Fed by the ultra-convenient L train into Union Square, Williamsburg—located near Greenpoint, Bushwick, and Bedford-Stuyvesant—is one of the hottest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, brimming with artists, galleries, cafes, fashion boutiques, restaurants and nightlife. Its multi-generational Polish, Italian, German, Puerto Rican, Dominican and Hasidic residents live side-by-side young trendsetters, hipsters and professionals attracted to the area’s vibrancy. It is also known as a thriving hub of indie rock. The North Side is populated by many Polish and Italian residents, East Williamsburg by Italian, African American, and Hispanic residents, South Williamsburg by Hasidic residents, and the South Side by Dominican and Puerto Rican residents. Some people refer to the area as “Hipsterville” due to its large aforementioned population of hipsters and artists, which are mixed among the immigrant groups, particularly around Bedford Avenue.
Bedford Avenue is, in fact, a mecca of inventive restaurants, eclectic bars and funky shopping — while its surrounding streets are low-rise walk-up apartment dwellings and warehouses that have been carefully transformed into artists’ and musicians’ homes and entertainment loft dwellings. The area also has a large number of clubs that led to it being such a center for indie music, such as The Bog, Rubulad, The Lizard’s Tail, Keep Refrigerated, Mighty Robot, Trash, Flux Factory, Quiet Life, Keep Refrigerated, Todd P., Twisted Ones, and Dot Dash. Commercial venues include Pete’s Candy Store, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Union Pool, and Galapagos, and a number of theaters, such as The Brick Theater.
The area was first purchased from the Native Americans by the Dutch West India Company in the mid-seventeenth century, at which time it was called Boswijck and later anglicized by the British to Bushwick, when they took over. At the start of the nineteenth century, 13 acres of Bushwick were bought by Richard M. Woodhull, who hired Col. Jonathan Williams to survey his newly purchased property. He named this portion Williamsburgh in Williams’ honor. The area rapidly expanded and soon became its own entity, separate from today’s Bushwick, in 1827. Soon afterwards, industrialists built up shipyards as well as sugar processing refineries and breweries.
The area achieved further fame when famous New York millionaires such as Cornelius Vanderbilt built mansions there, and Charles Pratt founded the Pratt Institute. The still-famous Pfizer Pharmaceutical company was founded in Williamsburg by Charles Pfizer, and continued to maintain a plant there until 2007. In fact, so influential was Williamsburg that at one point, it had a financial hub that was a significant rival to Manhattan’s Wall Street and possessed a full 10% of the country’s wealth.
At the start of the twentieth century the Williamsburg Bridge finally opened, and a flood of new residents poured into the area, which soon became the most densely populous city in the country, New York City’s most densely populous neighborhood, making it the most densely populous part of the entire country. It was also the setting, at the time, for the world-famous novel, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” Famous people who grew up in Williamsburg include Joy Behar, Barry Manilow, Kiss’ Peter Criss, and Henry Miller.
Williamsburg also benefits from the May 11, 2005 City Council approved rezoning proposal for nearly 200 blocks in its northern section and with its neighbor to the north, Greenpoint. According to the New York City Department of City Planning Website: “In its Greenpoint-Williamsburg Rezoning, the Department of City Planning proposed zoning changes to allow for housing and open spaces, in tandem with light industry and commercial uses, along two miles of Brooklyn’s East River waterfront and upland neighborhoods.
“In two vibrant communities as well as areas that have been mostly vacant and derelict for years, the proposal would create opportunities for thousands of new housing units, including affordable housing. And the proposal offers a blueprint for a continuous publicly accessible esplanade and new public open spaces along the waterfront, forging long-sought links between the water’s edge and the established Greenpoint and Williamsburg communities, adding yet another publicly accessible jewel to New York City’s waterfront.”
First-time homebuyers are pleased by the many affordable condos and modern loft conversions peppered throughout the area ranging from $300,000 - $1,000,000. These are spacious alternatives to downtown Manhattan’s East Village and Lower East Side artists’ spaces.
Famous Williamsburg landmarks include The Kings County Savings Institution, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, The Williamsburg Houses, Brooklyn’s first public housing done on a large scale, and the Domino Sugar Refinery Building, which, though it no longer runs, is considered a landmark of the city and so still stands.
Transportation includes the L, J, M, Z, and G subway lines, the Williamsburg Bridge, and bus routes such as B24, B39, B43, B44, B46, B48, B59, B60, B61, and Q54.
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