The Little Greenhouse Across From The Cemetery

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…

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The little greenhouse across from the cemetery:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The crowning feature on the Weir Greenhouse is its magnificent eight-sided dome, about 50 feet in diameter:

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The dome is lined on all sides by windows in several different shapes and sizes…

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…and capped off by the iconic McGovern-Weir sign:

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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.”

Picture from Green-Wood Cemetery’s blog – click for many more pictures!

Not to be upstaged is the beautiful entrance…

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…featuring this eight-sided cupola (the decay is especially evident here):

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Together, the two domes perfectly complement each other like older/younger siblings:

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A rounded extension of the building at the southern end adds to the pirouetting feel of the structure:

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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.

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The rear of the office:

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A peek at the many overlapping glass frames inside:

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A second building can be found on the southern edge:

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Thought boarded-up and covered in bland aluminum-siding, the intricate cornice gives a hint of grander times.

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Unfortunately, as you can see in the pictures, the Weir Greenhouse is in really bad shape.

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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:

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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.

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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.”

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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.

-SCOUT

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20 comments

  1. It’s always cool when you cover spots that are really familiar to me. I grew up near this place, and know it well. So sad it’s in such disrepair.

  2. Scout, the link to the interior tour gives a 404 error. I went to their blog and couldn’t find it, could you relink? Would love to see more of the inside! Thanks.

  3. This is a semi neat site to take a look at before going to Greenwood cemetary to have a stroll.

  4. Cool post, but for cable boxes definitely consider their 23rd st and Madison location. Been there far too often, but luckily never had to wait for more than 10 minutes or so. (Knock on wood!)

  5. Love the idea of the building pirouetting! Great post, Nick, and great news that G-W is going to do a restoration. Thanks.

  6. Yay! I love reading a post that has some good news in it. I have only been to Green-Wood a few times (and I was blown away each time), and I’m sure they will be fantastic stewards of this property.

  7. I need to spend about a month with you: myself and my camera….sigh. As a historian and appreciator of these types of structures, I am so happy to know that Green-wood has purchased this gem and will be restoring it. A rare happy ending!
    Thank you once again….

  8. Thanks for sharing this Scout. My dad worked here in the late 1930s and lived around the corner on 23rd Street. I’m so looking forward to the restoration!

  9. What a sweet post. News like this is always welcome. I thank you and your defective cable box, do people still use those? I have satellite here in FL.

  10. What a wonderful piece! The greenhouse definitely holds a place in my heart – I would come here frequently as a child in the late 80s/early 90s to purchase flowers when visiting my grandfather who was entombed in Greenwood. It is funny – even as a young child, I knew this was a grand and special place. Thanks for the photos and a jog down memory lane.

  11. Oh that is SUCH good news! The McGovern family ran that place into the ground – everything about their business projected an attitude of “We don’t care”. Even the flowers they sold to people visiting loved ones in Green-Wood were old and wilting, so I would always bring mine from Manhattan. Thank God Green-Wood will restore it to its former glory, it richly deserves it. And thanks for this story, I was really afraid it was going to be demolished!

  12. Really great news, Scout! I saw this building for the first time this past summer, when I visited Green-Wood with my nephew, and even took a photo from the same angle as one of yours before my camera battery died:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/klg19/7485915070/in/set-72157630326801332

    It’s so wonderful to know the site will be renovated. You can tell how beautiful it is, and can be again.

  13. Jeffrey Packard

    I lived near here from ’04-’07 and loved staring at the decay (I’m an odd one who stares in wonder imagining). I’m glad to hear it’s being restored.

  14. I’m so thrilled you posted this! I saw this structure while on a bus going to Bay Ridge and was wondering about it … and then promptly forgot about it. It’s great to know the history of the place.

  15. Nice to see one with a happy ending for a change. Seems like the last paragraph of so many of these posts begins with “Sadly,…”

  16. There is a plant growing inside!! Did you see it through the window of the third to last picture? Cool.

  17. The plant is an agave in an old cast iron urn. It was put there to evoke a typical Victorian style planting by Green-Wood. Hope that doesn’t ruin it for you.

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  19. Nearly a year after this post and the Weir Greenhouse still awaits restoration. According to a Dec 11, 2013 article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Green-Wood Cemetery wants to demolish one third of the greenhouse and build a new three-story structure on two sides of it. What seemed like a happy ending a year ago is far from resolved. Contact the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission and support their efforts to save this building.

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