The Backfiring Acronym Meant to Deter Development: How Dumbo Got Its Name

Photo by Hannah Frishberg


    Brownstoner takes on Brooklyn history in Nabe Names, a series of briefs on the origins and surprising stories of neighborhood nomenclature.

    Along Brooklyn’s watery perimeter sits Dumbo — not the flying elephant, but a pricey industrial-turned-residential corner of Kings County where centers of America’s industry have been transformed into luxury condos.

    Originally known as Fulton Landing (the muse of Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”), the area was renamed DUMBO by fearful residents in the 1970s. The name is an acronym for the area’s literal location Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass. It was meant to deter real estate brokers and the looming specter of gentrification.

    Unfortunately for the residents, the acronym proved more of a trend setter than a deterrent, and the neighborhood is now Brooklyn’s most expensive.

    Fun fact: The artists also considered naming the area DANYA, for District Around the Navy Yard Annex.

    Dumbo Brooklyn

    A single tower of the bridge in 1909. The span wouldn’t be completed for another three years. The Empire State Building wouldn’t rise until 1931.

    Dumbo Brooklyn

    A 1974 image by Danny Lyon. The cobblestones are paved over, but the street could use a sweeping.

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    Dumbo Breaks Sale Records, Is Crowned Brooklyn’s Most Expensive ‘Hood in 2015

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