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Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Williamsburg is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, bordering Greenpoint, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Bushwick. The neighborhood is part of Brooklyn Community Board 1.

Williamsburg is home to a thriving art community and is largely associated with one of its main thoroughfares: Metropolitan and Bedford Avenue. Many ethnic groups have enclaves within Williamsburg, including Germans, Hasidic Jews, Italians, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans. The neighborhood is also a magnet for young people moving to the city, and is an influential hub for indie rock.

Williamsburg is viewed as both a haven for established immigrant families and as an area of exclusive artists and hipsters. The sometimes-clashing definitions have been highlighted by a growing population and rapid development of housing and retail that is changing the look and feel of the neighborhood.

History

Independent Williamsburgh

In 1638 the Dutch West India Company first purchased the area's land from the local Native Americans. In 1661, the company chartered the Town of Boswijck, including land that would later become Williamsburg. After the English takeover of New Netherland in 1664, the town's name was anglicized to Bushwick. During colonial times, villagers called the area "Bushwick Shore." This name lasted for about 140 years. Bushwick Shore was cut off from the other villages in Bushwick by Bushwick Creek to the north and by Cripplebush, a region of thick, boggy shrub land extending from Wallabout Creek to Newtown Creek, to the south and east. Bushwick residents called Bushwick Shore "the Strand." Farmers and gardeners from the other Bushwick villages sent their goods to Bushwick Shore to be ferried across the East River to New York City for sale via a market at present day Grand Street. Bushwick Shore's favorable location close to New York City lead to the creation of several farming developments. In 1802, real estate speculator Richard M. Woodhull acquired 13 acres (53,000 m²) near what would become Metropolitan Avenue, then North 2nd Street. He had Colonel Jonathan Williams, a U.S. Engineer, survey the property, and named it Williamsburgh (with an h at the end) in his honor. Originally a 13-acre development within Bushwick Shore, Williamsburgh rapidily expanded during the first half of the nineteenth century and eventually seceded from Bushwick and formed its own independent city.

Williamsburgh was incorporated as the Village of Williamsburgh within the Town of Bushwick in 1827. In two years it had a fire company, a post office and a population of over 1,000. The deep drafts along the East River encouraged industrialists, many from Germany, to build shipyards around Williamsburgh. Raw material was shipped in, and finished products were sent out of many factories straight to the docks. Several sugar barons built processing refineries. Now all are gone except the now-defunct Domino Sugar (formerly Havemeyer & Elder). Other important industries included shipbuilding and brewing.

Reflecting its increasing urbanization, Williamsburgh separated from Bushwick as the Town of Williamsburgh in 1840. It became the City of Williamsburgh in 1852, which was organized into three wards. The old First Ward roughly coincides with the South Side and the Second Ward with the North Side, with the modern boundary at Grand Street. The Third Ward was to the east of these, beginning to approach modern Eastern Williamsburg.

Brooklyn Union Gas in the early 20th century consolidated its producer gas production to Williamsburg at 370 Vandervoort Avenue, closing the Gowanus Canal gasworks. In the late 1970s an energy crisis led the company to build a syngas factory. Late in the century, facilities were built to import liquefied natural gas from overseas.

In Brooklyn's Eastern District

In 1855, the City of Williamsburgh, along with the adjoining Town of Bushwick, were annexed into the City of Brooklyn as the so-called Eastern District. The First Ward of Williamsburgh became Brooklyn's 13th Ward, the Second Ward Brooklyn's 14th Ward, and the Third Ward Brooklyn's 15th and 16th Wards.

In modern times the conception of Williamsburg (which lost its "h" with the Brooklyn merger) has expanded to cover areas not historically a part of the City of Williamsburgh. Much of what has later come to be understood as the heart of Williamsburg, the area south of Division Avenue in the west and Broadway in the east, was actually originally the Wallabout section of the City of Brooklyn. Also, much of what is today called East Williamsburg was originally organized as Brooklyn's 18th Ward from the Bushwick annexation, exclusive of the 27th and 28th Wards encompassing what is today called Bushwick, which were split off in 1892.

During its period as part of Brooklyn's Eastern District, the area achieved remarkable industrial, cultural, and economic growth, and local businesses thrived. Wealthy New Yorkers such as Cornelius Vanderbilt and railroad magnate Jim Fisk built shore-side mansions. Charles Pratt and his family founded the Pratt Institute, the great school of art & architecture, and the Astral Oil Works, which later became part of Standard Oil. Corning Glass Works was founded here before moving upstate to Corning, New York. German immigrant, chemist Charles Pfizer founded Pfizer Pharmaceutical in Williamsburgh, and the company still maintains an industrial plant in the neighborhood, although its headquarters were moved to Manhattan in the 1960s. In 2008, it plans to close the plant, on a Flushing Avenue site it has used since 1849. Brooklyn's Broadway, ending in the ferry to Manhattan, became the area's lifeline. At one point in the 19th century, Williamsburg possessed 10 percent of the wealth of the United States and was the engine of American growth. The area became a popular location for condiment and household product manufacturers. Factories for Domino Sugar, Esquire Shoe Polish , Dutch Mustard and many others were established in the late 19th and early 20th century. Many of the factory buildings have recently been converted to cultural or residential buildings.

The intersection of Broadway, Flushing Avenue, and Graham Avenue was a cross-roads for many "inter-urbans", prior to World War I. The inter-urbans were light rail trollies, and ran from Long Island to Williamsburg. The population was heavily German but many Jews from the Lower East side of Manhattan came to the area when the Williamsburgh Bridge was completed. Williamsburgh was a financial hub rivaling Wall Street for a time. The area around the Peter Luger Steak House, established in 1887, in the predominantly German neighborhood under the Williamsburg Bridge, was a major banking hub until the City of Brooklyn united with New York City.

Crossing the Williamsburg Bridge

In 1898 Brooklyn itself became one of five boroughs within the City of Greater New York, and its Williamsburg neighborhood was opened to closer connections with the rest of the new city.

Just five years later, the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903 marked the real turning point in the area's history. The community was then opened up to thousands of upwardly mobile immigrants and second-generation Americans fleeing the overcrowded slum tenements of Manhattan's Lower East Side. Williamsburg itself soon became the most densely populated neighborhood in the United States. The novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn addresses a young girl growing up in the tenements of Williamsburg during this era.

After World War II, the economy sagged. Refugees from war-torn Europe began to stream into Brooklyn, including the Hasidim whose populations had been devastated in the Holocaust. The area south of Division Avenue is home to a large population of adherents to the Satmar Hasidic sect. Hispanics from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic also began to settle in Williamsburg. But with the decline of industry and the increase of population and poverty, crime and illegal drugs, Williamsburg became a cauldron of pent-up energies. Those who were able to move out did, and the area became known for its crime and other social ills.

Designated Historical Landmarks

A Williamsburg landmark, The Kings County Savings Institution was chartered on April 10, 1860. It conducted business in a building called Washington Hall until it purchased the lot on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Broadway and erected its permanent home, the Kings County Savings Bank building. It is on the National Register of Historic Places (1980) and was the seventh building to be landmarked in New York City in 1966. "The Kings County Savings Bank is an outstanding example of French Second Empire architecture, displaying a wealth of ornament and diverse architectural elements. A business building of imposing grandeur, the Kings County Savings Bank "represents a period of conspicuous display in which it was not considered vulgar, at least by the people in power, to boast openly of one's wealth. From its scale and general character there is nothing , on the outside, that would distinguish the Kings County Savings Bank from a millionaires mansion." (from History Preserved: New York City Landmarks & Historic Districts, Harmon H. Gladstone & Martha Dalyrmple, Simon & Schuster, 1974).

In 2007 the Domino Sugar Refinery Building was also designated a New York City Landmark.

Communities within Williamsburg

"South Williamsburg" refers to the area which today is occupied mainly by the Yiddish-speaking Hasidim (predominantly those of the Satmar sect) and a considerable Puerto Rican population. North of this area (with Broadway serving as a dividing line) is an area known as "the South Side," occupied by Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. To the north of that is an area known as "the North Side," traditionally Polish and Italian, but now home to an increasing numbers of newcomers. East Williamsburg is home to many industrial spaces and forms the largely Italian American, African American, and Hispanic area between Williamsburg and Bushwick. South Williamsburg, the South Side, the North Side, Greenpoint and East Williamsburg all form Brooklyn Community Board 1. The "hipster" center of Williamsburg radiates from the strip of Bedford Avenue near the Bedford Avenue Station on the BMT Canarsie Line the first stop from Manhattan. This area of which is sought out by recently arrived residents to New York City now includes north, south, and east Williamsburg. The "Northside" being the most expensive and most developed followed by the "South Side" and lastly "East Williamsburg".

Feast of St. Paulinus and Our Lady of Mount Carmel

A significant component of the Italian community on the North Side were immigrants from the city of Nola near Naples. Residents of Nola every summer celebrate the "Festa del Giglio" (feast of lilies) in honor of St. Paulinus of Nola, who was bishop of Nola in the fifth century. The immigrants brought the traditions of the feast with them. For two weeks every summer, the streets surrounding Our Lady of Mount Carmel church, located on Havemeyer and North 8th Streets, are dedicated to a celebration of Italian culture. The highlights of the feast are the "Giglio Sundays" when a 100 foot tall statute, complete with band and a singer, is carried around the streets in honor of Paulinus and Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Clips of this awe-inspiring site are often featured on NYC news broadcasts. A significant number of Italian -Americans still reside in the area, although the numbers have certainly decreased over the years. Despite the fact that many of the descendants of the early Italian immigrants have moved away, many return each summer for the feast.

The Giglio was the subject of a documentary that aired on PBS in 2002 called "Heaven Touches Brooklyn in July", narrated by actors John Turturro and Michael Badalucco. The feast, still an important part of the local community and beloved by its participants, new and old, has its own website at www.olmcfeast.com.

Hasidic Williamsburg

Williamsburg is inhabited by tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews, most belonging to the Satmar Hasidic court. Satmar is among the fastest-growing communities in the world, as its families have a very high number of children. According to the principal of the Satmar United Talmudical Academy and Beis Rochel Schools, the Satmar Rav Joel Teitelbaum, founded his day school in 1947 with seven boys, and girls' day school in 1947 with a dozen girls. Bolstered by the children of Holocaust survivors who settled in New York over the next decade, the Satmar Williamsburg school had 700 girls and 700 boys in their schools twelve years later in 1959. The school is composed almost exclusively of Satmar chassidim, with other chassidic groups in Williamsburg forming their own school networks. In 1974, there were 3,500 students (until age 18) in New York's Satmar institutions - an increase of two and a half times in fifteen years. In 1998, some 25,000 students were spread throughout various Satmar schools in the greater New York area (including Kiryas Joel, Monsey, and Williamsburg). To date there are over 60,000 Satmar hasidim living in Williamsburg as the community continues building apartments on the fringe of Williamsburg, and has reclaimed housing in areas once considered blighted real estate. The community has considerable political clout in New York.

The Satmar community of Williamsburg typically celebrates eight to ten sholom zochors (male births), and the same number of female births, each week. Each year the community celebrates between 300 and 400 weddings. Satmar hasidim study almost exclusively in Yiddish in their schools. Of the nearly 200,000 Satmar adherents worldwide, over 70,000 live in Williamsburg, almost 25,000 live in Kiryas Joel, 20,000 in Boro Park, and another few thousand in Monsey.

Rise of the arts community

The first artists moved to Williamsburg in the 1970s, drawn by the low rents, large spaces available and convenient transportation, one subway stop from Manhattan. This continued through the 1980s and increased significantly in the 1990s as earlier destinations such as SoHo and the East Village became gentrified. The community was small at first, but by 1996 Williamsburg had accumulated an artist population of about 3,000.

Music scene

In recent years, Williamsburg has rivaled Manhattan as a home for live music and an incubator for new bands. Beginning in the late 1980s and through the late 1990s a number of unlicensed performance, theater and music venues operated in abandoned industrial buildings and other spaces in the streets surrounding the Bedford Avenue subway stop. The Bog, Keep Refrigerated, The Lizard's Tail, Quiet Life, Rubulad, Flux Factory, Mighty Robot, free103point9 and others attracted a mix of artists, musicians and urban underground for late night music, dance, and performance events, which were occasionally interrupted and the venues temporarily closed by the fire department. These events eventually diminished in number as the rents rose in the area and the police climate toughened, but are lived on in a number of smaller, fleeting spaces today. Many of these venues/promoters have become noted cultural institutions, including Todd P., Dot Dash , Twisted Ones , and Rubulad .

Many legitimate commercial music venues opened in the neighborhood including Pete's Candy Store, Union Pool, Northsix, Galapagos, Spike Hill, , The Lucky Cat, the Woodser, and the Local (aka "Rock Star Bar" aka "Ship's Mast" aka "Rocky's" aka the "Mermaid Bar") and Lower East Side open-mic-night stalwart The Luna Lounge, which relocated to Williamsburg in January 2007, with financial and booking backing from Live Nation. In late 2006, Bowery Presents, a Manhattan based promotion company, purchased the location of the former indie rock club Northsix. The company gutted the existing building and reconstructed a new club in the mold of the Bowery Ballroom. The venue re-opened as The Music Hall of Williamsburg on September 4, 2007, with Patti Smith performing the inaugural show. In the summers of 2006 and 2007, Live Nation, an outdoor entertainment promoter and subsidiary of media giant Clear Channel, began staging concerts at the previously abandoned pool at McCarren Park in Greenpoint.

Alongside the more prominent indie rock community, there is a respectable funk, soul and worldbeat music scene in Williamsburg - spearheaded by labels such as Daptone and Truth & Soul Records - and fronted by acts such as the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Jazz and World Music has found a foothold in Williamsburg as well, with classic jazz full time at restaurant venues like Zebulon and Moto, and - on the more avant / noise side - at spots like the Lucky Cat, B.P.M., Monkeytown, and Eat Records. A Latin Jazz community continues amongst the Caribbean community in Southside and East Williamsburg, centered around the many social clubs in the neighborhood.

The neighborhood also is the birthplace of electroclash, a trend fostered by self-styled New York celebrity Larry Tee and then collaborator Spencer Product and their Electroclash parties "Berliniamsburg" and "Mutants". For two years - starting the week before September 11, 2001 - Friday and Saturday parties at Club Luxx (now Trash) introduced electronic musicians like W.I.T., A.R.E. Weapons, Fischerspooner, Scissor Sisters, and Misty Martinez. By the summer of 2003, the fad dried up and Larry Tee's Williamsburg music nights were discontinued.

Rent Issues

Low rents were a major reason why artists first started settling in the area, but that situation has drastically changed since the mid 1990s. Average rents in Williamsburg can now (in 2007?) range from approximately $1400 for a studio apartment, $1,600-2,400 for a one-bedroom, and $2,600-4,000 for a two-bedroom. In many buildings, the rents have more than doubled in the past few years alone. The North Side (above Grand Street, which separates the North Side from the South Side) is somewhat more expensive, due to its proximity to the L and G train lines. More recent gentrification, however, has prompted an increase in rent prices below Grand Street as well. Higher rents have driven many priced-out bohemians to find new creative communities further afield in areas like Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Red Hook.

New York City which includes all of Brooklyn has laws which regulate the rent of some designated apartments in the city. The regulations as a whole are referred to as Rent control in New York.

Transportation

Williamsburg is served by 3 subway lines, the BMT Canarsie Line on the north, the BMT Jamaica Line on the south, and the IND Crosstown Line on the east. The Williamsburg Bridge crosses the East River to the Lower East Side. Williamsburg is also served by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Several bus routes including the B24, B39, B44, B46, Q54, and B60 terminate at the Williamsburg Bridge/Washington Plaza. Other bus lines that run through the neighborhood are the B43, B48, B59 and B61.

History of toxic sites in Williamsburg

El Puente, a community human rights institution, has called Williamsburg "the most toxic place to live in America" in the documentary, Toxic Brooklyn, hosted by VBS personality Derrick Beckles and created by the Williamsburg based, VBS.tv, the Internet Television Station operated by Vice Magazine. VBS TV Documentary LinkOther rare cancer clusters in Willamsburg have been reported in the NY Post, CBS news and Geraldo at Large on Fox.

Environmental hazards

Radiac Research Corporation, a radioactive and hazardous waste storage plant operates on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg. Radiac has a permit from the state's Department of Labor to store radioactive medical waste, including uranium and plutonium. Led by a local group, Neighbors Against Garbage, the plant's opponents believe that a truck bomb, for example, could cause a fire or explosion that could spew radioactive contaminants over parts of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. That would not be hard to do, they say, because Radiac's buildings either abut Kent Avenue or are separated from the street by a parking lot surrounded by a chain-link fence. City Councilman David Yassky, whose district includes the area, said the 35-year-old facility was no longer appropriate at its current site now that the city is a potential terrorist target. "A fire in the chemical part could easily spread," he said, "and we could easily face a dirty-bomb situation."

Radiac does have a troubling history of failing to adhere to safety regulations. An environmental impact study commissioned by the New York City Department of City Planning during the recent North Brooklyn rezoning process noted that the site "has a long list of RCRIS violations," referring to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Information System, a database operated by the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the study, Radiacal has been cited for violating both general standards of such a storage facility, as well as preparedness/prevention requirements. And in 2001 Radiacal received a fire protection report and analysis they themselves had commissioned that found that, "the current water-based fire protection system at the facility is inadequate to control the fire origination from a 55-gallon container" of the highly flammable chemical heptane, which is stored at the building.

Greenpoint/Williamsburg oil spill

The Greenpoint oil spill is one of the largest oil spills in history. It has been believed that the oil oozing from the ground at the Roebling Oil Field at N. 11th Street and Roebling in Williamsburg was emanating from a ruptured tank nearby.

References

See also

External links

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