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On the Brooklyn Waterfront: An Afternoon Visit to South Williamsburg and DUMBO

A walk in two Brooklyn neighborhoods, one just south of the Williamsburg Bridge and the other between the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge (DUMBO), reveals a city eternally in flux. On the waterfront, very old and very new parts of the city come into sharp relief, along with expansive views of Manhattan in the distance. While attention in the press is often focused on the next hot, i.e. gentrifying, inner Brooklyn neighborhood, the reshaping of older hotspots such as Williamsburg and DUMBO, especially along the East River, continues at a frenzied pace.

This walk involves trains and boats and can easily be accomplished in one afternoon, weather permitting. A map is included below.

View from the subway tracks at the Marcy Av station in Williamsburg

To begin, take the subway to the Marcy Avenue stop on the M or J train. To and from Manhattan, the trains travel along the Williamsburg Bridge on an elevated track  so you can look out the window to see where you're going. Approaching the station, look for South Williamsburg landmarks such as the dome of the Williamsburgh* Savings Bank and large signs for Peter Luger Steakhouse.

Streetscape next to the elevated tracks at Marcy Av station 

Old Brooklyn is already here. Simply peer over the rails next to the tracks and look at the streetscape just a few feet away.

Williamsburgh Savings Bank, 175 Broadway, Williamsburg neighborhood

Walk on Broadway toward the west. Stop and look at the stately Williamsburgh Savings Bank building at 175 Broadway. The building from 1875 was designed by George B. Post, a leading architect in the Beaux-Arts style, and served as the original headquarters for the bank. The Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower (1929) in Fort Greene would become the better-known building, as its height once dominated the Brooklyn skyline. (*The "h" at the end is derived from the name of the original city, Williamsburgh, annexed to the city of Brooklyn in 1854.)

View of the plaza at the intersection of Broadway, S 6th Street, and Bedford Av in Williamsburg

Stop at the intersection of Broadway, S 6th Street, and Bedford Avenue to get your bearings. The view is the face of the youthful neighborhood that set hearts on fire several years ago. There's still something ineffably charming here, beginning with the overtly charming mural that oversees the George B. Post Plaza. The enlarged photograph, painted by Colossal Media, is the work of high school student Steven Paul who won a medal in a national competition. (See story from August 2014 in The Greenpoint Gazette.) The area makes excellent use of the "borrowed" landscape - One World Trade Center at a distance on the left and the bridge on the right.

Marlow & Sons, 81 Broadway, in South Williamsburg

Continue on Broadway toward the west. Marlow & Sons, a restaurant at 81 Broadway, helped define the modern Brooklyn food renaissance. (website) A stop here is highly recommended. The menu changes every day, but their biscuits belong to the eternal present.

S 8th Street in South Williamsburg, looking west toward Manhattan

As with much of the cityscape, the landscape is impermanent, a painting that will never be finished. Think of New York City as a canvas with preliminary pencil marks still visible and with many erasures. In this area, many of the empty spaces are being filled in with luxury apartment buildings, ones that often bear little resemblance to brownstone Brooklyn.

The demographics have changed here as well, with the Latino population in Williamsburg declining by 25% in the past decade. The quickly gentrifying neighborhood in South Williamsburg is also home to a conservative Hasidic community.  (Source)

Oosten, a new apartment and condo building on the waterfront in South Williamsburg 

Oosten (official website), a new apartment and condo building designed by Piet Boon, takes up its own block on the waterfront in Williamsburg. Scheduled to open in the summer of 2016, the building at 429 Kent Avenue is just one piece of the larger conversion of this former industrial zone. Across the street from the Oosten, and closer to the waterfront, the ground is being prepared for an ambitious complex of three residential towers. (NYT story from June 15, 2015) The architect for this project is ODA Architecture, and the developer is none other than former governor Eliot Spitzer. And what's happening on the north side of the Williamsburg Bridge, involving the redevelopment of the old Domino building site, could be even bigger in terms of population.

View from the South Williamsburg landing for the East River Ferry. North Williamsburg has its own landing.

To continue to DUMBO, take the East River Ferry at the Schaefer Landing/South Williamsburg landing (above) south to the Brooklyn Bridge Park/DUMBO landing (below).

The resumption of ferry service on the East River, after over a century of decline, has facilitated the revival and growth of Brooklyn's waterfront.

The Fulton Ferry Landing has become a popular tourist destination.

As with Williamsburg, DUMBO is undergoing a further metamorphosis, especially on Water Street. Resume walking down Water Street.

St. Ann's Warehouse, 45 Water Street

St. Ann's Warehouse, a thriving theatrical and cultural center, is located in the Tobacco Warehouse at 45 Water Street. The organization mounted a capital campaign in support of its move to this permanent location.

60 Water Street, DUMBO

60 Water Street, a 17-story mixed use tower designed by Ismael Leyva and LEESER Architecture, opened in late 2014. (Official site) The luxury residential building includes 58 affordable units. With its commanding height at the shoreline, the tower met with fierce resistance in the neighborhood. (NYT story from Jan. 16 2015) Across the street, an old coffee warehouse is being refashioned as a retail and office complex. Empire Stores, as it's called, is scheduled to open later this year. See the official website for a rendering of all these developments.




On the island of Manhattan, a view of the (new, again) South Street Seaport under construction

If continuing to Pier 11 in Manhattan by ferry, look for the construction underway at the South Street Seaport. You'll notice that Manhattan's waterfront is not finished either.
   
Resources:
See East River Ferry website for route and fare information.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from March 7, 2016.

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