Just When You Thought Everything was Destroyed: Street Art and Brooklyn’s Waterfront

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circa 1973, V1984.1.553; Brooklyn slide collection; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Brooklyn’s waterfront neighborhoods have undergone many transformations throughout history. From small villages, to bustling dock-side storage centers, to massive industrial hubs, to abandoned post-industrial landscapes, to revitalized cultural centers, these many iterations gesture to the ways Brooklynites throughout the centuries have interacted with these spaces as sites of home, work, and recreation. The DUMBO neighborhood is particularly representative of these changes. In the 1970s and 1980s, many up-and-coming and long-established artists called this neighborhood home. In recent years, DUMBO’s heritage as an artist enclave has morphed from a narrative of struggling artists seeking cheap rents and abandoned warehouses to use as studios, to one in which artists support the neighborhood’s transformation into a trendy residential and retail area. At its new satellite museum at Empire Stores, Brooklyn Historical Society seeks to preserve the history of DUMBO’s art-rich past through the stories of the artists who once called—and still call—DUMBO home.

When I started working as a Research Assistant at Brooklyn Historical Society, I became fascinated by the ways I could turn my love for exploring and discovering street art into a chance for historical research. When I was 13 years old, I remember looking out the school bus window toward a billboard along the side of the BQE. I saw the words “Neck Face” painted onto the board’s metal supports. I didn’t know what those words meant, but they stuck with me. Over the next four years that I rode the school bus from Manhattan to Brooklyn, I would eagerly look out the window trying to spot a new Neck Face tag. At the time I didn’t realize that street art would become a huge interest of mine, but I knew that I liked recognizing someone’s work and discovering it in unexpected places.

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147 Jay Street, 2017, Alexandra Gallo

Along the Brooklyn waterfront, in particular, the city’s rapid development has had an impact on street art. Many street artists expect that their tags will not have a long lifespan, but some street artists, such as @faile, @Curtis Kulig, and @Cash4Smells, have become the surprising exception to this change. Hints of the past are still visible, if you know where to look—especially on Brooklyn’s waterfront.

If you venture to Brooklyn Bridge Park, you’ll encounter Empire Stores, a brick warehouse that has stood along the waterfront since the late 1800s. In the 19th-century, the Empire Stores warehouse was once an active part of one of the largest commercial waterfronts of the world. It bustled with activity until the 1970s when the majority of businesses left the city for the suburbs. In the late 20th-century artists settled in DUMBO and took advantage11199365_1600310693551670_732268450_n of the large, cheap, open spaces to both live and work. With the arrival of artists came more public works and street art that decorated the industrial landscape. Instead of a dark, abandoned warehouse, street artists seized upon the building as their canvas, using the brick walls and metal shutters as a place to display their work. At Empire Stores, street artists used the iron shutters to test their latest designs or to make a public statement through their art. Brooklyn Historical Society has stepped in to help preserve the neighborhood’s street art scene in their new satellite museum—BHS DUMBO—inside Empire Stores.                          Empire Stores, 2013, Alexandra Gallo

Today the building’s exterior is cleared of the street art that once decorated it. But inside, the historical society has salvaged two pairs of iron shutters, each showcasing a variety of street art that once hung from one of the building’s ground-floor doorways.

As a Research Assistant at BHS, I spent a lot of time with these shutters while we installed the exhibition. Studying the tags and stenciled remnants of past street artists, I noticed a name I had seen many times before: Tripel. I was familiar with his street art in Williamsburg, but was surprised to see his name painted on the Empire Stores shutters. Tripel, is a New York-based street artist who was born in Sicily; you can find many of his tags throughout Brooklyn. I found Tripel on Instagram (@tripelnyc) and contacted him about the surviving shutters. He replied, “I am very pleased to see these shutters again. I Graffiti Shuttersthought everything was destroyed.”

Imagine the joy you feel when you rediscover something you thought was lost forever, like the happiness that Tripel expressed in his Instagram reply. Working to preserve Brooklyn’s street art at BHS, I have realized the importance of preserving the life, character, and history of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods, even in the most unexpected places. My interest in street art has made every walk and every car ride an adventure. Perhaps you’ll catch the bug too! Keep your eyes peeled as you walk through Brooklyn. Maybe you’ll see Tripel stencils, and many others, on the buildings and street around you.

Empire Stores Shutters, 2017

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Flatbush + Main Episode 26: The Police Killing of Arthur Miller Jr.

In Episode 26 of Brooklyn Historical Society’s podcast Flatbush + Main, co-hosts Zaheer Ali and Julie Golia discuss the tragic 1978 killing of Crown Heights resident Arthur Miller Jr. by police, and consider his important legacy as a community leader, activist, and businessman.

Index

03:21 Histories and Ideas
21:26 Into the Archives
40:10 Voices of Brooklyn

For complete show notes, go to brooklynhistory.org/flatbush-main.

We hope you’re enjoying our podcast! Please subscribe, rate, and review us at brooklynhistory.org/fm-itunes. And share the news of Flatbush + Main far and wide using the hashtag #FlatbushandMain.

Segment 1: Histories and Ideas

In segment 1, Zaheer and Julie are joined by Amaka Okechukwu, Assistant Professor of Sociology at George Mason University and the former Project Coordinator for the Voices of Crown Heights oral history project at Brooklyn Historical Society. Amaka, Zaheer, and Julie discuss Arthur Miller Jr.’s remarkable biography and frame his life against the backdrop of 1970s Brooklyn – both the unprecedented financial crisis that cut city services during that decade, and the grassroots community-building undertaken by Miller and his contemporaries. They also discuss the circumstances around his death by chokehold at the hands of New York City police, and analyze parallels to the crisis of police violence across the country today.

To learn more about the NYC fiscal criss of the 1970s, check out Kim Phillips-Fein’s book Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics.

To learn more about the history of police violence, check out Paul Butler’s book Chokehold: Policing Black Men; and for a broader contextual analysis, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation.

To learn more about Amaka Okechukwu’s work, visit her website.

To learn more about the efforts by Arthur Miller Jr.’s family to preserve his legacy, visit the Arthur Miller Jr. – A Daughter Never Forgets Foundation.

Segment 2: Into the Archives

Julie and Zaheer examine a series of documents from the Eastern Parkway Coalition Papers at Brooklyn Historical Society. Check out the finding aid here. This rich collection documents the plethora of rising community organizations in the neighborhood of Crown Heights in the 1970s and onward. Zaheer and Julie particularly highlight two organizations: the New Muse and the Nostrand Avenue Community Commerce Association – the latter of which was founded by Arthur Miller.

Here are pictures of the documents we examined.

Segment 3: Voices of Brooklyn

Zaheer and Julie listen to excerpts from the oral history of Florence Miller, the widow of Arthur Miller. You can listen to the entire interview on BHS’s Oral History Portal here.

Segment 4: Endorsements

This episode only scratches the surface of the story of Arthur Miller’s legacy and death. Julie endorsed a public program entitled “The Police Killing of Arthur Miller, 40 Years Later.” MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid leads a panel discussion featuring former New York City Council Member Al Vann, activist Thenjiwe McHarris, and NAACP representative Lumumba Akinwole-Bandele, who will discuss what has changed — and what has not — in the four decades since Arthur Miller’s death. Members of the Miller family – including Florence Miller – will be special guests. Zaheer and Amaka will kick off the program with a series of oral histories from Crown Heights residents who remember this tragic event.

The event will be held on Thursday, June 14, 2018 at 6:30pm at BHS’s Brooklyn Heights headquarters. Tickets are $5 and free for members; reserve them here.

Zaheer endorsed a public program entitled “The (New) Urban Resistance: Progressives Go Local.” With a federal government mired in dysfunction, cities across the nation are the new frontier of progressive change, presenting solutions to issues that range from income inequality to public health. The event will feature Democracy Now! co-host and former New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, NYC councilmember (and friend of the podcast) Brad Lander, civil rights and immigration supervisor at Make the Road New York Yaritza Mendez, and Philadelphia City councilperson Helen Gym, who will dig into the power of local advocacy and activism. The event is moderated by The Nation’s Lizzy Ratner and co-sponsored by The Nation magazine as part of its “Cities Rising” series.

The event will be held on Monday, June 25, 2018 at 6:30pm at BHS’s Brooklyn Heights headquarters. Tickets are $5 and free for members; reserve them here.

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Photo of the Week: Jackie Robinson Exhibition

[1953 Brooklyn Dodgers], 1953, V1987.19.4; Photography collection, V1987.19; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[1953 Brooklyn Dodgers], 1953, V1987.19.4; Photography collection, V1987.19; Brooklyn Historical Society.

It’s your last chance to catch the exhibition Until Everyone Has It Made: Jackie Robinson’s Legacy, on view at our main location at 128 Pierrepont, celebrating the legacy of Jackie Robinson and his role integrating baseball, as well as his lifelong commitment to racial equality. Robinson understood the crucial role he played in the integration of America’s national pastime, but he also knew the journey toward equality was not an easy one. “I cannot say I have made it,” Robinson said, “while our country drives full speed ahead to deeper rifts between men and women of varying colors.”

The photo of the week depicts the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers team featuring Jackie Robinson (second row, third player in from the left). Learn more about Robinson’s life, his impressive career with the Dodgers, and his dedication to activism by visiting the engaging exhibition on display until June 17. The exhibition features an array of archival materials, photography, programs, and memorabilia.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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Photo of the Week: American Sugar Refining Company

American Sugar Refining Company, circa 1890, V1973.5.840; Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection, ARC.202; Brooklyn Historical Society.

American Sugar Refining Company, circa 1890, V1973.5.840; Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection, ARC.202; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Well before the iconic Domino Sugar sign that graced the skyline until 2014, this is what the Domino Sugar empire looked like along the Brooklyn waterfront. The history of the sign and company goes back to William Havemeyer, a German immigrant who arrived in the United States around 1799. With the help of his brother Frederick, he opened his own refinery in 1807 on Vandam Street in Manhattan. The company went through many name and ownership changes, eventually incorporating as American Sugar Refining Company in 1891, and became known as Domino Sugar Foods, Inc. around 1900. The Brooklyn company dominated the American sugar market; by 1907, they controlled 98% of the nation’s sugar production.

In 2004, after 120 years, operations at the Brooklyn location ended and in 2007, the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission designated parts of the 1884 refinery– the filter house, the pan house and the finishing house–as landmarks. In 2012, Two Trees Management purchased the property to convert part of the site to a massive apartment complex and a park. Brownstowner provided in-depth coverage of this development project here.

On June 10, Domino Park, a public space in front of the landmarked building, will open to the public with an emphasis on preserving the history of the former sugar refinery, including restoring the iconic “Domino Sugar” sign. It will feature photographs and documents from Brooklyn Historical Society’s rich collections.

The photo of the week depicts American Sugar Refining Company around 1890. To learn more about the history of the company, check out the American Sugar Refining Company records comprised of annual reports, company periodicals, photographs, pamphlets and articles by and about the American Sugar Refining Company dating from 1918 through around 2000.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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Photo of the Week: Brooklyn Dogs

Lucille Fornasieri Gold, [Women with four large dogs], circa 1975, archival inkjet prints, v2008.013.92; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Lucille Fornasieri Gold, [Women with four large dogs], circa 1975, archival inkjet prints, v2008.013.92; Brooklyn Historical Society.

It’s no surprise that Brooklynites love their dogs! Brooklyn Historical Society’s photographic collections include hundreds of images depicting Brooklyn dogs from various time periods. You can view roughly 50 of these photographs published online. The summer is a great opportunity to appreciate the borough’s love of pups with over 30 dog-friendly parks and dedicated spaces, and many dog events hosted by NYC Parks. You can learn more here.

The photo of the week by Lucille Fornasieri Gold depicts a woman with four large dogs around 1975 near the Flatbush Avenue entrance to Prospect Park. This photograph comes from the Lucille Fornasieri Gold photographs collection comprised of 93 black-and-white and color photographs taken by Gold between 1968 and 2008. Gold’s work is dominated by portraits of people who are posed and unposed, in the midst of various activities mostly in Brooklyn, but also in Manhattan and New Jersey. You can see more photographs from this collection here.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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