Ghosts of a Brooklyn Pencil Factory

Continuing my search for a usable elevator in Greenpoint, my boss had given me a few addresses to check out, and as I approached 61 Greenpoint, I noticed a really great building detail I’ve never seen before…


Lining the top floor windows are rows…


…of pencils!


Why Pencils? 61 Greenpoint was once part of the Faber Pencil Factory, located in a complex of buildings around Greenpoint Ave.


Originally based in Manhattan, the Faber company moved to Greenpoint after a fire in 1872. Many of its former buildings can still be identified by the company emblem, a diamond-enclosed star…


…which could also be found on the pencils:


Owner Eberhard Faber is responsible for introducing German lead pencil-making to the United States. Below, an ad for Faber’s from a 1908 issue of Photo-era Magazine:


There are sixteen terra cotta pencils in total on the Greenpoint Avenue building, which once housed the company’s offices. Today, it’s commercial loft space.


The original 1872 building is next door…


The actual former factory building is on adjacent Kent Street, and is apparently being gutted for condos.


A familiar emblem graces the top level:


Faber employed hundreds of locals until its relocation to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1952. The company was eventually bought out in 1978. Across the street, another Faber building:


Meanwhile, one former Faber building nearby is reaching the end of its condoization process. I can’t imagine a way those rooftop box things could look more completely out of place…


Worse, the Faber building is only half of the new “Pencil Factory Condos,” connecting with an absolutely hideous modern abomination best described as Ikea-chic. I mean, come on – does anyone out there see this and say, “Fuck yeah! I wanna live in THAT!”


I don’t get developers. They fight tooth and nail to tear down/gut/ruin amazing properties in favor of ugly modern apartment buildings like the one above, only to then go and use the history as a primary selling point.


Sick business.


PS – Great super-generic ad copy from the Pencil Factory Condos website:

“Cool, contemporary, and undeniably distinctive, this is The Pencil Factory in the heart of Greenpoint, Brooklyn – the city’s newest neighborhood of note [aww, congrats, Greenpoint!]. Originally built in 1872 for the Eberhard Faber pencil company, this unique condominium, featuring residences spanning three buildings, is where culture meets character. Where urban meets the urbane. Where history meets your story.”

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  1. I know its not Greenpoint, but I remember hearing that the Pratt Institute has the oldest continually operating elevator in NY. Might be worth a visit?

  2. Ha. I saw the picture first before I read your comments. And I was thinking — wow I love that building! Love modernism in conjunction with older buildings. Love the juxtaposition. So yes, I see that building and think: I’d want to live in that.

  3. Unless that gray stuff at the bottom of the “Ikea-chic” building is fencing that has yet to be taken down, that corner will suck the life out of that area. There’s nothing worse in a city than a blank wall at street level (except maybe hipsters and yunnies).

  4. “I can’t imagine a way those rooftop box things could look more completely out of place…”

    They could be fluorescent pink. (But I think that’s pretty much the only way.)

    When we moved my grandparents out of their home into an apartment, I remember finding several unused (and unopened) boxes of Faber pencils in my grandfather’s desk. I don’t know why I remembered the brand, but it stuck with me. A few years later, a friend of mine posted pix of the Faber building from a Forgotten NY tour of Greenpoint and it reminded me of the desk. Considering the age of some of the other office supplies my grandfather had squirreled away in there, those pencils may have been made at the NY factory.

  5. I used to live in the neighborhood, and spent a lot of time at the nearby bar named after the pencil factory. But I’d never noticed the pencil details on the building! Thanks for pointing it out.

    But I too like the new condos. It’s boring to have nothing but new buildings in a neighborhood, but it’s also boring to have no new buildings.

  6. There’s nothing wrong with new buildings—except when they’re ugly, cheap-looking, design-by-the-numbers, and out of character. Ironic that factories and tenements from 100 years ago look nicer and better built than the so-called luxury housing of today.

  7. This one thing that makes NYC a neat place. You’ll have 100 year old buildings that have been repurposed right next to modern crap that makes you retch.
    NYC is a collection of neighborhoods with their own character, that’s what keeps me coming up there every year.

  8. What Alex said. When I visit, I don’t want to see new crap like they have in my city. It doesn’t all have to be old, but geesh at least pleasing to the eye, please.

  9. As a preservationist, the awkward “well, we’ve done a lovely modern set-back roof top addition” gives me fits. I just got back from Brooklyn and saw similar condos. Happy that America’s industrial heritage buildings are being used for housing instead of knocked down but the approach kills me.

  10. Being an old school pen, pencil, paper and stationery gal, I DO Know the joy of a good pencil. (no sexual innuendo here!) I love the giant pencils.

  11. You might notice that most modern housing developments are named for what they eliminated in order to put them there. So evocative!

  12. Let’s face it. Corbusier ruined architecture and most of the stuff that has been put in big cities around the world up since WWII, is some god-awful unaesthetic crap. To put it nicely. Developers rarely know shit from shinola, and neither do the people who are supposed to (architects).

  13. I am 92 and just came across this website. My mother and all her eleven siblings lived in Greenpoint and they always talked about the pencil factory = Because – as soon as some of the girls graduated from the fifth grade or they left school, they sought employment in the pencil factory. So reading about it was very very

  14. First, I love your site. However, the addition of the “Ikea Chic” boxes on top of the original structures makes total sense. One of the principals of historic preservation is to design any addition to a historic building in such a way that it is easily identifiable from the original structure, hence the contemporary architecture. This is done so that any new architecture does not give the building a false history. It is much more respectful of the building than you think.

  15. on the subject of elevators: the first otis elevator is in the building where staples is/was, in soho, at 488 broadway. i met willem dafoe there once upon a time in a great conversation among all the neighborhood residents of the time on line about, what? you guessed it: gentrification.

    the more things change… ; )

    i also heard that the cooper union building was designed before the invention of the elevator with a space in it for whatever someone would invent that was better than stairs. that would be fun to verify.

  16. There’s nothing wrong with new buildings—except when they’re ugly, cheap-looking, design-by-the-numbers, and out of character. Ironic that factories and tenements from 100 years ago look nicer and better built than the so-called luxury housing of today. 100X100 de acuerdo.