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Fire Devastates Historic Greenpoint Terminal Market

greenpoint terminal market

A large portion of Greenpoint Terminal Market, a historic complex of 16 buildings for which the Municipal Art Society has been advocating city landmark protection — and preservation for reuse — was destroyed by fire in early May.

The MAS began advocating for the designation in early 2005, when the neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg were rezoned to allow for tall residential towers along the waterfront.

greenpoint terminal market

Last fall, the MAS produced and displayed an exhibit of photographs and renderings titled Preservation on the Edge: Our Threatened East River Heritage. The exhibit highlighted the Greenpoint complex in northwest Brooklyn and demonstrated ways to redevelop it through conversion, renovation and reuse.

In February, the Preservation League of New York State named the industrial architecture of Greenpoint and Williamsburg to its annual “Seven to Save” list of the state’s most threatened historic resources. Several years ago, the State Historic Preservation Office found the buildings of Greenpoint Terminal Market to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

greenpoint terminal market

History – Although now known as the Greenpoint Terminal Market, the complex was originally home to the American Manufacturing Company (AMC). The AMC was established in Brooklyn in about 1890. The business expanded from a portion of a single block in Greenpoint to an extensive series of buildings on all or part of six blocks. It became the second-largest industrial employer in Brooklyn, the fifth largest in New York City, and was considered to be the largest cordage manufacturer in the world. The complex expanded many times and the buildings underwent numerous alterations, creating an extraordinarily multi-layered history of construction.

The factory was initially dedicated to the production of rope and bagging. As it grew, ships bound from as far as India came regularly to its piers on the East River, laden with raw sisal and jute. With the onset of World War I, the federal government feared a shortage in the supply of oakum, a twisted jute fiber used in caulking seams on wooden ships, and the AMC agreed to manufacture 10 million pounds of the material to meet the needs of the country’s expanding fleet.

greenpoint terminal market

By 1913, the AMC employed 2,234 workers. Such a concentration within one company undoubtedly meant that the company played an active role in the Greenpoint community around it, and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran articles covering everything from the installation of a new recreational “swimming tank” for company employees to battles waged over labor and land use.

Since the mid-20th century, the AMC’s presence in Greenpoint had been a quiet one, but the complex’s towering buildings, cast-iron sky bridges and wooden sidewalks stood as a reminder of a once bustling industrial hub that affected the lives of so many Brooklynites.

Photo Credits: Charles Gifford, Brooklyn Historic Society, and Rene Fan