Highly Anticipated Empire Stores Is Now Open! And So Is the Brooklyn Historical Society Annex

Photo by Susan De Vries

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Game-changing Dumbo development Empire Stores opened from roof to courtyard as the Brooklyn Historical Society cut the ribbon Thursday on their annex in the historic Dumbo complex, part of Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The Brooklyn waterfront’s newest neighbor aims to help residents and tourists alike connect to the area’s past and future.

Elected officials and BHS representatives gave speeches in the museum space, where the inaugural exhibit showcases photographs of the Brooklyn waterfront throughout the years.

“It’s a special moment not only for the park and the waterfront, but for Brooklyn,” said Brooklyn Bridge Park President Eric Landau.

brooklyn historical society empire stores annex opens

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams cuts the ribbon. Photo by Seán Devlin

The opening of the highly anticipated complex is a game-changer for the historic site, Dumbo, and even the whole borough. Once an important part of Brooklyn’s industry, but empty and deteriorating since the mid-20th century, Empire Stores adds office and retail space to the area as well as creates a destination and attraction for locals and tourists. It also provides revenue for the park.

Photo by Susan De Vries

Photo by Susan De Vries

The dramatic central staircase and roof are now open to the public, an Empire Stores spokeswoman confirmed. Up on the roof, the landscaping is finished and ready, with plentiful wooden benches interspersed with plantings.

The glassy additions and historic windows in the building’s schist and brick walls connect the former coffee warehouse to its stunning surroundings and frame magnificent views of the East River and Manhattan.

brooklyn historical society empire stores annex opens

Photo by Susan De Vries

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Councilman Steve Levin and State Senator Daniel Squadron spoke in front of a backdrop of sweeping views of the East River and Manhattan through floor-to-ceiling banks of windows.

The annex’s 3,200 square feet house galleries and a gift shop. In the center of the space is a 19th century winch preserved from Empire Stores’ days as a working warehouse.

brooklyn historical society empire stores annex opens

Photo by Susan De Vries

The exhibition, Shifting Perspectives: Photographs of Brooklyn’s Waterfront, was curated by Marilyn Symms and features work from 25 photographers. “The exhibit is about the waterfront as it’s evolved and been documented by photographers from the 20th century to the present day,” said Symms.

Some sections of the galleries are dedicated to specific geographic locations, such as Coney Island and the Gowanus Canal.

empire stores rooftop brooklyn historical society

The view from the roof. Photo by Susan De Vries

The annex will focus on the history and development of Brooklyn’s waterfront, Empire Stores, and Brooklyn Bridge Park, as well as issues concerning future waterfront development. Its location is a perfect example of the changes it documents: Brooklyn Bridge Park has gone from a pipe dream to one of the borough’s gems in just a few short years.

empire stores rooftop brooklyn historical society

Another view of the roof. Photo by Susan De Vries

“This is a place where we intend to explore the histories of the waterfront through the years,” said Deborah Schwartz, president of Brooklyn Historical Society. “All those stories can be captured and explored in this space.”

Later this year, the space will present Waterfront, an interactive exhibit for all ages, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

View overlooking the carousel. Photo by Susan De Vries

Overlooking the carousel. Photo by Susan De Vries

The annex is Brooklyn Historical Society’s second permanent physical space, in addition to their Brooklyn Heights headquarters at 128 Pierrepont Street. On the second floor, it can be entered at 55 Water Street or through Empire Stores.

brooklyn historical society empire stores annex opens

Historic winch inside the BHS space. Photo by Susan De Vries

The Empire Stores complex, part of the Fulton Ferry Historic District, dates from 1869. Developer Midtown Equities and architect S9 Architecture have maintained the building’s 146-year-old facade while altering the inside to incorporate a central courtyard and both retail and office space.

brooklyn historical society empire stores annex opens

BHS President Deborah Schwartz and curator Marilyn Symms. Photo by Seán Devlin

In addition to the annex, West Elm, FEED project store and the Shinola Detroit shop are open in the complex. Other venues, such as restaurants, are expected to open later this year.

empire stores annex rooftop brooklyn historical society

Seating and landscaping on the roof. Rendering by S9 Architecture

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