber had a manufacturing plant) and Enids for pencil-thin hipsters.

Read: The Astral, by Kate Christensen, is a novel set in the (real) apartment building of the same name, built as housing for Pratt's Astral Oil workers. Buy the book from the neighborhood's great bookstore, WORD.

Cultural and literary notes, plus self-guided walks, courtesy of Walking Off the Big Apple, a strolling guide to New York City.

New on Walking Off the Big Apple this week:

• Walking Off The Tallest Building in New York City: A Look Back in Pictures

1 World Trade Center officially became the tallest building in New York City on Monday afternoon when workers placed a steel beam on the 100th floor. 1 WTC reached 1,271 feet, surpassing the height of the iconic Empire State Building. This look back in pictures from Walking Off the Big Apple charts the growth of 1 WTC through months, seasons, perspectives, and varying weather conditions.

• Before May Day, Recalling the Paterson Strike Pageant of 1913

In the late spring and early summer of 1913, nurse and activist Margaret Sanger, writer Max Eastman, artist John Sloan and his wife Dolly, the Harvard-educated radical journalist John Reed, I.W.W. leader Big Bill Haywood, and others worked tirelessly to organize a pageant in support of striking workers. Over a thousand workers in the silk mill industry had walked off their jobs earlier in the year in Paterson, New Jersey, and they agreed to personally take part in an elaborate staging of their plight. The venue was Madison Square Garden. The Garden then was located just off Madison Square Park. The pageant opened on June 7, 1913.



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