Friday, May 2, 2014

Wine and Champagne storage under the Brooklyn Bridge.

*Click on pictures to enlarge*

Last week a friend of mine - (gasp, yes, I have a friend) - re-posted this link from Huffington Post on the Tweety.    8 Things Even New Yorkers Don't know About New York City.
  "4. The Brooklyn Bridge originally contained a vast wine and champagne cellar."

WHAT?  Now I know a few things about NYC, like Washington Square Park was once a cemetery, Canal Street was really once a canal, and the lions in front of the Library are named Patience and Fortitude.  I know what DUMBO means, SoHo, NoHo, and Tribeca. But living this long and not knowing something this important kills a huge chunk of my street cred. Also, I needed to know more.  

(Fine Print NYC.)
First, before there was a Brooklyn Bridge.  He doesn't link his references, but the following is based on's 2013 post, Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams, At The Brooklyn Bridge!?

Mike writes that in the bridge's construction, room was made for a champagne cellar at all because "they were there before the bridge was built. Prior to the Brooklyn Bridge connecting Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan, at the very spot where the anchorages were placed, stood Rackey's Wine (Brooklyn side) and Luyties and Co., (Manhattan side) another liquor company. So, the bridge builders worked around the business and incorporated storage spaces into the bridge. More importantly, the spaces were rented to the companies in order to help the city pay for the bridge's construction."

(Fine Print NYC)

A Pittsburgh Post Gazette article (don't spend too much time here, we will get to it again later) confirms, "New Yorkers of another generation remember the cellars, which were built in 1876, seven years before the erection of Brooklyn Bridge, and which housed the wine stores of Rackey's wine establishment and Luyties and Co."

(Corbis Images)
Second, they build a bridge. (This is from an article  by Jim Talbot published June, 2011 in Modern Steel Magazine.) There are four main steel cables, each one consisting of 5,434 parallel steel wires arranged in 19 strands.  "Work started on placing the main cable wires between the two anchorages in February 1877. Crews on the anchorages and platforms positioned or 'regulated' the wires as they were hauled over by the travelers, lashing 286 wires into strands. One strand was at the center, surrounded by six strands,and surrounded again by 12 strands. The crews built the cables from the bottom up to form this arrangement. Sixteen machines wrapped the finished cables with iron
(Brooklyn Expedition . Org)
wire to finish the job. Clamps moved ahead of the machines to bind the wires tightly to form a cylinder. Lastly the wires were oiled and painted. Crews completed the work on the main cables by October 1878."

(Fine Print NYC)
And because an anchorage is an unsightly thing, all this stuff got encased in buildings, vaults.  Brooklyn Bridge Facts states John Roebling, the bridge's engineer, envisioned this space as a double-tiered commercial arcade, or vault for the national treasury.  TimeOut New York says Roebling's vision for the Gothic design and 50-foot-high cathedral ceilings would be for shopping arcades.  But in 1999 this worthwhile New York Times "FYI" column states, "The anchorages are the 60,000-ton granite structures located where the cables that support the bridge are fastened to anchor plates and buried in the ground. The wine cellars were located beneath the ramps that lead up to the anchorages, within the arched granite and limestone approaches that span the intervening streets, and that today are all but lost in the maze of exits and entrances. These approaches are perforated by thick masonry vaults running perpendicular to the roadway above."
About the Brooklyn Anchorage, writes, "It is composed of a series of eight barrel-vaulted masonry and brick arched spaces, framed by the piers which support the bridge, with ceilings nearly 50 feet high."

The NYTimes column talks about how the temperatures in these granite cathedrals maintained a constant 60 degrees, ideal for wine and champagne storage.  City records from 1901 show the Luyties Brothers paid $5,000 for storage on the Manhattan side and A.Smith and Company paid $500 a year for space on the Brooklyn side.

(New York Evening Post, 1936)
Third, Prohibition, before, during and after.  Prohibition ruined everything.  In 1920 the vaults were emptied of all alcohol and used to store rolls of newsprint.  Repeal was 1933, and this brings us back to the earlier referenced article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  The article is written July 11, 1934, the ninth anniversary of the opening of The Hotel Glendale, home of The Cave Wine Storage, also a rumored speakeasy.  "Historic Wine Cellars Reopened After Dry Era," this article walks us through the stacks of vintage wine and champagne in the dark passageways under the Brooklyn Bridge.  They are now the wine cellars of Anthony Oechs and Co. and the nickname "Blue Grotto" has been earned for the statue of a Virgin Mary that's been placed in a small niche, brought from the Pol Roger cellars in Epernay.  In 1953, Theodore Belzner's  Brooklyn Daily Eagle article adds that Hearn's department store took over the space from Anthony Oechs and Co., and then it was vacated.

In the book Meyer Berger's New York, there is a passage also from 1953 that speaks of 14 "industrial concerns" that rent the space for work or storage, including canned food from Holland, wire, and cable  He talks about the now abandoned wine storage behind heavy steel doors and the faded mottoes still on the walls. 
      "Who loveth not wine, women and song, he remaineth a fool his whole life long."
      "The best wine goeth down sweetly causing the lips of those who are asleep to speak."
      "Their flavors are as a brook of many voices."

(Creative Time)
Finally.  1983 began Creative Time's annual Art in the Anchorage series, video, music, readings designed
specifically to incorporate the space. "...visitors could listen to Spalding Gray muse over his and others’ reminiscences about the bridge and its surrounding neighborhood, while around him, installations addressed the Gothic nature of the environment, a dark rusticated interior reminiscent of Piranesi’s dungeons."  This series ended when the Anchorage was finally closed to the public after September11, 2001.

(Stanley Greenberg . Org)

This 1992 photo by photographer Stanley Greenberg gives us our first full peek into the the cellars.  From his book, "Invisible New York: The Hidden Infrastructure of the City (Creating the North American Landscape)" we get the Brooklyn side of the anchorage. If you click on it to enlarge, you can see on the back wall the Pol Roget logo. 

In 2011, Paul Fitzpatrick, aka, Pauletto, posted about two dozen shots of the Brooklyn Anchorage in his Flickr photoset,  "Under the Brooklyn Bridge."  Jealous, and WOW.

(Paul Fitzpatrick/pauletto, Flickr)
(Paul Fitzpatrick/pauletto, Flickr)

(Library of Congress)

You can see the how much real estate comprised the (Manhattan) anchorage in this 1885 Currier and Ives lithograph, "The Great East River Suspension Bridge."


Outside the Brooklyn side

(Forgotten NY)

(Loren Madsen)

Outside the Manhattan side was taken over by skateboarders and the like and was christened "Brooklyn Banks."  In 2010 the city took the space back for their bridge restoration project.

You get a pretty good tour of Brooklyn Banks in the first minute.ten of this video, but you might want to hit the mute button first, especially if you like Halloween. I think.

Here are all the links for everything linked, mostly in order of appearance.
Huffinton Post 
Edible Geography
Mike the History Guy
Fine Print NYC
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Corbis Images
Jim Talbot for Modern Steel
Brooklyn Expedition
Brooklyn Bridge Facts
Time Out New York
New York Times
New York City
New York Magazine
New York Evening Post
Meyer Berger's New York
Creative Time
Stanley Greenberg
Paul Fitzpatrick, Flickr
Library of Congress
Forgotten NY.
Loren Madsen, Flickr.

If you're still awake, one more.