(Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is situated on the Brooklyn
side of the East River between two designated historic districts,
Fulton Ferry and Vinegar Hill. While these flanking districts represent,
respectively, commercial and residential histories, this neighborhood
tells the story of manufacturing.
DUMBO’s buildings express
over a century of history, from c.1830 to 1935, when Brooklyn rose
to become a major industrial center and home to many of the nation’s
most important industrial firms. The factories of Arbuckle Brothers
(coffee and sugar), J.W. Masury & Sons (paint), Robert Gair
(paper boxes), E.W. Bliss (machinery), and Brillo (steel wool) are
all still standing along with those of many lesser-known manufacturers.
These structures also document important trends in industrial design
during this time. Early 19th-century brick façade buildings
with massive wooden posts and beams still stand next to those with
terra-cotta floor arches and steel frames and even later reinforced
concrete structures. The Gair Company building is one of the first,
if not the first reinforced concrete factory building in the United
States. The architects of these factories vary as much as the materials
produced here, from little-known figures to major players such as
William Tubby, the Parfitt Brothers, and William Higginson, a pioneer
in the concrete factory construction.
DUMBO was one of the earliest European
settlements on Long Island, and the National Register DUMBO Industrial
District includes a piece of the original Dutch settlement of Brooklyn.
The area remained residential into the 1830’s, as a few of
these early residences still standing can attest. As early as the
1820’s industry began to make itself home here, with the Union
Foundry moving in first. Its location on the East River was perfect
for industry as raw materials could be easily brought in and finished
goods shipped out. Manufacturing grew throughout the century. DUMBO’s
factories helped make Brooklyn the fourth largest manufacturing
center in the nation by the early years of the 20th century.
The most notable feature in the
district and the one from which the area gets its name is, of course,
the Manhattan Bridge. Built in 1909, the bridge soars above the
area and its massive granite pier and several granite support arches
stand within the district’s boundaries.
tracks remain in the original granite Belgian block street paving
leading to and from the site of the former Jay Street Terminal Freight
Yard on the East River. This Belgian block paving can be found in
some areas stretching from one building line across the street to
another without sidewalks, possibly the only place in New York City
with this type of street design. Other parts of the district retain
their original Belgian block sidewalks.
This intriguing collection of late
19th- and early 20th-century industrial buildings of architectural
and historical importance was recognized by inclusion on the State
and National Registers of Historic Places in September of 2000.
While this designation officially recognizes the history and importance
of the area, it does not protect the neighborhood from the triple
threat of insensitive “improvements,” demolition, and
out of scale construction. In addition, the overheated real estate
market of the past few years has diminished the incentive for using
the Federal Tax Credit program for the restoration and rehabilitation
of historic structures. Building new towers with luxurious views
of the river and the skyline is more profitable than converting
the relatively low-rise commercial buildings into residences, even
with appropriate rooftop additions.
Only historic district designation
by the New York City’s Landmark Preservation Commission will
preserve the unique character and sense of place of this 19th-century
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