The Greenpoint Terminal Market Revisited

November 30, 2010 -

The Greenpoint Terminal Market is a historic complex of warehouses on the Brooklyn waterfront. Once home to the largest rope making factory in the United States - the American Manufacturing Company - the complex covered 14 acres and six city blocks, with buildings dating back to 1890. At its peak, American Manufacturing employed over 2,500 workers and - like the nearby American Sugar Refining Company (aka The Domino Sugar Refinery) - was an important part of the struggle to unionize the Brooklyn waterfront. In 1910, one century ago, striking employees battled police in a huge riot outside the warehouses. "The streets surrounding the factory were a miniature battlefield, upon which nearly twoscore policemen and 500 to 1,000 men and women fought. Stones were hurled and heads broken. Men and women had their clothes torn nearly off them. The policemen had to fire their revolvers to keep the mob back," the NY Times reported.

It is difficult to reconcile these scenes from America's labor history with the desolate quiet that occupies these streets today. By the end of the 20th century, the Greenpoint Terminal Market was largely abandoned and known as "the Forgotten City," according to the NY Times. "The derelict warren of buildings was an example of how New Yorkers can be creative in turning the city's faded industrial past into a playground," the NY Times reported, with empty warehouses hosting punk rock shows, skateboarding bowls, graffiti murals, and squatters like Ra, who "lived in the complex for six years." Much of the Forgotten City was destroyed in 2006 by a catastrophic 10-alarm fire. The surviving buildings have remained largely unused, despite the skyrocketing value of land in Greenpoint.

Abandoned Warehouse #1

Abandoned Warehouse #2

The Greenpoint Terminal Market had a long history of fires and explosions before the blaze of 2006. During the American Manufacturing era, the complex processed and stored jute, hemp and cotton to make cordage, rope and twine. Because of the volatile nature of these raw materials, accidents were common. In October 1910, a massive explosion killed least six workers at the factory. "So great was the force of the explosion that a boiler weighing 40,000 pounds was lifted three stories through the roof... and then hurled several hundred yards into a vacant space on the river front," according to the NY Times, with victims including the chief engineer of the plant, who was "torn to pieces and when found was in a patch of clear ground 50 yards from where the boiler had stood." The body of another worker "was hurled through the side of a frame building that stands opposite the factory in Oak Street. It was found on the far side of the building an hour after the explosion."

Fire Warning

Fires were a common occurrence at the factory, and warnings can still be found posted throughout the remaining warehouses. In 1902, a fire in Storage House No. 2 destroyed $150,000 worth of jute. "Nearly a dozen firemen were more or less overcome by smoke, and some narrowly escaped suffocation... the fire is believed to have been caused by spontaneous combustion," reported the NY Times, which notes that another fire had occurred just 18 months before, causing $200,000 in damage (roughly equivalent to $5 million today). In 1904, fire struck again. "Two firemen were killed and fourteen others were overcome by smoke," according to the NY Times. "The whole floor was filled with the dense smoke from the burning jute. The firemen's lamps were put out by the fumes, and they groped about in the darkness trying to turn their hose in the fire, but soon succumbed and fell unconscious to the floor."

Post-Fire Ruins (2007)

Taken in this context, the 2006 conflagration was not a surprise, especially after an exploration of the fire-scarred ruins of the complex in 2007 revealed that many rooms contained mountains of charred cotton rags, perhaps leftover from the rope making process. According to police, the Greenpoint Terminal Market fire was caused by a Polish immigrant named Leszek Kuczera, who had descended into a life of alcoholism and petty crime because of the horrors he had witnessed while cleaning up Ground Zero, the NY Times reported. He led "a life of homelessness, begging and selling stolen copper as scrap metal for vodka money," according to the NY Times, and initially admitted he had caused the fire while "trying to melt the insulation off a long length of copper wire inside the vacant warehouses, using a pile of eight flaming truck tires."

However it began, the resulting blaze was enormous. Visible for miles, it clouded the sky above New York City with black smoke. "More than 350 firefighters from at least 70 units spent all day at the fire, those in front retreating to safety when entire walls crumbled and launched smoldering red bricks 100 feet down the narrow streets of the waterfront. At 10 alarms, it was called the city's largest fire in more than a decade, excepting the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001," according to the NY Times.

Greenpoint Ruins (2007)

Rags Inside the Ruins (2007)

The burning of the Greenpoint Terminal Market immediately raised suspicions from all parties. The owner of the buildings, Joshua Guttman, had recently seen a $420 million deal to sell the property fall through, according to New York Magazine, and the Municipal Art Society had been calling for the entire complex to be landmarked, leaving many to wonder if arson had been used to quickly clear the land. "Do development and Brooklyn Fires go hand in hand?" asked New York Magazine. "The market blaze was only one of the many, many “suspicious” fires to hit the Brooklyn development zones of late... This was part of a larger pattern. According to FDNY stats, 2005 was the single busiest year in Fire Department history, with a total of 485,702 calls answered." In the meantime, Leszek Kuczera rescinded his confession, claiming he was "hungover when the police questioned him," according to the NY Times. Despite pleading not guilty, he was sentenced to rehab and probation, and has since been deported to Poland, where he was happily reunited with his wife and family, the NY Times reports.

In the years before the fire, several plans had been made to develop the Greenpoint Terminal Market, including "Greenpoint Common on the River" - a 1990 plan to create a "13-building, 3,324-unit co-op and rental apartment complex" on the site, according to the NY Times, which was soon followed by a proposal to build "a 500-megawatt power plant" on the waterfront, according to the NY Times. Since the fire, however, the majority of the complex has remained empty. Two large warehouses to the east appear to be completely gutted and abandoned, while the rest of the warehouses along the East River contain a few small businesses, including a new gallery space called Fowler Arts Collective. Even in these active buildings, though, the majority of the spaces remain empty, with floor upon floor of unused rooms. And at the top of these buildings, dark, empty halls are left open to the elements.

It is unclear what the future of the Greenpoint Terminal Market is. There are currently no plans to landmark its remaining historic buildings. Like much of Brooklyn's industrial waterfront, it may soon be demolished and turned into luxury condominiums.

Open Space

Fl. 7 - Dark Room

Open Hall

Fl. 5

The Book

Hollow Frames

Fl. 3 - Refrigerators

Unnecessary Lights


In the Stairwell

Rooftop Lines

Save the Palestine Water Tower

Last Building on the Water


  1. The Greenpoint Terminal warehouse that burned down a few years ago got me into urbexing!!

  2. It's a disgrace that noone was ever held accountable for this loss to our community.

  3. Nathan-

    The bundles of clothing (not rags) that were stored in in the Terminal Market were not left over from the days as a rope factory, they were likely stored there to speculate in the secondary clothing market (I'm crapping you negative).

    When you donate clothes to some charitable organizations, they bundle the pieces they cannot sell into large bales which are sold to the secondary clothing market in the developing world for somewhere in the $50-$300 per bundle range.

  4. It should say "create the Palestine".