Sunday, December 16, 2007

Raise your hand if you want to live in a place called "DUMBO"

I DO!! I DO!!

DUMBO is the unlikely name for one of the coolest still-emerging artsy/funky/hipster neighborhoods in Brooklyn. I won't call it "the next SoHo" because that's probably Chelsea, which is a bit grittier, much gayer, art gallery-filled neighborhood on the lower westside of Manhattan, in the former cold-storage and meatpacking sort of area. Also, it appeared to us that most of the people who live in DUMBO (clever marketing name for an unlikely neighborhood Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass- get it?) are probably better characterized as affluent Yuppies who appreciate art, but earn a paycheck on (nearby) Wall Street, rather than starving artists eeking out a living in illegally converted loft spaces. (Although I think the starving artists have simply been priced-out of the area, at this point in its evolution.)

The grossly-simplified, thumbnail history of DUMBO is as follows: In the late 19th century, it was an industrial/manufacturing zone- Brooklyn's industrial waterfront- that produced things like the first corrugated cardboard boxes (that enabled mass-production of pre-packaged food), Yuban coffee, liquor distribution and storage, etc. As manufacturing in NY declined over the early 20th century, the place emptied out and left hulking industrial buildings behind. By the 1960s and 70s, artists had begun to creep in (the SoHo effect).

In the 1980s, a guy named Walentas discovered the area and pegged it as a natural low-priced landing spot for artists priced out of Manhattan. He bought up a big chunk of the long-abandoned industrial buildings, gave it a sassy new name (it was formerly known as Gairville or Fulton Ferry), enticed artists across the Hudson River (it's just 1 stop from Wall Street on the A train) with cheap rents and lots of art space, fostered a sense of community, upscale specialty retail followed, yada yada yada . . . he held strong to his vision (reminds me a lot of Tom Gilmore's downtown L.A. Old Bank District neighborhood) and, 20 years later, he is cashing out with million dollar condos converted from buildings that had sat empty, in some cases, for nearly 100 years!

It's such a cool area, nestled under the bridges with (sometimes deafening) cars roaring overhead. It achieves that trick that urbanites often forget- the best views of the city are had from just outside the city, and the views of lower Manhattan from DUMBO simply kick butt.

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