Last Saturday, I had the always enjoyable task of going to Time Warner Brooklyn, where I waited for an hour in line to exchange a broken cable box, only to get one that turned out to be worse than the first. I figured the afternoon was a bust, until I realized I’d parked across the street from a place I’ve been meaning to check out for the longest time…
The little greenhouse across from the cemetery:
Seriously, what a gorgeous building. Described as a “miniature crystal palace” by the American Institute of Architects, the Weir Greenhouse was built in 1895 and, though left to decay for decades, has miraculously managed to remain standing for 118 years. Below, a vintage postcard shows the establishment in its heyday:
This is actually the second Weir greenhouse to be built at this location. James Weir, who had been in the floral business since 1850, built the first greenhouse on the site in 1880, pictured below.
This building was torn down in 1895 to make way for the new structure, which was to be a flagship of sorts for Weir’s business, in part due to its proximity (literally right across the street) from Green-Wood Cemetery.
The McGovern family of florists took over the Weir operation in 1971, hence the second name above the main dome. And, under their ownership, the building appears to have been let to rot, to the point where it seems like it’s about one gust of wind away from finally toppling over.
I love the Weir Greenhouse, in part for how evocative of a certain era its design is. For years it, was believed that Weir had purchased the building from the 1904 World’s Fair and had it transported to Brooklyn; while this is not true, you could be forgiven for assuming something of this grandeur to have had such an illustrious past.
The crowning feature on the Weir Greenhouse is its magnificent eight-sided dome, about 50 feet in diameter:
The dome is lined on all sides by windows in several different shapes and sizes…
…and capped off by the iconic McGovern-Weir sign:
A great tour of the interior can be found on the Green-Wood Cemetery blog – below, the interior of the dome, a mix of iron supports and wood slats, described by the NY Times “like [the roof] of an old-time merry-go-round.”
Not to be upstaged is the beautiful entrance…
…featuring this eight-sided cupola (the decay is especially evident here):
Together, the two domes perfectly complement each other like older/younger siblings:
A rounded extension of the building at the southern end adds to the pirouetting feel of the structure:
A few other buildings sit on the property, including the former office. You can see it in the vintage postcard above; today, it seems to have lost its upper story.
The rear of the office:
A peek at the many overlapping glass frames inside:
A second building can be found on the southern edge:
Thought boarded-up and covered in bland aluminum-siding, the intricate cornice gives a hint of grander times.
Unfortunately, as you can see in the pictures, the Weir Greenhouse is in really bad shape.
I mean, really bad shape. The McGoverns appear to have done absolutely nothing in terms of maintenance during the latter years of their ownership of the property, and for a 100+ year old greenhouse, the results are not pretty:
The very, very good news is that the property was purchased Green-Wood Cemetery last February with the express purpose of restoring it, to one day be used as a visitor’s center/exhibition space. And while it might be in sorry shape now, it doesn’t take much to imagine how wonderful this dilapidated entrance will be when restored to health.
The even better news is that last month, Green-Wood Cemetery was awarded a $500,000 grant from the New York State Regional Economic Development Council for the restoration. According to the Green-Wood Cemetery blog, “an architectural study of the greenhouse and plans for its adaptive re-use are underway; that study is expected to be completed shortly. Then work will begin on the restoration of this landmark to its 19th-century glory.”
Here’s hoping the next time I go to return my cable box, the Weir Greenhouse will be looking like the day it was built.