The Greenpoint Terminal Market (GTM) was a 19th-century industrial complex of 16 buildings on West Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The rope producing American Manufacturing Company (AMC) that anchored the complex was at one time the largest cordage concern in the world. 30 years following it’s 1890 founding, the company expanded over 6 blocks, consuming much of Greenpoint’s waterfront. In 1954 the AMC sold the Terminal Market to Montague Associates who used a couple of the buildings to store bundled clothing. Otherwise the complex underwent little to no official activity. It was during these years that the Terminal Market became a spot for unauthorized fun and of course, squatting. Some of the buildings were apparently popular with the homeless and swaths of cats that made their way in too. Other buildings hosted underground concerts and parties using generators, and one building had a skate park. Not quite built from factory parts by local kids but was legitimately built skate park funded by Tylenol. Instead, local kids in Greenpoint used the Terminal Market for getting lost in the skybridge-linked buildings during games of manhunt.
The location’s second life as a sort of underground hotspot was gaining vitality until May 2, 2006: The day a ten-alarm fire tore through and leveled most of the buildings (sparing the Autumn Bowl skate park). 9/11 aside, it was the city’s biggest emergency response in a decade with 350 firefighters called to the scene. Because there was no immediate threat to life, the FDNY turned the Terminal Market fire into a tactical experiment. The bulk of the GTM was at the water’s edge, so fireboats were able to douse the flames from there while ground units fought from West, Noble and Cayler Streets. The fire took over 8 million gallons of water before being completely extinguished. In the course of one day, Greenpoint’s industrial legacy had been almost completely leveled.
It was only months earlier that the waterfront was rezoned for mixed development and the GTM was potentially heading towards landmark status, so the whole situation was pretty sketched. When I heard about the fire I immediately thought greedy landlords or developers must have been involved because of how convenient the whole situation was for them now that they could build skyscrapers on the waterfront. This seemed even more plausible after discovering the owner of the Terminal Market, Joshua Guttman, was also the landlord of Dumbo’s 247 Water Street that shadily went ablaze immediately following his re-zoning request withdrawal. The NY Times reports, “In 2003, Mr. Guttman applied to have the zoning for the building changed to allow for legal apartments, a boon for the building. On Feb. 11, 2004, the community board recommended that the request be denied. Seven days later, 247 Water Street burned. The fire brought a four-alarm response and took firefighters more than 12 hours to extinguish. An investigation was inconclusive. Workers may have been using acetylene torches at the time, the Fire Department said.”
The culprit that set the blaze was seemingly obvious, until Leszec Kuczera, a local homeless man and dedicated alcoholic, was found to be responsible. He was reportedly using diesel to burn the insulation off of copper wires he was planning to scrap, when things got out of control. Despite the loss of almost the entire Terminal Market, Kuczera got no jail time for the huge historic hit to Greenpoint. Instead he was placed on three years of probation with mandatory therapy to treat his alcohol addiction. It wasn’t the massive fire but instead skipping out on probation that landed him in several prisons and treatment clinics around the country. Leszec Kuczera has since been deported back to his home land of Poland and now resides there with his wife, children, and grandchildren—a sobered man. I still remain skeptical as to the real cause but 6 years later, I guess it doesn’t really matter.
Today, 42 West St. is one of only a couple of the original Greenpoint Terminal Market buildings remaining. In a relatively recent identity crisis, its distinctly bleak façade has been covered with something more enticing for its wealthy future tenants. I noticed many other changes since last visiting in spring of 2010 as well. Today the building is much closer to becoming high-income loft-style apartments which I can only hope will emphasis rather than conceal the building’s greatest assets—its awesome industrial features; the brick walls, industrial-grade beams and the network of structural supports running across the ceilings that make for a nice coffering effect. The ceiling heights are also a pretty key feature. All floors above the second have ceilings about 12’ high while the second floor boasts ceilings around 16’ or 17’ in height. Putting the building’s rugged aesthetics aside, I think much of the appeal also comes from the views of the East River and Manhattan. With that in mind, it would be wise of the developer to finish and flip the lofts before the views are blocked by the 40-story towers inevitably making their way onto Greenpoint’s waterfront. Unless he owns all of that too…