Secrets of New York

The ultimate insider's guide to the best-kept secrets of NYC's must-see places and buzzed-about people.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 1 prior to landfill

Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 1 prior to landfill and construction. (Credit: Julienne Schaer)

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Secrets of Brooklyn Bridge Park

334 Furman St., Brooklyn, NY 11201

Construction began on Brooklyn Bridge Park, a 1.3 mile long waterfront park in Brooklyn, in 2008.

Since that time there have been legal battles with preservationists and neighbors, struggles between politicians about how to pay for the park and bickering about views, private housing in the park and just who the waterfront oasis was built for. Throughout this, the park has steadily grown.

Today a diverse array of activities are available, from volleyball to carousel rides, kayaking to eating and coming soon: wall climbing and a dog park. But the history of the park, and just how it was built, is just as much a part of the story as what to do in the park itself.

Brooklyn Bridge Park is what it is today

Credit: Brooklyn Historical Society

Waterfront access allured residents of 'America's First suburb'

Brooklyn Bridge Park is what it is today partly because planners and motivated parties knew the population boom in the borough required a large, varied waterfront park. Back in the mid-1800s, increased access to the waterfront was built for much the same reason. Brooklyn Heights, dubbed "America's First Suburb," was growing rapidly according to The Brooklyn Waterfront History Project, and the Montague Street Ramp was built to bring residents from the Heights down to the waterfront.

In addition to attracting a wide variety of

Credit: Rebecca McMackin

Rare wildlife has been showing up in BBP

In addition to attracting a wide variety of New Yorkers to the park, diverse wildlife has also been showing up. A couple of years ago, a rare Two-Spotted Lady Beetle was found by a visitor to the park. It was the first time the bug was spotted in New York City in more than 30 years, despite the fact that it's native to the area.

In the early 1900s, coffee was king along

Credit: Brooklyn Historical Society

Before ice cream and Shake Shack, coffee was king

In the early 1900s, coffee was king along the Brooklyn waterfront. Where today you'll find Shake Shack and Blue Marble, then you'd find coffee roasting companies. Many of the old warehouses housed coffee roasting operations, most notably the Arbuckle Brothers coffee factory on John Street. According to Julie Golia, the Director of Public History at the Brooklyn Historical Society, it's possible more coffee was roasted at that factory than in any other building in the world. By 1906, about 25 million pounds of coffee were roasted there each month. Arbuckle also produced Americas first national coffee brand, called Ariosa.

But Arbuckle was not the only name in the game. Yuban Coffee Company also had space in what is now referred to as the Empire Stores buildings, and Henry O. Havemeyer had a coffee company there, too.

The Brooklyn Historical Society is opening a satellite

Credit: BROOKLYN HISTORICAL SOCIETY

A museum is coming!

The Brooklyn Historical Society is opening a satellite museum dedicated to the "history and future of Brooklyn's waterfront," set to open at Empire Stores at the end of 2016. One exhibit they are currently researching involves archaeological artifacts, like this plate, uncovered in an excavation in the area of Empire Fulton Ferry State Park, which is now part of Brooklyn Bridge Park but at the time was a state park. The items unearthed, including glass bottles, animal bones, shoe leather, oyster and clam shells, beer and food cans and more, are currently being held in storage in Albany.

Approximately 18,000 cubic yards of

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

This lawn was built with fill from the East Side Access railroad project

Approximately 18,000 cubic yards of "manufactured soil" was used to build the hilly landscaped area at Pier 1 in the park. Beneath the soil is 40,000 cubic yards of "clean bulk fill," salvaged from the Long Island Railroad East Side Access project.

Look closely at Pier 2 the next time

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

And that's not the only sign of mass transit...

Look closely at Pier 2 the next time you're in the park. You'll see two canals, or channels, under the pier that are conspicuously pile free. Why, you might ask? Because that's where the 2 and 3 trains run!

The Yuban Coffee Company also had space in

Credit: Berenice Abbott, The Museum of the City of New York c/o Brooklyn Historical Society

The Yuban Coffee Company also had space in what is now referred to as the Empire Stores buildings.

Penny Bridges were once a common sight in

Credit: Brooklyn Historical Society

Before the Squibb Park Bridge, there was the Penny Bridge

Penny Bridges were once a common sight in Brooklyn. Pedestrian bridges named for how much they cost to cross, they delivered people from one place to another, often crossing bodies of water, traffic or difficult terrain. This wrought-iron Penny Bridge connected what was then called Columbia Street (now Columbia Heights) with access to the waterfront. Much like the Squibb Park Bridge today, the bridge brought people from the Heights down to the water.

Rumors abound about this

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

A "secret door"... to the subway?

Rumors abound about this "secret door" on Furman Street, directly opposite Brooklyn Bridge Park. Located near Clark Street, word on the street is that the door connects to a tunnel that connects to the Clark Street 2 and 3 train subway station. In a 2008 Brooklyn Bridge Park Transportation and Access report, the feasibility of opening up access to the 2/3 Clark Street Subway Station from Furman Street was explored as a way to bring more visitors to the park. Can you imagine being able to hop on the subway from just outside the park??!! Unfortunately, the study said the project would "face extraordinary engineering challenges and enormous capital costs."

It's of course a well-known fact that if

Credit: HEATHER WOLF

Peek under the piers... you may see baby birds!

It's of course a well-known fact that if you build natural environments, nature will return. This has been especially true at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Just ask the birders who have taken to watching for creatures both rare and common from inside the park. Heather Wolf is one of those people and chronicles what she sees on brooklynbridgebirds.tumblr.com.

One bird of note is the barn swallow, which has reappeared in the park and builds its nests and raises its young under the park's piers. She explains:

"In spring, barn swallows arrive from South America and collect mud around the park to use in nest construction. Once their beaks are full of mud, they take flight and descend below the park's piers to add it to their nests in progress. Most of the chicks hatch in June. Come August, barn swallows head back to South America with their young."

The Pier 4 beach was built from the

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

This fake beach has started behaving like a real one

The Pier 4 beach was built from the remnants of a railroad float transfer bridge that had settled on the river bed. It's planted with native species and was designed to mimic natural tidal pools along rocky coasts. Perhaps it's not surprising then that native birds flock to the beach and that driftwood has collected on it, much like it would at any naturally-occurring beach. (Swimming is not permitted!)

After being open for almost two years, the

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

This bouncy bridge is making a comeback

After being open for almost two years, the Squibb Park Bridge, renowned for its bounce, closed because it was deemed unsafe. It's been closed since Aug. 2014 but should reopen this spring, officials say. It was "moving more than usual" and has been undergoing realignment and testing to firm it up since it closed.

When ground was first broken for Brooklyn Bridge

Credit: Brooklyn Bridge Park

Under your feet sits a story waiting to be told...

When ground was first broken for Brooklyn Bridge Park, archaeologists were brought in to make sure any historical items found in the excavation were studied and preserved. When digging at Pier 1 commenced, remains of the foundation of the Jewell Milling Company, a flour mill once at the foot of Furman Street on the corner of Old Fulton Street, were discovered. They also found old bottles and pottery pieces. The mill was built in 1855. The foundations were covered again, and remain underground today. If ever there is a desire to dig them up for further study, they will be there, preserved by earth.

For more than 60 years, the Empire Stores

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

The Empire Stores' future is finally clear

For more than 60 years, the Empire Stores warehouses, which once proudly served as a symbol of the bustling trade business along the Brooklyn waterfront, have stood empty. But where "sugar and molasses from Puerto Rico, animal hides and wool from Argentina, palm oil from Liberia and Sierra Leone, rubber from Belize" and coffee from South America once was, there will soon be more 21st Century products.

After years of stops and starts in development, in-fighting amongst preservationists, neighbors and politicians and legal hold-ups, the future of Empire Stores is clear. It is being developed by Midtown Equities and will contain office space for tech companies as well as retail and public use spaces.

But much of the old appearance and the features that make the buildings special, from the criss-crossing coffee chutes and the iron hoisting wheels to the solid stone walls of sparkling quartz, will be retained. The architect involved, Jay Valgora of Studio V, told The New York Times: "We dont want to take away the aging ... We want to restore the patina."

In order to reduce its carbon footprint, much

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

Remnants of forgotten bridges can be found in the park

In order to reduce its carbon footprint, much of Brooklyn Bridge Park is built with materials from other parts of New York City. The Granite Prospect at Pier 1 is made with over 300 pieces of granite salvaged from the demolished Roosevelt Island Bridge. The Granite Terrace, (pictured) near the Pier 3 Greenway Terrace, is made with granite blocks from both the demolished Willis Avenue Bridge in the Bronx and the Roosevelt Island Bridge.

When the National Cold Storage Warehouse was demolished

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

...like these 30 miles of pine

When the National Cold Storage Warehouse was demolished in 2010, "tens of thousands" of board feet, about 30 miles, of Longleaf Yellow Pine was salvaged, according to Cape of Brooklyn Bridge Park. The boards were recycled and are in use all over the park, from park benches to buildings like this one at Pier 1 and the food vendors at Pier 6. The wood "adds a unique material character to the park," she said.

Construction on the residential development at John St.,

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

Markers of the past will shape the park's future

Construction on the residential development at John St., located at the north end of the park, began in summer 2014. At the time an empty lot, when construction began numerous footings for previous structures were found in the ground. The large stone, square-shaped object pictured was one of numerous similar footings found during excavation. As the ethos of the park is to make use of the past to inspire the future, some of the former foundations will be used in the design of the landscaping and will be visible for all to see. Some will also stay buried, according to reps from the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, the entity that manages the park.

The pier pilings visible in the water throughout

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

Those canals between the pilings? That's the A/C train!

The pier pilings visible in the water throughout the park were left in place by park designers because the public had an affection for them, Belinda Cape of Brooklyn Bridge Park said. But they also provide a function: to show where the train tracks are. See the two open corridors? The A and C trains run directly underneath.

The unique character of the park, according to

Credit: GEORGIA KRAL

Materials get more than one shot at life at BBP

The unique character of the park, according to Belinda Cape, VP of Strategic Partnership at Brooklyn Bridge Park, was crafted through careful reuse of materials that were once part of existing structures there. Whenever possible, materials are salvaged during demolition and reused elsewhere in the park. The wood pictured here is being removed from the Empire Stores rehabilitation site and if deemed usable, will likely find another home in the park.

Before the subways (6 lines run under the

Credit: Brooklyn Historical Society

Before the subways (6 lines run under the park), Brooklyn Heights residents and other Brooklynites took the many ferries along the waterfront to Manhattan. The Montague Ferry slips are pictured here.

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