East Williamsburg, Brooklyn: A “gloomy, industrial vibe” with flexible boundaries

In the East Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, apartment blocks feel like an afterthought. Townhouses fill the spaces between industrial corridors. Parks are steps away from junkyards, where muscle-bound men are smashing equipment with sledgehammers. You can easily find a place to have your truck washed.

This is heaven for Laura Alfstad who moved into a new condominium building on North Henry Street with her husband Thomas in September 2020.

A nurse, Ms. Alfstad, 35, lived on the Pacific island of Guam and met Mr. Alfstad in South Korea. After getting married, they moved into his apartment on East 34th Street in Manhattan. Ms. Alfstad, unnerved by the “high energy and tall buildings,” couldn’t wait to leave.

East Williamsburg felt like a haven. Her home, which cost a little under $1.4 million, is 1,200 square feet with two real bedrooms and a yard. McCarren Park on the North Williamsburg/Greenpoint border is a 15 minute walk. The pair frequent the restaurants, cafes and old-fashioned butchers along Graham Avenue. (“We want to make sure our stamping site stays healthy,” Ms. Alfstad said.) Mr. Alfstad, who works at the United Nations, commutes on the L train.

Sure, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway hums a block and a half away. “I’m originally from Detroit,” Ms. Alfstad said, “and I like the gritty, industrial vibe.”

In New York, neighborhood boundaries are notoriously elastic, and some geographers may insist that the Alfstads really live in Greenpoint. what’s in a name Northwest Brooklyn has long been a vibrant development mass where generations-old Italian, Hispanic and Slavic communities have eroded and where young people flock and then flee when house prices are unsustainable.

Currently, East Williamsburg is blending into neighborhoods where pavement and street art are prevalent, such as Bushwick to the south and Ridgewood, Queens to the east. Residents consider the nearby cultural and waterfront attractions of North and South Williamsburg to the west as a bonus.

The tightest maps define East Williamsburg as a triangle formed by Flushing Avenue to the south, Bushwick Avenue to the west, and Metropolitan Avenue to the north. Google Maps places the BQE on the northern boundary, extending the district to the easternmost branch of Newtown Creek. About half of the total area of ​​1.4 square miles is occupied by the East Williamsburg Industrial Park. Breaking down the demographics of the neighborhood is challenging given the insecure borders, but the region the City-Data website defines as East Williamsburg — which covers 2.5 square miles and five ZIP codes — had a 2019 population of 94,473 residents, 42 of whom were residents .3 percent identified as White, 33.8 percent Hispanic or Latino, 10.7 percent Black, 6.5 percent Asian, and 3.9 percent Mixed Race.

Even by the narrowest definition, Roberta’s, the popular pizzeria on Moore Street that’s considered a Bushwick landmark, is technically in East Williamsburg. According to Nick Tukmanian, 39, the owner of a commercial building at 100 Bogart Street that rents out co-working spaces, businesses near the Morgan Avenue L train stop, including his own, were piggybacking happily when Bushwick was getting hot a decade ago the appeal.

Last September, East Williamsburg got its own landmark, 170,000-square-foot Netflix production studio with six sound stages on the site of a former steel factory on Johnson Avenue.

Those feeling nostalgic about 1980s New York will find plenty to warm their hearts. High-rise buildings and factory walls are covered in graffiti, and parked trucks look as if they’ve stood in place a moment too long and have been labeled to reflect the architecture behind them. As in Bushwick, the streets are full of stylish young people and tourists.

Mr. Tukmanian recalled that someone recently stopped by his building to ask the front desk person about the timing of the next graffiti tour. “I don’t know the schedule,” the clerk replied. “Just go left or right.”

For Juan Elias Lopera, a real estate agent at Rhome in East Williamsburg, the area’s warehouses are a happy breeding ground for galleries, photo shoots and dance parties. Our Wicked Lady, 3 Dollar Bill and Sovereign are popular venues flaunting their industrial chic.

The neighborhood becomes more residential as you drive north toward the 14-acre Cooper Park. Founded in 1895 on the site of a Peter Cooper glue factory, it features a skateboard park, handball and tennis courts, a pollinator garden, and a playground.

Nearby, on the block of Devoe Street between Olive and Catherine, are renovated townhouses that are prime residential properties. St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church, a red brick building on the corner of Devoe and Olive, dates from 1886 when its congregation was predominantly German. (It’s mostly Latino now.)

“I just love being in raw space,” said Lauren Ball, 42, an artist who moved from her home at Bushwick Avenue and Varet Street three months ago but still works at her studio on the Metropolitan, which she owns rents for well under $1,000 a month. “I think all artists have this affinity for the possibility of space, and for me, East Williamsburg has offered and continues to offer just that.”

Engy Adham, 30, a production assistant at CNN, has shared a two-bedroom apartment on North Henry Street with two roommates for three years; Your monthly share is $850 plus utilities. “I’m Egyptian,” she said, “and when I moved to the United States, I wanted a place that was diverse.” The mix of races and ages “excites me,” she said.

East Williamsburg attracts young creatives because it’s relatively cheap, but like much of Brooklyn, prices are rising there. The reason, said Mr. Lopera, the real estate agent, is an influx of long-distance workers and a lack of available properties. According to Redfin, the median selling price of a home in East Williamsburg in May 2020 was $1.15 million, an 8 percent increase from the prior year, based on 32 sales. (In Redfin’s map of the neighborhood, the western boundary extends across Union Avenue to the BQE)

In terms of rents, prices for one-bedroom apartments are currently on the low end at around $2,600 to $2,800 per month, Mr. Lopera said, and two-bedroom apartments are typically around $3,300 to $3,400 per month . But he expects more stockpiling to come, he said, based on growing visibility of construction sites and work permits.

Part of it has already arrived. A new seven-story building at 222 Johnson Avenue, just west of Bushwick Avenue, is being described by developer Slate Property Group as East Williamsburg’s first luxury building. It offers 116 rental units, 35 of which are allocated to families with annual incomes ranging from $31,680 to $159,640 based on household and apartment size. Market rents start at around $2,850 per month for a studio and go up to more than $4,600 per month for a two bedroom, two bath unit. At the end of June the building was fully occupied. Martin Nussbaum, a director at Slate Property Group, said his company will soon break ground on a 180,000-square-foot tower at 159 Boerum Street.

In mid-June, 16 properties in East Williamsburg were listed for sale on the Compass website, using the boundaries taken from Google Maps. This included a one-bedroom condo in a seven-story building on Maspeth Avenue, listed for $695,000 with monthly maintenance of $1,031 and monthly taxes of $27. A two bedroom, two and a half bath condo in a four story building on Powers Street was listed for $1.65 million with monthly maintenance of $675 and monthly taxes of $1,275.

For now, at least, graffiti is East Williamsburg’s trademark—and subject to its own brand of gentrification. Amidst the spontaneous eruptions of brains, fangs and smileys — of moons, toons and raccoons — are polished corporate-sponsored artworks like the geometric mural that transforms the facade of 154 Morgan Avenue, a manufacturing building.

PS 196, the Ten Eyck Elementary School, enrolls about 290 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. In 2020-21, the student body was approximately 75 percent Hispanic or Latino, 18 percent Black, 2 percent Asian, and 1 percent White. The pass rate of the school’s former fifth graders in their sixth grades in the core subjects (math, English, social studies and science) was 96 percent.

PS 147, Isaac Remsen, The Brooklyn School for Environmental Engineering enrolls about 300 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. In 2020-21, the student body was 52 percent Hispanic or Latino, 15 percent Black, and 13 percent White and 9 percent Asian. The pass rate of former fifth graders at this school in their sixth grades in core subjects was 93 percent.

MS 582, the Magnet School for Multimedia, Technology and Urban Planning, enrolls about 350 students in grades six through eight. In the 2020/21 school year, the pass rate of students in the core subjects was 98 percent.

East Williamsburg Scholars Academy, a high school, enrolls about 330 students in grades nine through twelve. In the 2020-21 school year, the student body was 64.8 percent Hispanic or Latino, 29 percent Black, 2.4 percent White, and 1.5 percent Asian; 26 percent are enrolled in at least one Advanced Placement course. In the class of 2021, 78 percent graduated within four years.

Williamsburg Charter High School has approximately 980 students enrolled in grades nine through twelve. In 2020-21, the student body was 61 percent Hispanic or Latino, 35 percent Black, and 1 percent White; 84 percent completed recognized university or job preparation courses and exams. In the class of 2021, 83 percent graduated within four years.

East Williamsburg is served by the L train stations Graham Avenue, Grand Street and Morgan Avenue on the western edge, at the Metropolitan Avenue/Lorimer Street stop on the G and L trains.

According to a 2012 article in Brooklyn Based, an online publication, the East Williamsburg name was not invented by an opportunistic real estate industry. The community wasn’t even originally in Brooklyn: “The earliest reference to the neighborhood, then part of the Dutch Newtown settlement, is found on maps from 1783 in the western part of present-day Ridgewood, Queens.”

In 1982, developers of the East Williamsburg Industrial Park chose the name to clarify its location relative to North and South Williamsburg. It was only in the 1990s that the label was bought and the boundaries of the neighborhood expanded.

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