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Friday, February 11, 2011

Not An Office

A hamlet is a rural settlement that is considered too small to be a village. One distinction often made is that a hamlet does not have a church, where a village does. These details trouble me not, because I love hamlets and small villages. In England, the countryside abounds with small towns, villages and hamlets, some so picturesque as to be incredulous. Places like Snowshill in the Cotswolds.

However, I have never heard of anything in the confines of New York City referred to as a hamlet until I read an article in the New York Times about Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn. The very concept seems insane until you travel to this tiny enclave, only a few blocks in size, with cobblestone streets paved in Belgian Brick. See my full photo gallery here.

The neighborhood is bounded by Bridge Street, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, York Street and the river. The main thoroughfare is Hudson Avenue. There are virtually no shops, and one restaurant is open in the evening. At 54 Hudson, I ran across a business that identified itself as Not An Office. Peeking into the window, I did see evidence of a some sort of workplace.
In spite of the snowfall, the neighborhood did exude charm, and I can easily see how some would be attracted to this place, which abuts Dumbo and the East River, only one stop from Manhattan on the F train.

In 2010, the New York Times ran an article about Vinegar Hill called The Little Town That Prices (Almost) Forgot. Some readers were furious with all manner of accusations in the comments section, e.g. that the article would ruin the neighborhood and that the Times staff was out of touch with pricing.

I think articles are more of a barometer of trends and messenger than trendsetters. Anyone investigating the area carefully will realize this place is going to appeal to very few - the serious dearth of services and high prices of real estate there will be a deal breaker for nearly all who chose to live in a city.

Vinegar Hill feels almost like a hamlet. Almost, until you notice that the neighborhood is circumscribed by the Brooklyn Navy Yard, an huge Con Ed power generating plant and the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway). But this is New York City, and Vinegar Hill comes awfully close to a hamlet. It has no church, only one restaurant and just when you think you have located a business, you find that it's Not An Office :)


Adam Pinnell said...

Great photos and article Brian! Thanks for sharing!

Naomid said...

Parts of LIC and parts of Hunters Point are similar in this way too, but that's Queens.

Mary P. said...

Looking at these photos, I was guessing "Maspeth, Queens" for the storefronts.
And even though I worked nearby 34years ago, I can't recall going into this area, though I remember hearing the name "Vinegar Hill" and associating it with a neighborhood near the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Psst...Was there a vinegar making plant there?

zakton said...

Rare views of New York.

Travis said...

@Mary P - named for the Irish Battle of Vinegar Hill as it was a largely Irish neighborhood in the heyday of the Navy Yard.,_Brooklyn

Azahleah said...

Hi Brian! Warm greetings from Dubai! I'm a big fan of NYC...hope to spend some time there exploring the beautiful city. I seem to get lost in your blog every now and then...thanks for sharing...your stories are inspiring :)

Annie said...

Great blog!

VingerHillLocal said...

The same thing was said about Williamsburg. "Hardly any amenities, quiet sleepy place, in ruins, nothing there", and look at Williamsburg now. If Vinegar Hill falls to gentrification, which is what the commentators were insinuating, then in the history books it will be due to Vinegar Hill House. The restaurant, I'm sure you're referring to. Hardly any of the true VH locals ever get the chance to eat there, because it's always packed with outsiders who act entitled. That shop you features, certainly looks "kitschy and cute," so I really don't doubt that in a couple of years, Vinegar Hill will become even more competitive. (i.e. gentrified by yuppies and hipsters) If you have the chance to go to a library, search for a book called Naked City by Sharon Zukin. Very good insight into what happens to boroughs in NYC.

Mary P. said...

The more I look, the more I like the shot of Belgian Block paving framed with snow banks. This roadway looks like it hasn't been disturbed for at least two centuries!

(Thanks, Travis!)