The acronym for this area stands for "Down Under (the) Manhattan Bridge Overpass", although DUMBO actually encompasses the larger area that sits between the and immediately around the approaches to both the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.
Settlement of the area dates to the mid 17th century Dutch settlers who ran ferries to Manhattan. Robert Fulton established the first steam ferry service here in 1814. Industrial development in the area soon followed and continued through the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 and the Manhattan Bridge in 1909. Activity began to decline precipitously after World War II, most notably when the advent of containerization in 1950 that moved most port activity out of Brooklyn and Manhattan and over to new facilities in New Jersey.
Through the 1960s and 1970s the decrepit area was home to sweatshops and other light industry. In the 1980s, artists who were priced out of Manhattan became attracted to the area for its natural light and abundant space. In typical fashion, the developers followed (and displaced) the artists and after a rezoning in 1998 that permitted legal housing, gentrification turned it into a Yuppie paradise.
Cadman Plaza North and Cadman Towers are large bland residential towers designed by Morris Lapidus that were built just south of the Brooklyn Bridge approach in 1967 and 1968. They reflect the fortress mentality of the time, presenting blank walls to the street, protecting and isolating the buildings from the surrounding community. Although Brooklyn Heights had been declared a historic district a few years earlier, the townhouses on these blocks had already been razed.
The Eagle Warehouse and Storage Company at 28 Old Fulton Street is a Romanesque Revival building designed by Frank Freeman and built in 1894. The Building is named after the Brooklyn Eagle Newspaper which published at a building on the site from 1841 through the late 1880s. The building was converted to condominiums in the early 1990s.
The Purchase Building was a modernist structure that was built under the Brooklyn side span of the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1930s. It was originally a warehouse for the city Department of Purchase and served as a warehouse for other city agencies before being demolished in the spring of 2008 to make way for a piazza addition to Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The Tobacco Warehouse was built in the 1870s for tobacco customs inspection. In 1998 the building (minus its long-decayed roof) was converted into a 18,000 square-foot rental event space and is a part of Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The Empire Stores on Water Street between Dock and Main streets was built by the Arbuckle Brothers, famed for developing techniques for preserving and mechanically packing roasted coffee beans. The initial four story section of the warehouse was completed in 1870 and a second five-story section was added in 1885. The building was largely abandoned in the 1950s and despite getting landmark status in the 1970s has defied restoration and repurposing. There is speculation that successive developers have been stalling on redevelopment plans so the building decays beyond the point of practical restoration and can be demolished for glass towers of luxury condominiums.
St. Ann's Warehouse at 38 Water Street is supposedly a former spice milling factory, although I can find no reliable documentation of its history on the web. The company that runs the facility was formed in 1980 at the Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity on Montague Street and moved to this facility in 2001. A developer has had his eye on this site for a number of years and proposal for a tower was shot down in 2004. However, as of this writing, proposals continue, with the primary concern being that the height of any building on the site not obscure views of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge.
Brooklyn Bridge Park runs along the waterfront under and between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. The park includes Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park, which runs from the Brooklyn Bridge northeast in front of the Empire Stores building and falls under the jurisdiction of the state. The park sits on what was a team track yard between Empire Stores and the river, where cargo could be unloaded from freight rail cars onto wagons. Curiously (and, perhaps, for some legal liability reason), although the water is directly accessible in other parts of the park, the Empire-Fulton is walled off by rocks and rangers keep patrons from walking on the beach.
The Jay Street Connecting Railroad (JSC) was a short line railroad started by John Arbuckle in 1904 to carry cargo between his buildings on the watefront. Although the line had no direct connection out of this area on the waterfront, cars were loaded onto barges from a float bridge at the foot of Jay Street for transfer across the harbor to rail lines in Brooklyn and New Jersey. Arbuckle later expanded the line to provide service to businesses in neighboring buildings, reaching as far west as Dock Street by 1920. With the relocation of most port shipping to container ports in New Jersey in the late 1950s, the JSC was abandoned in 1959. However, some of the rails survived to add to the historic character of Dumbo's cobblestone streets.
8/22/2008 05:28 PM
JSC track junction around a flagpole at the junction of Main and Plymouth Streets
8/22/2008 05:33 PM
Pier remnants under the Manhattan Bridge - the JSC float bridge was on the other side of the pier