McCarren Pool in Greenpoint reopens for first time since 1983

June 27, 2012

One often hears that the creation of Central Park was a very momentous occasion in New York City's real estate history.

Tomorrow, the McCarren Pool in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, reopens for the first time since 1983 and it is proof that parks are very significant factors in real estate development as about a dozen or so new residential condominium projects have sprouted in recent years around McCarren Park. It's almost as if Fifth Avenue, Central Park South, Central Park West and Central Park North were created overnight.

It also is worth noting that the pool was one of 11 created in the city by Robert Moses, the city's master of public works in the 20th Century, an art form that has virtually disappeared in the 21st Century.

The pool, which is the centerpiece of the 35.71-acre park, was distinguished by its very handsome, red-brick bathhouse's very large arched entrance, and by the fact that its enormous pool could accommodate 6,800 swimmers.

It was closed but did not reopen and beginning in 2005 was used as a very popular concert venue. When it was closed, the Greenpoint/Williamsburg area was not very fancy.

Now the area around the park has been the site of the city's greatest building boom, at least in terms of development projects.

Brooklyn has witnessed a tremendous amount of new construction in recent years downtown, along its waterfront and around McCarren Park. The downtown and waterfront development has generally followed traditional high-rise lines, but the McCarren Park enclave is especially eccentric with a pretty wild assortment of building types, colors and styles that is as distinctive as the Brooklyn Dodgers were wonderful, wacky and memorable.

The new pool is not as big as the old one, but its surroundings have certainly been beefed up.

History

Building between 1934 and 1936 and designed by Aymar Embury II, it was one of 11 immense outdoor swimming pools opened in the summer of 1936, all constructed largely with funding provided by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

In its designation report, the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission said that "the new pool complexes quickly gained recognition as being among the most remarkable public facilities constructed in the country. The size of the swimming pool at the McCarren Play Center (165' by 330') is matched only by two of other 1936 pools: Astoria and Betsy Head.

"By the early part of the twentieth century, with the population of Greenpoint-Williamsburg at nearly a quarter of a million people, the area had some of the oldest, most dilapidated housing in Brooklyn,"according to the designation report. The WPS Guide to New York City called Williamsburg a "virtually unrelieved slum."

In 1906, the park was opened and three years later it was renamed for Patrick Henry McCarren (1847-1909), a New York State Senator for 18 years.

"Even after facing gradual physical decline in the latter part of the twentieth century, the Play center continues to inspire awe in the monumentality of its bold, modern forms," the commission report stated.

"By the early 1980s, the McCarren Play Center had become, according to The New York Times, 'overrun by thousands of teen-agers and...a haven for drug dealers and prostitutes....The reputation of being unsafe, as well as reports of children developing rashes after swimming in the pool, led to the Play Center's closing at the end of the 1983 season. When contractors showed up to begin the restoration of the complex in the summer of 1984, a group of protestors had chained themselves to the entrance gates, demanding that the project be reconsidered."

In 2005, Noemie LaFrance got permission to stage a site-specific dance performance in the pool, leading to its popularity as a performance space and two years later nearly $50 million was allocated to its rehabilitation as part of Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC initiative.

Buildings

In 2004, 2 Bayard Holdings LLC commissioned Abraham Hertzberg of Hertzberg & Sanchez to design a residential condominium building on the site of a former junkyard at 2 Bayard Street. The building, which is known as "The Lotus," has a very bold but rather bizarre design of a green facade with vertically curved walls at the ends of balconies like parenthesis marks. The five-story building has 19 apartments and various posters on the Internet have written that it is "a gem of internationalist design (think Brasilia)...replete with 'Orientalist' detailed railings," "there is something really visually unsettling about the design" but "sadly, it is the best looking of the buildings on the block." One person said it was "truly hideous" and another described it as "beyond ugly." Others, though, felt it has "a groovy feel" and was "very appropriate for aging hipsters."

The Lotus is at one end of a long stretch along Bayard Street with three buildings designed by Karl Fischer, one of the most active architects in Brooklyn.

In 2007, two 8-story residential condominium buildings designed by Robert Scarano, one of the most prolific architects in Brooklyn in recent years, opened at 285 and 297 Driggs Avenue on the northeastern corner of the park. The former has 12 units is known as Loftology and the latter has 14 units and is known as Manhattan Park. Both buildings are in an attractive, "delicate" Brutalism style. One Internet commenter described the pair as "sort of Danish meets American eccentric meets German tech," adding that "you've got to give Scarano credit for having his own design sensibility."

In 2007, the 13-story, dark blue-gray brick, mid-block building known as the Aurora opened at 30 Bayard Street with 40 condo apartments.

In 2008, the 17-story, red-brick, 64-unit condo building at 20 Bayard Street opened with a "grand double staircase" entrance, double-height angled windows on its top floor, a complex design for the floor beneath it and large bay windows.

The same year, a former 4-story, beige-brick industrial building known as the Ikon at 50 Bayard Street was enlarged by four setback floors and converted to 70 residential condominiums.

At 415 Leonard Street, Scarano designed a 7-story, 54-unit residential condominium known as Aqua for AMB Holdings LLC of which Abraham Banda is a principal and the building, which was completed in 2008, has a one of the city's most distinctive rooflines punctuated by several curved bumps.

Also in 2008, construction was completed on two 6-story residential condominium buildings connected by a large sculpture courtyard at 125 North 10th Street. The boldly sculptural and monumental, 86-unit project also designed by Scarano, has a pale pink and beige facade and an asymmetrical plan.

In 2010, two attractive, 9-story buildings with flying buttresses at 76-84 Engert Avenue were completed by Tahoe Developments LLC of which Anthony Gurino is the president and designed by Isaam M. Agourafeh.


Also in Carter's View: