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Greenpoint is the northernmost neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. It is bordered on the southwest by Williamsburg at the Bushwick inlet, on the southeast by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and East Williamsburg, on the north by Newtown Creek and Long Island City, Queens at the Kosciuszko Bridge, and on the west by the East River. Originally farmland (many of the farm owners' family names, e.g., Meserole and Calyer, still name the streets), the residential core of Greenpoint was built on parcels divided during the 19th century, with rope factories and lumber yards lining the East River to the west, while the northeastern section along the Newtown Creek through East Williamsburg became an industrial maritime reach. There has been an effort to reclaim not only the rezoned Greenpoint/Williamsburg East River waterfront for recreational use, but to extend that effort to include a continuous promenade into the Newtown Creek area. The neighborhood is part of New York's 12th congressional district, State Senate Districts 17 and 25, State Assembly District 50, City Council District 33, and Brooklyn Community Board 1. The neighborhood is served by the NYPD's 94th Precinct.
Greenpoint, was originally inhabited by Keskachauge (Keshaechqueren) Indians, a sub-tribe of the Lenape. Contemporary accounts describe it as remarkably verdant and beautiful, with Jack pine and oak forest, meadows, fresh water creeks and briny marshes. Water fowl and fish were abundant. The name originally referred to a small bluff of land jutting into the East River at what is now the westernmost end of Freeman Street, but eventually came to describe the whole peninsula.
In 1638 the Dutch West India Company negotiated the right to settle Brooklyn from the Lenape. The first recorded European settler of what is now Greenpoint was Dirck Volckertsen (Batavianized from Holgerssøn), a Norwegian immigrant who in 1645 built a 1 1⁄2-story farmhouse there with the help of two Dutch carpenters. It was built in the contemporary Dutch style just west of what is now the intersection of Calyer Street and Franklin Street. There he planted orchards and raised crops, sheep and cattle. He was called Dirck de Noorman by the Dutch colonists of the region, Noorman being the Dutch word for "Norseman" or "Northman." The creek that ran by his farmhouse became known as Norman Kill (Creek); it ran into a large salt marsh and was later filled in. Volckertsen received title to the land after prevailing in court the year before over a Jan De Pree, who had a rival claim. He initially commuted to his farm by boat and may not have moved into the house full time until after 1655, when the small nearby settlement of Boswyck was established, on the charter of which Volckertsen was listed along with 22 other families. Volckertsen's wife, Christine Vigne, was a Walloon.
Volckertsen had periodic conflicts with the Keshaechqueren, who killed two of his sons-in-law and tortured a third in separate incidents throughout the 1650s. Starting in the early 1650s, he began selling and leasing his property to Dutch colonists, among them Jacob Haie (Hay) in 1653, who built a home in northern Greenpoint that was burned down by Indians two years later. The Hay property and other holdings came into the possession of Pieter Praa, a captain in the local militia, who established a farm near present day Freeman Street and McGuinness Boulevard, and went on to own most of Greenpoint. Volckertsen died in about 1678 and his grandsons sold the remainder of the homestead to Pieter Praa when their father died in 1718; the name of Norman Avenue remains as testimony to Volckertsen's legacy.
Praa had no male heirs when he died in 1740, but the farming families of his various daughters formed the core of Greenpoint for the next hundred years or so. By the time of the American Revolutionary War, Greenpoint's population was entirely five related families:
Throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, the farms were quite isolated from the rest of Brooklyn, connected only to one another by farm lanes and to the rest of Bushwick Township by a single road, Wood Point Road. The families used long boats to travel to Manhattan to sell their farm produce. Little historical information exists about this period of Greenpoint's history other than the personal papers and recorded oral history of these five families.
The British Army had an encampment in Greenpoint during the Revolution, which caused considerable hardship for the families; Abraham Meserole's son was imprisoned on suspicion of revolutionary sympathies.
Greenpoint first began to change significantly when an entrepreneur named Neziah Bliss married into the Meserole family in the early 1830s after purchasing land from them. He eventually bought out of most the land in Greenpoint. In 1834 he had the area surveyed, and in 1839 he had a public turnpike opened along what is now Franklin Street. He established regular ferry service to Manhattan around 1850. All of these initiatives contributed to the rapid and radical transformation of Greenpoint.
In the years that followed Greenpoint established itself as a center of shipbuilding and waterborne commerce; its shipbuilding, printing, pottery, glassworks and foundries were staffed by generation after generation of hardworking immigrants. Germans and Irish arrived in the mid-19th century and large numbers of Poles began arriving before the turn of the century. The homes built for the merchants and the buildings erected for their workers sprang up along streets that lead down to the waterfront. Today, this area is on the National Register of Historic Places as Greenpoint's Historic District.
Greenpoint's East River waterfront holds the maritime history of the community. The buildings which formerly manufactured the ropes for the shipbuilding industry are still there. Long a site of shipbuilding, the neighborhood's dockyards harbored the construction of the USS Monitor—the Union's first ironclad fighting ship built during the American Civil War. It was launched on Bushwick Creek. The Monitor, together with seven other ironclads, was built at the Continental Ironworks in Greenpoint. In 1866, the largest wooden ship ever built up to that time, The Great Republic, was built along Newtown Creek.
Charles Pratt's Astral Oil Works also opened on the Greenpoint waterfront in the 1860s. Pratt sold his interest to John D. Rockefeller's recently formed Standard Oil Trust in 1874. The Astral Apartments were built as affordable housing for workers at Astral Oil in 1885-1886.
After a long history as a working-class neighborhood and immigrant haven, but with declining small industries and working population, Greenpoint began to see some of the effects of gentrification by the 1980s. The New York Times noted extraordinary rent increases and displacement as early as 1986, mirroring the pattern of residential conversions of industrial buildings seen in nearby Williamsburg, as well as the similar formation of a much smaller art community. New construction is prevalent on streets where most buildings date back up to a century. Despite its location close to Manhattan, the subway and bus connections with Mass Transit (G Subway line; B62, B43, B48, B24 Bus Service) were very poor and unreliable after working hours until they were gradually improved in the late 1990s. Mass-transit improvement; clean up of highly polluting industries and municipal facilities; the spillover from increasingly expensive Williamburg; promotion by the New York Times; and the wholesale "return" of the middle class to Brooklyn; all combined to help spur plans to build public parks near the waterfront and thus to increase the real-estate values that make the location more expensive each year.
On May 11, 2005, New York City's Department of City Planning approved a rezoning of 175 blocks in Greenpoint and Williamsburg. According to the project's Environmental Impact Statement, the rezoning is expected to bring approximately 16,700 new residents to the neighborhood by 2013 in 7,300 new units of housing. 250,000 square feet (23,000 m2) of new retail space are projected, along with a corresponding loss of just over 1,000,000 square feet (93,000 m2) of existing industrial capacity. The rezoning also includes a 28-acre (110,000 m2) waterfront park. Included in its requirements are provisions for a promenade along the East River, built piecemeal by the developers of existing waterfront lots.
An inclusionary housing plan was included in the resolution and provides height bonuses along the waterfront and in Northside Williamsburg for developers providing apartments at rates considered affordable for low-income households (below 80% of the area's median income); on the waterfront, these bonuses could allow for up to seven-story height increases.
The rezoning was a dramatic change in scale to a previously low-slung, industrial neighborhood. The proposed changes were the subject of much debate, including a letter written by Jane Jacobs to Michael Bloomberg criticizing the proposed development.
“ The community's plan does not cheat the future by neglecting to provide provisions for schools, daycare, recreational outdoor sports, and pleasant facilities for those things. The community's plan does not promote new housing at the expense of both existing housing and imaginative and economical new shelter that residents can afford. The community's plan does not violate the existing scale of the community, nor does it insult the visual and economic advantages of neighborhoods that are precisely of the kind that demonstrably attract artists and other live-work craftsmen... [but] the proposal put before you by city staff is an ambush containing all those destructive consequences. ”
Other organizations, including the city government and various developer-friendly advocacy groups such as the conservative Manhattan Institute, argued that residential construction in underused manufacturing zones is essential to meet growing housing demand. Rezoning promised double-digit percentage growth in the number of housing units, leading these groups to claim that it would help to alleviate the city's housing shortage and possibly slow rent increases. Critics argued that the existing community's character would be changed as existing residents were forced to move, and, further, that public transportation and public safety infrastructure would be unable to accommodate the projected 40,000 new residents.
A boom in construction followed the rezoning, leading to complaints from neighborhood residents and their elected representatives. The zoning plan was modified on March 2, 2006, to include anti-harassment provisions for tenants and add height limits in portions of upland Williamsburg. Neighborhood organizations made differing opinions known: the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Association for Parks and Planning expressed approval of the proposal (with reservations), but many neighborhood residents and members of Community Board 1 continue to voice their objections.
The subsequent real-estate crash has left many projects stuck in mid-construction.
Greenpoint is largely working class and multi-generational; it is not uncommon to find three generations of family members living in this community. The neighborhood is sometimes referred to as "Little Poland" due to its large population of working-class Polish immigrants, reportedly the second largest concentration in the United States after Chicago. Although Polish immigrants and people of Polish descent are present in force, there is a significant Latino population living mostly north of Greenpoint Avenue, and Greenpoint has a significant number of South Asian and North African residents.
As of the census of 2000, there were 39,360 people, 15,865 households, and 8,744 families residing in the 11222 ZIP code, which is roughly coterminous with Greenpoint. The population density was 23,221 people per square mile (8965.7/km²). There were 16,949 housing units at an average density of 9999.3/sq mi (3860.8/km²). The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 80.3% White, 1.6% African American, 0.4% Native American, 3.8% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 9.4% from other races, and 4.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 19.5% of the population. Another 43.6% of the residents claimed Polish ancestry.
There were 15,865 households out of which 26.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.3% were married couples living together, 12.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 44.9% were non-families. 30.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.47 and the average family size was 3.15.
In the neighborhood the population was spread out with 19.9% under the age of 19, 8.2% from 20 to 24, 35.7% from 25 to 44, 24.9% from 45 to 64, and 11.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36.6 years. For every 100 females there were 102 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 101 males.
The median income for a household in the neighborhood was $33,578 as compared to Williamsburg's median household income of $23,567. Males had a median income of $32,019 versus $26,183 for females. About 17.7% of the population were below the poverty line, as compared to Williamsburg's 41.4% and Kings county's 22.4% below poverty.
Greenpoint is served by the Greenpoint Avenue and Nassau Avenue stations on the IND Crosstown Line (G train) of the New York City Subway. It is served by the B24, B43, B48 and B62 bus routes. NY Waterway operates service to points along the East River from its India Street ferry slip.
Greenpoint community residents and activists have periodically banded together, sometimes with the aid of their local representatives, to fight highly polluting facilities and practices situated in this working-class and immigrant neighborhood. Such organization led the city to close the huge Greenpoint incinerator, which was out of compliance with all state, city, and federal regulations. In the late-1980s, after an increasing series of highly odorous releases from the Sewage Treatment Plant which served a good portion of Lower Manhattan, a local group formed calling itself GASP (Greenpointers Against Smell Pollution) that compelled the city to control the outflows and to plan a vastly expanded facility that took 20 years to build. The mid 1980s saw a great vast in the number of trucks transiting through the neighborhood with municipal waste, often toxic waste, to be held at "transfer stations." In 1950, in what was then considered to be the worst oil spill in United States history, 17 to 30 million gallons of oil spilled into Newtown Creek. Oil is believed to have been seeping into the groundwater since then. Groundwater in this area is not used as drinking water, as all of New York City's drinking water presently comes from upstate reservoirs. local activists have been campaigning ever since to clean up the spill. In January 2006, state and oil company officials asserted that to date half of the spill has been cleaned up.
According to page 42 from an Environmental Protection Agency study, "the American Petroleum Institute (2002) indicates that 40% to 80% of a product spill may be retained in soils as residual product."). The Department of Environmental Conservation's website states that petroleum companies participating in the cleanup have used a Free Product Recovery System for groundwater, rather than the soils.
On October 20, 2005, local residents within the area of the oil recovery operation, which is located in the predominantly commercial/industrial eastern section of Greenpoint near the East Williamsburg Industrial Park, filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron Corporation in Brooklyn State Supreme Court, alleging they have suffered adverse health consequences. Such claims from residents have been resisted by oil industry supporters through references to apparently conflicting data and deferrals of legal responsibility, among other strategies. For example, a New York State Department of Health study, completed in May 2007, was able to find no evidence that vapors were coming from the spill into people's homes. Although ExxonMobil has been slowly removing oil from its former facilities in the area under two 1990 agreements with the state, they have denied liability for the oil leaking into Newtown creek and suggested fault lies instead with the former Paragon Oil, now Chevron Corporation.
However, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) "Newtown Creek/Greenpoint Oil Spill Study Brooklyn, New York" states that vapor concentrations in "some commercial establishments" were found "above the Upper Explosive Limit" (page 7). Simply put, that means there was so much vapor, no explosion could ignite. In addition, the same EPA study said, "A review of the data collected by the NYSDEC shows that, in general, chemicals were detected at all locations in each home, but not in a pattern that would typically represent a vapor intrusion phenomenon."
A recent Department of Environmental Conservation report that tested residential blocks above the spill area concluded that there is no evidence of either oil or dangerous vapors seeping up into people's homes. Brooklyn Paper columnist Tom Gilbert wrote, "This stands to reason, as the spilled oil tends to lie deep underground, capped by a nearly impermeable layer of clay."
The cancer rates recorded by the NY State Dept of Health in Greenpoint average 10% lower than the rest of the city along with a 25% and 50% lower asthma rate.This may be dropping as a result of the closure of highly toxic small industries such as electroplating. The cleanup of the extremely polluted Newtown Creek is being pursued as part of the effort to improve Greenpoint and Williamsburg livability and real-estate values.
Parks include McCarren Park (formerly known as Greenpoint Park), the neighborhood's largest green space, and the smaller McGolrick Park (formerly known as Winthrop Park), which contains both the landmarked Shelter Pavilion (1910) (NRHP) and an allegorical monument (1938) to the USS Monitor ironclad ship.
The Greenpoint Historic District (NRHP) roughly bounded by Kent, Calyer, Noble, and Franklin Sts., Clifford Pl. Lorimer St. and Manhattan Ave.
Of architectural interest in Greenpoint are: The Episcopal Church of the Ascension (Ascension Greenpoint) (1853) the oldest church in Greenpoint on Kent Street, The Astral Apartments (1885) (NRHP) on Franklin Street, the Saint Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church (1875) on Manhattan Avenue, the Eberhard-Faber Pencil Factory on Greenpoint Ave at Franklin St., the Polish Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Lord (1921) (NRHP) on North 12th Street, the Oliver Hazard Perry School () (1867) on Norman Avenue (the oldest continuously operating public school building in New York City); the Capital One (formerly Green Point) Savings Bank (1908), the Saint Stanislaus Kostka Roman Catholic Church (1896)() on Humboldt Street, which serves as a Catholic shrine for the Polish community, and the synagogue building of Congregation Ahavas Israel (1903) on Noble Street  (the sanctuary, with stained glass windows and a torah shrine with turn-of the century wood carvings, is currently open only during services on Saturday mornings).
Additionally, St. Cecilia's Roman Catholic Church and School, on Monitor Street between Richardson and Herbert Streets, has served the community since 1871. The school which dates to 1906 was closed June 2008. The current church dates to 1891.
Greenpoint is represented in Congress by Nydia Velázquez (D-NY12), in the State Senate by Daniel Squadron (D-25) and Martin Dilan (D-37), in the State Assembly by Joseph Lentol (D-50), and in the City Council by Stephen Levin (D-33).
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