07/07/14 3:00pm

51 Hudson Ave, SB. PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Frame house
Address: 51 Hudson Avenue
Cross Streets: Plymouth and Evans streets
Neighborhood: Vinegar Hill
Year Built: 1840-1847
Architectural Style: Greek Revival/Italianate
Architect: Built by Lawrence Powers, who probably designed it, as well
Landmarked: Yes, part of Vinegar Hill HD (1997)

The story: There are very few places in Brooklyn that retain a time capsule look of what the young city of Brooklyn looked like in the 1840s. Vinegar Hill is one of them, along with parts of northern Brooklyn Heights and a smattering of Wallabout. These neighborhoods all have the shared connection of the waterfront and the Navy Yard. If you could mentally erase the changes made in Dumbo and for the bridges and highways, they were all once connected on the street grid as well. Never a completely residential neighborhood, most of Vinegar Hill’s buildings had storefronts or workshops on the ground floors, with living above. This one was no different. (more…)

04/16/14 3:00pm

245 Front St. SB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row house
Address: 245 Front Street
Cross Streets: Bridge and Gold Streets
Neighborhood: Vinegar Hill
Year Built: 1852-55
Architectural Style: Greek Revival
Architect: Unknown.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Vinegar Hill HD (1997)

The story: Like stumbling upon Brigadoon, Vinegar Hill is hidden from most people’s view, tucked away between Dumbo and the Navy Yard, cut off from Downtown Brooklyn by the ramps of the BQE and the approaches to the Manhattan Bridge. The residential buildings of Vinegar Hill were built at the same time as parts of Brooklyn Heights, share architectural styles and features. But the distance of a mile, and the development of the Navy Yard made all the difference in the histories of these neighborhoods.

Shipbuilder John Jackson purchased a large parcel of land after the Revolutionary War, and opened a shipyard on Wallabout Bay. He built his shipyard at the base of Hudson Street, and then built homes nearby for his workers. In 1801, he sold 40 acres of his waterfront land to the United States government for the Navy Yard. He then built more houses, and called the area “Vinegar Hill” in honor of the last major battle between the Irish and English, in 1798.

Meanwhile, the Sands family, brothers Comfort and Joshua, were buying up land like crazy. At one point they owned most of Dumbo, all of the land to the west of Jackson’s holdings. They were very wealthy land speculators and merchants. Comfort Sands was one of the founders of the Bank of New York, and Joshua was one of the members of the Board of Trustees of the Village of Brooklyn. They parceled their land off into lots very early, in 1787, but did not build in the Vinegar Hill area until the 1830s.

By the late 1830s, early 1840s, the descendants of John Jackson had sold off all his remaining Hudson Street plots. The Greek Revival homes built here date from the late 1840s, early 1850s, and represent the boom years for Vinegar Hill as a neighborhood of shops, businesses and homes. Most of the residents were Irish, giving the neighborhood the nickname of “Irishtown,” although many others also lived here as well. Most of the people here, no matter what their ethnicity, worked at the Navy Yard, the waterfront, or for industries that supplied both. (more…)

07/24/13 3:35pm

Naval Hospital, BNY, Kingston Lounge, 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Hospital at the Brooklyn Navy Yard
Address: Hospital Road
Cross Streets: Squib Place and Oman Road
Neighborhood: Navy Yard/Vinegar Hill
Year Built: Begun 1830, completed 1838
Architectural Style: Greek Revival
Architect: Martin E. Thompson
Landmarked: Yes, an individual landmark (1965)

The story: In the early years of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, they leaped from the gates, as soon as the landmarks laws were passed, landmarking many of the city’s architectural treasures before they were destroyed in the city’s usual rush to replace and rebuild. The Hospital building at the Brooklyn Navy Yard was one of the first individual landmarks to be designated, cited by the Commission in the first year of the LPC’s existence. And what a choice, this is one of the city’s oldest and best military buildings.

The docks and piers, plus forty acres of land that initially made up the Navy Yard were purchased by the government in 1801, and the site became an active Navy shipyard in 1806 The Yard was active during the War of 1812, and began building and repairing ships early in its history. The USS Ohio was the first ship built by the Yard. In 1820, slave trading was declared piracy, and Navy Yard vessels patrolled the coast of West Africa, working to blockade slave ships. They continued to do this until 1861. By 1830, when the hospital was begun, the Navy Yard, under the command of Commodore Matthew C. Perry, was becoming an important educational and training facility, the precursor of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. (more…)

07/03/13 9:00am

vinegar-hill-street-070313

The Department of Transportation and the Department of Design and Construction’s artificially aged Belgian block and mockups of it in place are now on view at Pier 6. Comments and opinion on the controversial stones can be sent to plazas@dot.nyc.gov, according to DNAinfo. The DOT plans to replace cobble stone streets in Dumbo and Vinegar Hill with the faux aged stones to make them more accessible to people with disabilities and the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, the 14 mile bike lane that will snake from Bay Ridge to Greenpoint. The plan has provoked an outcry from residents who say the cobbles will destroy an important historic element of the neighborhoods. The replacements will “restore the street’s historical elegance while removing stumbling blocks for the thousands of people walking and biking in the neighborhood daily,” said DOT Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in a statement.

Photo by Yannell Rodriguez

04/01/13 10:30am

vinegar-hill-bike-cobblestones-040113
Over the weekend, The New York Times delved more deeply into the controversy over replacing the historic Belgian blocks in Vinegar Hill. The Department of Transportation wants to dig up and replace the old stones with new ones and reorient them to comply with the American With Disabilities Act and put a bike lane through the neighborhood connecting all of Brooklyn and Queens. To appease critics, the DOT has proposed artificially pre-weathering the stones to look old, “like a pair of stonewashed jeans,” as the story put it. Neighborhood residents and historic preservations are appalled. Do you think the DOT should proceed with its plan or should an exception be made for Vinegar Hill, arguably a unique, not to mention tiny, enclave?
To Replace Old Cobblestones, Old-Looking Cobblestones [NY Times]
Photo by the known universe

03/18/13 12:00pm


This Wednesday, the Department of Transportation is hosting its third public input session for the streetscape reconstruction of Dumbo and Vinegar Hill. Recently Vinegar Hill residents set up two petitions against changing the historic Belgian blocks of the neighborhood, so that’s sure to come up. The DOT will present strategies for cobble reconstruction based on previous public input. They are taking more public comments at this meeting as well. Also on the agenda: the design of the Pearl Street Triangle Plaza, where the Dumbo BID has had plans in place for years to transform into a permanent public space. Back in 2011 the Dumbo BID secured $20 million dollars for these big street improvements. The meeting on Wednesday is at the NYU-Poly Incubator, 20 Jay Street, Suite 312, from 6 pm to 8 pm.
Photo of the last DOT session by the Dumbo BID

03/07/13 11:00am


Two petitions just emerged out of Vinegar Hill about proposed streetscape changes to the neighborhood, which leave, as Curbed put it, “residents of the tiny ten-block enclave less than thrilled.” The first petition asks the city to preserve the original belgian block streets in Vinegar Hill and opposes the “use of machine-made or machine-altered cobblestones of any kind.” The original blocks are scheduled to be removed for infrastructure changes along Water Street, as well as a bike lane down Water. The second petition specifically asks that the bike lane planned within the Brooklyn Greenway skip Vinegar Hill altogether, considering that the DOT plans to make the path by reconfiguring the Belgian blocks by rotating them lengthwise. The Brooklyn Greenway would stretch three blocks through Vinegar Hill on Water and Plymouth Streets. The DOT already undertook a similar project down in Dumbo, which mostly restored the old Belgian blocks and added new blocks to create a bike lane along Water. In our humble opinion the restoration job did a good job of eliminating potholes and uneven paving as well as accommodating bikers. Do you think the proposed streetscape changes threaten the historic feel of the neighborhood?
Vinegar Hill Residents Really Don’t Want Bike Lanes [Curbed]
The City of New York: Preserve Original Belgian Block Streets in Vinegar Hill [Change.org]
The City of New York: Bypass Vinegar Hill When Implementing the Brooklyn Greenway [Change.org]
Photo by jackie weisberg

02/01/13 9:30am


A soon-to-be tenant of 185 York Street, the Vinegar Hill condo building that sold out quickly, reports that the building has yet to receive its Certificate of Occupancy. She went into contract over the summer but has not been able to close because of the lack of a C of O. According to her, “way back in August/September I was told there was an issue with the standpipe which resulted in a failed inspection. It was corrected, but getting re-inspected has been an issue… we hope to have the C of O by the end of “this” month – [the broker] has said that every month since September. Curious to know if other buyers have similar issues or more info.” A broker here tells us that they are going through the last of the inspections and anticipate closings to begin in February or March. The sixteen available units, priced from $375,000 to $845,000, all went into contract at or above asking. Any other buyers out there who are going through the same thing as our tipster?
Vinegar Hill Condos at 185 York Sell out Fast [Brownstoner]

01/31/13 3:33pm

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally “Constitution” Engine Co. 7, Volunteer Fire Dept.; then Engine 8, BFD; now residential
Address: 227 Front Street
Cross Streets: Bridge and Gold Streets
Neighborhood: Vinegar Hill
Year Built: 1870-71
Architectural Style: Italianate
Architect: Unknown, 1903 expansion by H. W. Billard
Other Work by Architect: Billard – small projects here and there, with at least one in Williamsburg.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Vinegar Hill HD (1997)

The story: This building was built by the Fire Department of the City of Brooklyn around 1870-71 and is on the site of one of the city’s oldest firehouses. Engine Company number 7 started out as a volunteer fire company in 1828, taking as its motto, “The Constitution and the Union Forever.” They were first located on Hudson Street, near Front Street. They later moved to the south side of Front St, between Bridge and Gold, and then to this location.

This new firehouse must have been a perfect place for them to show off their two year-old “piano box” engine, a marvelous machine with a mahogany box with rosewood panels. The box was embellished with carvings and gilt work. According to the “History of the Brooklyn Fire Department”, written in 1892, “the arms were of polished steel, and the wheels blue, striped with gilt. There were paintings on three sides of the condenser-case, in oval panels, 22 x 20 inches. Attached to the engine was a neat tender, carrying eight lengths of hose; she was named “Independent.”

According the that same source, the fire company ceased being a volunteer company in 1869, and many of the volunteers joined the Brooklyn Fire Department. It was at that time that this firehouse was built for them, on the site of the old one. Though the LPC report says differently, and dates the building for 1855, two different fire department sources seem to confirm this later date for the building. The original building, the one this replaced, appears to have been built in 1855. (more…)

10/10/12 3:30pm

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Storefront and residential building, now home to Hillside Cafe
Address: 70 Hudson Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Water Street
Neighborhood: Vinegar Hill
Year Built: 1828-1841
Architectural Style: Greek Revival
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: Yes, part of Vinegar Hill HD (1997)

The story: The Vinegar Hill neighborhood sandwiched between industrial Dumbo, the huge Con Ed facility and the Farragut Houses, is one of Brooklyn’s oldest neighborhoods. The landmarked areas of the neighborhood present a time capsule into Brooklyn’s past, one more intact than almost any other part of town. Narrow cobblestone streets wind around the area, and on those streets are a collection of houses, storefronts and businesses that go back to the early days of the ever-growing town of Brooklyn. (more…)