Visitors to See History in the Making at Brooklyn Historical Society’s Empire Stores Museum

Rendering of Visitor Vistas via the Brooklyn Historical Society


As the finishing touches on Empire Stores are completed in preparation for its spring grand opening, the Brooklyn Historical Society has received a generous $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create its satellite museum within the complex.

Still-in-the-making history doesn’t usually end up in museums, but the Brooklyn Historical Society will now do just that at the historic warehouses, located at 53-83 Water Street on the waterfront in Dumbo.

The grant, announced Monday, will benefit BHS’s in-the-works exhibit, Waterfront, documenting both Brooklyn’s classic waterfront history as well as the up-and-coming area’s history in the making.

The 3,000-square-foot satellite space will, “showcase the legacy of Brooklyn’s waterfront, history of the building, and recent Brooklyn Bridge Park development,” according to Empire Stores. The exhibit will address debates about future waterfront development and position visitors as “influential players in shaping its future,” the museum said.

Empire Stores Museum Space

Rendering of Water Log via the Brooklyn Historical Society

Waterfront embodies NEH’s mission to preserve cultural heritage, promote scholarship, and make the best of America’s humanities ideas available to all citizens,” NEH Director of the Division of Public Programs Karen S. Mittelman said in a press release. The NEH grant will go towards two of Waterfront’s digital features, a floor to ceiling storytelling portion called Water Log and a touch-screen interactive part named Visitor Vistas.

Empire Stores Museum Space

Across the open courtyard space is where the museum will be located

The National Endowment for the Humanities has worked with the Brooklyn Historical Society before on such projects as its current, long-term In Pursuit of Freedom anti-slavery exhibit at its Brooklyn Heights space as well as a Landmarks of Brooklyn’s Industrial Waterfront educational program that included access to BHS’s extensive collection of maps and manuscripts.

Waterfront won’t open with the rest of the complex, not becoming publicly viewable until late 2017, according to BHS’s president Deborah Schwartz, DNAinfo reported.

“It will be one large immersive space,” BHS President Deborah Schwartz told Brownstoner. “All the installations that will focus on the history of the waterfront will be one fluid experience.”

Schwartz went on to say that, in anticipation of a more family-heavy audience than visits BHS’s Pierrepont space, the Empire Stores satellite will be accessible to all ages, with “lots of simple interactives for young children that make the place really friendly for a broad audience.”

Schwartz anticipates locals and tourists will interpret and internalize the exhibits in quite different ways.

Empire Stores Museum Space

Glassy upper story office space

The Brooklyn Historical Society’s first location beyond its landmarked Brooklyn Heights space, the museum will share its second floor space with offices. It will be one of multiple public spaces at Empire Stores, including a staircase with stadium seating leading from Brooklyn Bridge Park to the rooftop terrace and beer garden, leased to Soho house.

The complex, which topped out in August, is part of Brooklyn Bridge Park. It is being developed by Midtown Equities, which has maintained the building’s 146-year-old facade while altering the inside to incorporate a central courtyard and both retail and office space.

Dumbo-based furniture store West Elm has leased roughly a third of the sprawling development, with plans to move its headquarters into the warehouses.

Empire Stores Museum Space

Rendering inset via Empire Stores

The opening of Empire Stores should be a game-changer for the historic site, Dumbo, and even whole borough. Once an important part of Brooklyn’s industry, but empty and deteriorating since the mid-20th century, Empire Stores will add office and retail space as well as create a destination and attraction for locals and tourists. It will also provide revenue for the park.

Empire Stores Museum Space

Workers on Empire Stores’ roof in August

[Photos: Hannah Frishberg]

Related Stories
Empire Stores: From Cargo Warehouse to Ruin to Development Site, 1868 to Present
Empire Stores Gets Glassy on Dumbo Waterfront
Inside the Transformation of Historic Waterfront Jewel Empire Stores in Dumbo

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