If you’ve ever visited Green-Wood Cemetery, you’ve probably seen and wondered about the old Weir Greenhouse. The shuttered and dilapidated building sits across the street from Green-Wood’s main entrance at 749-750 5th Avenue, on the corner of 25th Street.
Despite its ramshackle appearance, the Weir Greenhouse is a significant building, the only known Victorian commercial greenhouse still standing in New York City. Landmarked in 1982, it was the first and last stop for many visitors to Green-Wood, Brooklyn’s greatest tourist attraction in the 19th century, and will soon be so again.
Green-Wood bought it and is remaking it into a visitor’s center. (The nonprofit landmark crowed about its purchase on its blog here.) On Tuesday the cemetery’s architect firm, Page Ayres Cowley, will present its plans to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. A presentation is available online for viewing here or on the LPC website here.
Big changes are in the works, including restoring the greenhouse. The cemetery also wants to demolish “ancillary structures” — including two 19th-century buildings that look like row houses adjacent to the greenhouse — add onto the greenhouse, and put up a new building that wraps around the greenhouse.
The Weir Greenhouse dates from 1880 and was designed by notable Brooklyn architect Mercein Thomas. However, it was greatly altered in 1895, and what you see now is that alteration, designed by George Curtis Gillespie.
For more than a century, it sold flowers to visitors and for funerals. It was once only one of many greenhouses in the area and part of a network of growers. You can read more about it in the 1982 Landmarks designation report.
The proposed new building that will go up behind the greenhouse is a brick structure that looks like a regular office building. It will house support offices such as accounting for the cemetery.
Page Ayres Cowley specializes in adaptive reuse and restoration of historic buildings, including building new contextual buildings, according to the firm’s website. Its principal is architect Page Ayres Cowley. It has offices in New York and London.
Green-Wood is a working cemetery as well as a national historic site run by a nonprofit. It operates all sorts of tours and educational and cultural programs, has a resident historian, and a blog. Many famous people are buried on its grounds, including Leonard Bernstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Boss Tweed.
We predict the LPC will ask for changes, and send the architects back to the drawing board. (That’s been the case with all Brooklyn applications for alterations to commercial buildings lately, including the Domino Sugar Factory and the Brooklyn Heights Cinema building.)
What do you think of the plans?
Above, a page from the LPC presentation by the architects that shows the greenhouse as it appeared over the years in old photographs
Above, the Weir Greenhouse in December 2014. Photo by Cory Seamer for Brooklyn Relics