Many of Brooklyn’s streets bear names that reflect historical figures that played a major role in the nation’s history (like Jay Street) or were named for wealthy Brooklyn families (like Pierrepoint Street). However, one major artery in North Brooklyn tells a different story.
Greenpoint’s McGuinness Boulevard runs from the Pulaski Bridge in the north to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in the south. Historically, the street was named Oakland Street, and was renamed in 1964 for Democratic alderman Peter J. McGuinness. But who was he?
“He was a large presence in every sense. He weighed nearly 300 pounds and despite not having graduated high school, he managed to challenge the Democratic political machine at the time,” said Geoff Cobb, a historian who specializes in the Greenpoint neighborhood and who is working on a book about McGuinness called King of Greenpoint.
Despite Greenpoint being a mostly Polish and Polish-American neighborhood in the 21st century, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the area was a hotbed of Irish immigration, with the emigres attracted to work available on Greenpoint’s docks. McGuinness was popular with his constituents because of his personality and improvements in the neighborhood. A number of examples of neighborhood infrastructure, including the Meeker Avenue Bridge, the McCarren Park Pool, and the subway’s expansion to Greenpoint are attributed to McGuinness’ influence with city officials. After his death in 1948, the community renamed one of the largest streets in the neighborhood as a way to commemorate the “King of Greenpoint,” ensuring his legacy.
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