Industrial Action At Greenpoint Terminal Market
In 1910, over 500 striking workers clashed with police at Brooklyn industrial hub, Greenpoint Market Terminal. The protesters were mostly working women from Poland and Lithuania. They were fed up of being treated as 'damned Pollacks' and felt that 'living ought not to be harder year by year' (The Brooklyn Eagle).
The police complained of the difficulties they had in fighting women. Men, they said, they could have dealt with by issuing 'a few punches with the nightsticks'.
The strikers were in some ways successful- they began a major effort to unionise the Brooklyn waterfront- but they were not able to halt manufacturing. Their employers, The American Manufacturing Company, hired Sicilian workers in their stead and it was back to business as normal. Almost.
A boiler explosion, blamed on the strikers, resulted in the deaths of 6 workers. Despite this, the company thrived, at one point becoming the world's largest manufacturer of rope. The Eagle even celebrated the Terminal in 1920, calling it one of the 'Wonders of Brooklyn'. The suffering of workers meant little to the press, just so long as the bottom line stayed strong.
Greenpoint Flea Market
Today, the industrial workers are long gone, together with the big manufacturing companies that employed them. In fact, most of Greenpoint Market Terminal has been burnt to the ground.
This does not mean the area is dead, however. The two large warehouses that remain are now occupied by a host of artists and creatives. And the vacant space in front of them hosts a market every weekend: Greenpoint Flea Market. A wide variety of food, drink and artisan produce can be found on offer there, along with frequent live music acts.
The terminal has become a vibrant cultural hub, but it took a long and difficult road to reach this status.
The Origins Of Greenpoint Terminal Market
In the early 1900s Greenpoint Terminal Market was a hotbed for big manufacturers, and none more so than the American Manufacturing Company. Shocking mistreatment and underpayment of employees aside, they were undoubtably an industrial titan. At one point they occupied sixteen of the Terminal's buildings and employed some 4,000 people.
Their main produce was military rope and they made so much of it that, during WW1 alone, you'd have been able to strech the fruit of their labours from New York to Australia and beyond.
Greenpoint Terminal Market Is Terminated
Eventually, however, the company went into decline. In the 60s they pivoted towards making shoelaces. They later went bankrupt.
The warehouses were then used for storage. Everything from fabric to coffee to diamonds were kept in them, but this still left a lot of empty space. Greepoint Terminal Market's industrial heyday was over.
The Feral Years
The 80s and 90s saw the place grow deserted and derelict. Word spread, there was a roof to be had in Greepoint Terminal Market, rent-free. First came rats and feral dogs, then punks, drifters, squatters; disenfranchised people of all kinds moved in and found a home there.
All night parties were held. A 2,500ft skate rink was built. Electronic musicians and punk rockers put on concerts. At the time, the place was known as 'The Forgotten City', but, for those who remembered it, it was full of life and culture.
Fire And Activism
In the early 2000s, various preservationist groups were fighting to make Greenpoint a historical landmark when disaster struck. A 2006 fire destroyed all but two warehouses.
A Polish immigrant, Kuczera, claimed responsibility, saying he'd been melting plastic off of old wires to remove the valuable copper inside when the place had caught light. This seemed unlikely, however.
The buildings were made with the storage of goods in mind. They should have been flame retardant. The fire wouldn't have gotten so out of control without a bit of assistance. And there were some with motives to help it burn.
Landowner, Gutman, had good reason to want to see the place levelled. He had designs to knock it down anyway, to make way for more profitable developments. To him, the potential of it being made a historical landmark spelled disaster. A fire was the perfect solution.
Gutman was never found guilty of the blaze, but thankfully Kuczera was released with zero charge. Reports have it that he's back in Poland now, reunited with his wife and enjoying a lot of fishing.
Greenpoint Flea Market Rises From The Ashes
The fire could have been the end of Greenpoint. Gutman could have gotent his way and redeveloped the area, but this did not happen. The 2008 financial crisis slowed down any plans he might have had and, whilst he was recalibrating, the market took on new life.
Artists moved into the remaining warehouses. Then followed photo studios, a Hollywood stunt company and an artisan furniture store. Against all odds, the charred remains of Greenpoint Terminal Market were transformed into Greenpoint Flea Market.
Now, every weekend, people flock to it to enjoy the various food and drink stands, and to peruse local art and handmade goods. Live music shows are held, there are exercise classes and even an outdoor movie theater. The once abandoned area has truly risen again.
Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our Scavenger Hunts in NYC - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of NYC.
Want to discover more great markets around the world? Check out our articles on Perth's Fremantle Markets, London's Mercato Mayfair and Manchester's Mackie Mayor.