The historic Weir Greenhouse at 750 5th Avenue, just across from the entry to Green-Wood Cemetery, is slowly being burnished to its former glory.
A recent visit showed that while the construction fence is still up, the the visible framework is sporting a bright green paint job, the copper-clad roof is gleaming and the Weir signage and weathervane are in place.
The restoration project has been brewing since Green-Wood Cemetery finalized the purchase of the property in 2012. The building was in rough condition, with rotting wood, broken glass and a failing brick foundation. Green-Wood undertook an architectural study of the property to examine reuse possibilities and in 2013 received a $500,000 grant towards restoration from New York State’s Regional Economic Development Council.
In July of 2015, Green-Wood presented plans for the restoration of the greenhouse as part of a visitor center, complete with a new building, to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for approval. While LPC didn’t approve the new building they did give a thumbs-up to the plans for the historic structure, and a certificate of appropriateness was issued for the restoration in September 2015.
While no new plans for construction have been revealed, an adjoining 19th century structure at 751 5th Avenue, also owned by Green-Wood, was demolished in 2016 and work on the greenhouse has inched forward. There’s no reveal date set, but once the fence is down the 19th century structure will once again dominate the corner.
An individual New York City landmark, the greenhouse was originally part of the massive Weir family floral empire. James Weir founded his business in Brooklyn in the 1850s. It soon grew into a family-run business with greenhouses across the borough.
Son James Weir, Jr. branched out with his own horticultural business and in 1880 built a greenhouse designed by Brooklyn architect Mercein Thomas on this corner of 5th and 25th Street. It was a smart move, with the Green-Wood cemetery, established in 1838, across the street providing a built-in customer base for memorial flowers. According to the designation report for the greenhouse, it was just one of many flower businesses in the area.
With business booming in 1895 Weir commissioned George Curtis Gillespie to make substantial changes to the Thomas structure. According to the designation report, the original building largely disappeared with the Gillespie alterations. Weir built other greenhouses, including one on Fort Hamilton Parkway, near the eastern entrance to Green-Wood, but this is the only greenhouse from the floral heyday of the area to survive.
The greenhouse was owned by the Weir family until 1971 when it was sold to McGovern Florist Inc. Flowers continued to bloom there until McGovern closed around 2011. With the restoration moving forward hopefully Green-Wood cemetery will soon be welcoming not only plants but visitors to the greenhouse soon.
[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]
- Landmarked Florist Building Up For Sale
- Green-Wood Cemetery Reveals Plans for Weir Greenhouse Makeover and Visitors Center
- Monumental Conservation: Green-Wood Cemetery Gains a Conservator