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A Chimney and the Changing Waterfront

Historic structures define Brooklyn Bridge Park. From Empire Stores and the Tobacco Warehouse to the piers themselves, the history of the Brooklyn waterfront surrounds and supports the Park. Though relatively small and unassuming, the Smokestack Building at the foot of Old Fulton Street marks a notable time in the waterfront’s history that may not be apparent at first glance.

©Julienne Schaer

After the shipping boom of the last half of the 19th Century, dock work declined along the Brooklyn shoreline until it all but dried up in the 1970s. Built in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration as part of its massive Great Depression-era jobs creation program, the Smokestack Building represents a time when the waterfront was in flux and traditional jobs were drying up.

The Smokestack Building was originally the boiler house for a small campus of NYC Department of Purchase buildings that once stood beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Though surrounded by shipping facilities at the time of construction, it signaled the area’s shift away from the industrial economy that defined its physical structure for so long.

©Etienne Frossard

The Smokestack Building visually stands apart from other historic buildings in the area. With its long, straight, alternating bands of concrete and brick, the design exemplifies the Art Moderne school of architecture which occasionally took cues from Art Deco - as seen in the building’s eponymous smokestack. The strikingly designed smokestack, featuring two tiers, each sporting eight facets, cements the building’s status as an artifact of its time.

Photo from the New York Public Library

Currently home to Luke’s Lobster, the Smokestack Building’s present use belies its remarkable origins. Standing in the heart of Brooklyn’s shipping center but not explicitly involved in the industry, the building foreshadowed the area’s eventual transition away from shipping entirely- a transition that continues today with the ongoing construction of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Next time you’re enjoying a snack at the Smokestack Building, look up and get a glance back into history.

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